September 8, 2014
The past few days have been interesting ones. The cruise is drawing to a close, and all of our projects are starting to fall into place. Lauren, Danielle, and I are making great progress with our entries for the RSN Visions Biology Catalog. As of today, we have 25 completed entries, which consist of a description of the animal, including the location and depth at which it was spotted; a picture; and a short video, anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds, of the specimen in its natural habitat. In the next two days, we should have more than five more added to that list. It’s been a productive leg for the other students as well. Four of the students (Tysen, Billy, Kevin and Daniel) are finishing up public outreach videos, featuring high quality footage taken from ROPOS dives and their own beautiful “radio voices”.
Taylor, who has spent the majority of the hours of this cruise working on his project (yesterday, he stayed up for twenty-four hours straight) is developing a program that will process the raw data streaming from one of the working instruments and will turn it into plots of understandable points. Victoria is perfecting a proposal for organizing a citizen-science project that will utilize amateur ocean enthusiasts to analyze the large amount of high-definition video footage that the RSN will output. Daniel is anticipating samples of bacterial mats and clams from Southern Hydrate Ridge, which he will test for different sulfur isotopes at the UW, and will use that data to assemble a chemist’s idea of the benthic food web. Rick, with the help of us undergrads, has finished processing his samples, which has been organized into well over 2,000 test tubes. Tomorrow, Lauren and Danielle and I will put together a magnificent PowerPoint to showcase over two weeks’ worth of our work.
Also during the last few days of the cruise, all of the students have taken up tying knots. I can now tie a bowline (sailor’s) knot, a figure-eight (rock-climber’s) knot, a sheet bend and a double sheet bend knot (useful for tying two ends of rope together, especially if they are different sizes), a square knot (a simple knot for holding to ends of rope together), and a monkey fist (which is more beautiful than practical; I’ve made three of different sizes and cords that I’ve kept).
Ed; the cruise’s photographer, video editor, and computer tech-guy (and practical joker); processed the stills he took of me a few days ago. He thought the best one looked excellent and was very proud it. I know it’s good because Ed is only satisfied with the very best. He was even telling others about how great my picture turned out. This was my first time having a professional photographer take my picture.
Yesterday, I and Kevin (coincidentally the shortest and the tallest people on the cruise) joined John Delaney on his live broadcast (viewed by all fourteen people, as the joke goes). I’ve never talked much on this cruise, and when I have, my sentences haven’t been very fluid. Normally during presentations, I have trouble articulating. However, once I got on the webcast, I was very animated and spoke fluidly, without stumbling on my words, or having trouble finding the right thing to say. I surprised both myself and John.
It is now a common sight to see porpoises (I believe they are porpoises now, because their snouts are somewhat rounded) playing alongside the Thompson while we are in transit. They frequently pop out of the frothing waves like little toaster strudels from a toaster. (Fresh strudels, by the way, have been provided by the ships cooks the past few days).
It’s been a fantastic journey aboard the Tommy Thompson, a journey that is quickly coming to an end. I look forward to having internet that loads at more than a snail’s pace. I’m very excited to see my family, and show them some wonderful pictures taken aboard this cruise, and my knot-tying skills. It’s been a good experience to have a break from civilization and the rest of humanity, but I do look forward to returning home and doing normal things like: cooking myself pasta and sauce for lunch, going to work, taking the 880 to the University, supporting my brother at his show band competitions, and watching Breaking Bad.
However, it does worry me that I don’t know when I’ll sail in a vessel like this one on the open ocean again. This is one of the most serene and beautiful environments I’ve ever been in, and I am sadden that, once on land, it will be completely out of my reach for who knows how long. During our quick turn-around trip to Newport, I got a feeling of what it would be like to be back with land-based society. The transition from infinity to the finite left me feeling a little cramped. I wonder if I will feel slightly off once I am back in Mukilteo. Besides a ship, imagination is the only other way to return to this environment, but foggy memories will not be able to recreate the original sights, nor convey the profound feelings the endless ocean and sky instills in the heart of man.
September 5, 2014
When I woke up and looked out the door of the main lab, I saw the beginning of the jetty that we had left behind in Yaquina bay ten days ago. During the night, we had turned around and headed back to Newport to gather more equipment to put down on the bottom of the ocean. From the start of the trip we had been blessed with good weather, and because our ROPOS crew worked swiftly, we had almost run out of things to do. I along with most on board stood out on the deck and watched the arched bridge that framed the entrance of the Newport marina drift closer.
