Ok, I'm done with my ramblings for the night,
The last few days have been such a blur! Everyday follows the same routine but there is always something new going on. It was nice to have a day off on Friday. I got some much needed sleep and went to the Diving History Museum. Even though I've been to the florida Keys many times, I've never gotten the chance to go through the museum. It was really neat! There were a lot of old diving helmets and gear that really showed the evolution of manned-underwater exploration. Going to the museum made me really want to try out one of the older styled helmets, or at least one of the ones that the Aquanauts use.
This past Saturday was definitely one of the best moments of Mission 31 field work for me so far. It was the day that I finally got to go inside of Aquarius! After diving around the habitat for the past two weeks, I was very excited to get the chance to actually go inside the world's only undersea lab. Now, this was actually my second time inside of Aquarius. During Mission Aquarius in Summer 2012, I visited Mark and Sylvia Earle inside the habitat, but the experience was so new and overwhelming that I didn't really get to soak everything in. This time was different. I was ready for the strange sensation of being able to sit around a kitchen table underwater and have a conversation with people while fish swim by. However, it was so agonizing to wait on the boat all day until 2pm to finally be able to get into the water. In order to maximize our time inside Aquarius, Amanda and I didn't dive before our official "splash-down" time. But It was worth the wait. Promptly at 2:10pm, Amanda and I dove down to the habitat and surfaced up into the wet porch to be welcomed by Otter, one of the technicians saturating along with the other Aquanauts. We very quickly showered to rinse off salt water while looking out a view port and watching our favorite spotted eagle rays swim by, had a safety briefing, and stepped into the rest of the habitat. The Aquanauts had a bowl of m&ms waiting for us on the table when we entered the main lock of Aquarius. The whole reason Amanda and I were in Aquarius was to do a live outreach event with the Boston Museum of Science. We were both pretty nervous about the public speaking part of our Aquarius visit, and planned ahead to kick each other under the table whenever we started talking to fast; but the event went pretty well! I talked about my research on the coral gastrovascular system using the Unisense Underwater Meter System and Oxygen Microsensors and Amanda talked about her zooplankton research. Aquanaut, Grace Young, also joined us at the table and was a great addition to the event, as she could answer the "living underwater" questions better than we could. Our half hour of talking with the museum flew by with guest appearances through the view port by the other members of the surface team and Aquanaut Liz Magee. You can watch the event here. Since we didn't dive before our Aquarius Dive, we had a little extra time after hanging up with the Museum and Amanda and I were able to call our parents from 50ft underwater. They were tickled! Humorously, my entire Skype call with my dad is recorded at the end of the outreach event video linked earlier... Oops. I'm definitely a little bit embarrassed about that, but my dad's the coolest, so oh well. We also got to talk more with the Aquanauts before we had to return to the surface. Fabien Cousteau was very impressed with how we work with the micro-sensors in the coral, he said it was like we were performing brain surgery on corals. I loved being able to just hang out with everybody underwater. It sounded like Fabien and crew aren't ready for the mission to end in just a couple more days. Fabien talked about needing to stay longer to get all of the shots for the documentary filmed, but I'm sure that the awesome film crew will get it all done in time. Amanda and I headed out of the main lock of the habitat around 3:15 and then just took our time in the wet porch because Liz had just returned from a dive. We had a great time finally being able to talk with her underwater. Normally, it's a one-sided conversation as she tries to talk to us through her helmet and all we hear is a high-pitched murmur. Eventually, we returned to the surface, but we took our sweet time on the way up and really just tried to soak it all in before getting back on the boat.
I had a great time catching up with Fabien underwater on Saturday, and then today, I got to meet his sister, Celine Cousteau. Before the boat left in the morning, I showed off the micro sensors to her and Jim Toomey. After a great day of diving and the last Museum of Science outreach event with francis and Brian in the habitat, the NU surface team took most (if not all) of the M31 surface support team and Celine and Jim (and Wyland and Holt Mcalllany) out to dinner. I sat next to Celine and really enjoyed hearing all about her different experiences. She took a slightly different path from her brother and does filming and documentaries all over the world on a variety of subjects, not just ocean related. One of her current projects that she is very excited about is based out of the Amazon. Celine is aspiring to tell the indigenous Amazon people's story to a western audience. She said that the people want their story told their own way, even though sometimes they don't know how they really feel about certain things. For example, these people really need modern medicine to keep them and their culture alive, but they also believe that the new medicine is making them sick. The whole thing is a sort of catch 22 of beliefs. You can't tell someone what to believe in. And it is difficult, sometimes, to share other's beliefs when you don't fully understand them or believe them yourself. The indigenous people's beliefs are so different from ours, so Celine has quite the challenge ahead of her to be able to truthfully tell these people's story. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes out of her work in the Amazon. To bring this back to a science perspective, we, as scientists, need to share our experiences, stories, data, and ideas with the general public in order to be heard and better understood. If we are not reaching out to others, who will care to protect and preserve our study subjects? The indigenous people want to preserve their culture, I want to protect coral reefs. They believe in their way of life, I believe that we need healthy oceans. At dinner, we also talked about the importance of science communication and the need for scientists to work cooperatively with scientific journalists (like our embedded teen reported, Morgan Helmuth) or to take an interest in sharing their research themselves. I am slowly starting to see a shift in the science community to approval of social media use to share current research with the public. Which, is great, I just hope that it can start shifting a little faster. Fabien Cousteau and Mission 31 has been an awesome experience in science communication. The team has really rocked social media with great short clips about the cool aspects of living underwater, science tweets, and continuous blogging. I am very excited to be apart of such a cool mission, and I hope that I will get the chance to return to Aquarius again in the future.
