October 6, 2012
It is currently 4:35 am and the night shift is sleepily waiting for the multicorer to make its third trip back up to the deck, so I figured this would be a great time to share my experiences on the Weatherbird II.
When Joel Kostka asked me if I wanted to take part in the cruise I was extremely excited, but I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I needed a pair of steel-toed boots and that we weren’t going to be getting too much sleep, but I gladly agreed because this was a much better alternative than sitting in classes all week. Will Overholt, a PhD student in Joel’s lab, and I drove down from Atlanta on Sunday and learned that we wouldn’t be setting sail until Tuesday afternoon. This gave us some time to take a field trip to Walmart to pick up some last minute odds and ends and to become familiar with the equipment on the boat. We officially left the bay that Tuesday morning with a very rocky start. The waves were about 8-10 feet high; and for someone who doesn’t get out on boats much, these conditions made me extremely seasick. I took some Dramamine then laid down the rest of the day until my midnight shift started.
The scientists on the cruise were split between two shifts: shift one was noon to midnight and shift two was midnight to noon. Amy Baco-Taylor, Will Overholt, Brian Wells, Chrissie Rakowski and I were put on the night shift, which I was really happy about because we wouldn’t have to work in the sun. Surprisingly, the only downside wasn’t that we had to stay up all night it was that we were eating about six meals a day. We were always awake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Thomas made amazing food), but we were also starving during the night so we would eat small and frequent snacks as well. For the night shift, I was the designated photographer and data recorder. I was in charge of taking pictures of each core and recording the length of the sediment, the length of the redox layer, and noting the presence of any burrows or benthic animals. Once the cores were photographed and recorded the processing would begin.
I have never used or even let alone seen a multicorer before, so it was a little daunting at first. The multicorer is a lunar-landing-like machine armed with eight core liners. From the deck we can deploy the multicorer into the water, which travels all the way to the bottom of the ocean, plunges into the ocean floor, and returns with core liners full of sediments and the overlying water layer. Once the multicorer is retrieved from the water we put the cores onto an extruder, use a fence to measure a specific amount of sediment, and then slice the sediment with a mud knife. We are then left with a perfectly measured and documented piece of the ocean floor. In Joel’s lab we’re interested in the microbial ecology of these sediments and the microbial community’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, so we collected samples at one-centimeter intervals from the top 10-15 centimeters of the core. We collected at least three cores per site and hit about eight sites, totaling to around 300 samples. For the past year I’ve been extracting DNA from samples collected from other students, so it was really fun to be able to collect samples with my own hands knowing that these are the samples I will be extracting DNA from in the coming months. It gives me a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into everything we do in the lab.
By the end of the trip the five of us became pros at deploying, retrieving, and processing samples in less than 3-4 hours depending on the depth of the site (a depth of about 1500 m will take the multicorer about 1 ½ hours to reach the bottom and make its way back up). I even got a chance to deploy and retrieve the multicorer!
Overall, I only suffered minor rashes from my boots (which can be fixed by a little duct tape – thanks Brian!) and a pile of muddy laundry, but I was left with a really great experience that I hope to do be able to do again. I just want to say thank you to an amazing crew and to the great team of scientists that I had the pleasure of working with this week.
Anyways, the multicorer just surfaced, so it’s time to get back to work!
Senior undergrad, Georgia Tech