Transitioning from the endlessness of the open ocean to the bay was slightly uncomfortable for me. The land on either side of the marina seemed like it was closing in on our vessel. The water was a sickly green, with feathers, plants and debris scattered about. The air slightly stank of sewage.
Once we had docked, the students, myself included, and a few others on the boat immediately started making phone calls, reaching out to hear familiar voices and to give an account of our adventures.
Although at this point I felt like I preferred the open ocean to this crowded, polluted harbor, I did have an overwhelming urge to step on land (at least on the dock). I went inside and did some computer work for the biology catalog myself and two other students, Lauren and Danielle, are adding onto this leg. When I went to take a walk outside, I found that the boat was already steaming back to Hydrate Ridge. We had only packed equipment onto the fantail by crane and hadn’t even lowered the gangplank. The land was being pulled away from me. I can’t lie; I did feel disappointed. However, shore was rapidly disappearing behind us, and the beautiful open ocean beckoned, drawing us toward the ever-elusive horizon. I smiled. We were so close to being in the middle of the sea and sky, without the polluted land. Soon, only the pale blue outlines of some far-away mountains could be seen, which I tolerated, because that meant that the last traces of land would soon be gone.
I feel inclined to mention that one of the other students, Taylor, who had taken to being awake at odd hours, had slept through the whole episode. Sometime in the afternoon, he inquired about when we would be going into Newport, and was shocked to hear that we had already been there and back.
Rick, with the help of the undergraduates, continues the process his samples. Once all of the work is done, we plan on piling all of the full test tube racks on the lab bench, and taking a group picture to end all pictures with our work that has encompassed the past few days. There will also be a celebration of some sort.
September 4, 2014
This evening, we have had a rough transit from Slope Base to Hydrate Ridge (to Pinnacle, I think, at least I keep hearing that name being thrown around the ship). I went out on the stern with a group of the other students, and stayed out there for quite a while, knowing that if I came inside, I would feel motion sick. The Thompson was riding into huge waves; the biggest must have had amplitudes of over ten feet. It was fun to look towards the bow and point out a big wave fast approaching. Far into the horizon, the white caps of the waves could be seen, rising and then falling and mixing with the turbulent ocean. The waves disturbed the bow much more than they did the stern, and for that reason, the bow was off limits to everyone. Anyone who would have gone to sit at the tip of the bow would have surely found themselves flung over the edge and into the churning waters in front of the Thompson.
In the days after ROPOS had collected two MOSQUITOs, instruments that stick needles into the ocean floor and measure the flow rate and composition of the seawater over the course of the year, a lot of work needed to be done to prepare the samples for storage. Rick Berg is the graduate student in charge of the samples taken from the MOSQUITOs. In each instrument, there are eight osmotic pumps, which slowly draw seawater into eight coils (one coil per pump). Each coil has approximately 55 meters of sample, and that can then be divided into about 100 samples. So, 100 samples per coil, 8 coils per instrument, and 2 MOSQUITOs is over 1500 samples. Rick, being the clever guy he is, decided to enlist in the free undergraduate labor available on board. He planned out a Fordian assembly line, and we slowly began working through the coils. We started yesterday, and tonight we are starting on the fourth coil (we’ve got a long way to go). There is a lot a labelling to be done, and a lot of filling test tubes and vials. Someone usually brings in their laptop to play music, and we joke around while processing the large quantity of seawater samples.
September 1, 2014
My shift in the ROPOS control room was four hours of an almost twelve hour dive. The ROPOS controllers had to meticulously lay down three seismometers in different locations. Positioning the seismometers took up the majority of the length of the dive. The front end had to be pointing north, and the short metal rod on top of the cylinder had to be pointing straight up for the instrument to work correctly. Once it was in place, it had to be buried under miniscule glass beads, to protect it, and to keep it from moving out of position. During the transit between sites, the control room listened to Johnny Cash as background music.
Today the students on board were sucked into a vortex of John Delaney. We spent three hours in the library listening to him talk about everything from the system of writing proposals for grants and the competition and academic environment that ensued, the design and sensors of the RSN (Regional Scale Nodes project), to water on Enceladus and the life that might exist on other planets. He ended the talk with a slide with a Japanese painting of the waves and a haiku by Basho. Even John Delaney had gotten lost in time. His missed his 5 o’clock live update, and only realized his mistake when a not-so-happy Ed came and sat down in the room and told him “We’re live.”
