NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: May 16, 2016

May 16th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

As we progress on our journey north, it is as if we are travelling back in time through winter and on towards the Arctic. When we left Woods Hole, we were treated with blue skies, calm (occasionally glassy) seas, and reasonably warm air temperatures; a complete contrast to the November cruise! We have been extremely fortunate with the seas thus far and many of us have weaned ourselves off our seasickness medications. With it being late spring, the daylight hours are long and we have been treated to some spectacular sunsets (and if you’re keen for a 3:30 am start, the sunrises aren’t too shabby either)! The sea life has been more abundant than on the previous cruise with a number of whale and dolphin sightings.

Another beautiful sunset from the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

Another beautiful sunset from the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

Watching the sunrise at 5 am from the O2 deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

Watching the sunrise at 5 am from the O2 deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

But that was all about to change as we entered the ‘ice field’ off the coast of Newfoundland early yesterday morning. Some of us were up at dawn (3 am!) to catch our first glimpse of ice, but alas, we were shrouded in a thick blanket of fog and could barely see 50 m from the boat. It was absolutely freezing and there was certainly an eerie feel; it seemed like we could have been surrounded by icebergs and have no idea about it. But by that point I wasn’t quite sure I even wanted to see an iceberg because if we did, we’d almost certainly be on top of it the fog was that thick (the ship’s foghorn was put to good use)… As the sun rose above the horizon, the fog began to disperse and the sky burned orange. It was pretty special, despite the lack of icebergs. Regardless, excitement bounced around the ship all morning; even some of the crew had donned their cameras in anticipation of the ‘ice’ we were about to see. The fog came and went again and the seas started gathering a bit more momentum. Both the air temperature and the seawater temperature plummeted below 0 °C and the waves began dancing in every direction. But alas, luck was not on our side and the icebergs remained elusive. The crew decided on the ‘path of least resistance’ approach (realistically, the safest option) and managed to clear the ice field by late afternoon. So, no icebergs, but we did get a taste of the Arctic temperatures and colder, rougher weather that is likely to stick with us for a few more days.

Foggy sunrise as we enter the ice field taken from the main deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

Foggy sunrise as we enter the ice field taken from the main deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

This evening, we will arrive at Station 0; our first practice station! We will be getting up at midnight to begin overboard sampling and have a ‘wet’ run-through of most of the deployments we will be making at the real stations. I will be collecting water samples from the CTD rosette casts to look at the cycling of small volatile organic compounds by the plankton in the surface ocean (such as the dimethyl sulfide you’ve heard about in previous posts, which can be released into the atmosphere and lead to the formation of aerosols). We think that in surface ocean, the phytoplankton (the tiny ‘plants’ of the ocean) are producing these volatile carbon compounds, just like trees do on land. Have you ever noticed the smell of a pine tree? That comes from volatile compounds released by the pine tree! The phytoplankton do the same, especially when they get stressed out or die and begin to sink down through the water column. That leaves room for the bacteria to come along and feed on all the carbon compounds left by the phytoplankton (just the same as you eat all your vegetables, just like your mother told you…). Any volatile compounds that are not consumed by the bacteria can then get released into the atmosphere, where they have a number of important roles controlling our climate.

The water samples I collect are incubated in polycarbonate chambers that are bubbled with synthetic air; we use synthetic air because it is cleaner than the regular air we breathe in and so we can be sure that anything we measure comes from the seawater (and not the air). Our chambers are kept at seawater temperature and we have blue and white LED lights that we use to simulate the light conditions the plankton might experience in the surface ocean. Compounds that are produced by the plankton will be stripped from the seawater by the bubbling air and we can then measure them with our specialized mass spectrometer, the aptly named ‘James’ – because he is #007 of his kind! James has been kept very busy on the cruise so far, running almost 24/7, because we have been able to collect seawater from the clean flow-through line running through the ship (which pumps surface seawater through from the front of the ship). So we are excited to see what we find! Wish us luck for Station 0 tonight!

James Bond (aka 007) and his incubators. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

James Bond (aka 007) and his incubators. Photo: Cleo Davie-Martin

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): 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

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: May 14, 2016

May 14th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Creature comforts

What does it take to be comfortable on a ship? Good food? Check. A cozy cabin? Check. Diligent captain and crew? Check. We are very comfortable on our ride out to our first station, anticipated on Tuesday evening, May 17th. Before then, we have to cross a field of icebergs which excites the tourist in some of us but puts considerable uncertainty in our planning as we do not know how quickly we can progress through the iceberg area. Such uncertainty is completely standard on a research vessel, so we are indeed all in good spirits and very comfortable.

Creature comforts abound - Saturday is homemade donut day!

