Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Food Web Cruise - Day 6

It has been another hot and humid day at sea. But the sea is staying relatively flat so that more than makes up for the heat.

A video camera has been attached to the CTD on some of the shallow casts to film animals in the surface water. Unfortunately, the camera has not been functioning correctly so only one video has been recorded so far, and it was taken during the day so not many animals were at the surface. A video at night would be preferable as, once it gets dark, many animals come to the surface to feed. A night time video cast is scheduled for this evening; hopefully it works and some interesting footage is captured.

Interesting animals have been captured this cruise, not on film but in the net tows. The plankton nets are towed behind the ship to collect small animals that are near the surface. A juvenile pufferfish, a tiny transparent squid and a small octopus have been caught in these nets, in addition to the various types of zooplankton that are commonly found in the Sargasso Sea.

The sediment traps that had been drifting for 72 hours were recovered yesterday. While retrieving the traps, a small fish was spotted swimming around the line. The recovery was halted in order to try to net the fish because one of the scientists on board is studying the Sargassum fish and its predators. She would like to study any fish that can be caught while on this cruise. A few other fishing attempts have been made, mainly with fishing rods instead of nets, but no one has been successful.

We are about half way through the cruise now. It is hard to believe...we will be back to land before we know it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Food Web Cruise - Day 2

Hi, I am Claire and I am interning in the Phytoplankton Ecology Lab for the summer as part of the Bermuda Programme. In the lab, I mainly help to prepare Particle Inceptor Trap (PITS) filters for analysis by removing the zooplankton from the filters. I also assist with cleaning, which involves washing the many bottles that are used to collect seawater on research cruises.

I am currently on a two week research cruise onboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer. The goal of the cruise is to collect data to understand plankton food web interactions in oligotrophic ocean regions and the role of plankton in sequestering atmospheric carbon to the ocean interior.

We departed the dock yesterday at 0800 and headed towards Hydrostation S to do our first CTD (connectivity, temperature and depth) cast. We had a slow start as the CTD array was not commutating with the ship so the cast was delayed for a few hours. After the cast, a few plankton net tows were done and then we set out towards an eddy located to the southwest of Bermuda.

Work is done around the clock so there are rarely times when no one is deploying or recovering apparatus, sampling from the CTD or filtering water. And if no science equipment is in the water then the fishing rods go in! We almost had mahi-mahi for dinner, as there were a few circling the ship, but they just wouldn’t bite... maybe tomorrow.

The first deployment of PITS was this morning. The traps will stay suspended at 150, 200 and 300m for 48 to 72 hours before being recovered. The plan is to have four deployments during this cruise; that means we will be kept busy with dismantling, cleaning and rebuilding PITS tubes over the next two weeks.

Hopefully hurricanes and tropical storms will avoid this region of ocean for the next two weeks. I will be quite happy if the sea remains as flat calm as it is now. And even happier if the temperature would drop 10 degrees or so. I think the latter is too much to hope for though!
Doug and Mike with the first PITS deployment

Friday, July 22, 2011

Diving in the Morning

Always up for a day free of the library, I got to put my science diver training to work on Wednesday. It’s not that I don’t love writing, mind you; it’s just nice to get back out in the sun and on the water.

That being said, with a boat chock full of six coolers and four people, I left with the BEACON project on Twin V early Wednesday morning. A fairly simple day, the plan was to go out to Hog reef and Crescent reef to return corals, which we did, without too much fuss.

As happy as I was to be out on the water, the leftover wrath of Tropical Storm Bret made the ride kind of choppy and my stomach a bit queasy, still, the morning passed without much fuss. It was even warm enough out there to dive with no wetsuit. (Which was great until I leaned on some fire coral. OUCH.)

BEACON had collected their corals to weigh and measure during the previous week. So we put them back into the water and collected other samples. At Hog and Crescent, there were six coral plates per area. These plastic plates each have four individual corals attached to them and are bolted on to a numbered cinderblock around the reef. We re-attached the corals plates we brought out with us and collected six more at each site to be taken back to BIOS to be weighed and measured by BEACON.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Science Diver Training Final Exam Day!

Now… when Alex said we were having a “practical” final exam for our dive class on Friday morning, we all assumed we’d be doing a dive during which he would test our skills.

When we got on the boat and headed back to the site of the Mari Boeing reefing, that line of logic still made sense. In fact, it made sense until we got to the bottom and Alex handed each of us a clipboard and a pencil… WITH A TEST ATTACHED.

Yes, we had gotten final exams, printed out on waterproof paper, that we were to take 35-feet under the water. Sometimes I just love the scientific community.

The exams did contain some practical skills:
  • Remove your mask and replace it.
  • Do the next three questions while breathing from the octopus of the diver to your right.
  • Answer the next page while hovering, without your fin-tips touching the ground.
  • To finish the test, trade BCDs with another diver.
That last bit may have been my favorite part, since Stu’s BCD was a comfortable one, and Jorge looked absolutely ridiculous wearing Alissa’s hot pink gear.

This class has been a bit of a wild ride, but we’ve learned quite a lot in a very short time. And while I now have two weeks of work to catch up on, I’m going to miss being out on the boat every day.

In other news… Eight new science divers available: will work for air.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Science Diver Training Day 7

After a relatively quiet morning taking tests and re-learning how to use dive tables (all but one of us have dive computers), I think everyone assumed Thursday was going to be a pretty easy/slow day.

Boy, were we wrong! Search and rescue training commenced after lunch.

This time we weren’t running slow search patterns for beer bottles and cinderblocks, it was time to learn what to do in an actual emergency. Towing a tired diver in full gear back to the boat and figuring out how to subdue a panicked diver in order to tow them back to the boat is seriously tiring.

Not to mention that we took Twin V out by Fort St. Catherine, so the current was kind of killer. No matter how tired we were after our four dives on Tuesday, I think any one of us would have taken a four-dive-day over swimming against a current in full gear for four hours.

Parts were pretty entertaining, however. We weren’t supposed to yell “help,” for obvious reasons, so our mock-tired divers yelled “PIZZA” to get the attention of the divers on the boat.

On the less entertaining side, I think Jorge and I were covered in bruises from people practicing pulling us onto the boat and rolling us over to do “CPR.” (My upper thigh kept getting rolled into the motor… fun!)

Finally, Forrest pretending to be a lost diver, still submerged and we worked as a team to find him, rid him of his gear, alert emergency medical services, and get him on the boat to start CPR. We got him back to Twin V in four minutes and 23 seconds.

The moral of the story: If you’re ever in a diving emergency, you absolutely want our crew on your boat.

This is me!