Monday, November 28, 2011


Whale watching
Today we saw a few whales, who decided to hang out around the boat almost all day. It was a beautiful, still day, and the whales made it almost perfect. We all think it was a female Minke whale and her calf, because one was much larger than the other and they stuck very close together. They spent the entire day going back and forth under the boat, enjoying the clear blue water and investigating the sounds coming from the large pumps we had deployed over the side of the ship. Minke whales are one of the smallest whales, and they tend to be found in the open ocean rather than close to the coast. They are also baleen whales, which means they have baleen, a substance that looks and feels like hair, instead of teeth. They use this to filter phytoplankton and krill out of the water, just like in "Finding Nemo" when the whales "swallows" Dory and Marlin.
Minke whale

Next we will be heading to TAG (Trans-Atlantic Geo-traverse), a station that is directly over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. More on this later!

Friday, November 25, 2011


Port hole decorations
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we all had a great day. We stopped all deck work during dinner so that everyone could sit down and enjoy the meal, because normally there is work going on non-stop so that we can make the most efficient use of our time. It was a beautiful day outside, and some of the scientists kept themselves busy by working at a leisurely pace, and others busied themselves with trying to get the best possible reception on their XM radios so they could listen to football all day.

All 3 cooks were slaving in the kitchen since breakfast, cooking 3 turkeys and 1 ham for all of us to eat, along with many other side dishes and fixings. We gave the cooks a round of applause after the meal, because they sure deserved it! Everything was delicious, and helped most of us miss home a little bit less.
Adjusting the XM radio antenna

Dinner menu and appetizers

My Thanksgiving dinner
We are moving along smoothly still with our work, and are more than half-way done now. We are now at station 13, out of 24 stations, with 20 hours of "steaming", or just driving the boat, between each station. All of us are thankful for those long steams so that we can get plenty of rest. Hopefully the rest of the cruise will remain running smoothly!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic
On Friday we arrived in Bermuda, a island directly east of South Carolina. Most people think of Bermuda as being in the Caribbean, but it is actually on the edge of the Sargasso Sea with the nearest land 1,000 km away. Bermuda is often also associated with historical accounts of the "Bermuda Triangle," which describes an area of the Atlantic where many ships and airplanes have been reported to go missing under "mysterious" circumstances. Modern research has revealed that there have no more disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other part of the ocean, but the name has stuck.

The pilot boat pulling up next to the R/V Knorr
Although the tales of the Bermuda Triangle are somewhat exaggerated, there are many shipwrecks along Bermuda due to the reefs that surround the island. This makes navigating the island in a boat tricky if you are not a local. To prevent an issues when a ship like ours comes in from a foreign port, it is common at all ports to have a "pilot" boat come out to meet your boat before you come into the port. This consists of a small boat coming out to meet you, pulling up alongside your boat, and the "pilot" jumps on board. The pilot is someone who has intimate knowledge of the local waters, and the pilot directs the captain as we pull up to the dock. This is especially important in Bermuda, as the harbor entrance is extremely narrow. It was hard to imagine how the huge cruise ships could fit through such a small passageway!
Pulling into the harbor at St. George's, Bermuda

Once we docked, customs came aboard to make sure everything was in order and we were allowed to go on dry land! even though we have only been at sea for 2 weeks, the prospect of going on shore was like a mini vacation. We headed directly to Tobacco Bay, a really nice beach in St. George's (one of the municipalities of Bermuda, the other one Hamilton). On our way we viewed the town, and took in the beautiful landscape. Bermuda is really colorful, owing to the crystal clear waters and the brightly painted buildings in blue, pink, green and white (these colors are mandatory in Bermuda, and are chosen based on what year the building was built). We then went to a nice dinner, and a party at the local oceanography station, called Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). Fellow collaborators at this institution put on a wonderful party for everyone on the ship, and we got to explore the station. Most people who work at BIOS live right next to the ocean science station, as the living expenses in Bermuda are really expensive, but living is subsidized on the station (the government helps pay the bills for rent so that most can afford to live there). This makes for a really fun, close-knit group of people living and working on station. 
Dinner at Wahoo's in St. George's, Bermuda

We are finishing up our work at BATS, our next station after Bermuda, and then moving on with the rest of our cruise on the way to Cape Verde. From now on the stations are much further apart (about 20 hours), so everyone is looking forward to having some nice breaks in between working hard on station!

