It has been an honor to spend time with the wonderful crew and splendid science team on the Wecoma. I have learned from each of you and I take away that precious gift of knowledge.
Thank you, Bob Collier, for the time you spent in making this cruise happen for me. Thank you, Chih-Ting Hsieh, for your time and hard work on organizing and posting the blogs.
Thank you, Clare Reimers, for allowing me to be the ‘Teacher at Sea’ during your ship time. I thoroughly enjoyed working and learning alongside you.
Prosper and do good work!
CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density)
I have enjoyed a routine of assisting, Margaret, with the deployment of the CTD. The CTD holds an array of water collection bottles and several sensors that record vital information about the water into which we are sending our 3 different landers to stay overnight. We’ve gotten into the routine of sending down the CTD when the landers first go out and right before they are hauled back onto the boat. You can think of the CTD as taking the vital signs of the ocean just as your nurse takes your vital signs every time you see your doctor.
The some of the information from the CTD comes back immediately (via a very long cable) to Wecoma’s on-board computer system. Margaret and I watch as a graph is produced that shows temperature, salt concentration, oxygen concentration, and light transmission (clarity). This information is gathered as the CTD is lowered down to about 1 meter above the sea floor. After reviewing this information we can determine from what depths we what to collect our water. While sitting at our computer station we can close a bottle, thus we can choose to collect a sample from any depth. As soon as all the samples are collected we bring the CTD back on board the boat.
Margaret has been collecting samples in search of methane. Methane is a gas that can be found along the Oregon coast, near volcanic vents, within the boundary zones of the Juan de Fuca plate. Methane is also found in smaller concentrations as a product of the decomposition of dead plants and animals. Today, Margaret was quite surprised to find an elevated level of methane show up in water collected from 120 meters. a sight off a Cape Perpetua.
My job on board is to collect water samples that will later be tested for oxygen, nutrients, and salts. I, also, collect and filter water for future pigments and particle detection and analysis.
A curious sea lion watched as we brought a lander back aboard the boat and then it acted as if it too wanted to come aboard.
On a separate occasion, a playful sea lion frolicked and jump near the boat for about an hour.
A seemingly lost bird as taken refuge on the boat. The bird seems nearly domesticated as we feed it water, crackers, and granola.
Today the sea is strangely calm, not a ripple to disturb the water surface, and to the first paragraph as follows, the sky is overcast, the coast line is visible from our location of about 8 miles from shore; you can understand why, some many years ago, this ocean was named the Pacific.
As the cruise nears the end, I started thinking about how I will transfer, to my students, what I learned here on the R/V Wecoma. While surrounded by science researchers, science students, graduate students, and lab technicians, I wonder what the most important skills a young person should have before entering into college.
Chief scientist, Clare Reimers, says that young people need to have a variety of skills to be successful in college. Not only do students need to be proficient in reading, writing, and math, they need to have computer skills using various, up to date, computer programs, they need to have skills in problem solving and working as a team.
As I watch the teams work together I see them using many of the skills that Clare mentioned.
In my classroom I challenge students to work together, think through, and complete fun projects. I believe in letting the students make errors and learn by their mistakes. I know that by teaching young people to ask the right questions and solve problems on their own, they will become lifelong learners.
Several ways to emulate the science that happening here on this cruise.
1. Geology (middle level)
Core samples can be taken, using a straw corer or a metal can corer, from most any outdoor environment. Water environments lend themselves quite well to this experiment because the core will stick together better. Students taking core samples can measurement volume, weight, and length of the core. They can mix larger samples with water, shake it, let it settle, and determine, by measuring the layers, the percent sand, silt, and clay. Data from the core sample can be accumulated for different geographic areas and geologic maps can be drawn.
2. Engineering (middle/high level)
An excellent project for small groups is where the goal of the project is to design an underwater collection devise that will take a sample of water at a certain level below the surface. This can be done on the scale of an aquarium, a pool, a pond, a lake, or the bay. Students should be encouraged to do some research into how similar devises are designed. Students should be allowed only to use household materials and recyclables for their design. Students should draw a diagram of their intended design and plan on presenting the final product to the class for a peer review.
3. Chemistry (High School level)
A simple chemistry lab that I’ve done in class, using a balance scale and several other common items, is making a sample of water that has the same salt concentration as seawater. It’s easy to find the percent salt in seawater by searching on the Internet. Once the students have found this information they can use the balance scale to weigh out the salt needed per volume of water. There are several ways to students can get this wrong (for example, not taking into account the weight of the container) however, a group discussion beforehand can help to alleviate most of the common errors.
Graduate student, Rachel Holser, is processing the data.
Ol’ Yeller is rightly named because of the prominent bright yellow floats that cap the sophisticated group of water collectors arranged neatly within the sturdy frame. From a distance this apparatus looks extremely complicated. When you get close a close up view, the complexity quadruples. And, Ol’ Yeller really does suck; two rings of syringes are programmed to suck water from a closed system at the sea floor. (Confused? I’ll try to paint the picture)
The team sets it up
push it overboard
The entire thing is spring loaded as it leaves the dock and settles to the bottom. To allow for the settling of any disturbed sediment, its’ two bottomless, otherwise sealed boxes, are programmed to spring into the sea floor one hour after the device reaches the bottom. At that point the environment in each box is closed to outside influences. Now, with the box settled into the sea floor, the water in each box is injected with a tracer and the sucking begins. Samples of water are collected with the help of a series of spring-loaded syringes connected to small plastic tubing. Each syringe is programmed to suck a sample from the box at a precise time during the night. Having the two boxes programmed to take samples at the same time helps with quality control and validity of the samples. (Confused? It took me days to figure this much out.)
