Thursday, June 30, 2011

Science Diver Training Day 6

Wednesday morning was spent in a classroom doing oxygen training.

This is something extremely important in diving, since everything from decompression sickness to drowning is treated with oxygen. (You know, in addition to CPR with the drowning). Still, once we actually learned how to use the equipment, the majority of our morning was spent doing scenarios and yelling:

“Hello! My name is Emily! I’m a trained First Responder! This is oxygen. It may make you feel better. Do you want some?” 

This phrase is obviously very important since the drowning victim is likely to resist the chance to breathe again and the diver with the bends would rather stay in excruciating pain than have the nitrogen bubbles dissipated with oxygen. Obviously.

Still, it was necessary and informative and I actually feel better knowing how to use the oxygen kits in case of an emergency. Plus, after lunch it was time to dive again.

Since we’d had no luck finding our snails the day before at Bailey’s Bay flats, we headed to where oil tanker Mari Boeing wrecked in 1978 and was subsequently freed by blasting the reef with dynamite.

Jorge and I collected our required five snails in roughly 46 seconds, so we spent the rest of our dive swimming around the reef getting harassed by the Puddingwives. Puddingwives are a type of wrasse that love stirred up sediment, so they tend to come right up to divers on a sandy bottom. One of them was pretty intent on following us around no matter where we went.

Most exciting thing that happened all dive: Alissa found a lionfish! Sadly, Alex didn’t have his spear to kill the dangerous invasive species, so we left it where it was and moved on to our second dive: the Cristobal Colon.

As tired as we all were, nothing spurs a second wind quite like the sight of Bermuda’s largest shipwreck. The Cristobal Colon was a Spanish trans-Atlantic luxury liner that sank in 1923, it was nearly 500-feet long and its wreckage is scattered across 100,000 feet of seafloor.

Allie and I searched every nook and cranny we could, though we did stop to live out our childhood dreams of being Olympic gymnasts. The other divers looked a bit confused when we started doing summersaults and handstands on our makeshift balance beam (which was actually a part of the engine).

We gave ourselves a 9.7, overall.

Science Diver Training Day 5 (Part 2 – Everything Else)

The Rita Zovetta, a 5,107-ton steamship sunk in 1924 in the waters off of St. David's. It was also the site of our second dive on Tuesday.

In a buddy team of three, Miriam, Stu, and I set of to sketch and measure the 360-foot long ship. While the Rita Zovetta is far bigger than the Dredger we dove earlier in the course, I found it less impressive to actually look at. When you look at the dredger, it’s easy to see and imagine the whole ship, the Rita Zovetta is so broken up over reef that it’s almost a bit overwhelming.

Not complaining, mind you. There were still lots of interesting bits to explore once we'd done our jobs. Plus...When the ocean floor is your classroom, it’s hard to complain.

Stu and Miram measuring the propellor of the Rita Zovetta.
(Img Credit: Emily Greenhalgh) 

Dive site three was significantly less exciting that dive sites one and two. We headed back to Whalebone to do some search and recovery.

Alex and Forrest placed two cinderblocks and four bottles of beer on the bottom. Each buddy team was to conduct search patterns with rope or reel in order to find and retrieve our “lost divers.” Fortunately, under the water, we were safe from the spontaneous downpour on the surface.

Searching for bottles of sand-colored beer on the sandy bottom of Whalebone was neither fun nor easy. Miriam, Stu, and I swept our area as best we could (we had some navigation problems at first) and eventually rescued what I started referring to as “comrade Corona.”

(No, we weren’t allowed to drink the beer after we found it, though we did ask).

We may have found all of our targets eventually, but seeing as how an actual lost diver only has three to six minutes before a rescue is realistically a recovery, we probably need some more practice…

Our last dive was a genuinely scientific one. We were collecting coral samples for one of the scientists (as well as searching for tiny inch-long snails that were impossible to find).

Hammer and chisel in hand, buddy pairs went off to collect two to three dinner plate sized coral samples per group. This actually ends up being trickier than it seems, since managing to get the proper angle as to not chisel off a chunk of the reef with your desired coral.

It was a long day and (after lots of napping on the boat ride home) we were all happy to get back to BIOS. Once there, as if to add fuel to the fire of an awesome day, I got to meet Sylvia Earle that night.


Science Diver Training Day 5 (Part 1 – Deep Diving)

To seemingly make up for Monday’s "day off," (we took two exams in the morning and then did CPR/First Aid training in the afternoon) we dove four times Tuesday.

It was absolutely exhausting.

Sometimes I forget how draining diving can be. The gear itself is heavy: an Aluminum tank weighs a little over 20 pounds empty and then divers need to add more weight via a weight belt or integrated pockets in their BCD to make sure they’re neutrally buoyant. So hauling around that gear is no easy task. Not to mention that your body is working overtime trying to stay warm while you’re in the water.

