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NAAMES-II Expedition: June 7, 2016 (FINAL Blog)

June 8th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Sometimes, science can be amazing. Sometimes, scientists can be amazing. When these two elements come together, anticipate great things.

The North Atlantic Aerosol and Marine Ecosystems (NAAMES) study is an interdisciplinary investigation of planktonic ecosystems, the processes that over the course of each year recreate the largest phytoplankton bloom on Earth, and the link between these biological processes and atmospheric aerosols and clouds. NAAMES is one of five NASA Earth Venture Suborbital-2 (EVS-2) missions. But in my mind, it is the NAMES of NAAMES that set this mission apart from all others.

Friday afternoon, the aircraft team and the NASA C-130 returned home from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Sunday around noon, the research vessel Atlantis was tethered once more to a dock in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The second campaign of the NAAMES mission has come to a close. We are all tired. We are all victorious. From rough seas to irreparable airplane engines, this campaign has seen its challenges. As Principal Investigator of the mission, I continue to be amazed by and grateful for the team’s ability to overcome such obstacles and deliver on our objectives. Everyone involved is dedicated to this work and the knowledge it seeks to gain regarding the functioning of our home planet.

My own official role in the NAAMES field campaigns is to orchestrate the science activities on the Atlantis and coordinate the ship’s work with the aircraft team. In other words, I do my best to help and, most importantly, stay out of the way of the other scientists doing their wondrous work.

I have spent well over two years of my life on research vessels. Yet, I still find it is hard to fully explain what the experience is like. I think my most significant step to this end was during the first NAAMES campaign, where I decided to “leave it to a professional” and invited Nichole Estaphan to join the cruise and “tell our story”. Thank god she accepted the invitation! If you haven’t read her blog from that trip, you really should check it out! It’s posted on the NAAMES website.

Now, while I’m not a communications professional, let me give this a go just for fun. As a start, try to image being placed in a group of 50 people you don’t know, being locked in a building that is only about 300 feet long and a few stories high, working all hours of the day every day of the week for a month on end, and then having the building placed on a random rocking table that is constantly trying to knock you off your feet. Yes, that might be a good visual to start with…. Now image all of those 50 people and under those conditions continuously getting along, helping each other out, and staying positive and engaged in the work from the day you enter the building to the day you leave. Yeah, that’s about it. That is the NAAMES team. The ocean-going and airborne scientists, the ship’s captain and crew, and the aircraft support team in Saint John’s and at home. These are the NAMES of NAAMES. Simply amazing!

Beyond the scope of the NAAMES mission, this campaign has also had a personal side to it for me. I’ve always wanted to go to the North Atlantic and experience the bloom first hand. Yeah I know, clearly something from the ‘bucket list’ of a total nerd, but what can I say. I guess one thing I can say is that it was really, really cool! As a biological oceanographer, you simply cannot finish graduate school without hearing (and reading) loads and loads about the North Atlantic bloom. Consequently, I went to the field this May with some ‘expectations’ of what we would see and find. And the best part about it was that I was repeatedly surprised at how wrong my expectations often were. I was surprised that, despite being in the thick of the bloom from the tip of Greenland to the northern edge of the Atlantic gyre, we almost never saw phytoplankton populations dominated by diatoms (the text books will tell you that diatoms dominate the bloom). I was surprised by the diversity and dynamics of the plankton. I was surprised by relationships we measured between the growth of phytoplankton and the predators (including virus) that consume them. I was surprised by the signals we saw in the aerosols above the ocean. Alright, let me just summarize it all up in three words, “I was surprised”. And, can there be anything more exciting or satisfying for a scientist than finding that your expectations are incorrect and that you still have an awful lot to learn about how natural ecosystems, and the Earth System in general, operates? At least for me, it is the best i can hope for! I’m looking forward the next two NAAMES campaigns….

As a final note to all of you who have followed our blog over the past month, thank you so much! We love what we’re doing out here and the work is interesting and important, but the experience is made so much richer for us by knowing that others are interested too and following our adventures and discoveries.