Ok, I'm done with my ramblings for the night,
Diving just about everyday in the past week has got me thinking. Since I can just about do anything underwater now...what about eating?
I did a fair share of anecdotal research from more experienced divers about eating underwater. Almost every single one of them thinks it is a dumb idea. They gave advice on which food to avoid (cinnamon challenge, gummy bears, sandwiches) and the difficulties in breathing and swallowing interchangably underwater.
I have my mind set on eating underwater. The surface team got me baby food yogurt to eat underwater. It was pretty fool proof.
I have to say, I enjoy eating on the surface much more than eating underwater. Even with the sealed package the yogurt tasted like the ocean.
It was like eating salty milk
We have told you a lot of our daily tasks and the data we are collecting. While we are hard at work for most our time under the water that does not mean that we don't get to enjoy the change of scenery from coldwater diving in Nahant!
One of the common visitors we have are eagle rays. During our first few dives it was very exciting to see the one or two at a distance we thought was very close. Now we expect to see three or four and have them swim very close to us.
On an adventure a bit off site from Aquarius Alli and I got our first look at a goliath grouper. First we saw what we thought was the biggest fish we had ever seen, until it swam up to what was actually the biggest fish we had ever seen (in video below).
Even dives that don't provide any new exciting animals sightings can still be breathtaking. After each dive we take a 3 minute safety stop at 20 ft and normally this consists of holding onto a buoy rope and either calmly floating or being pushed completely horizontal with a strong current. Yesterday our safety stop was extended due to the beautiful fish display surrounding us.
Swimming underneath the Aquarius habitat is another place to see some exciting things. Normally there are a few tarpon swimming around. I also enjoy watching the fish swim upside-down in relation to the growth of corals etc on the bottom of Aquarius. Today's excitement included the sighting of a very friendly and photogenic sea turtle who enjoyed Chris and Sara's company underneath the Aquarius habitat. A few of us saw a turtle at the beginning of the trip but today was the first day since then.
Keep follow Mission 31 on facebook and twitter to see more exciting photos of our science and the fun creatures we for the remaining days of the mission.
Today, we got the first set of sponge samples for the Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL) project. Since the Aquanauts have much more dive time than we do, they are collecting the samples and then sending them up to us for preservation. So I keep saying "samples"... these "samples" are tiny pea sized pieces of sponge that will later be analyzed by the OGL. The OGL will harvest the genetic information from these sponges to get a better idea of sponge biodiversity and possibly find new cures for diseases. After the Aquanauts send the samples up in labeled zip lock bags, the surface team rinses the samples in filtered sea water, puts each sample in its own labeled tube, and then fills the tube with special "OGL Fix." The OGL fix contains RNAlater, a chemical that keeps the genetic material from degrading. RNAlater cannot be used inside of Aquarius because it can be hazardous if breathed in, and Aquarius is a mostly closed air system. This is why we have to do the preservation steps at our "mobil lab" a.k.a our rental house with good air circulation. We are collecting 5 samples from 14 different species of sponges. Sponges can be pretty hard to identify, so I made a special sponge guide just for the Aquanauts... and now you! See the slideshow below to see what species of sponges the Aquanauts are collecting.
"We've been collecting tiny pieces of sponge tissue from 14 different species to deposit at the world's largest repository for genetic information on marine organisms, the Ocean Genome Legacy at Northeastern University. The genetic information in some of these samples may be analyzed in the future to discover genes for new antibiotics or cures for cancer."
