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NAAMES-II Expedition: May 23, 2016

May 24th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

The Ocean. A chemical soup that covers 70% of the Earth’s surface with a total volume that provides approximately 300 times more space for life than that combined by freshwater and land. Tiny microbes…phytoplankton, zooplankton, bacteria, viruses, but also fish and marine mammals live in that mighty ocean, which is tightly coupled to the atmosphere, the land, the seafloor and every single one of us.

The ocean. This is what we see and sample every day.

The ocean. This is what we see and sample every day.

No matter where you come from, the ocean has an influence on you. It is not surprising that in all countries directly connected to the ocean or not, people are interested in understanding this dynamic fluid. And here we are on the 12th day of our cruise, a bunch of international scientists from different countries with the same mission: to understand key processes controlling oceanic system function.

Impressed by the diversity of scientists blended together from different countries, today’s ‘experiment’ was to find out how many languages are spoken on board, including the crew which works hard to assure the success of our sampling objectives. I walked around the R/V Atlantis with a single question in mind: in which language can you say the word ‘ocean’? I found out that there are at least 12 languages spoken on the ship: (in alphabetical order) English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Telugu. However, we share a common passion for understanding the ocean and science is our common language.

Written by Andreas Oikonomou

NAAMES-II Expedition: May 20, 2016

May 20th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

My eyes begrudgingly opened today around noon and the slow but steady accelerations of the rocking ship made their way into my consciousness. I hardly ever wake feeling thoroughly rested but the excitement of starting another day at sea always drags me out of bed. The start of a work day on-board is always preceded by a large cup of coffee and some time spent enjoying the view on the fantail. As I stepped outside the crisp North Atlantic breeze bit at my face and hands; a small price to pay for such an awesome start to the work day (I mean c’mon, there are people sitting in traffic right now). I observed the seabirds for a while, finished my coffee, and headed into the lab to check the instrument. Two of my co-workers, Tom and Mackenzie, were there hovering over our mass spectrometer (a mass spectrometer is a tool chemists use to detect certain molecules in air). These instruments can be bought off the shelf but in our lab we design and build them ourselves, which I think is totally friggin’ cool. However, that being the case, the thing is constantly broken. Mackenzie was shouting out numbers to Tom who was scribbling them down and I could tell from the tone of their voices that something had indeed gone wrong. After a while, I gathered that one of our pumps that delivers an isotopic standard to the instrument had broken. The inevitable constant barrage of broken instruments and faulty software must be matched by our ability to dream up solutions. Our secret weapon in this battle is our instrument tech and first class ideas man, Cyril McCormick. Cyril represents an infinite source of possible solutions to any issue that may arise. If you think your hot stuff, go ask Cyril how anything electronic works and you’re in for a humbling experience. The chief scientist, Mike Behrenfeld, once casually asked Cyril how an optical mouse worked and got a 4 page report back the next day complete with a schematic.

Mass spectrometer used to measure the chemical composition of aerosols. Photo: Jack Porter

Mass spectrometer used to measure the chemical composition of aerosols. Photo: Jack Porter

With the pump situation under control the evening eventually faded away to night-time, and less and less people were roaming the halls of the Atlantis. The night shift is great; it adds a whole other dimension to the research cruise experience in my opinion. With no people around, the subtle characteristics and behaviors of the ship become noticeable and it really takes on a personality. Being in the middle of the immense ocean on a relatively small floating platform certainly affords a certain perspective, but when you stand on deck at night with nothing but the moon and the waves, you really feel out there. At 3 am, I made my last rounds to check on the instruments. I promised I would start Mackenzie’s particle sampler in the forward van and as per usual, I couldn’t make it work. I had to rouse her from her sleep to get it going; she seems to be the only person that thing obeys. As we were walking back to the main lab there was a faint glow in the sky. This far north in the spring, dawn starts really friggin’ early. Time for bed, repeat in the morning.
NAAMES-II Scientist enjoying the sunset on the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Jack Porter

NAAMES-II scientists enjoying the sunset on the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Jack Porter

The nighttime view from RV Atlantis aft deck.  Photo: Jack Porter

The nighttime view of the RV Atlantis aft deck. Photo: Jack Porter


Written by Jack Porter

NAAMES-II Expedition: May 18, 2016

May 19th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

With day one of Station One complete, an opportunity is provided to reflect on the stations events so far. I woke up at to start the day at 11 o’clock, quickly helping myself to a cup of the ships endless pot of coffee and a hefty bowl of cereal. If this sounds like a very lazy Saturday morning to you, I’ll add that this is in fact 11pm, with the sun not due to rise for another five hours at our northern latitude. After deploying a series of drifters and vertical profiling floats to autonomously observe the water long after we have left the station, we started our first sampling of the day promptly at half past midnight. But we don’t start our work so early simply because we are excited about collecting our samples. It turns out that light can be the enemy of scientists wanting to study the world’s tiniest photosynthetic organisms. When the sun pops over the horizon, the light used in photosynthesis alters properties of the phytoplankton that we want to measure in a dark-adapted state. As a result, when the late spring offers abundant light and long days, we have to take advantage of every hour of darkness provided.

