Thursday, May 29, 2014

Then and Now

L to R: Bud Hale (R/V Melville computer tech),
Rachel Vander Giessen (UW-APL), Keith Shadle (R/V Melville Res Tech),
Joselynn Wallace (URI) and Laura Filliger (URI).

Julia Matheson (Western Univ.) is processing
data from the flow cytometer.

After our morning CTD profile, the water collection began.  With the fish over the side of the R/V Melville, we started pumping into the clean room.  Dr. Mark Wells (Univ. of Maine) was busy treating the water for our third and final experiment of the cruise.  Unlike the two previous batch water collections, this one contained phytoplankton cells that were stressed.  Nutrient levels were low and the pH was higher that we desired.  Due to the lack of upwelling in this area, we will lower the pH and add nutrients to see what happens in our batch "grow out."  While this was taking place, Julia Matheson and Brian Bill continued to run their samples to determine which types of phytoplankton were in the water.  By using the flow cytometer, Julia was able to catalogue the number and sizes of the cells collected, while Brian used his microscope to look for toxic diatoms and dinoflagellates. The good news for Brian was that his analysis revealed a large population of toxic dinoflagellates.  Earlier in the cruise Brian tested for and found toxic diatoms, now he had dinoflagellates.  One area for future concern lies with the dinoflagellates.  Would their populations increase with acidification?  If so, how would this affect marine food chains?


I often think back to the first research cruise I participated in.  It was a 42 day cruise aboard the R/V Kilo Moana, in 2004.  We sailed from Honolulu Hawaii, toward the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula, where we spent over four weeks conducting iron enrichment experiments in the subarctic waters of the North Pacific, in a collaborative project with scientists from Canada and Japan.  During that experience, I documented my observations in a leather bound journal--not sure if I would ever have another opportunity to go back out to sea.  Luckily, I have been able to take part in two more cruises.  In 2005, I was selected to be a part of the ARMADA Project, a teacher at sea program supervised by the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography.  I documented my experience and wrote a journal that was published after the cruise's completion aboard the R/V Atlantis. My 2006 cruise aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, also involved journal writing, but this time my work was uploaded in the evening by a NOAA's Sheryl Day.  Unlike my three previous cruises, I am writing this blog in real time.  I used to have to wait until 21:00 to sit down and gather my thoughts, now I jot down ideas and snap photos when events take place.  Even though I am able write throughout the day, I have to remain  flexible.  There are times in which as soon as I sit down, there is a call for "chlorophylls."  I make notes of my thoughts, swing my chair around, and filter the samples.

Dr. Trick (Western Univ.) and
Dr. Cochlan (RTC-SFSU) have
collaborated on multiple research
This refection has me thinking about how much has changed in oceanographic research.  As I look around the lab, there are laptops on almost every table.  They allow for scientists to readily input data into spreadsheets, revealing trends that they would otherwise have to graph by hand.  While laptops have made data input much faster, that doesn't mean that the data is not recorded in other places.  All qualitative and quantitative data is recorded in a lab notebook or binder.  Should a hard drive crash or a file becomes corrupted, we are sure to till have the data we need in a safe place. 

Dr. Mark Wells (Univ. of Maine) is
preparing water for our last set of
Satellite imagery is used aboard research vessels to help scientists see the ocean's 'big picture.'  Whether it's salinity, temperature, or chlorophyll concentration, satellites provide the data needed to make quick decisions.  Prior to the use of satellites, oceanographers had to rely on predicted patterns and data from previous research to make decisions.  The use of prior knowledge is still important, especially when they are not able to readily access satellite imagery due to very slow Internet access.  

Julian Herndon and Maribel
Albarran (RTC-SFSU) are prepaing
for nutrient analysis.
Internet access is something that most of us rely on a daily basis. As sea, it is necessary to access data, web-based email, pay bills, and especially in my case--blogging. During the 2004 cruise, we had email messages sent to a satellite, twice a day.  After messages were composed,  they would be stored within the ship's server, and later launched into space.   There have been times on this cruise, in which Internet access has either been down, or too slow to access information.  It can be frustrating to those that have set aside specific times to accomplish certain web-based tasks.  In contrast to the Internet, newspaper and magazines still attract the interest of readers, even if it's over a week old.  Dr. Trainer (NOAA-NWFSC) brought a copy of the New York Times when she came aboard.  That one newspaper made its way around the lab in just a day.  Imagine what it would be like if you did not have Internet access.  Some people might feel that could be a good thing--if anything, an escape from the buzz of daily life.  

Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA-NWFSC) 
and JoselynnWallace (URI) 
are discussing post-lab logistics.
Cell phones work well when we are near land, but even then they are not reliable.  Cell phone calls do not work well inside of the ship, therefore we have to make calls on the fan tail. Sometimes, because calls can be lost due to the design of the ship, it is necessary to find the right spot on the ship.   Before personal cell phones were made available for the general public use, satellite telephones were utilized to make emergency phone calls.  They are reserved for when someone needs emergency transport, either from a ship at sea, or when a ship comes to port. How would you feel if you were not able to use your cell phone for an extended period of time?   

Navigational displays
aboard the R/V Melville
A monitor showing Dr. Trick
(Western Univ.) on deck.

Even with a full navigational displays available, oceanographers still rely on charts.  They reveal depths, landmarks, and hazards in the water and is a classic seafaring tool.  Modern oceanography is now supported by multiple computer displays which shows maps, depths, latitude and longitude as well as other information in real time. 

An eye-test would reveal a high
amount of phytoplankton biomass
on this filter.
Machines like autoanalyzers, are now used to run nutrient samples.   They allow scientists to run multiple samples at a time, which makes data processing at sea more efficient.  In the past, samples had to be run through a spectrophotometer. Samples were placed into the spectrophotometer, measured for absorbance, from which concentrations could then be determined.  Fluorometers are used to determine the fluorescence levels in chlorophyll samples, although an eye-test of a filter can reveal high, low, or no phytoplankton biomass. Prior to the use of the instruments, samples would be collected and brought back to a lab onshore for further analysis. Can you imagine trying to conduct science at sea during the early 20th century?  How different do you think it was in the 19th and 18th centuries?  What will the future hold for oceanographical techniques?


After dinner, we had another brief meeting with Dr. Cochlan.  He announced that we will now head toward the Oregon/Washington border.  He reminded us to secure all lost equipment because the water in that area can be rough.  Tomorrow, we will start a transect at the Columbia River with CTD casts for profiles.  With the experiments now set up, we are in the home stretch with one week left.  He also added that tomorrow is Aloha Friday.  As you can see, we are a happy group of scientists.

Dr. Cochlan, chief scientists
(RTC-SFSU) briefs the group
about tomorrow's plan.

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