Sunday, July 25, 2010

On solid ground

After finally adapting to the Kilo Moana Two-Step, the odd gait arising from the atypical rocking of the double-hulled vessel, we have traded that rhythm for dock rock, the sensation that dry land is heaving with sea swells. Our last few hours at sea did not disappoint, with sparkling views of Oahu pre-dawn lights and a submarine patrol in the harbor. We steamed into port Friday morning and unloaded most of the ship by noon, cleaning the labs, palletizing equipment, passing off samples to FedEx for prompt shipment, filling dry shippers with liquid nitrogen so they may stay cool until early next week, and dealing with chemical waste. While most of the science party lingered to tidy up final details until late afternoon, some quickly fled the scene to maximize their time exploring the island. Most of the group reconvened for a celebratory dinner before parting ways, some to fly back to their home labs early Saturday morning, some to stay on in Hawaii to see off the final shipments of samples and equipment. With every wave of partings, there were acknowledgments of the cruise's scientific gains as well as promises to maintain contact and seek future collaboration. Given the plethora of samples collected, the bulk of the science related to the cruise will happen in the coming weeks, months, and years. Although the Q-TIP cruise is over, the analysis has only just begun.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Steaming home

Following the recovery of the last sediment trap at 0800 this morning, we began to steam back to Oahu. Over the course of the cruise, as we have chased current-carried sediment traps, we have strayed from our original position, making the voyage home about three hours longer. Some researchers continue to finish up experiments even as others begin packing.

On the research front, the Van Mooy and Webb labs are squeezing in one last collaborative experiment on Trichodesmium, nitrogen-fixing bacteria that are colonized by heterotrophic (non-photosynthesizing) bacteria. Throughout the cruise, the Webb lab's classification of the yield of Trichodesmium colonies in their net tows has escalated from "motherload" to even greater colloquial terms of abundance. This is good news for others on the ship who have benefited from the Webb group's generosity with their bounty. On the chemistry side, the Van Mooy lab is incubating the colonies with signaling molecules that may regulate enzyme activity responsible for nutrient metabolism in the heterotrophic bacteria that colonize Tricho. The excitement this morning upon seeing statistically significant results from an enzyme assay experiment conducted Tuesday to Wednesday easily overshadowed the delight surrounding yesterday's impromptu crate/tarp spa construction. We squeezed in one last net tow, Lily quickly picked another round of Tricho, and we set the Tricho symbionts incubating with some signaling molecules. The enzyme assays tomorrow morning could help explain some aspects of Tricho nutrient use that have long puzzled scientists.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Beginning of the End

The final tinges of a beautiful Pacific sunset cast a beautiful backdrop on the final stages of our ten day cruise. Today we retrieved one of the last two deployed sediment traps. Although, instead of the quick bustle to redeploy, the net was honorably discharged and dismantled for its use in some future voyage. The last call, for marine waters, will come early tomorrow with the final deployment of the CTD at 0600. Once, we have retrieved the final sediment trap it is full steam ahead to Honolulu.

As the final experiments come to a close, we can confidently put some of our pre-cruise fears behind us. Initially, we feared that we might not collect sufficient quantities of sinking particulate matter in such a nutrient limited region of the ocean. Although, as we prepare to pack up samples, it appears that we will in fact have an abundant quantity of samples from which to extract supplementary data for our work on site.

Finally, to round out the day, some of the undergraduates, graduate students, and even a professor took a break from the packing of equipment. Part of working on a research vessel requires a degree of versatility, as the equipment on hand is never quite on par with what is truly required. It appeared that this afternoon, this creativity was channeled towards converting our packaging material into a portable spa!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Colorful catch

As a chemistry expedition, we spend most of our time manipulating samples of seawater at the molecular level, but today we were treated to some visible treasures in our traps. With the recovery of Trap 6 came a handfull of small fish, ranging in length from about 1 to 2 cm. Laura Hmelo took them on a tour of the ship in a 250 mL beaker so we could all marvel at their brilliantly colored organs within their translucent bodies. Ultimately, we returned them to their rightful home.

The astute observer aboard the Kilo Moana will actually note an abundance of sea life following us. Compared to the low nutrient level of the North Pacific, our ship is an oasis. Although we have yet to haul in a large fish, there are plentiful bait fish tanging along underneath us as we float around Station ALOHA.

