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Notes from the Field

Counting Down the Days

October 28th, 2015 by Cleo Davie-Martin

I can now count the number of days before I leave for the first NAAMES cruise on one hand – boy, did the last few months fly by! I am relatively new to oceanography/microbiology and this will be my first time on a research cruise or really, a large, ocean-going vessel of any kind. At this stage, I can’t decide whether I am more excited or nervous at the prospect of spending a month churning through the North Atlantic Ocean in November…


When I was offered this project with Kim Halsey in the Department of Microbiology at Oregon State University, I jumped at the chance and decided to ignore my likely susceptibility to seasickness… My role is to set up and run the new proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer (PTR-TOF/MS) to investigate the production and consumption of volatile organic compounds by marine plankton. Some plankton can make these small carbon-containing compounds, such as acetaldehyde or dimethylsulfide, and other plankton can use them as their food and energy sources. What doesn’t get eaten can get released from the ocean into the atmosphere. At this stage, no one really knows to what extent these volatile compounds contribute to the global carbon budget. However, in the atmosphere, they have the potential to form radicals or contribute to other important species, such as aerosols and cloud condensation nuclei, that have implications for global climate change.


I have spent the last few months becoming familiar with our new PTR-TOF/MS. I call him ‘James’ – he is #007 after all! James is the seventh of his kind in the world and the first in the United States (although now there are 3-4 more in the country or on their way), so this has been a steep learning curve for me and probably also for the instrument technicians in Austria who originally developed this technology. My background in environmental/analytical chemistry, specifically mass spectrometry and instrument troubleshooting, has served me well, but I have definitely had my fair share of teething troubles. Not to worry though, everything was finally up and running just two days before we had to ship James and all his supplies across country to meet the ship (talk about cutting it close). I’m keeping very optimistic that everything will run smoothly on the ship…


Introducing James (Mr. T1-007), our resident proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer (PTR-TOF/MS).

Introducing James (Mr. T1-007), our resident proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer (PTR-TOF/MS).


This past week has been somewhat surreal; on the one hand, it feels like time stood still and since shipping all of our equipment, I have just been twiddling my thumbs, waiting. On the other hand, I finally stopped to think about what gear I might actually need for this trip (never mind James). I suddenly realized how many questions I had, and it hit me that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into! How cold is cold? How wet is wet? What will our living quarters be like? Do I need my sleeping bag? Wait, will I even be allowed to sleep? Are there showers (fresh or salt water, hot or cold, how limited are we)? Will I have to stand watch? What kind of food will we be served? Can the waves really get 40 feet high (because that sounds more than scary)? So many questions! I will find out soon enough and will let you know how we all get on in future posts. Wish us luck!

Last Full Week on Land

October 26th, 2015 by Elizabeth Harvey

I have the pleasure to kick off the first blog as part of the North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) Cruise #1. This project will span 5 years with a goal to resolve key processes controlling ocean system function, their influences on atmospheric aerosols, and clouds and their implications for climate. There will be 4 month long cruises that occur over the next 5 years at different times of year, with data collected from ship and aircraft measurements, as well as satellite data.

Personally, this is a really exciting endeavor. I am a brand new Assistant Scientist at the University of Georgia, housed at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. This study will provide me with an unparalleled opportunity to ask and gain insight on fundamental questions about the biology of the North Atlantic while interfacing with world-class oceanographers, a unique opportunity for any new faculty member. My part of the research will be investigating how mortality of phytoplankton (single-celled photosynthetic algae) is partitioned between grazing by microzooplankton (single-celled herbivores) and viruses. The manner in which phytoplankton die can have significant impacts on the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the ocean. Understanding the pathways of mortality in this system can enhance our ability to predict the mechanisms of phytoplankton accumulation in the North Atlantic, as well as overall implications for the climate. I will put up another post as things get going with more scientific details about how my research is progressing while at sea.

For the past several weeks everyone on the NAAMES team has been packing and getting ready for our first expedition that departs in early November. This requires packing up equipment in the laboratory, ordering needed materials, shipping it to the ship, and organizing all the necessary things for a successful research cruise. This will be a month long cruise, so it is essential that we have everything we need. No one wants to be out in the middle of the ocean and realize they didn’t bring enough filters. I can only speak for the ship side of things, but I am sure the aircraft group is also mustering their gear and supplies as well.

One important component to any successful oceanographic research expedition is making sure you have the right gear for any weather condition. We will be in the North Atlantic in November, so it will likely be cold and rough seas. Along with winter gear, I need to make sure I have proper foul weather gear, see here:


I don’t think I will win any competitions, but I will be dry!

Be on the look out here for more information regarding the NAAMES cruise #1 and the NAAMES project overall. Once we are at sea we will be updating this blog more regularly, keeping everyone informed of what we are doing, and how things are going. I think I speak for most people involved in this project, we are all excited to get on the ship and get started!