Heading Out to Sea

Andy Bedingfield 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.

Heading Out to Sea, July 13-16, 2019
By Andy Bedingfield

Andy Bedingfield
Andy Bedingfield

July 13-14, 2019

Lisa Blank, Director of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, recruited me for this mission and will be helping me turn the experience into something I can share with my students. On Saturday morning, July 13th, Lisa and I got a tour of the R/V Atlantis, learned about the science, and starting shooting videos to potentially use as part of our curriculum.

loading the R/V Atlantis

The ship was docked in Newport Oregon for two set-up days. In the chemistry world, you get to set up your lab space and use it for years to do your research. These scientists have just 48 hours to get all of their equipment on board and set up their gear, and only two weeks to collect their data. According to one of the graduate students, it is common for a graduate student to collect enough data in these two weeks to complete a PhD.

This puts a ton of pressure on everyone to make sure they bring everything that they need, and that it all works flawlessly during the cruise. That said, nothing ever works flawlessly, and a big part of their job is to stay calm and fix issues as they arise. For instance, Jami, the lab manager, and her sister Megan (a PhD physicist) have been working really hard to get the pressure sensor to work on the multiple opening net system. This one of the main pieces of equipment they will be using on this cruise, so if they can’t get it to work, we will be in big trouble.

Since the ship wasn’t scheduled to depart until 8:00AM on the 15th, I was able to go home after I got my gear stowed on board and had lunch with the crew. I was really grateful to be able to spend one more night on shore because I have two year old daughter and every minute with her is precious. Also, my in-laws flew in from Texas to help my wife take care of Fox while she works. Since I could go home, I was able to spend time with them. Without their help, I wouldn’t have been able to go on this cruise, so I am super grateful.

July 15

I arrived on the RV Atlantis at about 06:00AM. Not much was going on, and there was a light rain. Then, slowly but surly the science crew started to wake up. By 7:00AM Jami and Megan were trying to get the pressure sensor system on the net system to work. This must be super stressful for them! This system is pretty old, Jami was having to take pictures and screen shots to send to the only guy in the world who really knows how it works. Science is always like this, much of your time is spent trying to get weird and wonky equipment to work so that you can collect the data that you need to answer the question that you are after.

Just after breakfast, I went up to my stateroom to make a protein smoothie,  and I just barely felt a different movement. When I looked out the window, I could see we were making our way to sea. I ran outside to join the crew on the bow of the boat to watch our transit down the Yaquina River and through the bar. The bar is a shallow area of sand that happens anytime a river meets the sea. We had a tugboat lead us out, and he stayed with us for a while as we made our way out to sea. At 9:00AM we had a meeting in the library and spent the next two hours learning about the ins and outs of the ship, safety, how to put on a survival suit, and how to evacuate and get on life boats. At 1:00PM, we had a science team meeting and everyone got to introduce themselves. I found out that starting tomorrow I will be on the night crew, working from 3:00PM till 3:00AM. I’m pretty worried about it, but I’m also excited to push the limits of my body.

inside the R/V Atlantis

For dinner I had some tofu, salad, green beans and asparagus. After dinner, I got my guitar out of my state room. I went down to the main aft deck where they send equipment over the side, parked myself in front of ALVIN, and played my songs. After a couple of songs, the reporter come by and asked me a few questions for his article. Then the artist showed up, and she sang along with me while I played. It was a lovely evening on the deck. We had a bit of south wind and chop through the middle of the day, but that cleared on in the evening.

After playing, I headed back to my stateroom. Cal and I chatted for a while, and then we took a quick tour of the bridge. Two guys were on watch up there, and we had a fun time chatting with them about how they run the ship.

July 16

I start my first watch at 3:00PM today and it will go to 3:00AM the next morning. A lot of people were talking about staying up as late as possible so that they will start adjusting to the night schedule, but I decided to just go to sleep when I was tired knowing that I would probably wake up at my normal 5 to 6. I slept great on the boat, though. We had just a gentle rocking and some nice airflow background noise from the ships operation. I’m sharing my stateroom with Cal, the other teacher on board. He is in the bottom bunk and I am in the top. It is pretty tight, but fine once you lie down. I have trouble getting in my bunk, though, since the roof is so low; there is only about 2.5 feet of vertical space. It is so low that I often hit the roof with my head as I’m turning over in my sleep, making a loud crashing noise. The roof is a metal tile like nothing I have seen and it is sort of like a steel drum if you bash into it in the night.

I woke up about 6:00AM, meditated in my bunk till about 7:00AM, and then wandered the ship until breakfast. During that time Kelly (one of the Principal Investigators) and I ran into each other and had a nice 20 minute chat about education. After tofu, home fries and fruit for breakfast, I made my way onto the aft part of the main deck. When I got there, a few of the science team members and a few of the boat crew members were getting ISIIS (the camera system) ready to be deployed over the side of the ship. I conducted a few interviews of science crew members as they were setting up. They used a two-part system: a crane boom that was operated by one person, and a winch operated by another person. Luckily everything went to plan and they got ISIIS over the side and towing without anyone getting hurt or damaging the equipment. As soon as the instrument was in the water, they began collecting data with the two high resolution cameras on ISIIS. After I finish this sentence, I’m going to go back down and see how things are going.

When I started my watch at 3:00PM they were just stowing the ISIIS on the deck. After that, we got trained on how to set up the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) recorder.

The CTD has 24 large plastic tubes that can be opened to collect water samples. To prime it to collect, you have to open up the end caps and set up the automatic closing device. There is a bungee — a really tight one– that runs down the middle of the pipe and is connected to both endcaps. To set up to take samples you pull the end caps off and put a restraining cord on the automatic trigger mechanism. One you drop it over the side, you can tell it to close one of the tubes, and you have a sample of water at that depth.

After that, we set up and lowered the neuston drag net for a test run. The neuston is the name of any plants or animals in the ocean region right on the surface. This net looks like a manta ray with a big aluminum mouth. After about a 5 min drag on the surface at 2 knots or so, we reeled it in and took a look at what we caught. First off, I was amazed at how much human detritus we caught, bits of plastic, paper and paint.  Even though it was a test run, we still caught a ton of critters as well. We saw a ton of fish eggs (almost translucent spheres), and two baby Velella velella or “by-the-wind-sailors”. The latter are colonial organisms that have a hard gelatinous top with a sail.

At 9:00PM we did our first official 5-minute neuston haul. It was a great one! They got about five live baby rockfish that were just past larval and moving towards the juvenile stage. After that, we put ISIIS back in the water under a newly-risen full moon. When we started at about 9:45PM the moon was blood red and we all saw a UFO (unidentified flying object). It was a bright light just as the sun was going down and you could only see the moon and a few stars. This bright object –as bright as Saturn –was moving erratically, but on a steady path to the north. I think it was a satellite on a north-south path and the erratic nature of its motion was due to our motion.

Andy Bedingfield teaches Science at Taft 7-12 High School in Lincoln City 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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