Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking the Pulse of the Ocean

Our morning gathering.  After days of setting up,
Chris Ikeda (RTC-SFSU) is especially happy to sample
from the ocean acidification experiment.

On deck sampling with Dr. Cochlan,
Maribel Albarran, Chris Ikeda, Charles Wingert
(RTC-SFSU) and Dr. Trick (Western Univ.).
I started off this morning like a brand new person.  Even though the ship tossed all night long, I actually slept well.  To keep from rolling out of my bunk, I slipped my body into the empty space between the mattress and the wall of my state room.  My room is located below deck, which means it's below the water line.  The cold Pacific water keeps my room cool so it's hard to stay warm.  Last night, I used three blankets and wore a pair of sweatpants.  Still, my best night of sleep thus far.

Julian Herndon (RTC-SFSU)
shows off our batch growth.
We gathered in the lab right after breakfast for a quick reminder of the day's schedule.  Today we begin Day 1 of our ocean acidification "batch" experiment.   A "batch" experiment is one in which we collect seawater, and then grow phytoplankton in an on-deck incubator.  The incubator tank is pumped with seawater to maintain a steady temperature, and is protected against the sun's damaging rays by using filters.  Although phytoplankton need sunlight to grow, ultraviolet radiation at the surface can still damage algal cells.  

Sampling the "batch."
The acidification experiment involves the manipulation of several variables, most notably pH and the concentration of iron.   Iron is a critical nutrient with a very short residence time--meaning that it is utilized quickly by organisms.  We are trying to understand the relationship between the need and use of iron in phytoplankton.  For example, imagine going to a buffet...  Would you try to eat everything for fear that the food may run out, or do you say to yourself that there's plenty of food--there's no need to get stuffed?  Or, imagine...  You have a limited amount of food.  Do you eat it all in one sitting, or would you ration it out over a long period of time?   We are trying to understand how phytoplankton use iron in seawater, and how that use might be affected by ocean acidification.  With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the rise, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which is highly reactive and reduces the concentration of the carbonate ion.  It can affect shell formation for marine animals such as corals, plankton, and shellfish.   So as Dr. Cochlan said to me, we are "taking the pulse of the ocean."  

Dr. Mark Wells (Univ. of Maine) and
Trey Joyner (Normal Park Museum Magnet)
have just recovered the GoFlo bottle.
Almost all of the scientists gathered on the aft deck to watch the collection.   Not much was going on at the time, and we couldn't do anything until each of us got some of the batch water.  Once the bottles were filled, each group took their samples to their respective workspaces.  During lunch, Trey and I mentioned to Chris, our feelings on the large amount of trust and responsibility given to us.  As teachers, we are doing the same work as scientists would do in a lab.  Chris confirmed our feelings by giving a deadpan of response of  "it's huge."   Then, he smiled.  I knew he was serious, and that's what gets me excited.  I get a chance to make a difference.

One of my assignments on
this cruise is to read chlorophyll
samples in a dark room.  This is what
it looks like.  
I spent a good part of my day reading chlorophyll samples in the dark room.  Using a small red light, I quickly moved through the process to be ready for our next cast.  When the sun came out, I took a break and ventured out to the aft deck.  The air is considerably cooler today, and fewer people are daring to wear shorts.  By the time the evening arrived, the clouds moved in, the sun was blocked out, and the air became a thin blanket of mist.  

It's now 10:30 at night, and most of the scientists are now done with their work.  Drs. Cochlan, Trick, and Wells are still discussing what the next part of the plan will be.  I will soon retire for the evening, and reflect on the importance of what we are doing here.  We will repeat the process all over tomorrow.  To think that less than to weeks ago, I was in my classroom, talking to my students about this research project.   Now here I am, doing it, gathering data in hopes of better understanding the pulse of the ocean.
Today, I served as the winch operator
on the GoFlo cast.
Thanks for checking in.  Be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest updates:  @SoCalCostello and @t3joyner.

View from the aft deck this morning. 


  1. R U listening to Rocky Top? ? Does the pitching of the ship, disturb/change/alter the results from the samples you take from the ocean because of the agitation in the containers?

  2. Hi Josslyn. We're listening to just about everything.
    The pitching, in some ways, simulates the movement of the ocean. The biggest issue we face is safety. Some of the equipment is located near the rail. We agitate all of our samples before testing them anyway. If we don't agitate them, the materials will stay at the bottom of the containers.