Day Three on the R/V Atlantis

Calan Taylor is a high school teacher participating in the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on board the R/V Atlantis. See other posts in this series using the navigation tools at right.

DAY THREE July 16, 2019
By Calan Taylor

Second night at sea went well. I always sleep better on boats. The coziness of the rack (that’s what a bed is called on a working ship) coupled with the rhythm of the waves rocks you like a baby in a womb. I ended yesterday with a workout at the “Gym,” which is a modified storage room in the bow of the ship. I thought I’d be alone, but was actually joined by Jami (the lab director from Hatfield), her sister (a nuclear physicist from the Sandia Lab in Albuquerque), and Ronnie (the Bosun/Deck Boss) They suggested that we all do “a light insanity workout together”. It went about how you’d expect…not light. The interesting part was doing burpees and plyometrics on the bow of a moving ship. After dinner I watched part of Good Will Hunting with some of the crew, then went for a tour of the Bridge which was impressive and expansive. The first time I’ve ever seen the bridge on a big ship. Fun fact? The 278ft ship was built in Mississippi in the mid 90’s, gets 10 gallons to the mile (not a typo), and is actually a Navy vessel (which explains the wild interior layout reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg Machine).

This morning we commenced with our first transect by launching ISIIS (In Situ Ichthioplankton Imaging System) which is basically a fancy submersible with advanced imaging capabilities. The ROV is driven between depths of 100-0 meters every 20 minutes as the ship crosses the transect at 5 knots heading east to west. There are fiber optics in the core of the cable that tethers ISIS so that real time data can be communicated to the onboard lab. There are two cameras (which use shadow imaging similar to the old slide shows from my childhood) to capture 60 and 100 Frames Per Second of plankton ranging from 400 micrometers up to 50-60 mm, respectively. The shadow imaging allows the cameras to collect images across a relatively large depth of field which is important for two reasons. First, there’s a lot of empty space, and second, data on spatial relationships between organisms can be collected.

ISIIS on the ship's deck
ISIIS on deck

There are 3 stations that we rotate through at roughly 20-30 minutes. The first job is on the back deck running the winch by either paying out or hauling in cable at speeds of 20-50 cm/sec depending on instructions received from the lab. This job looks easy until you actually get behind the joystick and realize how touchy it is. The second job is called “Flying ISIIS” which sounds like something you’d do in a Drone over Yemen but actually involves monitoring speed over water of the ROV in the lab and communicating instructions to adjust winch speeds to the operator on deck. At this station you also monitor salinity/conductivity, dissolved oxygen, Fluorescence/PAR (Which are proxies for photosynthesis), density, and salinity. The final job is watching the stream of real time data and annotating “Events” which are just things that look interesting such as fish larva or other rarer organisms. Since there are literally millions of slides being collected, most analysis will be done with AI, but potentially interesting events noted and time-stamped in the journal can be revisited for closer inspection by students or citizen scientists down the road. The cool thing about this job is that you are literally flying through the ocean passing millions of critters that look like something out of The Abyss in real time.

ISIIS in the water
ISIIS in the water

So that’s about it for today, I have one more shift at each station starting shortly, then a workout, dinner, and back to the rack. Looking forward to reading some more and maybe watching a movie.

Calan Taylor teaches Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science at Bandon High School and is part of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program on the R/V Atlantis cruise taking place July 13-27, 2019.

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