There are many who wish
to swim with dolphins,
and perhaps it is transformative.
But as for me,
I prefer to drift among the plankton,
to dream of their world
and its intricate web
the strands of which
I have yet to fathom.

written by Michael Behrenfeld

NAAMES-II Expedition: June 6, 2016

June 8th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Hangashore Day

As of the writing of this BLog it is the day before landfall. Spirits are high and writing a blog is not my first activity choice and by the time this BLog will be posted I plan to be in recovery stage from the Cruise Apres Party. That being said I am happy to have this opportunity to help shine a light on this amazing field and the folks who make this type of venture happen. From the hard working crew of the Atlantis including Engineering, Bridge Officers, Deck Crew, Steward Staff, Science Support Group to all the wicked smart Scientists of this NAAMES II. It takes hard work, long hours and dedication to perform at such a high level under these conditions but the rewards are fantastic.

Specifically, I would like to thank Chief Scientist Mike Berhenfeld a force of nature in his own right who almost never leaves fish to find fish. As well as my team mates Tom the coffee cup experimenter, Mackenzie who defines cute at all times and expert vial preparer and Jack wanna be shiphand scientist and master of the Seas.

This world needs more people like these so if you are interested enough to read these Blogs consider yourself invited to the science community working to characterize and ultimately secure this Planet for future generations. Science up in school and get on board … we need you. If you are not in a position to plan your future as such … support your local science organizations. Time is of the essence….

I am normally busy trying to troubleshoot electronics and other mechanical parts of scientific instrumentation during a cruise. I have chosen a career that is quite rewarding because I get to help these inspiring people. The charge I get from bringing science instruments back from the dead for a grateful scientist is indescribable…. You have no Idea :). However I think this has been amply addressed in the previous Blogs and it’s kinda boring for this format.

So for your entertainment a little geeky ”inside the cruise” data:
Note … If you find a mistake feel free to let me know but no one cares too much :).

From the Chief Engineer…

This is a very powerful ship and energy is power over a period of time.
Theoretical Maximum Energy output of the Atlantis 64,800,000,000 Joules/day (3 x 750kW service generators + 3 x 1.5 MW generators for driving the thrusters)
As a handy reference that’s the approximate average amount of energy expended by two human heart muscles over an 80-year lifetime.

The engines of the RV Atlantis.  Photo: Thomas Bell

The engines of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Thomas Bell

The Atlantis can stay at Sea for 60 days and has enough range to circle the earth in 120 days with one refill for fuel.

At .6 miles per gallon I estimate at a tonnage of say 3200T loaded up it is approx the same weight as 40 loaded semi-Trailers at 80T a piece with an equivalent mileage of 24 MPG each… not bad considering the vessel hauls around accommodations for 22 Crew 36 Science and Technical 2 Science Support room for 6 container labs, 4 large cranes, 2 equipment winches 4 science labs and public spaces like a library and TV room. Holy smokes it is a sweet ride.

They clean water to remove salt and impurities at say an average of 3000 gal/day is leaving 750 lbs of salt removed a day. Not to mention the Food.

The ship Steward gave me some under-reported cruise consumption metrics for our 26 day mission….,

250 lbs flour
150 lbs white sugar
6 x .5 Gal maple syrup
210 dz eggs
500 snack-size bags of chips
25 gal ice cream
300 snack-size ice cream bars
600 snack-packs cookies
150 lbs butter
50+ lbs prunes
150 lbs butter
30 lbs Gummy Bears
12 lbs Jelly Beans
220 lbs Coffee Beans
16 lbs Goldfish
240 Ice Cream Bars
18 Gallons Ice Cream
360 bags of chips
400 candy bars

Gummy Bears!

Gummy Bears!

Not to mention a dizzying collection of condiments at each of the 5 mess tables. A huge thank you to the Steward staff for keeping us alive and quite happy with their creative and delicious offerings. The crew of the Atlantis are top notch I would sail with these consummate professionals any time.

Condiments in a line.

Condiments in a line.

Condiments on board the RV Atlantis.

Condiments on board the RV Atlantis.