Only a week left before the Aquanauts start decompression, and we have so much science left to do! The beginning of this week has been pretty chaotic with everything going on. Jess and Allie went into the habitat on Sunday to talk with the Boston Museum of Science about the sponge science we are doing and about the OGL and biodiversity. Also on Sunday, Mark and I moved the Oxygen micro-sensors to a new location. The two new probes that I put together are still in one piece and we are getting some really great data, I can't wait to take a look at it! Monday, we pulled the Unisense micro-sensor back out to charge it over night before re-deploying it this morning. Fingers crossed, our breaking-probes phase is over and everything will keep running smoothly! The sponge science is also still going really well. Allie, Jess, and Brian have been busy taking sponge morphometrics (measuring different parts of the sponge and taking detailed pictures). Allie has also been taking water samples from inside and outside of the Giant Barrel Sponges (X. muta on the sponge guide!). Amanda is still collecting lots of zooplankton, and we have seen some pretty neat things get trapped. The other day there was a juvenile brittle sea-star and a shrimp caught in two of the traps. We also have 3 major outreach events coming up at the Boston Museum of Science this week.
Well, that's all for now, check in tomorrow for another update!
Today was Aquarius habitat day!! It was our first outreach event with the Museum of Science and Alli and I were skyping live to Boston to talk about sponge science and the Ocean Genome Legacy Project.
Here is a cool video (shot by Alli) of our descent to the "yellow submarine" guided by Mark Patterson, a former aquanaut. You can see me pop up in the wet porch and try to figure out where I should hang my tank (I was quickly rescued by Mark who poked his head in and put my tank on the rack.)
Breathing air and being able to talk underwater is weird: really weird. I have gotten so used to hand-signals and writing tablets over the past week that it seemed revolutionary to be able to pop my head up, take my regulator out and introduce myself.
The person that I was introducing myself to was Mark Hulsbeck (aka Otter) who came bearing fresh towels and gave us a tour of Aquarius. We had to rinse all the salt off and don a clean t-shirt before heading into the habitat. Unfortunately, we don't have footage from inside Aquarius because our Go-Pro camera had to be submerged in a bucket so that it didn't trap air while we were inside. Any air inside could expand as we head to the surface causing the underwater case to leak or burst!
Once inside we chatted with Grace who was listening to the aquanauts out on the reef and she showed us some of the cool videos that she is taking with her high speed camera. As a right of passage we were fed Goldfish and M&Ms before sitting down at the kitchen table to begin our chat. It was definitely a surreal experience being able to look out a porthole and see all my labmates working on their science projects with the aquanauts. There were even two spotted eagle rays that kept cruising by the window during our trip.
Today was especially awarding for me, because it feels like we’re finally getting into a routine! Up until now, the ‘sponge team’ has focused on designing and implementing the ideal setup for our several data loggers (2 YSI data sondes, 1 Sontek ADV, 2 Onset dissolved oxygen sensors, numerous TidBit temperature loggers, and a few others) that will constantly be recording data for the entire mission. We were even able to retrieve and off-load some really cool data from the YSI data sondes this evening (more on that later!)
So now the sensors and loggers are in place, and we know they are logging data, I was able to start focusing on collecting data from other individual sponges. Today we tagged the sponges we will be monitoring throughout the remainder of the mission, recorded morphometrics (fancy word for size and shape), and collected water samples from each. The water samples we are collecting will be used for a number of analyses that will give us insight on the role these creatures play in the functioning of the entire ecosystem, and will continue being collected daily from here on out.
Well, that’s all for now. More details to follow, so stay tuned!
Today was our first day off of diving, and while it was relaxing for some of us to not be seasick, the day still went by quickly. This gave us a chance to catch up on preparing and problem solving for our science for the rest of our time here. There was lots of reorganizing, charging of cameras, and problem solving adjustments needed to be made in the field.
I had a chance to look at the first round of zooplankton that were collected from my night traps. After looking through just one sample over the reef I learned that there is a large diversity of zooplankton and there are quite a few new species that I have never seen before.
I was able to determine which zooplankton from my sample were alive or dead before they were collected by using a neutral red staining technique. This is added to the sample on the boat at the surface while processing the samples immediately after their collection. Then when looking at the sample under a microscope, the dye makes any animals that were alive during the collection a darker red color, whereas any animals collected that were already dead are a lighter pink, brown, or clear color. In the picture below, you can see the larger copepod on the left is a darker color than the smaller copepod on the right, meaning it was alive during the time of collection. This allows for greater insight on discovering the dynamics of zooplankton on the reef. In this sample there was only one additional copepod that appeared to be alive, which provides a better interpretation of what is happening on the reef.
