Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dana Fields's Internship, Summer 2013 - Part 2

Hello all! I’ve just spent 10 days at sea with a couple of outstanding chief scientists and a wonderful research crew.

The R/V Weatherbird II set out from St. Petersburg, Florida, July 23rd with a science team that included researchers from Florida State University, University of South Florida, Valdosta State University, and Eckerd College to survey the geomorphology and benthic habitats of the northern rim of DeSoto Canyon using a couple of different techniques (and some really cool equipment). The team also collected water samples from several sites in the deep ocean to filter for microscopic foraminifera.

Co-Chief Scientist Dr. Stan Locker (USF) used side-scan sonar to map the sea bottom. In shallow waters, the instrument was mounted to a pole on the side of the ship. In deeper waters, we towed the instrument using a “towfish” thousands of meters behind and below the ship. Data was collected continuously for hours and days at a time as the ship followed tracks that Dr. Locker set across the surface of the gulf.

Charnelle, Stan, and Chelsea ready the side-scanning sonar towfish for deployment.

Dr. Stan Locker setting our course and managing the data acquisition of the towfish.
Co-Chief Scientist Dr. Ian McDonald (FSU) used the MILET benthic imaging platform to video the seafloor and use acoustics to measure the profile of the sediments. Again, data was collected continuously as the MILET, a rather ungainly looking sled with a LOT of instruments strapped to it, was hauled behind the ship as it followed the path that Dr. McDonald set for it.
Dr. Ian McDonald and his team, Mal, Eric, and Peter.
The  MILET is an unlikely looking “sled” that is capable of collecting an impressive amount of data.

Since data of one type or another was collected continuously for most of the cruise, the members of the research team were assigned to different “watches.” I was “on watch” from 4-8 each day. This means that from 4pm to 8pm AND from 4am to 8am, my watch-mates and I were available to do whatever needed to be done. Sometimes this involved deck operations such as assisting with the deployment or recovery of the equipment. Most times, it involved monitoring the data collection process and winch to make sure the instruments didn’t smash into the ocean floor!

In addition to seafloor mapping and profiling, CDT (conductivity, depth, and temperature) data was collected at various locations along with water samples for filtering. The filtered samples will be returned to the lab for analysis of the foraminifera that are present.

Courtney preparing to filter the water samples in the lab.

Of course it wasn’t all work! There were a couple of moments free to lean back and relax.

Chelsea and Charnelle
There was time to take in the sunrises and sunsets.

There was even a little time for sleeping!

My “home away from home!”
I’d also like to give a “shout out” to the crew of the R/V Weatherbird II. These guys went out of their way to support the science team that “invaded” their tightly run ship. They made sure that the ship went where it needed to go and that all deck operations were safely carried out. These guys are real professionals. They made us as comfortable as possible (the food was great!), ensured the success of the mission, and brought us safely home again.

Docked at St. Pete. Courtney and Ian unloading at cruise end.
Charnelle, Courney, Samira, and Anne back on dry land at last.

All in all, it was a successful cruise! The research team collected a lot of data and I collected some great experiences (and a few sea stories) to share with my students.

Posted By:
Dana Fields (Florida State University)


  1. Sounds like a lot of fun (and learning)! Wish I was there!!

    Stan Cutler

    1. It WAS both fun and educational. And the earth continued to heave back and forth for days after I got back!


  2. I remember that feeling well! Looks like you're making good progress with MATLAB on your Part 3 Blog...I remember how I struggled with that last summer!