Creature comforts abound – Saturday is homemade donut day! Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer


However, I was not really concerned with human creature comforts, but rather wanted to relate the great lengths we go to, to make sure the plankton we sample are comfortable! Plankton are microscopic organisms that are key to making Earth habitable. Like organisms on land, some plankton act like animals, eating others and some plankton are more like plants. Together, plankton provide the fish and seafood some of us like to eat and make about 50% of the oxygen we breathe. So every other breath you take, a ‘Thank you plankton’ is in order. We study these microbes because although they are small, they are more numerous than the stars in the heavens. There are literally millions in a drop of water. A number of researchers on the ship are out here to understand how fast plankton grow, eat, and die. Since they are so small, and the water moves so quickly, we need to bring the plankton aboard and fool them into hopefully behaving like they would in the ocean.

Image of a Ceratiun sp., a large dinoflagellate, sampled just south of Newfoundland as the RV Atlantis transits to the first station of the NAAMES-II mission. Photo:  Françoise Morison

Image of a Ceratiun sp., a large dinoflagellate, sampled just south of Newfoundland as the RV Atlantis transits to the first station of the NAAMES-II mission. Photo: Françoise Morison


We don’t really know all that is necessary to make a plankton comfortable, but we know it is essential to maintain the same light and temperature as where they were sampled from – similar to how you would treat your pet turtle. To keep the plankton happy, we have brought a bunch of clear, plastic boxes that are hooked up to the ship’s seawater system to maintain temperature. Then we wrapped the incubators with mosquito screen (like you have in your home) to shade the inside. It gets darker the deeper you go in the ocean and so by wrapping the incubators with multiple layers, we reproduce the different depths we sample. And then we do a bunch of testing of the plankton themselves before and after our experiments to make sure that indeed they were happy and healthy. Too bad you can’t ask the plankton directly how they are doing but starting with our first trial experiment last night (Friday 13 May), we have begun the dialogue.

All set up - the incubators are wrapped and strapped down for transit (with Françoise Morison), Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

All set up – the incubators are wrapped and strapped down for transit (with Françoise Morison), Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Making sure the light inside is right, Dr. Andreas Oikonomou and Françoise Morison installing a light sensor. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Making sure the light inside is right, Dr. Andreas Oikonomou and Françoise Morison installing a light sensor. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Drs. Craig Carlson (left) and Elizabeth Harvey (right) loading samples into the incubators. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Drs. Craig Carlson (left) and Elizabeth Harvey (right) loading samples into the incubators. Photo: Susanne Menden-Deuer

Written by Susanne Menden-Deuer

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: May 13, 2016

May 13th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

Day three at sea!

The ocean has decided to get livelier as we get into day three at sea, although I’m told it’s still tame compared to November. Personally, I have become Dramamine dependent and almost always have a mint in my mouth (if you can’t tell, this is my first time on a research cruise). Despite my difficulty with the motion of the ocean, activity has been steadily increasing as we get closer to our first station.

Cyril McCormick and Jim Johnson launching the first radiosonde from the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Kelsey McBeain

Cyril McCormick and Jim Johnson launching the first radiosonde from the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Kelsey McBeain


This morning Cyril and Jim had a practice run of sending a radiosonde balloon up to measure barometric data. The crew also laid out the apparatus for the net tow; this is a long, large sock of mesh used to catch fish and we could probably fit half the people on the boat in it if we tried. We also got some training on a microtops machine from James. We get to point a handheld device at the sun and record data. It’s a little like playing a video game; you find the sun spot on something like a level and hold it there (while the ship is moving over the waves) for five seconds. Easy right? These descriptions are pretty basic, but I am a food web person, so anything occurring in air is pretty alien to me.
Crew member Ronnie Whims laying out the mesopelagic fish net on the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Kelsey McBeain

Crew member Ronnie Whims laying out the mesopelagic fish net on the aft deck of the RV Atlantis. Photo: Kelsey McBeain


It also seems that the birds just keep appearing on board. Our little stowaways are going to have a very interesting experience once we get into higher winds if they attempt to fly too far away. We’ve also been seeing plenty of marine mammals, although they’re too elusive for a simple phone camera to catch.
Cleo Davis measuring the amount of aerosols between the RV Atlantis and the sun, using Microtops.  Photo: Kelsey McBeain

Cleo Davie-Martin measuring the amount of aerosols between the RV Atlantis and the sun, using Microtops. Photo: Kelsey McBeain


My job on this expedition is pretty simple, I assist everyone with their projects, since I don’t have my own to do (yet). It’s mostly a lot of filtering seawater through different sized filters. I am collecting nutrient samples, which will tell us what the ‘good stuff’ for the microbial food web and I am also responsible for taking ATP and NADH samples, which tells you something about how much energy a cell for growth at the time they were sampled (although I’m sure having all the water around you taken away while you’re stuck on a filter is not a normal part of a phytoplankton’s day-to-day). Other than that, I am at the other scientist’s ‘beck and call’, which is still pretty awesome; I get to see and help with a lot of research vastly different from my own back at Oregon State University.