Today was a HUGE day for me: I finally got to use the Unisense micro electrode system in the field! A quick refresher for those of you just stumbling upon our Mission 31 research... We are using this very fancy, very expensive, underwater meter that measures oxygen and pH levels inside of corals to see how they respond to environmental stress on a daily basis. I have worked pretty extensively with this expensive toy... I mean scientific instrument... in the lab, but this is my first time deploying it in the field. Not gonna lie, I was terrified. Who decided that giving me a very expensive fragile tool was a good idea? I'm not very graceful, but at least I am less clumsy underwater than I am on land. I spent all of Wednesday night and this morning building the micro-electrode probes and calibrating the sensors in them. Unfortunately, there was something wrong with the pH probe's amplifier (the piece that takes the signal from the sensor and super-sizes it to send it the meter), and we had to leave it behind and only take the three Oxygen micro-sensors.
On the boat, we had the system very carefully secured, but I was still pretty stressed out that we would hit a bump and all the probes would bounce and then shatter. Yes, I might have been overly paranoid, but those things take a lot of time to set up and I didn't really want to do it all over again and have to wait even longer to get the new ones out into the field. Once we got to the Aquarius site, Dr. Mark Patterson delivered the system to the coral that we are using while I continued to set up the frame and micro-manipulators that we use to hold the micro sensors in place. On the second dive, Mark inspected my work and gave me the OK to go ahead and start getting the sensors into the coral. 2/3 of the sensors survived the boat trip and the swim down to the bottom. 1/3 survived me trying to get them out of their protective shields... My hand slipped while I was slipping it out of the shield and I could hear the distinctive "ping" underwater of microsensor breaking. I was devastated, but my pity party couldn't last too long because we still had one more probe to try to get into the coral and had a limited amount of time to do it. I let Mark remove the shield and but it into the micro manipulator holder. Then, of course he handed me the magnifying head gear and motioned for me to take over. Again, I was terrified, but determined not to screw it up. I slowly and carefully positioned the probe tip in front of a polyp mouth. Then even slower, I moved the probe tip to be just outside of the mouth so that when the polyp opens up it will enclose the probe in it's mouth. This process took me about 30min. I checked the meter display, and SUCCESS, the reading hadn't skyrocketed (a sign that the probe is broken).
Today, I successfully managed to get a probe into a polyp, while 60ft underwater. Sure, I broke one micro-sensor in the process and Mark broke a second one, but that's science. If it was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing, or would have already been done by someone else.
Oh, and I had quite the entourage while doing all of this. Mark and Francis got everything on video, check it out below!
I am taking a day off from diving today, I figured I might share my first full day in Florida. I'll keep it short, since Jess and Sara has done such a wonderful job talking about our journey so far.
Everything here is very different to me. This is the most south I have ever been in North America. Being a person north of the wall (Canada), the heat and the humidity is difficult for me to handle.
But once we hit the water...Wow
Well, that is all I have for now. I can't wait to share the Aquarius videos with you. Talk soon!
Just a reminder the Northeastern surface team will have their first live chat inside Aquarius with the Museum of Science in Boston on June 22, 2014 at 12:30pm. Alli and Jess will both to talking from inside Aquarius to the audience in Boston. Stay tune, it will be available online for live streaming!
It has been a long and exciting day for the Northeastern Surface team! After waving goodbye to Liz Magee and the other second half Aquanauts as they left for Aquarius, we hung out around the Aquarius Shore base for a bit. We then had a boat briefing from Captain Brady, went back to the house to pack up science and do last minute errands. It started pouring down rain and thunder stormed, so we ate lunch at the house. After 1pm, we got back to the shore base and departed for our first dives of Mission 31! For most of the team, this was their first dive in warm water! Very different from the 55 degree Fahrenheit water up in Boston. We did a check-out dive at a site called "Hens and Chickens," where we just got our buoyancy straightened out and went for a swim so that the people who had never dived on a coral reef before could just check things out. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of coral disease on this reef. Most, if not all of the corals looked unhealthy. But, we saw a lot of cool invertebrates and a turtle! We then headed over the the Aquarius reef to bring down equipment and to start setting up some basic framework for our experiments. The Aquarius reef site is such a unique dive. Of course, the main attraction is the habitat itself, but then theres also all of the big fish that it attracts by being such a large structure. There were huge tarpon swimming around the habitat and also quite a few grouper. While setting up tripods for the sponge experiment, Allie and I swam by the grouper-dummies that the FIU scientists are using to study predator-prey interactions. The dummy-fish were strung out on a line, and at first Allie couldn't quite figure out what they were. I had to come up with some pretty creative hand signals to tell her that the fish dummies weren't real and were part of the other experiment. Underwater communication can be a bit tricky, luckily we are picking up some dive slates tomorrow so that we can write notes to each other underwater. After a day of successful diving, we were all exhausted and most people slept on the boat ride back to the shore base. Once back at the house, we ate dinner while preparing more of our equipment and scientific instruments for tomorrow's dives. We had such a busy day!
Below, is our day in pictures:
Sorry for such a short update, hope you all enjoyed the pictures!