Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We Are All In...

Julia Matheson and Andrew Schellenbach of Western University,
London, Ontario, Canada.
I had a hard time falling asleep last night.  Heavy rain was falling in the Houston area, causing the bayous to fill up. In some cases, up to capacity.  I thought about my family and friends...hoping that everyone was safe.  I also thought about my students...  I hope that they are doing well and studying hard.  My mind wandered around for awhile until I finally fell asleep around 01:15.

I woke up just after 07:15, got dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, and headed above deck by 07:30. Just like other mornings, I decided to check out the weather on the fan tail.  It was grey, cloudy, and rainy. This is the first time in our cruise that we were getting some rainfall.  I stood on the deck with Heather Richard, and just enjoyed it. There was something soothing about just feeling the rain come down. After a few minutes, we headed back inside--it was time for breakfast.  I could hear the clamoring of forks and knives in the mess hall.  The smell of pancakes, eggs, and fresh coffee filled the air.  Conversations were light hearted and a little louder than usual.  Breakfast was calm and there was no urgency. We were still transiting toward Cape Kiwanda at full speed. 

A view of Julia Matheson's computer monitor.
After breakfast, most of the scientists gathered in the lab, waiting for the arrival at our station. Some contemplated heading below deck to get another hour of sleep.  Julian Herndon and Maribel Albarran (RTC-SFSU) were busy preparing for nutrient analysis runs and Julia Matheson (Western Univ.) entered data from her flow cytometer runs.  Sitting next to her was Andrew Shellenbach -- also from Western University.  Andrew is an avid Toronto Blue Jays fan and is always interested in talking baseball. Should he decide not to continue on with oceanography, I imagine that he could make it as a professional baseball scout.  I find his knowledge of Major League baseball farm teams to be remarkable.

A few minutes later, Captain Wes Hill entered the main lab.  He's a good natured guy, with a spontaneous sense of humor.  He sarcastically asked how the science was going, and then announced to that there were dolphins riding the wake of the bow.  He invited us inside the bow so we could look at them through the windows of the hull.  Three at a time we went, and climbed down a narrow ladder into the belly of the ship.   The space was cold and small, but tall enough for to stand up in.  Beeping in the background was the multibeam sounder. Just inches on the other side of the hull was the cold water, rushing past us.

Always smiling, Capt. Wes
Hill of the R/V Melville.
My view before decending into
the hull of the R/V Melville.
Chris Ikeda (RTC-SFSU)
and Kit Angeloff  (NOAA-PMEL)
are watching Pacific whiteside 

dolphins ride the ship's bow wake.

A still shot of Pacific
whitesided dolphins.
 Pacific whitesided dolphins outside
of the R/V Melville.

There were four, small circular windows, revealing the greenish waters of the Pacific.  Every few seconds, grey flashes would dart around the windows.  Kit Angeloff, Chris Ikdea, and I peered through the windows with wonderment. Dolphins have always fascinated me, but I've never seen them quite like this. I didn't want to be selfish, as there were others two levels above, waiting for their opportunity to come down. I could have stayed there for the rest of the morning.  We climbed back up and the others shuttled downward  Trey had his Go Pro camera ready to take pictures, but by the time he got down to the bow, they were no longer there.  Luckily, I was able to capture this on my iPhone. This happened in a span of 15 minutes.

Chris Ikeda (RTC-SFSU) is seen
here drying cabled to the pH

As I entered the lab area, I saw Chris rushing back out to the deck. He noticed that there was some moisture inside the dry incubator that housed the pH probe interfaces. Even though it was covered, the moisture threatened the integrity of the interfaces.  Chris and Trey quickly removed the lid, wiped off the moisture and dried off all of the contacts.  Crisis averted.

When we finally reached our station off of Cape Kiwanda, we lowered the fish over the side and started to draw water into the R/V Melville.  Brian Bill (NOAA-NWFSC) deployed a plankton net to sample for potentially toxic diatoms.  Within minutes, he had the sample under his microscope, and begun identifying the cells.

A view of the fish being towed
alongside the R/V Melville.
Looking for the water we want is tricky.
Ideally we would like to have recently upwelled water, that is low in pH. In recent days, we haven't experienced the winds needed for upwelling to occur.  When it does happen, cold, nutrient rich water is brought to the surface.  This water is low in pH and ideal for phytoplankton growth. During our survey, the clouds began to recede, revealing the sun for the first time today.   We gathered on the deck to take pictures of the beautiful Oregon coast. Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA-NWFSC) pointed out toward the water near shore and said emphatically, "This is our job."  We get up every morning, to work, and take the pulse of the ocean.  Every sample we take, every test we run, gives us a physical exam of the ocean.  As of this morning, I have read about 625 chorophyll samples.  

Our view of Oregon after the
clouds cleared.
By 13:00, we took samples from our domoic acid and acidification batch experiments.  Trey filtered all of the water while I assisted by adding the acetone needed for chorophyll extraction.  Once I capped and placed the test tubes into the freezer, I walked over to the log book to find out which samples needed to be taken out for analysis. This is the daily cycle that I am proud to be a part of.   

By supper, I read most of the samples, and finished the rest after 18:00.  Trey and I cleaned up our filtration stations and started working on our blog entries for the day.  Tonight, Trey wrote a very nice post on Brian Bill (NOAA-NWFSC).  Brian is usually up late and is early to rise each morning.  I asked him earlier today, if he thought that when he was a kid, that he would become a scientist some day.  He said that he's always been interested in science and that he's very happy working for NOAA.  I've known Brian for almost nine years--he's always been very meticulous and clean with his work.  He's definitely one of the best scientists conducting research on toxic algae.  I respect him as a researcher and colleague.

Your teachers at sea.

Now that the day's sampling is complete, the second set-up of the experiments have been broken down.  Chris Ikeda (RTC-SFSU) and Dr. Trick (Western Univ.) removed the old samples, cleaned out the incubators, to prepare them for the final run.  At 08:00 tomorrow morning, we will start with our routine CTD casts and then "fish" for our experiments.  We expect this water to be "spent" of its nutrients, so we will manipulate the pH and add nutrients to simulate the conditions we want.  Then the new batch experiment begins.  At this point, we cannot keep searching.  With the final days ahead of us, we need to eventually move toward Washington.  The decision was made -- we are all in...

Be sure to check back tomorrow for more updates.  Also check out Trey's story on Brian Bill on his blog.

My office at sea.  

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