Meanwhile, inside the labs, the filtering continues. Today featured another deep caste of the CTD, to 1500 m. Attached to the line were two McLane pumps, which pump much greater quantities of water than are collected by the Niskin bottles on the CTD. The group from the UW uses this water to study the oxygen-limited depths of the ocean. Where oxygen is limited, how do marine organisms respond? The group hopes to tease out some more details of nutrient cycling by studying this water.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Going Deep

Excitement was running high aboard the Kilo Moana this evening. The buzz was not circulated by groundbreaking scientific discovery, but instead by experimental arts and crafts. The science crew took a much appreciated breather from the hectic lab schedule in order to decorate 16 oz Styrofoam cups. These lone voyagers were strapped to the ships CTD on a 4,300 m deployment. The recovered survivors of 430 atmospheres of pressure, were mere dwarfs of their once mighty stature. These token souvenirs make a novel addition to any trip memorabilia collection.

In the words of Dr. Keil, from the University of Washington, “Few people will go to the moon, few people will win a major sports championship, but even fewer have a cup that has survived the depths of 4.3 kilometers”.

On the scientific front, all labs are moving ahead with the renewed energy/urgency of being over halfway done with the cruise. Many of the scientific crew are starting to feel the fatigue of little sleep and the constant pressure to squeeze all possible data from the cruise. Yesterday afternoon, I was fading in and out of sleep while attempting to process some of our many particle samples. In my moderate state of delirium, I began asking myself why I was processing marine waste with such tender loving care, as if it were a rare reserve of some precious metal, instead of grabbing some much needed sleep? It is during these times where a quick trip to the microscope with a fresh particle can renew one’s exploratory spirit. These particles are a universe unto themselves, of which we have very limited knowledge. It is only during these brief intervals out to sea where we can begin to scratch the surface of how these pieces of rotting waste are shaping the world in which we live. Thus, we forge on in relentless data acquisition, burning the candle at both ends in hopes of teasing a murmur of some microbial conversation from these marine particles.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Your taxpayer dollars at work

Research cruise. Does that sound oxymoronic? Halfway through our first research cruise, Tanner and I reflected on what we think so far. It is a uniquely intense and exhilarating scientific experience. Our purpose for these ten days is to gather as much data as possible - sampling, running experiments, turning around the data with a quick analysis to make choices about further experiments to conduct in the dwindling days left. While we might enjoy beautiful sunrises and the grandeur of the open ocean, more often than not the members of the science party are in the lab, shouting to be heard (or not) over the roar of the hood, in a dark room measuring respiration rates in incubating samples, isolated in the van for radioactive work, or waking up every few hours to collect data for kinetics studies. Perhaps not quite the "cruise" most people think of, but we have the privilege to do science on systems that can best be studied in the field.

The scientific camaraderie is critical to the success of the cruise. With the different research groups conducting complementary studies, there is great potential for collaboration. In the galley or on deck, scientists share their preliminary data, their ideas, and their expertise. While the Van Mooy/Mincer group is doing enzyme assays in one lab, Solange and Noel are across the hall studying one of those assays in greater depth. In the wet lab, after helping troubleshoot a frustrating titration experiment, Georg modestly stated, "I've done a few of those in my life." And of course, we all rely on the particles collected in the UW group's traps and the voices of experience of the Station ALOHA regulars from UH.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tension On The Line

This morning began with a much awaited “dog” hunt. The now colloquial slang is the preferred terminology for sediment trap hunting. As our lab prepared for the onslaught of new samples the morning plans were quickly foiled. The upper trap set, at around 80 meters, failed to collapse on its journey to the surface and continued collecting junk, thus contaminating our sample. With the smaller trap on the fan tail, the crew moved their attention to the larger deep trap. Yet, caught by a strong crossing wave, the deck hands scattered to safety as the increased tension severed the line. The loss of any

equipment always adds to the frustration of the crew, but with a replacement in the works and with ample time remaining in the cruise there are plenty of particles that remain to be collected.

Minus the lack of new samples, work in the lab continues. Our comprehensive approach to assessing the role of microbial degradation of sinking particles is being spearheaded on several fronts, and producing interesting results. Onboard, we are currently examining a novel application of a microbial indicator strain to detect the presence of our signaling molecules, AHLs. Additionally, we are researching the effect of AHL’s on the rate of microbial oxygen use, or their metabolic response to AHLs. Complementing this study we are investigating the rate of enzyme breakdown of the particulate matter in response to AHLs. While conclusive results are pending, initial findings are promising that we are heading in the right direction.