Exhausting as it may be and as physically tired as I get while I’m out there, I don’t think I’ll ever actually get tired of diving.

Our first dive was a deep dive south of Gurnet Rock. With Sonya as my partner, we dove to 111 feet, through a cloud of comb jellies, to reach the bottom. I don’t know why the gorgeous Bermudian waters keep surprising me, but I really could not believe the amount of light that reached us at 111 feet.

No exaggeration: When I did my deep dive in New England, we had to follow a rope to 100 feet, watching our gauges and holding on to the rope/our buddy the whole way so as not to get lost in the pitch black water. We each had two dives lights, just in case, and huddled around the rope and our dive master for fear of losing the each other in the murky darkness.

My previous experiences were pretty much the antithesis of this deep dive, where we were still happily bathed in sunlight as Alex had us write our names backwards on a slate to test our coherency.

When diving to great depths, some divers “get narced,” or rather experience nitrogen narcosis. Jacques Cousteau once referred to the condition as the “rapture of the deep,” it causes euphoria, anxiety, and loss of concentration and coordination. While it sounds like a good time (I’ve never gotten narced, but apparently it’s similar to getting laughing gas at the dentist) some divers are actually affected by this drunken-like state as shallow as 66 feet and can stop caring about their own well being as well as the safety of divers around them.

Fortunately, no one in our group was affected, so we all got to stay at the bottom to watch the next awesome and totally-scientific-and-relevant-I-swear demonstration... 

Do you know what happens if you crack an egg 100 feet underwater?
No, that’s not a riddle.

Fun fact: it stays in EXACTLY THE SAME SHAPE! It's awesome! Forrest brought some eggs down in a Tupperware container and cracked them using my diving knife. It’s absolutely awesome to see, actually. You can swirl the egg around with your hand and it still just stays together.

I felt a bit like an astronaut, seeing as how that’s also what happens when you crack an egg in space.

Next stop of the day: another wreck dive, woo!

Marine Microbes: Invisible Superheroes of Our Planet

The Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences is pleased to present a lecture by Dr. Craig Carlson, BIOS Adjunct Faculty and Professor at UCSB, entitled "Marine Microbes: Invisible Superheroes of Our Planet".

(Too small? Click on the image above to see a larger version!)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Science Diver Training Day 3

Friday was an all-day boat day… and it was glorious!

Too many dive classes do all of their training sessions at plain sandy/rocky-bottom dive sites, where it’s easy to test skills, but not really that interesting to look at. Fortunately, our divemaster Alex is not prone to boring dive sites.

In fact, our first site Friday morning was on a shipwreck. I’ve wanted to dive a wreck since I first got certified in 2005, so hopping into the water and seeing the Dredger was an amazing moment for me. Now, I’ve spent a good part of the last few years on boats, but I was still struck at the size of the 171-foot, King George Dredger. It was covered in coral and there were all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore while we were down there.

At about 60 feet down, our actual task was to use transects in pairs to measure parts of the ship and to practice getting our buddy’s PSI and depth every four minutes (something that’s hard to focus on when there’s so many interesting things going on around you). The measurements took only a fraction of our 40-minute dive, so we got to swim around and explore the ship after that. It sunk in 1930 and apparently, if you look far enough in the hull, you can see the ship’s toilet. I can only imagine the ridiculous photo opportunities that divers have used that for (unfortunately I didn’t have a camera).

Dive site two was also amazing. The reef at North Rock was perfect to practice video transects. Two pairs of two recorded video along a set transect of 25 meters while the other four divers worked with reels and navigation. Once again, our projected dive time was longer than our the time it took to practice our skill-sets, so we got to explore the reef, hang around with the fish, and see some cool coral colonies.

After heading back to BIOS to eat lunch and grab a few extra tanks, our last dive site was a bit less exciting than the first two. We went to Whalebone Bay, which, apart from being extremely close to BIOS, is also just a plain sandy bottom. It was, however, the perfect environment to practice navigation again.

Reciprocals and squares. This time I almost got the square right. So close! I was about four feet off. Seeing as how last time I made one turn and then messed up my compass and accidentally turned around and came back, my four-foot miscalculation was a big improvement.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday.

Monday: Exams and CPR training.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Science Diver Training

Yesterday started American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) dive training here at BIOS. Science diving is different than recreational diving since collecting data/samples while diving takes a different sort of concentration and skill set. Ours is not a particularly big class; there are only seven of us.

First on the docket was the swim test: a 400-yard swim in 12 minutes, tread water for 10 minutes (the last two minutes with your hands out of the water), tow a person 25 yards, and swim 25 yards underwater. In hindsight, this was a fairly easy test for someone in shape, but my fellow classmates and I had been agonizing over the 25-yard underwater swim. We’d been practicing in the Reach (with no success) for the better part of the week, psyching ourselves out.