Taking a break at Tobacco Bay, Bermuda

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sargasso Sea

We are officially in the "Sargasso Sea" now, which is just another name for the North Atlantic gyre, or an area of the open ocean that has currents that spin around it on all sides. The North Atlantic gyre is surrounded by the Gulf Stream that runs north along the east coast of the United States, this then turns east and eventually converges with the Canary Current running south off the coast of Africa. This particular ocean gyre is called the "Sargasso Sea" because of a type of sea weed called Sargassum that accumulates there. The currents presumably cause the sea weed to collect in the gyre, and it can be seen everywhere throughout the Sargasso Sea.
Sargassum floating near our boat
We are now headed to Bermuda, and should arrive there early tomorrow morning. Everyone is busy planning what they want to do as soon as we get off the ship-most people have plans to go to the beach and go snorkeling. Then, we have a party in the evening at the BIOS station (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) where we will have some dinner with some other scientists who work there. Once we leave Bermuda on Saturday morning, our first station will be at a station that is named BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time Series). This is a special station in the ocean because scientists go to this same exact spot in the ocean many times a year and make several different measurements each time. Thus, we have a "time series" of measurements like temperature, salinity, nutrient levels and chlorophyll levels for the past 20 years. Our data, from this cruise, can then help to decipher some of the trends perhaps that have been seen in the ocean measurements that have been previously made at this same location. Time series locations in the oceans such as BATS have been very important in helping scientists to understand how the oceans have been changing over time. Another important time series station is "HOT", or the Hawaiian Ocean Time Series. Many cruises like ours tend to overlap with these particular stations when they are in the same area, so that data can be compared between different years and different scientific groups.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Red Sky at Night, Sailors' Delight; Red Sky in the Morning, Sailors Take Warning

Sunset on day 3 of the cruise, before the storms began.

Sunrise before hurricane Sean.
We weathered hurricane Sean, and are now on our way to Bermuda. We are a little behind schedule though, because with the bad weather everything takes longer. When we put our instruments in the water, we have to do everything more carefully, and lower the instrument more slowly through the water since there are strong currents and winds. We also have certain "stations" (specific latitude and longitude coordinates in the ocean) where we are getting samples, but in between sampling times for different scientists the boat sometimes drifts off the station where we began, and it takes a while to drive the boat back to the original station after each scientist is taking turns gathering their samples. This has caused us some delays in the schedule, so we have canceled one of our stations before we get to Bermuda.

Besides the rough weather, we are definitely getting into much warmer waters and it is really hot and humid outside despite the wind. We have also seen a bunch of flying fish (fish that jump out of the water and glide across its surface as though they are flying), including one that almost hit me in the head when it jumped on board the ship on accident. They are attracted to the lights of the boat at night, and sometimes jump out of the water and find themselves on deck. We catch them and throw them back overboard. We also saw a huge Mahi, a really bright blue and green open ocean fish, that was circling the boat for hours last night. Many of the crew members were mad that we didn't come wake them in the middle of the night so they could try to catch it. Some of the crew are quite avid fishermen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cheese o'clock

Cheese platter every afternoon!
In other places of the world it might be 5 o'clock somewhere, but on a dry ship (absolutely no alcohol allowed on board) it is cheese o'clock. At 3 o'clock everyday on this boat, the cooks put out an awesome platter of cheese as a snack before dinner. I think it is the favorite time of day for most people on the ship. We even have small pagers on this ship with preset messages, so that we can get woken up or told to meet someone somewhere on the ship, and one of our preset messages is "cheese o'clock." Clearly, it is important facet of life on the boat.
Rainy night on the Knorr

Knorr in relation to hurricane Sean

We are now at station 3 and heading to station 4 at the end of the day today. We were way ahead of schedule, and now we are back on schedule because we have been delayed by a storm. Hurricane "Sean" is in the Atlantic now, but we are on the outer edge. We have gotten a lot of rain and wind, but not too big of swells. We have continued work on normal, but everything takes longer because of the weather. The storm is supposed to pass us in the next 36 hours and then we can continue on our way to Bermuda!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's My Job

