Kathryn Whitmer Blog Leg 2

August 21st

CTD Rosette being lifted into the water at Slope Base. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

We had a very fun shift last night! Not much happened on the dive, but once ROPOS was back on the boat, I assisted with measuring the salinity of the fresh water from pumps on the mosquito instrument. The pumps had a freshwater and a saltwater side with membranes that allow for osmosis in order to remove salt from the fresh water. To measure salinity, we used a refractometer, where we very carefully extracted some water, put it on a screen, then held it up to the light to see the measurement. It was a bit of delicate work, but fun to learn, nonetheless.

Later in the night, I got the chance to help set up a CTD (conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, depth, or density, depending on the type). The instrument itself was a large rosette of about 25 ten-liter niskin bottles that can collect water at any depth. My job was to help latch open the bottles so they could collect water, and to do this we had to climb up on the rosette and very carefully open the lids, making sure they don’t snap back. It was very interesting to learn how all the mechanics work, and later that night I was able to watch the CTD go overboard. This was about at the end of my shift, so I promptly fell asleep afterward.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

This morning we transited to the slope base and set up another CTD that was diving to around 2900 meters. For this dive, we got the opportunity to decorate and attach some Styrofoam cups and a Styrofoam head, which would shrink under the immense pressure. While we were waiting for the CTD dive to finish (it takes a few hours), we got a bridge tour and learned about the steering, navigation, autopilot, and communications of the ship.

Shrunken decorated Styrofoam cup. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

While we were up there, we also saw a couple whale spouts way in the distance, though it was difficult to identify the species. Once the CTD was brought to the surface, I helped log the water collection process, where we got samples for oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, nutrients, and chlorophyll.

Not long after, we were told to hurry outside, and quick. When we got there, we saw Pacific White-Sided dolphins riding alongside the boat. They would leap to and fro, riding the waves the boat produced. They liked to dive under the boat, then come back and resurface with some flourish. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and were quite cute and fun to watch. The dolphins stuck around the ship for about 15 minutes, until we had to make a turn and they seemed to dissipate. I do hope I get to see them again; dolphins always seem to have such a unique character about them as the leap and bound through the water.

After dinner I got very, very tired, but realized I had to be awake for the next 7 hours, so I made some tea and went out to the bow to enjoy the sun a bit. The more and more time I spend on the ship, the more I come to love the waves and the gentle rocking. At first, it made me feel a bit off, but after the initial couple days, I adjusted quite quickly and felt comfort in the gentle rocking.

Whenever I’m outside, I always enjoy looking at height, speed, and direction of the waves hitting us and try to predict which way the ship will rock and how much, then see if I’m right. I’m usually not, because I can only see a small part of the water, but it’s entertaining, nonetheless. Although when you are doing delicate lab work, the constant unpredictable rocking can get a bit annoying. While I was sitting outside, there appeared to be a rainstorm off our port side, and the warm sun quickly disappeared. It hasn’t started raining here yet, but we will see what the future holds.

My shift starts in about 20 minutes, so I will be wrapping this up. Apparently, we are doing a picture mosaic, where ROPOS travels along transects, automatically taking pictures with the digital camera every 5 seconds. The end goal is to be able to stich the images together and create one large photo of a big part of the Southern Hydrate Ridge. The process goes slow, ROPOS only travels at about 0.30 knots (in order to have enough overlap between photos). The dive in total is supposed to take 12-14 hours (we are doing two mosaics), so the ROV will be underwater for quite some time! I’m curious to see what interesting things we will capture on film.  

It’s hard to believe we only have a couple days left, but I will cherish what little time we do have, and I am looking forward to the rest of the journey.

August 20th

One of the engines in the R/V Thomas G. Thompson engine room. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

I woke up bright and early this morning after an exciting shift last night. One of the instruments was having issues with connecting to the surface, so we waited on the seafloor for about two and a half hours while the issue was figured out. While doing so, however, the ROPOS team went exploring with the ROV and filmed lots of sea life at the Southern Hydrate Ridge. We eventually found a microbial mat, but on top of the mat, was another mat! Someone had dropped a doormat overboard, and either it landed on top of the microbial mat, or the microbial mat grew around it. Either way, it was the funniest thing I’ve seen while on shift.

Mat (that was apparently made in the USA) on a microbial mat. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/CSSF; V22.