After dinner, I found a copy of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea in the ship’s library. It was an appropriate book to read at sea, and I suspected that the ship would have it. I carefully scanned the shelves. Although the shelves were labeled with genres, the books were in no particular order. In some areas, the books were two rows thick on a shelf, and some of the books weren’t upright at all. I got sidetracked by some of the books there: a biography about a woman who sailed on the Titanic, a small volume “for the armchair scientist” that detailed how to extract iron from breakfast cereal and how to fossilize your hamster (among other things), three copies of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear (a two-inch thick novel), a worn (and loved) copy of Jurassic Park. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, most likely wasn’t here; even if it had been at one time, it could have been taken off the boat. Driven by inertia, I continued to browse the spines of the books, not expecting to find the novel. Then, right before my eyes, it appeared. I stared in disbelief for a few seconds, shocked that I had been able to find it at all. After proudly showing off the tattered volume to members of the ship’s crew, scientists, and students (basically anyone that was around), I took it to my bunk, and immediately began reading.
August 31, 2014
Today the rock that was brought up last night was investigated. Daniel showed me some of the little creatures (not unlike potato bugs) that he had picked off the rock under his big, fancy microscope that he had brought on board. According to him, one of the bugs had still been moving when he picked it off the rock. I was impressed that the creatures didn’t explode after having the weight of 770 meters of water lifted off of them.
The rock was admired and examined by scientists and crew alike (That’s one special thing about this ship, everyone aboard is interested in the science, engineering and discovery). Here we had this almost extraterrestrial rock sitting in our main laboratory. I traced the grooves and canals in the rock created by the organisms that had lived in it. It had tiny moss-like appendages growing from it, which of course wasn’t moss. It’s the first sample taken on this leg, our only physical connection to Southern Hydrate Ridge.
Now, I’d like to take a moment to mention the otherworldly meals prepared by the ships cooks. Tonight we had Buffalo wings, and baked catfish, the latter I had never had before tonight. The cooks are masters at what they do. More often than not, I take more food than I tell myself I will. I honestly try to restrain myself, but the food is so good I find myself filling my plate. And of course, after it’s on my plate, I can’t waste food…
Today we had scheduled a talk with John Delaney at 14:00. However, John had some important issues to attend to involving the new mooring we had placed in the ocean, so our student party hung out in the ship’s library and waited for John. We had the most random conversations. Lauren found some bizarre poems and did an impromptu poetry reading. Some of us, myself included, played some games of darts. I scored surprisingly high. John eventually did come into the library and gave his presentation, complete with poems and orchestral compositions. It was a lengthy presentation, as all of John’s speeches are, but it didn’t feel like two hours (which was actually about how long it was). During the speech, we began steaming back towards the 600m offshore site. However, I didn’t feel the least bit seasick, and I fortunately didn’t get a headache. I’m convinced John’s talk made all the difference. Listening to John’s voice is very soothing, and I guess my brain was so wrapped up in his presentation, I wasn’t aware of the rocking surroundings.
I expected that being on this cruise would help narrow my interests, or at least confirm them, but instead I feel mentally disoriented. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I feel like I’m not the person that I want to be. To make matters worse, I don’t know who that ideal person is, or what I should do to become that person. I feel I need to step back from the world and take some time to read (books, novels, internet articles) anything that could help me get some sort of a better understanding. Being so far away from the familiar things that clutter (not necessarily in a bad way) up my life (the University, my family, my friends, the new ALVA students, folding clothes at JCPenney, having to make my own meals, watching Breaking Bad) has left me without distractions. Now, I have all of this physical and mental space around me. This emptiness prompts me to think about the “big”, looming questions that normally lurk in the back of my head. The ones that I don’t directly think about. Where am I going? What am I doing?
August 30, 2014
Today we completed the installation of a two-legged mooring, which is now a permanent fixture in the 600 meter offshore site. On it is a profiler which will travel up and down in the top 200 meters of the ocean, taking measurements. It has ten instruments attached to it. Being a two-legged mooring, it will be more stable in the water column than a mooring that is attached to the bottom in only one place. This mooring was designed to be a long-term fixture in the ocean. It will not be limited to battery life, as it will be able to receive power from its underwater EOM cable. It will also send to shore the data it collects through this cable.