Ol’ Yeller, along with the other devises on this cruise are designed to answer questions about how oxygen in its’ many forms are consumed, expelled, and transferred throughout the ocean. The question remains, is the ocean a CO2 sink, takes in more CO2 then it releases, or, is the ocean a CO2 producer, giving off more CO2 then it consumes?
The last couple of days off the Oregon Coast have been foggy. The fog encompasses the ship with its gray sky and gray seas. During this time of low visibility the ship sounds a blast once every couple of minutes to alert other nearby boats.
This afternoon as the sun tries to burn off the fog, the science crew prepares to take several core samples. By the time everything is ready, the sun finally makes a strong appearance. With the sun warming the day, they set the corer up and deployed it off the ship and into the ocean. Down at 80 meters the corer was plunged into the earth to collect a 2 feet section. Three different sections were successfully collected today.
Later, in the cold lab the core is carefully sliced into the layers that will be sent to different research labs throughout the country. The layers of the core represent periods of time over which the sediments have slowly settled onto the ocean floor. From the core sections researchers will gain a better understanding of the biological, chemical, and geologic history of the area being studied.
As people try to understand the dynamics of the ocean, devices are developed to gather information from ‘down there’, the mysterious depths of the ocean.
Today, Clare Reimers, chief scientist on board, with a group of graduate students and research assistants, prepare for their deployment-time this afternoon. Part of what they plan to do is take pictures at regular intervals.
They are careful to mount the special digital camera on the tri-pod, they clean the high-powered lens, they mount the strobe light, and they program the camera. At the same time other members of the team are mounting the battery pack, programming a delicate oxygen sensor and mounting this on the tri-pod alongside the camera.
As I watch the set-up and try to understand the science I’m reminded of the Mars-Lander, built to land in an upright position and able to withstand the elements. In this case, this ‘Lander’ must withstand moving currents and salty water.
When everything is ready and the time is right, the crew and the scientists work together to lift the tri-pod off the back deck and swing it out into the ocean. Imagine doing this with your camera, your i-pod, and your computer! You might want to make sure everything is sealed tight against the elements. In this case, everything was sealed tight and they released it attached to a long line, a metal radar ball, an orange float, and a flag. The entire set-up is out for the night, all programmed, ready to take pictures and measure oxygen.
The plan is to take a picture of an area during regular intervals while a sensor records oxygen levels almost continuously. A fin attached to the camera keeps the camera pointed into the current so that the photos taken are of the area where the sensor is takings its readings.
The information gathered is helpful in understanding more about the amount of oxygen available to living organisms that live off the coast of Oregon. Scientists, fisherman, and many others will benefit from the combined effort of many who work on finding out about this dynamic ocean by solving problems, and answering questions about our mysterious sea.
We captured a picture of a flatfish on the sea floor.
When you think of iron, do you think of the iron that great grandma used to iron the wrinkles out of clothes, or the iron rails of an ornate fence? In a science class you may have used a magnet to remove iron filings from sand. There are many things made of iron, including the Research Vessel Wecoma.
Research Assistant, Chris Holm, is looking for iron so small that it can only be seen with specialized instruments. Just like using a microscope to see the cells that make up your body, he uses an instrument to detect or ‘see’ iron in water, except this instrument uses a chemical reaction that creates color in the presence of iron.
Chris says, “It is by measuring how much light passes through this colored solution that we can measure these low concentrations in seawater. The concentration of iron that is routinely measured in seawater is roughly equivalent to dissolving a paper clip in 50 Olympic swimming pools.”
The entire structure of the boat is made of iron. So, when you collect a sample of water on an iron boat, chances are, it will include some iron. Since Chris is looking for iron in seawater, his challenge has been to collect seawater that isn’t contaminated with added iron from the boat or from human hands. Special gloves are worn when working with water samples being collected for iron detection.
The environment of Oregon’s continental shelf, where the water samples are collected, is unique. It is 150 meters deep (about 450 feet), and it’s dark. The question is, are growing organisms, such as bacteria on the ocean floor or plankton near the ocean’s surface, using iron and if so, how much iron? In other words, what’s the daily requirement of iron needed to support life in the ocean?
For me, part of getting ready to sail is taking a walk around the area. I’ve been to the beach before, lots of times, but suddenly now my perspective of things seemed very different. I was soon to be out on the ocean surrounded by people who study its complex ecosystem. I walked for hours, curious about everything I saw along the beach: including the children that dig and build simple structures in the sand, the rock outcrops that suggest a complex past, and the washed up debris that give a glimpse of what lives in the sea. All this brought up questions; some I could answer and others I could not answer. I realized that being a scientist doesn’t mean that you have all the answers, it just means that you are curious and you want to try find the answers.
Each voyage out to sea is a voyage of discovery. Each scientist on board is interested in finding at least one more clue that will help him or her to answer a question. I am on board with these scientists to find out what kinds of questions they have about the ocean. In my next blog I will begin to share these questions with you. I also hope to entice you to ask questions. Maybe together we can come up with new ideas to explore and new ways to discover the answers.
Look at this picture carefully.
I was immediately curious about what this is and where did it come from.
I picked one up and discovered that it is like a short straw. The tube can be squeezed between the fingers but the shape returns when released.
Is it animal, vegetable, mineral, or man-made? What is it?