Outside of the lab, throughout the afternoon, we admired the view of a large Navy convoy

passing through the neighborhood. The floating roomer was that they were en route to carry out annual international war games off the Hawaiian Islands. Yet, this change in scenery would not be the last of the day’s excitement. At roughly eight o’clock in the evening our multipurpose winch, responsible for all deployments and recoveries, went out of service. Operations have come to a grinding halt, as the crew asses the problem at hand. The rest of us wait anxiously for news concerning the future of our data collection.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The daily routine

We have a tight schedule aboard ship, trying to get everyone all the data they want while also working in the ship's necessities. As a community of more than forty humans, well-nourished by the galley, we generate a fair bit of waste. In a given day we fill the ship's holds about three times, meaning three times daily we steam away from our station, empty out, and steam back to resume instrument deployments. In some ways, the forced hiatus from sample collection is a welcome time to focus on conducting experiments in the lab.

Thursday morning's first CTD deployment went very smoothly. The rosette slipped into the calm seas smoothly, headed down to 250 decibars, collecting a striking fluorescence profile, and started its return. As the sky gained a tinge of color and the CTD emerged from the sea, the bridge radioed down that the large ship we could see off to the west was an aircraft carrier. All 24 bottles, fired at 25m, went to the UH group for their radiolabeling experiments. I headed up to watch the sunrise from upper decks, getting my morning dose of sea salt on the hands. If you run your hand along the underside of the handrails as you pass along the upper decks, you can easily collect about a teaspoon of salt, deposited by evaporating sea spray.

And the science has begun

There was no waiting around before getting underway with data collection. Tuesday night, upon arriving at Station ALOHA at 2200, we deployed the CTD amid a brilliant showing of glowing flying fish (not to mention the squid, hot in pursuit).Chief Sci Ben Van Mooy established three CTD watches, eight-hour shifts of four people who are responsible for all CTD deployments during those hours. The instrument we refer to as the CTD has a rosette of 24 bottles surrounding a central instrument column that measures temperature, dissolved oxygen, and fluorescence - indicative of phytoplankton - as it passes through the water column. The bottles, operated by computer control, have spring-release caps on either end. The CTD rosette is deployed with all bottles cocked open. We send it to a desired depth, watching the profiles of the three parameters as it goes deeper. Then, upon bringing the instrument back to the surface, we stop at desired depths and trigger a certain number of bottles to release their caps, trapping the water from that depth.

On CTD watch, three people ready the CTD for deployment, working on deck to cock the bottles. Once ready, and under the guidance of OTG, two people hold guy lines to steady the rosette as two ABs operate the A frame and winch to bring the CTD off the back deck and lower it into the water. Now responsibility rests on the fourth member of the watch, sitting inside at the data screen and communicating via radio to the bridge and the deck regarding where to send the CTD, how fast to get there, and how long to stay there."Deck, this is CTD lab.Please raise CTD to 75m at 30m per minute." Once the desired bottles at the desired depths have been collected, we return the CTD to the surface, and action returns to the deck.

As soon as it is secured, the CTD becomes a swarm of activity as scientists run around with bottles collecting the water they want for their experiments. Some run off to filter, so they may begin experiments with the water. Others, more concerned with the life in the water than the water itself, begin incubating. Thanks to the CTD data collected at the same time as the water, we know the original temperature of the water from each depth and thus can incubate at those conditions. The more popular depths for water collection correspond to the depths of deployment of other instruments (the sediments traps or net tows, for instance) to make possible experiments with material from multiple sources.

As Tanner described, the CTD deployments are not the only sample collection around here. Lily had exciting news early Wednesday from their net tows done Tuesday night: they found Tricho! Trichodesmium is a filamentous bacterium that is of particular interest to nutrient cycling because of its nitrogen-fixing ability. When your experiments hinge on a certain microbe, it is helpful for that microbe to be present, so for those planning to study Tricho, it was good news to have found some in the samples from the first night's tow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let The Science Begin

When the first CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth Sensor) package was secured on deck at 2300 the festivities began. Starting last night and spilling over into the day, there has been relentless activity on the back deck and in the staging area. Teams are following the dynamic deployment schedule, which

is juggling an array of sampling devices: phyto-plankton nets, trichodesmium nets, CTDs, and sediment traps. Of the utmost importance, for the Woods Hole quorum sensing teams, were the successful deployments of 4 sediment traps throughout the day. The first pair was launched at 0730, with a second launch scheduled for 1200. Recovery of the traps begins tomorrow at 0600. Our fingers are crossed that the nets function properly, enabling us to proceed with the analysis of the sinking organic particles.

