Saturday, October 6, 2012

Deep-C Ecology Cruise - October 2012



Ship’s Blog:  Weatherbird II (WB1306)
October 6, 2012

Greetings fellow Deep-C-ers, I’m currently writing you from the galley of the R/V Weatherbird II. I’m told we’ve been in the Gulf for 4 days now, which is hard to believe, but I guess time has a different meaning out here. If I didn’t have my computer with me, I’d have no clue what day/date it is.

But let’s back up just a bit, I’m Will Overholt and I’m a brand new graduate student out of Georgia Tech. I’m working with Dr. Joel Kostka and we’re interested in the bacteria that live in the sediment at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, particularly bacteria involved in eating oil from the deepwater horizon oil spill.

We’re on the Weatherbird II collecting mud from various sites in the Gulf, which is accomplished by sending “the lunar lander” (a device that holds 8 tubes) down to the bottom. As it hits the bottom, the 8 tubes penetrate the mud, then the bottoms of the tubes are closed off and we can pull the mud to the surface. Once the lunar lander returns to the surface we collect mud from different depths and freeze them at a very cold temperature (-80°C) to preserve them.

This is my first cruise and I didn’t know what to expect. Overall it’s been a fantastic experience and it’s really nice to be out on the water and not behind a computer screen (well aside from this brief entry). It took a few casts (maybe 2 or 3) but now we are all working like a versatile, well oiled machine. By that, I mean that we have our roles down so we can efficiently process the samples and also we can fill in other roles efficiently when needed (pretty astounding if you ask me!). I’m also really impressed with the camaraderie present on the ship; we are exhausted, sleep deprived and are living in extremely close quarters but still getting along really well, aside from the few good spirited jabs.

I’m on the second shift; lead by Dr. Amy Baco-Taylor and with Brian Wells, Kala Marks, and Chrissy Rawoski. We start at midnight and work till noon, although almost everyone ends up working overtime to facilitate the change in shifts. Once we get to a site, it takes about 20 minutes to drop the lunar lander which descends at 50-60 meters/minute. So for our deepest sites (~2200 m) it takes about 45 minutes to hit the bottom, then 45 minutes to pull it back up. Once the cores reach the surface then the real business starts. First, two people with boat hooks (a hook on the end of a 8ft pole) lean out on the back of the ship and have to hook the lunar lander, which is usually slowly swinging. Then they need to control the 300+ pound instrument, which would love nothing better than to careen widely out of control (but we’ve kept it under control with help from the Weatherbird’s more than capable crew). We work frantically on the cores for between 1 and 2 hours and then we return the cores to the bottom of the Gulf. We do this 3 times so we get 24 total cores from each site, and we spend up to 8 hours working at each site. By the time we’re done with our shift we’ve dropped and retrieved the cores up to 8 times and everyone is covered in mud, brain dead from exhaustion, and looking forward to a meal, shower, and bed. But TGIN  (Thank god its noon!)

For some color imagery, the water is a deep, almost indigo blue color. The mud from the bottom has a reddish-brown color on top that transitions to a small black layer (or black streaks) before becoming solid gray. The top is very fluffy for lack of a better work while the gray layers is like potters clay (thick and sticky). Every once in a while we get some cool larger critters in the cores, and the coolest has been a very strange shaped sea cucumber which I think Dr. Baco-Taylor has written about. At night we’ve had fairly clear skies, but it has been hard to see the stars since the deck of the ship is awash in lights from the boat. I’ve got to see the sun come up every morning (always helps pick you back up after a long night) and see the sky slowly lighten, and watch the pinks and oranges spread across the sky.

Finally, I also want to give a huge shout out to the crew of the Weatherbird II. This trip has gone as well as it has because of their hard work, patience, and aptitude. Oh and the food has been incredible. Delicious meals 3 times a day, and while I don’t have time to mention it all I can highlight the roast beef sandwiches, the pulled pork, the lasagna, the warm apple pie (with ice cream), bbq ribs, and many many more!! Thanks Thomas!

Now I’m sitting in the galley, taking a break (we’re about an hour away from the last site), smelling fresh brownies and watching a movie. So I think I will end it here. I’m sorry if I’ve been rambling but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at waoverholt@gmail.com.

Cheers!
-Will

Posted by:
Will Overholt (Graduate Student, GaTech)

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