Swim test accomplished it was time to dive. Well, no, it wasn’t time to dive yet, it was time to stand in the middle of the soccer pitch with buckets on our heads. Seriously, that’s what we did!

We were practicing navigation. Going back and forth and making shapes using only your compass as a guide is important because underwater there aren’t really landmarks to base your swim on. Oddly enough, it seems that navigating squares is my downfall. Reciprocals and triangles I’m a master of, but adding and subtracting 90 is apparently the limit of my mental prowess.

We also entertained the weekly Wednesday tour when they walked out of reception while we were in the field in bathing-suits with 5 gallon buckets on our heads. I wish I had pictures.

The two dives after lunch were better than I hoped; we got to explore the reefs a bit. While our bottom time was primarily a checkout dive (ensuring we could all take our masks off and replace them while submerged, dump and replace our weight and BCD, share air with our dive partner, and retrieve a lost regulator) my favorite part was just exploring Cathedral Reef.

I’m from New England, originally, and that’s where I’ve been diving my whole life. While I’ve been snorkeling since I’ve arrived, diving is just something completely different. There was one tunnel we swam through that had light streaming in from the surface, we decided it felt like a scene from The Little Mermaid, and (much to the dismay of the two men on the boat) started singing “A Part of Your World.”

I really don’t know how I’ll go back to a visibility of five feet after diving here.

Tests today, no diving. Still: Two dives down, a summer full of awesome left.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

B270 Days 2 and 3

Hello again from the R/V Atlantic Explorer.

It's been a busy few days for the PEL group. Yesterday we had a two hour delay in getting started due to problems with the winch. Luckily we have a very skilled crew who where able to take it to pieces and fix it. It was a real team effort, even the Captain joined in.

When the winch got fixed we were able to collect water for our project looking at Nitrogen use in marine phytoplankton. We collected water from three different depths and added a variety of nutrients to the samples, then incubated them for four hours. This gives the phytoplankton time to use the nutrients we added. The water is then filtered and collected, some of this will then be analyzed by our lab and part of it will be sent to our colleagues at William and Mary for analysis.

Yesterday's weather was terrible, with torrential rain at one point. This didn't seem to put the birds off though as the first sighting of an Arctic Turn this year was recorded.

Today was spent collecting water for three linked projects looking at the DNA of phytoplankton. This work investigates the differences in DNA of phytoplankton living at different depths in an environment with a limited supply of nutrients. This work is a collaboration with group from UCI.

Both these projects get carried out once a month on the BATS cruise. The rest of the people on the cruise are mainly working on the hydrographic, chemical and biological parameters that get measured every month. This includes collecting zooplankton, measuring the oxygen and carbon in the water and also the salinity or saltiness of the water.

We finished all our cruise sampling today so tomorrow we are going to make a start on preparing some samples for analysis once we get back to the lab.

Today is the Captains birthday and our two excellent chefs made a delicious cake to celebrate. I had a large piece, possibly a bit too large given the two pieces of amazing baklava I have already eaten today. It's hard work though being at sea so I feel we need all the cake and good food to keep our energy up.

Our hard work is more or less over but the BATS team will be working through the night sampling the water and collecting the PITS tubes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 1 B270 Star Date June 14th 2011

Hi my name is Susan Allender and I work as a Research Technician for the PEL lab group at BIOS. At the moment I am out on the Atlantic Explorer Research Vessel. We are on the monthly BATS cruise, will give you an overview of what goes on. It's only the first day so things have been a bit quiet for the PEL group. We have just been organising the lab and looking for wildlife and fixing leaking PITs tubes. Luckily we have a local bird expert on the ship to point out things of interest. We have seen Greater Shearwaters, Corey's Shearwaters and plenty of Tropic Long Tail Birds. So far there have been no mammal sightings, but plenty of flying fish. Weather-wise things have been a little windy making the going a bit choppy. Hopefully tomorrow will be nicer.

Science Update: PITS has just gone in the water, then it's off to BATS.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Out with the BEACON Project

Hello! My name is Emily Greenhalgh and I’m a visiting graduate student from Boston University. Unlike the majority of summer interns at BIOS, I’m not here to work in a lab or dive for the summer. I’m here as a science writer. It’s what I’m getting my Master’s degree in: science writing.

It affords me a unique sort of opportunity here at BIOS, since it means I get to observe many projects instead of just working closely with one. Yesterday I spent the afternoon going out on the boat with the BEACON project. They were diving and taking coral samples off the coast as part of an ocean acidification project.

While I was a built in boat-sitter, my job for the afternoon was to snorkel and take pictures of scientists doing real work so I could write about it later. I’m not quite sure how I got so lucky, as to call this “work,” but I’m pretty sure that the sunburn I’m currently sporting is cosmic payment for such an awesome day.