I watched the complete dive, which began out on the fantail of the Thompson, when ROPOS entered the water with the last part of the platform and the profiler. Aft of where ROPOS was being deployed was a group of at least twenty dolphins. They swam up to the ship, and some of them jumped out of the water in small groups in unison. A ways from the ship was a sea lion, which occasionally would stick its snout out of the watch to “breach” like the dolphins did, although the result was a lot less graceful.
ROPOS quickly reached the platform (at a depth of 197 meters) and began the final installment. The claws of ROPOS moved in slow motion to be as careful and precise as possible. After hours of work at the site and tension in the control room, installation had finally finished. ROPOS flew around the mooring taking pictures and video to document its completion and for the engineers and scientists to admire the result of all of the work and anticipation.
Every day, almost constantly, I have the worst headache, which is unfortunate. I just sit through it and try to work, but it’s only made worse by looking at screens all day. I went to take a nap while the ship was in transit back to Southern Hydrate Ridge, because it was impossible to do anything else with the pounding in my head. I woke up around ten thirty that night, went to grab my laundry from the dryer, and stopped by the control room. ROPOS was hovering around a methane seep, and the scientists were deciding where would be the best spot to place a camera. After that, ROPOS flew back to what we now call the Snail Garden (it is even labelled on the navigation screen as such). This species of snail, commonly called babysitter snails, lay their eggs in tall stalks which they sit atop. Once they die, the snails fall off the stalks, and their shells litter the seafloor in this area. Here we got lengthy, close-up footage of a hagfish, which will be an excellent addition to the biology catalog that is being put together during the legs of this cruise. We also pulled up a rock from a depth of 770 meters to investigate back on the ship.
The ship never ceases to rock back and forth, and unfortunately the noisiest place is right next to the berths. Earplugs help a lot. I almost didn’t bring them (… pshhhh, why would I need earplugs on a ship?), but now I am infinitely glad I did. Just because the ship is stable doesn’t mean that it isn’t roaring. I have no idea what it’s doing, but it’s a tremendous racket. Right now, being able to sleep in a bed that is not constantly in motion in a room that is silent sounds heavenly.
August 29, 2014
One of the best places to be on the ship is the ROPOS control room. It has about 10 high-def screens, most showing views taken from different cameras around the robot, and one showing the position of the ROV ROPOS (the large, undersea robot, in layman’s terms) in relation to the ship. Others are computer screens that the engineers and the people on watch utilize during the dive. The ROV is controlled by three separate people. One flies ROPOS, and a person operates each arm. Also, anytime ROPOS is getting ready for deployment, ascending, descending, or working on the ocean floor, two loggers are also present, recording the dive with high-def pictures and words. During my shifts logging, either Deb, the co-chief scientist, or Skip, the head oceanographic engineer is sitting in the seat next to mine. I ask them for clarification of our current actions, but frequently they begin explaining what is going on onscreen without any prompting. I’m not an engineering person at all; however, through questioning, I’m building an understanding of the RSN (Regional Scale Nodes) Project, and am fascinated by it.
I boarded the ship with the intention of seeing some of the strangest animals existing in one of the most bizarre, extreme environments on our planet, but I find myself interested in the operation of the ROV. What we on land think of as a simple task, like unravelling a cable, requires a lot more effort when it is done underwater by a robot controlled from over 600 meters away. The arms have to carefully remove pins that hold the bungee cords that tie the cable to the scaffold and place them in the basket attached to the bottom of the ROV. Next, the bungee cords have to be removed. ROPOS then has to use both arms (each operated by a different person, with only the visual feed in the control room to guide his movements), one to hold the FACT (a cylinder in the first portion of the cable) and the other to grab the connector at the end of the cable, to carefully pull the cable away from the scaffold. It’s incredible being there to witness this operation.
There are also crazy animals living under 700 meters or more of water. When we were working on Slope Base (at a depth of almost 3000 meters), we got stunning footage of a fish never seen before in this area. It was identified (by a biologist off the ship) as a very rare species of fish, most recently sighted in 1978. While working at Hydrate Ridge (a depth of about 700 meters), ROPOS came across a field of snail that live on top of stalks they build. Amongst the snails were brilliantly-colored rockfish, crabs, eel-like hagfish, and others. It was such a bizarre community, and through the cameras of ROPOS, we got to glimpse an area of the ocean floor no one has ever seen before. Although I’ve known that there is macroscopic life on the bottom of the ocean since I’ve been able to read, the concept is still so ridiculous. I’m still impressed when I watch this footage. Life not only exists, but thrives and evolves in this environment. It gives a different meaning to the concept “biology”.