This morning, just as my shift started, the ROPOS began its ascent from a different dive that had started much earlier. Not much significant happened while I was observing, but while we were going up, the camera was focused on a snail that had attached itself onto one of the instruments. We were going from around 770m to 0m over a span of about an hour and a half, so unfortunately the snail wasn’t looking too well once the vehicle surfaced. It managed to hold on though, so I do hope it survived.

After about a two-hour break to clean and ready ROPOS, the second dive on my shift started, this time we went near Einstein’s Grotto to repair some instruments and try to find some methane bubbles. Using sonar of ROPOS, the team was eventually able to find some bubbles percolating through the seafloor and got some excellent footage. Honestly, I never thought I would be happy to see methane bubbles of all things, but it was very exciting to be in the control room listening and watching.

Filtering station. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

A bit later, I got the chance to filter some chlorophyll out of water samples we had taken. To do this, we had to turn off all the lights in the lab so the chlorophyll wouldn’t be damaged. Then, we poured it into a funnel that runs the water over filter paper to isolate the chlorophyll from the rest of the seawater. The filter paper is then (very carefully) folded into quarters using two tweezers (you can’t touch the paper with hands), put into a test tube, filled with acetone, and put into a freezer for later analysis. I always greatly enjoy doing this type of hands-on lab work, I find I have much more interest in the results when I understand how everything is done. Speaking of which, we got an engine tour today as well, essentially showing how the ship runs. Something I suppose I never thought too much about is water supply on board, I had always just figured there was just a giant tank. But today I learned that everything is done by a giant reverse osmosis machine that can produce about 600 gallons of fresh water a day!

Anyways, it is almost time for my second shift of the day, the ROPOS is currently descending back down to Einstein’s Grotto, hopefully we will see some more bubbles!

August 19th

Mostly overcast weather as we transit to the offshore site. Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

This morning I woke up to a very rocky boat, which told me we were in transit again. The last dive had finished up earlier that morning, and we were headed to the Oregon Shelf offshore site. It wasn’t too far a transit, and we arrived at around 0800, which is when my shift started. Unlike the last dive I watched, there was fewer life on the way down, we only saw a few jellies. Similar to the last dive, however, we were replacing a BEP (which included a separate hydrophone), then cleaned the digital still camera. This dive we were 600 m below the surface, so the currents were much less strong, and the visibility was a bit better (compared to the last site).

Along the way, we saw quite a few different macrofauna, including many types of fish, sea stars, anemones, and I am quite convinced I saw some manner of marine mammal. It was very far away, and at first looked like a shark to me, but its tail was moving up and down, not side to side, which is characteristic of some type of cetacean. It was only a very brief sighting so I cannot say for sure, and I will have to look back at the footage, but if it wasn’t a mammal, it certainly was a very large and strange fish!

Titrations! Credit: K. Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

After our shift ended, I got some lunch then went to work on my blogs and project proposal a bit more until the dive ended. When the ROPOS was brought up to the surface, I observed the process of obtaining water from the niskin bottles (containers that take water samples) for testing. It was a very wet process, but afterward I was able to help titrate some of the oxygen bottles to test for concentrations. To do this, the sample water is immediately mixed with some reactants that “tie up” the oxygen, making it unable to react and change the original concentration. Then, it is brought to the analysis lab, where it is titrated to the endpoint. There were four samples total, two from the 80m offshore site, and two from the 600m offshore site. We measured how much reagent needed to be added to reach the endpoint, and that data will be later analyzed to calculate the oxygen concentration. While I had done titrations before, this was much more fun and interesting to be a part of, and I hope to be able to work with the equipment further in the future.

At about 1800, we had finished transiting to the Southern Hydrate Ridge, and started the next dive for the day. As I write this, the ROPOS is still descending, but my 2000-0000 shift starts soon, so I look forward to seeing what lies beneath the surface at the hydrate ridge!


August 18:

ROPOS onboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Credit: Kathryn Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

This morning, I got up at 7:15 for breakfast, then started work on figuring out my project proposal. I threw some ideas together and somehow managed to come up with something relatively feasible, but we’ll see how it goes!