I’ve put a Blog Word Cloud on here for padding :).All in all an impressive mission that I feel lucky to be a part of… Thanks for reading and enjoy your hangashore day!

NAAMES 2 word cloud from WorditOut dot com

NAAMES 2 word cloud from WorditOut dot com

Written by Cyril MacCormic

NAAMES-II Expedition: June 5, 2016

June 8th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

I have the uncanny privilege of penning this blog on the very day that we return to terra firma. In other words, we’re finally back on land and you expect me to write about the cruise?!?  It is true that most everyone’s thoughts are bent toward home and whatever awaits them there (kids, family, friends, pets, etc.) and I’m certainly no different. Nevertheless, I will take this opportunity to reflect on few things that I will in fact, miss from our trusty mobile home over the last month, the R/V Atlantis. Indeed, there are many advantages to life at sea. Mariners have known this ever since, but there are subtle, more modern differences as well. For instance, it has been 26 days since I last handled money, keys, or a wallet. While these small things are necessary items to successfully navigate everyday life back home, they have no real value out here. No moments of “Where are my keys?” or “I forgot my wallet!” Our currency consists of good deeds and efforts to make the work/living space as enjoyable as possible. It’s easy to prosper when that is your measuring stick.

"How do these things work again?"

“How do these things work again?”

And don’t even get me started about cell phones. Being at sea is a bit of a throwback to a time (not that long ago), when not everyone had their faces buried in a personal device. Yes, we rely on all sorts of technology while out here, but there something not so offensive about it….but I digress … Generally speaking, being insulated from the continuous onslaught of [mostly bad] news is also a blessing in disguise. For better or worse, I haven’t thought about this year’s presidential election once this past month (insert your favorite presidential candidate joke here). That is not to say that I don’t care, or more importantly, that it has no bearing on our ability to be here, but there is more than a kernel of truth in the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss”. Overall, there is just less to worry about out here. For us , the passengers, that is. The captain, mates, engineers, and seamen worry about our course and our safety. Our food and shelter is well cared for by the stewards department. Life is easy……sort of…..

Now, in contrast to the enjoyment of getting home, there is actually a lot to worry about work-wise once we’re back!! Despite working 14+ hours per day, 7 days per week while on the cruise, we return to work having been out of the office for a month! There’s a lot to catch up on. Add to that all the samples that are being shipped home for further analyses and follow-up work that we have generated as a result of the cruise. Of course, then there is the planning for the next expedition in 18 months, the papers that need to get written, meetings, etc.……Well, it once again makes this life at sea seem so bad after all …..So, thanks for reading, but I had better get to work!……Wait, where’s my wallet?…

Written by Toby Westberry

NAAMES-II Expedition: June 4, 2016

June 8th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Waking to a dry morning, I sluggishly dawdled to the water dispenser where my housemate was staring at a strong column of ants.

“They’re back in force. We should do something about them.”

It was a predictable biological event pattern – one that happens whenever there is a long spell of dry heat.

I thought about it for a moment, “We could get some powdered diatomaceous earth and spread that around.”

“What is that?”

“Fossilized shells of diatoms, so it’s mostly silica. I think it absorbs lipids from an ant’s exoskeleton, causing it to dehydrate and die.”

“That’s kind of brutal – aren’t diatoms the phytoplankton you’re growing?”

In fact, they were. Inside our laboratory at UC Santa Barbara, I had been cultivating marine diatoms, photosynthetic microscopic plankton found throughout the temperate oceans. Some estimates project that they produce up to 20% of the oxygen we breathe. They also often contribute to one of the most striking and predictable biological events in the oceans, the annual North Atlantic spring bloom – an event so striking that it can be seen from satellite images!

As primary producers, marine diatoms transform carbon dioxide and inorganic nutrients into the organic matter they need to build their cellular mass and fuel their activity. Through a few processes, that organic matter is released into the water as a dissolved source of food and carbon, DOM (dissolved organic matter), to marine bacteria.
Professor Craig Carlson and I study DOM because it supports the activity of marine bacteria, prevalent and important members of the oceanic food web, and because it represents a fraction of carbon that can sway the balance of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere.