I went out on the bow today with the other girls in the fourth leg party, and watched albatrosses soar around our ship. When they come to land, they stick out their webbed feet, and raise their wings up, until they resemble the open doors of a Delorean, before coming to rest on the tops of the waves. These birds, who must come to land to lay eggs, fly miles away from shore, just to come here, to nowhere in particular. I guess they too enjoy the endlessness of this environment.
August 27, 2014
Yesterday we completed a 5 hour steam to the base of Southern Hydrate Ridge. I am writing this now, because yesterday I was too nauseous from the rocking of the boat. After about 30 minutes, we had completely left behind the two jetties that extended from the mouth of Yaquina Bay. Our ship was then in an expanse of ocean framed by fog on all sides. Before we left port, I had gone for a run, and when I got back, I was nervous about being trapped in a single place for almost three weeks. However, with no land in sight and the boat blasting its foghorn every so often to no one in particular I felt completely at peace. I wasn’t stuck in a limited space; I had the entire ocean and the whole sky.
I stayed on deck and stared at the bland surrounding for almost two hours. I couldn’t look away, and I had no place to go, so I stayed and watched the waves extend into the fog on the horizon. As I watched the waves crash upon themselves, I thought of all the explorers that must have seen the same thing, nothing but water and sky in either direction. A description of the view itself doesn’t convey the experience of the open ocean. If I were to show someone a picture of the view taken off the deck of the boat, he would say, “That looks like just ocean and sky.” However, those words have a different feeling on the deck of the Thompson. Along with monotony, there is also the slight mist of the ocean, the chilling wind that tears through the air, and above all, this feeling that I can only describe as openness. Infinity may be impossible to reach, but closest one will ever get is sailing on the open ocean. Once I got back inside, the rocking of the boat felt a lot stronger. I spent the rest of the steam in my bunk, perpetually (it felt like) being rocked by the waves. The anchor made a tremendous cacophony clanging against the side of the boat. I desperately tried to sleep in order to escape the discomfort.
After I couldn’t stand being rocked around in the bottom of the boat anymore, I headed up on deck for some fresh air. In the water, were hundreds of tiny jellyfish that floated on top of the waves instead of beneath them. Each one was about three inches long, although they slightly varied in size. The top of the creature was shaped like a sail (very similar to the Portuguese man-of-war, except much smaller in size), and on the bottom was a circle of short blue tentacles. There were many along the side of the ship, and their little clear sails could be seen on the crests of the waves in the distance. Later I learned that they are called velella velella, or "by-the-wind sailors”.
Everyone on the ship is very open to explaining his or her research. Learning takes place by simply walking up to one of the scientists, engineers, or crew on board and asking the most basic question: “So what are you doing?”, which is followed by a miniature lesson. Everyone encourages educational questioning here.Setting up the underwater observatory has been successful so far. Today I spent hours watch footage of the sea floor go by under the camera. We were surveying where to lay a cable, just to make sure that there weren’t any obstacles or trawling marks (signs of fishing trawlers that scrape the bottom, which could damage the cables, if the spot was regularly fished). From the footage I saw, there were no major obstacles, just small rocks and a few trawling marks, about which Deb didn’t seem too worried. There was actually a surprising amount of life thriving with almost 700 meters of frigid water on top of it. The high-def camera showed many brittle stars, eel-like creatures, rockfish, and starfish. Although the seafloor was almost as bland as the top of the ocean, I was equally mesmerized by it, and so were the other scientists around me.
August 26, 2014
We are still in port, set to depart at 1400 hrs. There’s a cloudless sky and a moderate wind. The sky around us is filled with seagulls and some cormorants. Almost always, we can hear the sea lions barking on the rocks (about 100m away?) opposite our ship. It’s very warm, and we hope that there will continue to be fair weather at sea, so that we are able to all of the junction boxes (nodes), cables and instruments.
The Thompson is docked at a NOAA facility along with a few other (three, I think) research vessels. As students associated with the Thompson, the procedure for entering the gate of the base is as follows: we walk through the open gate, the guard glances at us, waves, and we wave back. No other clearance is needed.
A beautiful arched bridge stands at the mouth of Yaquina Bay. In about a half hour, we’ll leave it behind and head for Southern Hydrate Ridge.