Living on a ship is a pretty surreal experience. I’m still half convinced that if I just walk around to the other side or go just a bit further, I’ll see land and something familiar. Watching the horizon does help with sea sickness, and it’s kind of fun to see the waves moving that far away. I’m also really confused about how tall people sleep on this boat. I fit in the bunks perfectly, but I am not a large person at all. I’m pretty sure they have to do some contorting, or just hang their legs off the edge to even fit, let alone sleep.

Doing these cruises, you are brought in to this odd little family where everyone wants to make sure you’re doing ok and talk to you and show you everything that’s going on. Everyone on board, science or crew has no problem plopping down next to you at meal times and starting some random conversation that has everyone at the table in stitches at some point. Even though I’m one of the newbies, I’ve been adopted in as though I’ve been here since the beginning, and that makes even the seasickness bearable (14 hours of sleep also helps greatly- at least for now).

Written by Kelsey McBeain

NAAMES (North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study): NAAMES-II Expedition: May 12, 2016

May 12th, 2016 by Kristina Mojica

The R/V Atlantis doesn’t sail, as much as it moves the water out of its way. The waters so far have been calm, and progress is steady. We are still relatively close to land, as evident from a couple stowaways we picked up this morning, such as a summer tanager and 3 grey catbirds! Hopefully, these birds leave before we get too far out or they might be joining us the entire trip. I doubt Greenland is very hospitable this time of the year. Or any time of the year for these fellas and it would be a long trip home.

A stowaway summer tanager onboard the RV Atlantis. Photo: Susanne Mender

A stowaway summer tanager onboard the RV Atlantis. Photo: Susanne Mender


The scientists have largely gathered their sea legs and have already begun to work. This is relatively easy given the current calm weather conditions and clear skies. One part of the NAAMES project is understanding how particles in the air (aerosols) relate to cloud formation. Marine aerosols consist of a complex mixture of sea salt, non-sea-salt sulfate, and organic species formed through a variety of production pathways. The relative contribution of each aerosol type changes across the particle size distribution and exhibits a strong seasonal association with ocean biological activity. By sampling marine aerosols and associated particle size distributions during the several phases of the bloom we hope to get a better understanding of how changes in the burden and properties of atmospheric aerosols alter Earth’s radiation balance, and hence affect climate.
Calm seas and blue skies as we continue our transit to the NAAMES stations in the North Atlantic. Photo: Kristina Mojica

Calm seas and blue skies as we continue our transit to the NAAMES stations in the North Atlantic. Photo: Kristina Mojica


Generally, there is some background concentration of particles in the air at any given time, even on clear days like today. You breathe them in, you breathe them out, and you are not even aware of it. Most of these particles are too small to been seen with the naked eye, these are in the size range of ten to a few hundred nanometers. Visible light is about 400-700 nm, which means that these particles are smaller than a wavelength of visible light, and therefore your eye can’t discern them. They exist in a suspended state for two reasons, first is because they are so small and small particles fall slowly, and the atmosphere has many updrafts available to keep them from reaching the ground, and second is they are too large to move over great distances through diffusion like air molecules such as oxygen. This makes them ripe for cloud making.

If you could ask only one question about the water drops in a cloud, you would ask “How many?” Solar absorption, chemical processing, and even a little precipitation can be gleaned from this question. If you could ask two questions about water droplets in clouds, you would next ask, “What size?” Knowing both number and size reveals significant information about cloud lifetimes, and dynamic processes like rain formation. This is information we can obtain from using radar and lidar technologies.

Our group focuses on the third question, “What are they made of?” The chemical composition of particles near the earth surface can provide information about how many particles will form into cloud droplets, and ultimately how many will be returned by rain. Our instrument exposes particles to water vapor concentrations typically found in clouds, and can count directly the number of aerosol that have cloud forming potential. Obviously, we cannot walk the instrument out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hence the expedition.

Sea life is a lot like lab life, except now the lab moves a little, and there is potential for hurricanes and icebergs. I am consistently surprised by the lack of complaining from the group. Measurements at 04:00 don’t seem to bother anybody because these are THEIR projects. They specifically wanted to do this, and here we are. I still stumble into walls from time to time, but the food is good and so are the people. In life, what more can you ask for?

Written by Joseph Niehaus

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Notes from the Field