Cameron Dalke Leg 4 Blog

Sea anemones on a Deep Profiler mooring float. Credit: Cameron Dalke; University of Washington, V23.

11 September 2023

The past few days have been fast-paced and slow at the same time. During my first shift in the Jason van, I watched an operation that involved unplugging a cable in a large, orange float in the shape of a sphere. It was covered in biofouling and became home to several sea anemones. Some of them were in the way and had to get removed of the float by Jason’s robot hands. Those were the lucky ones.

The next day, the float was on deck, and so were the anemones. Accustomed to the high-pressure of the deep sea, they were transformed into goo. Other students volunteered to clean them off while I was busy writing my project proposal. I heard it was very messy.

Jelly on the CTD rosette frame. Credit: Cameron Dalke; University of Washington, V23.

During a few of my shifts, I got to help collect samples from the niskin bottles. Niskin bottles are used to collect water samples from the ocean. They are a part of a CTD rosette, which is used to measure conductivity, temperature, and depth.

I’m unsure of the exact dimensions of the one we have, but it is a foot or two taller than me. The CTD rosette holds 24 niskin bottles, and each one collects a water sample at a different depth. The water from each niskin bottle is separated into three smaller containers to measure salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen. When the top cap is loosened, water shoots out of the nipple spout like a hose on the jet setting.

The salinity samples are poured into a glass jar, and the inside of the jar and the cap are carefully rinsed to make sure the entire bottle is coated with sea water. Chlorophyll samples follow the same steps, but are kept in dark brown plastic jars to block out the light. Dissolved oxygen samples are a multi-step process and not allowed to be performed by students most of the time because they are very easy to mess up.

The niskin bottles store more water than we needed, and the rest had to be dumped out. The bottom of the bottle has a cap that comes off, causing water to dump out all at once. The trick to not getting soaked is to climb on top of the CTD like a jungle gym, but I didn’t know that at the time and soaked the front of my pants. Unfortunately, a jellyfish got caught on the way up and splattered on the side, adding to the list of casualties. 

My successful donning of an emergency immersion suit. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington, V23.

10 September 2023

As I wrapped up my final phone call, I felt the floor vibrate as the ship’s engine revved up. I walked up to the top deck with the other students to watch the sun set as we entered the open ocean.

I made the mistake of borrowing a Dramamine an hour prior, a drug I had never taken before, instead of the motion sickness medication I brought. I learned the hard way that Dramamine has no effect on me, and spent an hour straight dry heaving. My roommate, a cadet who had the misfortune of walking in while I was mid-puke, made sure I understood “the cardinal rule of barfing:” never do it in the sink. Luckily that didn’t happen, but there was a close call.

Once enough of the Dramamine was out of my system, I took the Bonine I brought. This took the edge off enough to make it up the stairs into the Main Lab, where the students on the eight to twelve shift took care of me. I was given the option to take the night off, but I decided I could still make it to my shift, with reduced responsibilities.

We arrived at the Oregon Offshore site right before my shift started. We are assigned to work in the ROV control room 4 hours on, 8 hours off. I was scheduled to work midnight to four, and noon to four with three other students. Our main responsibilities were to log everything important, assist with recording the footage, and help out on deck as needed.

The control room, also called the van, is a large blue box that looks like a shipping container. The only source of light while we work are the 14 monitors that take up the entire front wall. I was too sick during the first three and a half hours to do anything except lay down and observe. Laying down in a cold, dark, rocking room made it difficult to stay awake. I had no choice due to the sea sickness. The only reason I didn’t fall asleep was because the marine technician on shift made sure I stayed up.

The second half of the shift was more exciting. We watched Jason complete its’ mission to disconnect a cable and get brought back to the ship. The 2 students working at the computers were selected to work on the deck, and I was put in charge of logging as Jason was brought to the surface. Jason is connected to the ship by a tether, and the upper part of the tether hosts removable floats that are taken off when Jason comes to the surface. The long chain of floats was brought to the surface with Jason, and each one had to be individually removed. The floats are called footballs, because they are orange and shaped like footballs. I was in charge of watching the monitor and documenting when the first and last football was removed, and when Jason landed on the deck. Thankfully, I was feeling well enough and awake enough to do this.