While the ship is busy with scientists running around in the wee hours of the morning, the ocean can still feel like a lonely place. Step out onto the deck to sample from the rosette, manage incubations, or run up to the aerosol vans to check an instrument, and the fog that lightly grips the darkness provides a sense of immense solitude. However, the light of the morning brings contrast to this feeling, as life abounds all around us, only camouflaged by the stillness if the night. Stowaway songbirds start singing in a small portside hangar. Local fulmars begin to gather near the A-frame at the rear of the ship, hoping for an easy meal to be dumped overboard. Even a pod of pilot whales is spotted in the distance, with rumor that this may be the same pod we observed here last November. Suddenly, the seas do not seem so lonely after all. And to top it off, today was the first fly-by from the C-130 airplane, which collected data on atmospheric gasses, aerosols, and ocean color to complement our shipboard sampling for the NAAMES study objectives. To see another ship on the horizon or planes traveling at 30,000 ft is generally the closest we come to others not on the Atlantis, so to receive a low altitude fly-by from our fellow scientists elevates the spirit, knowing we are important to them and they are important to us.

Local fulmars floating nearby of the ship. Photo:  Christian Laber

Local fulmars floating nearby of the ship. Photo: Christian Laber

Though most science stopped momentarily for the fly-by, as our colleagues flew back into the cloud line, we once again entered the labs to continue our first full station. And as of now, the day has been a great success. Many are still busy deploying and operating instruments, however those of us who started our day before the day actually started are winding down for an evenings rest. We expect to have a schedule like this for the next two weeks, so the early mornings have only just begun. I think there’s an old saying: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy, and able to collect good data on phytoplankton.

The C-130 on its first fly by of the NAAMES-II expedition. Photo: Christian Laber

The C-130 on its first fly by of the NAAMES-II expedition. Photo: Christian Laber

Written by Christian Laber

NAAMES-II Expedition: May 15, 2016

May 15th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

I am a part of the Saltzman research group. Tom, our fearless yet cheery leader, and Jack, our resident optimist, night owl, and my lab mate, man the instruments day and night. They make sure that every piece, from the Mustang supercharger to the tiniest of valves, runs smoothly. None of this would be possible without the electrical genius of Cyril, our invaluable engineer. We should really make bets on the number of instruments he saves by the end of the cruise.

Part of our mobilization team. From left: Clayton Elder, Tom Bell, Cyril McCormick, Mackenzie Grieman, and Jack Porter

Part of our mobilization team. From left: Clayton Elder, Tom Bell, Cyril McCormick, Mackenzie Grieman, and Jack Porter

Half of our measurements are made in the aptly nicknamed trailer park. We occupy one of the “vans” two decks up from the main deck of the ship. Our van is a mobile lab in which we strapped down instruments for a week before we left for the cruise. Our instruments are so heavy that, to me, this is the most difficult part of the cruise.

Our decorations on the mast are probably the most intricate and time-intensive parts of our set-up. They wouldn’t have been possible without our mast-builder, Clayton. In order to measure gases and aerosols, we need to bring them into the lab. We have a tube going from the top of the mast to an instrument in the trailer park that continuously measures dimethyl sulfide (DMS). DMS is a gas produced by plankton. DMS measurements will help to examine the relationship between plankton blooms and cloud formation. Tom, Jack, and Cyril (the guys) will talk about the intricacies of this in a later blog post.

Jack and me at the mast set-up

Jack and me at the mast set-up

The mast set-up from the window of the van

The mast set-up from the window of the van

My job is to collect aerosol samples. Aerosols are pumped through my sampler and collected in vials of clean water. I will take ~2,000! of these vials home to measure more obscure plankton-produced organic chemicals. These chemicals get into the atmosphere when bubbles come to the surface of the ocean and burst.

I spend a lot of my time listening to the guys’ in-depth conservations about the functionality of their custom-built instruments between very short Jenga games and running sample vials to and from the trailer park. Running up to the vans at night is a bit of a surreal experience as you fight winds in the dark on your way to the red-lit bouncing trailer park. At least the van hasn’t sprung a leak like it did on the cruise in November (yet!)!! Fingers-crossed!

