Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fire Alarms!

A view from inside the lab in between stations.

Today, we completed our second transect line by starting offshore at 08:00, and ending with our sixth and last station near Coplalis Head, Washington.  In between our stations, we filtered and analyzed samples from the previous day. Our workload was steady, but not as busy as our the transect line two days earlier.  We took inventory of our remaining supplies and made sure that we will be able to complete all tasks before reaching Seattle on Friday morning.

Rachel Vander Giessen (UW-APL) is seen here
titrating for iodine which will be used to
determine the concentration of dissolved
oxygen in her seawater samples.
To pass the time, Trey conducted the commonly performed chemical demonstration of dehydrating sugar with concentrated sulfuric acid.  We gathered on the fan tail as he donned a white lab coat and safety glasses.  He slowly poured the sulfuric acid into a large beaker filled with sugar. Within minutes, the sugar turned brown and eventually black as the sugar was converted into black, solid carbon, a stench that was dissipated by the wind. Crew members joked that if they had teachers like Trey, that they might have paid more attention during their science classes.  The large carbon snake that was left in the beaker was taken by Julian Herndon to be disposed of properly, but not before we snapped some pictures.

Trey Joyner (Normal Park Museum Magnet) demonstrates what happens
when hydrochloric acid combines with sugar.
Fifteen minutes after Trey's demonstration, a fire alarm sounded off.  This was not a drill  One long bell rang out as we froze, stopped the science, and rushed to our state rooms to grab our life vests, survival suits and "go bags" filled with water and food.  Luckily, it turned out to be a false alarm, and everybody calmly returned their items back to their rooms.  Five minutes later, it happened again.  Another false alarm!  I can say with absolutely certainty, that we were ready--although while it was happening, all voices become hushed, silencing the lab.

Julian Herndon (RTC-SFSU) shows off the carbon left
behind from Trey's demonstration.

I would like to use this post to profile a fellow researcher. Kathleen Thornton joined us midway into the cruise and  is a marine chemist from the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center.  She has been on many cruises -- or as Kathleen puts it, too many to count. Her experience makes her a veteran in conducting research at sea.   She is participating in this cruise because of her expertise in trace metal analysis. This is the third cruise in which I have worked with her.

Kathleen Thornton (Univ. on Maine) is a marine chemist.

She tells me that while she enjoyed biology, geology and physics in high school, her favorite subjects were biology, poetry and creative writing.  Her interest in science was fostered by her father, who has a never ending curiosity about life. He was interested in astronomy when she was growing up, and encouraged Kathleen and her brother to ask questions. He pushed them to find their own answers through research and observation.

I asked her about her feelings on the role of women today in science, to which she says that women can have successful and satisfying careers in science. "Today, there are many research projects that are large collaborations between multiple institutions. Many women prefer a team building approach at work, and this fits well with the direction that scientific research is heading," she says.

Kathleen would like to share some advice with high school students reading this post:  "I now use a lot of the math that we think we will never use when teachers make us learn it in high school. Learn how to communicate effectively. Learn to use word processing, spreadsheet, and database software."  

Besides being a scientist, Kathleen is also an accomplished artist. You should check out her paintings at  She resides in Union, Maine, and has two cats, two dogs and a turtle. 


Tomorrow, we will start our morning sampling at 06:30.  This will be the earliest start for sampling on this cruise.  Everything is secured and prepped for a long day ahead of us. The scuttlebutt circulating around the ship is that bad weather is heading out way.  We will aim to get our work done early, before the sea gets rough.  It is now 19:15, and most of us are done for the evening.  Perhaps, time for a movie in the lounge... Or better yet, going to bed early!

Thank you again for visiting my blog--I hope that you have enjoyed this post.  Please come back again tomorrow for more updates.  Be sure to also check out Trey's blog: Science Shorts II.   

Can you spot the jelly on this filter?
Brian Bill (NOAA-NWFSC) did.
The green residue is phytoplankton!

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