A chain of marine diatoms imaged by the onboard Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB).

A chain of marine diatoms imaged by the onboard Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB).

In the months prior to this NAAMES mission, we were working hard to tag DOM produced by our diatoms with a non-radioactive isotope. Our intent was to concentrate the tagged DOM and feed it to natural populations of marine bacteria that we collect and incubate in bottles. If successful, our use of the material would allow us to observe and compare the specific types, or taxa, of marine bacteria that use DOM produced by blooming phytoplankton.

Left: Sampling some of our growth experiments to quantify DOM, cell numbers, cell carbon content, DNA, and enzyme activity. Right: Microscopic view of marine bacteria from our growth experiments, fluorescing with a nuclear counterstain.

Left: Sampling some of our growth experiments to quantify DOM, cell numbers, cell carbon content, DNA, and enzyme activity. Right: Microscopic view of marine bacteria from our growth experiments, fluorescing with a nuclear counterstain.

The North Atlantic is notorious for being unforgiving and furious, often making it difficult for scientists to gather samples and perform experiments. Though it has upheld its reputation by slamming our vessel with up to 50-foot waves, it also graced us with its gentle nature, providing us with a unique opportunity to witness and study the spring phytoplankton bloom. Thanks to both calm conditions and the more than capable help from all the Atlantis crewmembers, Craig and I were able to not only collect more than all of the samples we needed, but were also able to spin up every bacterial growth experiment we hoped to conduct – including our DOM feeding experiment.


Although it will take many months of processing and analyzing our samples before we can procure firm results and conclusions, we expect to generate a dataset that will be informative to our understanding of ocean chemistry and ecology.

We’ll be back to do it all again – but first, I’d like to test how diatomaceous earth might inhibit the predictable summer ant invasion into our house.

Representatives from UCSB’s ocean optics and microbial oceanography groups. Front, left to right: Stuart Halewood, Associate Development Engineer, and Craig Carlson. Back, left to right: James Allen and Nick Huynh, Graduate Student Researchers.  PC: Pete Gaube

Representatives from UCSB’s ocean optics and microbial oceanography groups. Front, left to right: Stuart Halewood, Associate Development Engineer, and Craig Carlson. Back, left to right: James Allen and Nick Huynh, Graduate Student Researchers. Photo: Pete Gaube

Written by Nick Huynh

NAAMES-II Expedition: June 3, 2016 BONUS

June 4th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Charismatic megafauna

The oceanographers amongst us are often hard pressed to distinguish ourselves from marine biologists. Whilst many in the general public like to imagine our work surrounded by dolphins and resembling something out of a Caribbean vacation, the reality of tracing global biogeochemical cycles and deciphering complex bio-physical interactions in a dynamic and rapidly changing ocean for some reason is less inspiring – though of course much more important. Oceanographers study the ocean as a system and the ocean has critters in them, more numerous than the stars in the heavens, so yes, we also study critters. Rarely the charismatic megafauna though. While some oceanographers do study mammals, on this NASA NAAMES mission the largest animals under consideration are fish. Nonetheless, when the call goes out that dolphins are in sight – most frequently spotted by Luis Bolanos (OSU) – many briefly drop their important atmospheric or oceanographic research and run out to see the dolphins playing with the waves generated by the ship or riding seemingly effortlessly on the bow wave. The other day 2 sprinted by the side of the ship, as the R/V Atlantis made almost 14 knots (16 miles/hr; 26 km/hr). It was cool to hear them exhale, really seemed like they were doing a sprint. A sprint that lasted over 20 minutes and delighted those of us fortunate enough to see. So while most of the time aboard is focused on our research, sometimes we can’t escape the charisma of the megafauna to distract us from microscopic particles or plankton. It adds to the wonder of it all.

Atlantic common dolphins. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Atlantic common dolphins. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

3 musketeer dolphins playing in front of the bow of the RV Atlantis.  Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

3 musketeer dolphins playing in front of the bow of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Written by Susanne Menden-Deuer

Notes from the Field