While we wait for sinking particles life onboard continues as normal. In the downtime I have busied myself with preparing the biosensor bacterial cultures. These act as biological indicators of AHL signaling molecules. Laura Sofen ,my fellow Woods Hole Oceanographic Summer Fellow, is furiously preparing her assays to correlate AHL quorum sensing and degradation of sinking particles. Additionally, experimental side projects are beginning to take root, as those aboard maximize the precious ten days here at the ALOHA station. For instance, Dr. Tracy Mincer, from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, (beyond advising me) has been running preliminary experiments concerning microbial methanol consumption in marine environments over the past two days.

Having never been a part of a research cruise before, the level of efficient science being performed is stunning and invigorating. The Kilo Moana is constantly bustling with the activity of dozens of simultaneous experiments complemented by the highest caliber nerd chatter and cross team collaboration. As the science crew slowly settles into a consistent daily routine, I hope that mother nature and our collection equipment grant their full cooperation, in order that every team involved can extract from this experience all that they initially desired.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All's ashore that's going ashore

When the captain announced that the gangplank was being pulled, perhaps many of us were thinking in terms of the reverse flow of goods - all that is ashore is staying ashore. Fortunately, Tanner and Tracy had purchased many last-minutes supplies - extra notebooks, bungee cords, tinfoil, and garbage bags - so we felt prepared by the time we left port at 1200.

The ship was abuzz with activity on the part of the crew and the science party. Fueled by a delicious breakfast that included mangos, Ranier cherries, papayas, the scientists continued to secure their gear and began preparing experiments, all while starting to figure out the maze of the ship's layout. Rick Keil's group got their sediment traps assembled in the staging bay, while another group threaded hose on deck. The Mincer experiments got underway, filling the lab with the fragrance of nutrient broth.

Once underway, we received a safety debriefing from First Mate Brian. The other first time seafarers were fortunate enough to cloak ourselves in our insulated emergency dry suits.

Tonight, we reconvened for a science meeting. It was the first chance to get everyone in the same space sharing their projects. Of course, scheduling was the top priority on the agenda, as the Chief Scientist aims to coordinate everyone getting the samples they desire with the ship's necessities. The famous Sinking Particle Facebook group "Big Poop Sinks Faster" clearly articulates one of our main concerns - considering the 1 knot current, how far must we steam away from our sediment traps so that we don't catch our own particles when we dump ship?

The first deployment of the CTD begins tonight at 2200, with many of the first time cruise members assisting. Despite the enthusiasm for tonight's activities, the long awaited deployments of the sediment traps begins tomorrow. The first successful particle retrieval will allow us to finally employ the arduously constructed labs and investigate hypotheses established from last year's quorum sensing cruise.

Monday, July 12, 2010


"This morning I woke up in The Barn in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod, and now here I am in Hawaii." Tanner's description conveniently leaves out the very long day of travel to get between those two locations. But yes, here we are. On Saturday, upon arriving in Honolulu, we headed straight to Sand Island to see the warehouse housing fifteen pallets of scientific equipment that we had shipped over the last several weeks.

Sunday started with an early return trip to Sand Island, this time to see our home for the next two weeks, as the Kilo Moana came into port from a Hawaiian Ocean Time Series (HOTs) cruise. Upon hearing the HOTs expedition's warning to chew our food well, we then headed to the North Shore of Oahu to check out the Pacific surf for ourselves. Indeed, the waves were substantial, so we're hoping for some truth in Monday's radio report that the trade winds have dropped considerably.

Today has been quite the day, beginning at Sand Island at 0700 to start loading the ship! Pallets moved from the warehouse to the dock, where the ship's crane picked them up. Once on board, equipment and supplies quickly disappeared to the various labs, where their owners strapped them down, secured for the rocking of the seas. OTG, the Ocean Technical Group, was invaluable, from developing a system to hold 15 nitrogen tanks to providing eye bolts to screw down equipment. The chef's lunchtime work contributed to the good spirits even as the list of supplies to be purchased at Home Depot grew. The evening was capped with a scientific crew group dinner at the lovely La Mariana yacht club. The crew settled in early for the first night aboard the K-M, anticipating an action packed morning of last minute purchases and unpacking before leaving port at 1200 tomorrow.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Anticipation

Following the final cruise planning session on Thursday afternoon, the first of our crew PI Ben Van Mooy fled the East Coast for Honolulu. The final preparations are being put into place as the remaining members of the Quorum Sensing Team leaves Woods Hole, Massachusetts at 5 O' clock Saturday morning. The pace in the lab is frantic but morale is high as people pack the last remaining essentials. We anticipate a relaxing evening Saturday in preparation for the official expedition start with the arrival of the Kilo Moana on Sunday morning.