Written by Mackenzie Grieman

The western side of the Olympic Mountains is a sight to behold, with crashing waves along the rocky coast and mossy trees in the rain forest signifying the impressive amounts of precipitation that falls in this area. The ongoing Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) is set up to measure rain and snow over the ocean up to the highest mountain peaks using airborne and ground-based instruments. As part of this project, NASA’s ground-based weather radar, NPOL, sits atop a hill on the Quinault Indian Reservation, with clear views out over the ocean and up the Quinault valley toward the snowy mountains.


NASA’s weather radar (NPOL) on the Quinault Indian Reservation (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)


As a Seattle resident, I, Dr. Angela Rowe, spend a lot of free time exploring the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. As a Research Scientist in the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, I spend my work day (and honestly a good bit of my free time) using weather radar data to better understand storms around the world. To have the opportunity to combine both of my passions into one project seems too good to be true.

On a drizzly, foggy morning, I pack up my truck with supplies (water, canned soup, a warm blanket) and drive 20 minutes to the radar site. Half of this journey involves ascending a steep road prepared just for this project. It’s a slow-going trip as the creatures of the peninsula (deer, coyotes, rabbits, etc.) could jump out at any moment. It’s also worth driving a little slower to take in the eerily beautiful scene.


Foggy road to NPOL (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)


I reach the radar to see the site blanketed in cloud. My view may be limited, but the NPOL radar can “see” out to nearly 135 km (> 80 miles).


The “view” from the NPOL site on a rainy day.


The NASA NPOL and D3R weather radars scan the clouds. NPOL’s frequency is best for looking at precipitation, while the D3R’s dual frequencies are better suited for thin, nonprecipitating clouds than NPOL. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

Example 360-degree low-level scan from NPOL, showing widespread precipitation

Example 360-degree low-level scan from NPOL, showing widespread precipitation.


NPOL sits atop 5 containers, which were used to ship the radar out to the site. One of these containers serves as the “office” for the radar scientists on duty. With 12-hour shifts (the radar operates 24/7), it’s important to find a way to get comfortable in this space, shared with several other scientists.

Peeking into the NPOL scientists' trailer

Peeking into the NPOL scientists’ trailer


The NPOL radar scientist occupies the back left corner of the trailer, where we have a laptop set up to record and analyze data. Real-time displays of the data sit to my left so I can keep a watchful eye to make sure all is running smoothly. The radar engineer on duty is nearby in an adjacent trailer, waiting to help if things go awry.


NPOL real-time display, showing a vertical slice through a precipitating storm.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW), NPOL radar scientist on shift, monitors data

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW), NPOL radar scientist on shift, monitors data


In addition to monitoring and analyzing radar data, the radar scientist on duty is also responsible for helping launch “soundings”. There is an instrument (called a radiosonde) that is attached to a large balloon which is then released into the atmosphere at a specified time. Data is transmitted back via an antenna located near the radar, providing us with vertical profiles of temperature, humidity, pressure, and winds throughout the atmosphere. This is a routine task under most circumstances, but on the stormy days we are studying for OLYMPEX, the wind and rain can add some obstacles. On this day, with over 30 mph winds out of the southwest and heavy rain at the site, it took four of us to launch the sounding, sliding along the muddy ground as the balloon pulled us toward the northeast.

The balloon is inflated with helium in another one of NPOL's trailers, after which the instrument is attached and we head outside to launch the sounding. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

The balloon is inflated with helium in another one of NPOL’s trailers, after which the instrument is attached and we head outside to launch the sounding. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)


After a successful launch, high fives seemed appropriate as we went back into the trailer, took off our rain gear, and began to watch the sounding data come in. This information serves as the environmental context for our radar observations. How is the wind profile affecting the storms? How are the storms feeding back on the temperature and moisture levels of the environment? At what level in the atmosphere is the snow turning to rain? Is that level the same across the area? How are the mountains playing a role? These are important questions we are trying to answer at the NPOL/sounding site.


In 3 hours, it’s time to put on our rain gear again (the OLYMPEX version of a scientist’s lab coat) and prepare to launch another balloon. It’s cold, wet, and windy,…and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW) heads out into the wind and rain to help launch another sounding.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW) heads out into the wind and rain to help launch another sounding.


At the end of the 12 hours, I head back out into the rain for the final time that day. It appears that I’m not the only one excited about the rainy day, as a northwestern salamander was sitting outside the trailer!

Northwestern salamander (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

Northwestern salamander (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)


I leave the residents of the NPOL site behind and slowly drive back down the dark, winding road, reflecting on the exciting day and ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Notes from the Field