Some of the Woods Hole Scientists waving goodbye as we pull away from the dock
We shoved off on Sunday from Woods Hole, with a few of the Woods Hole faculty members there to wish us well and wave goodbye. There was hardly a breath of wind, and the sun was out. We couldn’t have asked for much better weather. On Sunday we did a bunch of safety drills, which included putting on our survival suits, also known as “Gumby suits” because you look like Gumby when you put them on. They are huge wetsuit-like suits that cover your head as well, and have lights and reflectors on them. Everyone on the ship has one in case of an emergency. Usually the only people who have to put these on at beginning of the cruise are the people who are sailing on a ship for the first time, but the captain made all of us put them on. I should have had my camera for that, because it was quite a sight to see 32 Gumbies walking around.
Deploying the GEOTRACES rosette of sampling bottles over the side of the ship.
Inside our make-shift lab, also called the "bubble" because it is made of walls out of plastic to protect from the metal ship.
We got to our first station in the evening, and stayed up all night collecting water samples, and filtering them. My job on this cruise, involves getting everyone on the ship’s sampling bottles ready before we put our sampling instrument into the water. The instrument we use has 24 12 liter bottles attached to it, along with some other instruments. We send it over the side of the ship on a wire, and then we close each bottle, at which ever depth we would like to collect water from, by clicking a button the computer on the ship. Then we have 12 liters of water from 12 different depths, because we usually close 2 bottles at each depth. At each station, we do this twice, so that at any given spot in the ocean where we stop the ship and gather water, we will have samples from 24 different depths going from the surface all the way down to the bottom of the ocean (usually about 3000-5000m). This is a big job. To do this, we first gather everyone’s bottles and put them in separate crates corresponding to which depth they would like a sample from. This makes it easy for us when we are filling up the bottles, so that we can just take one crate at a time. Once we have all the bottles ready in the crates, then we are ready to deploy our instrument over the side of the ship. This takes 4 people to do. One person operates the winch, which is a big crane that can support the weight of the instrument. One person gives hand signals to the person operating the big crane, and the other 2 people operate “tag lines” which are ropes attached to the instrument so that the instrument doesn’t swing when we raise it and put it over the side of the ship. The instrument then goes down in the water to all of the depths we want to sample, then we bring it back up on the deck. We take the bottles into a large “van” that is on the deck of the ship, which is a make-shift lab made out of a large shipping container. Since we are sampling for metals, this protects the water from getting any contamination from the ship, since the ship is a huge hunk of metal. Then we fill up all the bottles for everyone on the ship who wants a sample, and then distribute them and put them away. Some scientists on board are analyzing the samples right away, and others are taking them back to their lab to analyze at home. The whole process takes about 8-10 to complete, then we go to sleep and do it again!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Planes, shuttles, buses, subways, and now a boat.

Pond near Boston Common

Back-up on the assembly line loading the food  

The R/V Knorr getting ready for the cruise
This week I arrived in Boston, MA before heading to Woods Hole to leave on the cruise. I stayed in Boston for the night and got to see Fenway Park, and almost the whole city. I did the Freedom Trail, and relaxed a bit in Boston Common. After my visit in Boston, I took the subway to the bus station, then the bus for two hours to Falmouth, then I smuggled myself on a shuttle to the ferry dock in Woods Hole headed to Martha's Vineyard, and finally I walked to the dock where we were loading our boat, the R/V Knorr. Everyone has now been busy this week loading the scientific equipment we need for our research, as well as securing things around the ship- tying everything down to make sure it doesn't fly about the boat when we go out to sea and start moving a lot with the swells. The Knorr is a large ship, about 200 feet long, and there are a lot of things to take care of before leaving. The crew has to make sure everything on the boat is in working order, the scientists have to set-up and test their equipment, and the most important part is the food we will need on our 36 day cruise has to be loaded. This is a huge job, and one that involved almost everyone who is going on the boat. We all make a huge assembly line from the dock to the kitchen, and pass the food along to each person, and finally to the cook, who places in the pantry and freezers. I have never seen as much food as was loaded onto the boat this time- it took almost 3 hours! This is because our final stop is in Cape Verde, which are small islands and do not have a lot of grocery stores for the cook to buy more supplies before turning around and heading back to Woods Hole. We are leaving tomorrow morning, so the final preparations are being made today and then we are off!