August 18: Hard to Believe we are Back in Port
We arrived back in port yesterday, hard to believe it’s been a week since I was last on land. The first few days of the voyage went slowly, as everything seemed unfamiliar. Once I settled into my routine, however, the time went far too fast. My last shift in the Jason van was bittersweet.
Even though I’ve worked shifts in the van all week, I still find myself in awe of the seascape and organisms that pass in front of Jason as he completes tasks and places instruments on the seafloor. It feels like I’m looking through a window into a secret world that was never meant for human eyes to see. Sometimes I wonder what the sea cucumbers, crabs and other organisms think of the blinding light and movement that Jason creates in their home, what the eyes never adapted to light see when the ROV passes overhead.
As a kid, I watched documentaries about the deep sea and imagined myself descending into the depths with the camera, sometimes sitting in a cardboard box “submarine” that I made. Being here and getting to work in the Jason van feels like accomplishing some part of that dream, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to come on this trip. I’ve also come away with a better idea of how data are collected at sea, and in speaking with the scientists onboard I’ve gained a better understanding of how one goes about getting into the field. I feel as though I am coming away with more connections and resources to complete my project and prepare for future research.
The van to take us all back to Seattle will be here soon, after lunch, so I will have to say goodbye to the R/V Thompson and the science team. I hope to come back next year to complete additional research, if my project leads in that direction. All in all, I’m very grateful for this experience.
August 14: Shearing the Sheep
After a Jason dive that took several hours longer than expected, the “Sheep” came up over the side of the Thompson. Dangling by one latch it was lowered to the deck, dripping and completely covered in plumose anemones.
The Sheep was installed on the seafloor at around 80 meters depth and has not been cleaned since it was deployed in 2014. The junction box provides the perfect anchor point for a huge number of anemones, which in the 6 years since deployment have grown into a dense and impressive colony.
The beauty of the Sheep on the seafloor, with its thick coat of anemones waving gently in the undersea current, disappeared instantly when the structure was unceremoniously yanked from its watery home and deposited onto the deck of the Thompson. The anemones, which had looked like a fluffy coat on the Sheep underwater, dangled unappetizingly from the frame and grates of the structure.
The other students and I put on our most disposable clothing and got to work pulling, scraping, and tossing the anemones overboard. Though we felt bad for destroying the anemones, we knew that it was a necessary evil as the parts and instruments from the Sheep will later be repurposed and reused to further contribute to science.
We kept the mood light with jokes and conversation to distract us from the task at hand, which left us stinky, slimy, and very ready for a hot shower. The visual and olfactory experience may have been unpleasant, but the end result was a much less “fluffy” platform.
I can barely believe how fast my time on the Thompson has gone by, and how quickly I have adjusted to the ship’s rhythms. I have been working more on my biological identification project today, which has been slower going than I expected.
I have managed to identify several species from the video footage of a 2019 Jason dive near Pythias Oasis along a fault there, including a very interesting soft coral in the Anthomastus genus that one other student commented looks a bit similar to visual representations of a certain virus we are all too familiar with.
August 13: Getting My Sea Legs
After experiencing some seasickness the first few days offshore (in part due to large swells), I woke up this morning feeling adjusted to the sway and roll of the boat. Now our third full day at sea, I have completed four watch shifts and feel adjusted to my new schedule. Without seasickness to distract me, I find that my favorite place to be is in the Jason van, where I often find myself watching the ROV work even off my shift.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the back row of the van watching the Jason team work to pull anemones off the cables connected to the “Sheep” (a colloquial name for the MJ01C junction box). Once the Sheep is onboard, myself and other VISIONS’21 students will work to scrape off the anemones that cover it.
Working in the Jason van was a bit nerve wracking at the start, with a lot of tasks to remember and events to log, but I was surprised by how quickly I felt at home in here. Once I started feeling a bit better yesterday, I was also able to work on my project for the week, which involves watching footage from a Jason dive in 2019 from a nearby site called Pythias Oasis.
I will then then identify and map fauna found at and near the site. We are slated to take 24 hours at Pythias this leg of the trip, which is the part I’m most excited for. I’ve thought about staying up the whole time we are there so I don’t miss anything, relying on coffee and enthusiasm to stay alert and then sleeping during the transit back to Newport.
Check in tomorrow for an update on cleaning the “sheep,” which is the most heavily bio-fouled instrument I’ve ever seen. Wish us luck in cleaning it!
August 11: Starting Leg 2
After a 6-hour drive from the UW down to Newport, our student van arrived at the NOAA dock. The excitement was palpable, and after a rapid COVID test (safety first), we boarded the ship. Once onboard, we got a tour of the ship and a meal to kick off our time on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.
The next day, activity picked up as we got a safety drill, a science meeting and a safety training meeting, part of which involved donning immersion suits. These suits keep the wearer warm, dry and afloat in the case of an emergency, but are not known for their flattering looks.
Because the ship did not depart from the dock until 2:45pm on Tuesday, we had plenty of time to begin working on our student projects, familiarize ourselves with our roles and schedules onboard the ship, and even begin decorating styrofoam cups (which will later be sent to the seafloor with the ROV Jason and return to the surface a fraction of their former size). I chose to attempt a drawing of my pet toad, Maynard. Once the Thompson left the dock, we were greeted with fog as we entered into rocky seas. My watch runs from 4-8 (am and pm), so I went to bed early to start acclimating to the schedule change.