Every now and then I would go out of the deck and look in the water, and almost all day long there was a school of small, silver fish off the starboard side of the boat. They would flash and glisten in the light, from far away it almost looked like the flashes of bioluminescence (although it was just the sunlight reflecting off them). And oh, the jellies! So many jellies! They would float by slowly, in all different sizes and shapes. I hope they safely got to wherever they were going!

ROPOS Control Room (ROPOS is not in the water here). Credit: Kathryn Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

Earlier that morning, we also got a tour of ROPOS and the control room, evidently there are 3000V that pass through the robot when it is underwater! How they get that much power in a completely waterproof robot that can go to the bottom of the ocean is beyond me, but it is very impressive.

We left port at 1800 and started our journey out to the Pacific Ocean. We all stood near the front of the boat, watching the world pass by as we entered an impenetrable fog.

We couldn’t really see more than a few hundred meters, and quite quickly, Newport disappeared from view. The seas were rough. We rocked up and down, and it was hard to maintain balance for a while. I didn’t really feel too seasick (luckily, I had already taken medication), but I did feel a bit off. When we stopped, however, things settled down a bit and I could walk a bit straighter. The transit was only an hour, so we arrived at the site quickly.

Operations started right away. My shift started at 2000, which was almost exactly when ROPOS went in the water. The job of the students on shift (me included) was to take pictures using the digital camera on ROPOS and log anything significant. The instruments we were replacing were only about 80m deep, but that meant the currents were very strong, and it was difficult to properly land in the right spot at the right angle.

Foggy view of Newport, taken at 0930. Credit: Kathryn Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

Thanks to the skilled work of the ROPOS team, they got it done despite the conditions. On the way down, however, I have never seen that many jellies. Hundred, if not thousands, crossed the screen on our descent. It was a beautiful sight to watch. Once on the bottom, the ROPOS operations went smooth. We were replaced the old BEP (Benthic Experiment Package- LJ01D) and righting the Digital Still Camera (CAMDSB107-it had fallen over). There was a lot of crab and flatfish on the bottom, which apparently isn’t that usual (there are normally more Lingcod).

Nevertheless, taking pictures and logging all the life was fun. It was very exciting being in the control room and watching how operations run, and how the ROPOS is controlled. My shift ended before the dive was fully done, but I look forward to future dives.

We are transiting to the Oregon Shelf Offshore site, where another dive will be performed, and then going to the Southern Hydrate Ridge after that. I am looking forward to it and am excited to see what lies under the depths!

UW Logo on the Thompson, taken before boarding. Credit: Kathryn Whitmer, University of Washington, V22.

August 17:

Today was the start of our journey for Leg 2 of the Visions ’22 cruise. This morning, I got up at 6:30 and met with the rest of the student group on the UW campus in Seattle. The trip started with a bit of a hiccup, someone had stolen all the keys to the vans, so unfortunately one had to be rented. Hopefully the keys are recovered soon so the vans can run again!

An hour later than expected, we got on the road and started our 5-hour drive to Newport, Oregon, which is where the boat will depart from. About an hour away from our destination, we passed a wildfire that had just started in a field of dry grass. We could see the flames from the road, and it looked as though it was spreading fast. Fire trucks were arriving as we were driving past, but I hope the fire doesn’t spread too far!

Just before we got to Newport, we drove through a wonderfully green, lush forest. It was a beautiful sight for sore eyes after being in dry August weather for so long. Eventually, however, we were able to make it to port, and after testing negative for COVID, boarded the Thomas G Thompson.

View of the Yaquina Bay Bridge with some gulls hanging out on the dock. Credit: Kathryn Whitmer, University of Washington V22.

Right away, I felt like I had entered a completely different world. The low ceilings, steep staircases, vast labs, and scientific equipment and instruments everywhere really solidified that I was, in fact, going on the VISIONS cruise. I got a tour of the boat, and found the different types of labs very interesting, I hope to be able to work in some of them as the cruise progresses. Later, we got dinner (pizza), then went out and sat on the bow for a bit. I could hear (and smell) many California Sea Lions over on the rocks, saw a Habor Seal briefly poke its head above water, and watched the gulls swoop and soar through the wind. It was a beautiful sunny day, with a lovely sunset. I’m starting to wind my day down now, where I sit here and type this out. Tomorrow, we have a couple briefings and tours, then set sail later that afternoon. I look forward to what the future week holds and am very excited to be a part of the amazing opportunity!