Genevieve Kent Blog Leg 1

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UW undergraduates Jenn Willson and Genevieve Kent, give a thumbs up after cleaning a RCA junction box that had been installed for 7 years at 2600 m water depth. Credit: R. Scott, University of Washington, V21.
August 7: I Never Want to Leave

When I applied to VISIONS’21 I anticipated being seasick, or being tired from shifts in the van, but a problem I didn’t think I would have would be leaving.

The thought of leaving this boat makes me sad because I want these moments to last forever. I find myself staying awake longer and longer just so I can fit in these last few moments here before I have to leave the boat to go back home.

Writing blogs while seasick is quite the challenge, every time I sit down to write I have to get back up again to go get some fresh air, so recently I have been trying to occupy myself with other tasks that keep my mind occupied.

Me taking an oxygen sample from a Niskin bottle. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington, V21.

Professor Julie Nelson, a chemist here on the Thompson, showed the students how to titrate oxygen samples from the Niskin bottles. I’ve done little titrating for labs before, and on the boat we have an auto titrator called a Dosimat that made it much easier than ding it by hand. I love the purple color that appears when you add starch to the sample with iodine.

Other tasks included cleaning the instruments we bring up from the bottom, which is one wet and smelly task. Even though my boots got covered in deep sea goo, I would do it a thousand times over if I got to stay. Even the most mundane, unwanted tasks seem exciting to me here.

Of course, there are always exciting things happening, such as tying a rubber glow in the dark chicken to the undervator. Obviously, this was a case of serious scientific inquiry, but sadly it did not glow in the dark. We also got to send Styrofoam cups down with a deep water Niskin sample. The pressure at depth forces the air out of the foam, so the cups get super small after you take them down.

Last night I stayed awake later than I normally do, and Rachel took me and Andrew out to the bow to see the stars. It was amazing! The bow is not lit up but the aft is, so as you walk forward it seems really dark at first before your eyes start adjusting. Soon, the whole sky was lit up with stars all the way round. When you’re on the ocean, there’s nothing really to block the view, and with so little light pollution, you can even spot the milky way. It was a treat to see the sky like that, especially because it has been pretty foggy for most of the leg. Missing a little sleep was more than worth it for the incredible view.

 
UW undergraduates Jenn Willson, Andrew Paley, and Genevieve Kent prepare the CTD rosette for another water cast during the RCA VISIONS’21 expedition. Credit: R. Scott, University of Washington, V21.

August 4: Learning to Sample the Deep Ocean

After learning how to prep the Niskin rosette yesterday, this morning I got to collect samples. It was very exciting for me because online school means online labs, which are not a good substitute for the real thing.

Taking samples from the Niskins also happens to be a very damp job, so I donned my boots and went to work taking oxygen, DIC, nutrients, and chlorophyll samples. Emptying the Niskin of the excess water after sampling was pretty fun, and also when I got the most soaked, despite my rubber boots.

I feel like I am finally settling into the rhythm of the cruise and becoming more comfortable on the boat, despite still being seasick. I wish I had more time here.

August 3: Doughnuts

Today was my first watch! Jason was conducting the second dive of this Leg when I was on shift. I got to be in the Jason control van to log what the vehicle was doing. It felt very stressful at first, but after an hour or so I got pretty used to the rhythm of the dive.

Fun fact, when you wear orange on deck you blend in with the instruments pretty well. From the cameras mounted on the ROV, people in the van witnessed a crew member blending right into the Science Pod for the Shallow Profiler Mooring. The control van is full of monitors showing a host of different readings and camera angles, one of which displays the position of the boat and the ROV. There’s an overlay displaying a ring where you want to keep the ROV in that looks like a doughnut. Doughnuts apparently come in many forms here on the Thompson, from monitors to the Mess.

August 2: Miss Coffee

Seasickness and coffee do not mix well. Instead of having a nice warm cup of coffee with creamer, this morning I had tea. While the tea itself tasted pretty good, it pales in comparison to roasted bean-y goodness.

Every time a wave hits the hull it crashes like thunder. The first time I heard it I thought someone had fallen, or maybe that we didn’t do such a good job of tying everything down before we left.

 Crossing is tedious. I watch on the navigation as the boat crawls by and I try and find things to do, since our shifts haven’t really started yet.

Crossing is exhilarating. Suspected humpback whales were spotted yesterday, of course it had to be after I wrote my blog post so I could not include it. I love watching their breaths fan out across the horizon as they sink back below the waves. I wonder where they were going, and I like to imagine they are having a whale meeting. Seeing whales definitely makes up for missing coffee.

Today I also learned how to properly collect oxygen samples from the CTD and how to prep the CTD before you send it down. To get to the top and open the lids you have to climb onto the rosette stand, which was interesting to try on a moving boat when you need both your hands.       

August 1: Life is much more interesting with conch shells

It has begun! Well, it technically began yesterday, but I did not think to start my blog post until now. Leaving the dock was exciting so understandably I was outside and not writing then. My favorite thing about the trip so far is connecting with strangers. On the boat it seems like there are always new people to meet, but there are also moments with people you may never see again, such as The Conch Man.

Of course, everyone waves at the Thompson when the ship goes through the locks and under bridges, but not everyone brings a conch shell. There he stood on his rowboat, looking out as us as we came by, conch in hand. As we came closer to him, he raised it and started to blow. Obviously, I was ecstatic.

“Is that a conch?!” Someone from the boat yells, and cupping his hands around his mouth, Conch Man replies.

“Yeah!”

I did not know The Conch Man, and he might have known the Thompson, but we had both shared a moment of connection as we cheered for him.

There were a million things to see as we left to go refuel near downtown, from people taking wedding photos at gasworks to harbor seals to pirate boats. Honorable mentions to some people who spectated from shore with a megaphone, letting us know that they were fans. Weirdly, it feels like you are famous, everyone waving and asking where we are going to, stopping, and staring at the boat. My favorite boat name was Salmon Transporter, which seems very functional as a boat name.

I arrived at the dock early yesterday, which was good but also not so good as I was the first student to arrive that day. Inside the boat, there are many things to consider, which I had not thought of before. One such thing is securing your laptop down to the table with eyehooks and line. When I think about it obviously you would want to tie down your expensive equipment for when the motion of the ocean gets going, but as this is my first experience on a boat like the Thompson, I had not thought of this. Another example is taking wheels off wheely chairs, which is taking me a little while to get used to when I try to push my chair back only to be met with resistance. Many moments throughout the day I learned new things about being on a boat, and I hope I will continue to do so on this cruise.

Right now, everything seems overwhelming, but everyone keeps saying that soon things will make sense. First day on the ship, I met so many new people, and was given a lot of information from how to stay safe on board to where the fruity pebbles are. I am filled with excitement and look forward the rest of the cruise as I cross my fingers I won’t get seasick.