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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!

2 Responses to “Counting Down the Days”

  1. Liz Davie-Martin says:

    OMG! Clear as a bell what you do……yeah right ! Like a Toohees add darling. Very interesting.

  2. Leah Chibwe says:

    We got an update from Lisandra about your trip (or the loading of material portion of it) in today’s group meeting! She is taking her responsibility of the “where is Cleo NOW” updates really seriously (you would be proud). Getting ready to go play a game of racquetball and missing you already–not a good start to acclimating to your absence…of course, I don’t only miss you because of racquetball FYI:)
    Do good science (have fun too) and keep writing/updating. Happy sailing, Dr!