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Notes from the Field

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 31, 2018

April 2nd, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

At Sea

This is the second of the NAAMES cruises that I have been able to sail. The first was NAAMES #1, November, 2015, and I am lucky to be on this, the last of four cruises that were scheduled for this campaign. Having bookended these cruises, I recognize a couple of changes in both the NAAMES team and myself that have occurred over the course of the campaign.

The NAAMES team: The Chief Scientist and Principal Investigator of this mission, Mike Behrenfeld, built a team of scientists to answer questions about the North Atlantic Bloom and its atmospheric impacts. Many of the team members were unknown to each other at the start of this campaign because they came to NAAMES from disparate disciplines: biological, chemical, and physical oceanography, microbiology, virology, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric physics, and ecosystem modeling. Annual team meetings encouraged healthy cross-talk. After four cruises and three team meetings, there is comradery built by hard work, innovation, and curiosity. There is respect for the variety of scientific approaches and expertise. This team functions smoothly on the R/V Atlantis. And, perhaps most importantly, shared purpose has gathered momentum leading to new and unexpected contributions to ecosystem science. This team embraces hard work and laughs easily in the labs, on deck, in the galley, and even during daily science briefings. Earlier hesitations have given way to relaxed dialogue and fresh ideas.

I was full of nerves during NAAMES #1. Worried about our instrumentation (i.e., would the turbo pumps survive the incessant bouncing of the ship?, Would the flow controllers function?, Would the automated valves switch properly?). I worried about getting seasick. Worried about the medication to prevent seasickness. Worried about the General Microbiology class I left midterm in the hands of a colleague. Worried about the myriad of “things that need to be done at home.” …..Fast forward….By NAAMES #4, I have developed confidence in the instrumentation (and Cleo Davie-Martin, who is the PTR-MS conductor-extraordinaire). New experiments have been added with each campaign. Turns out, seasickness medication was unnecessary. I am blissfully aware that the internet is too slow to catch up on the news. The sunrise is a priority, even while working*.

*Incubations begin and end at dawn, my favorite time of day.

Leaving worrying behind allows for a certain kind of freedom at sea. Contemplation becomes less constrained. Time allows thoughts to forge new paths through unexplored jungles dotted with boulders to leap and bridge to new ideas. Once in a while these thought-explorations lead to a clearing where I mentally stack stones into a duck or blaze the bark of a tree so that the idea can be revisited and won’t be lost in the weeds. What a spectacular treat to let these thoughts bound along without the daily distractions that I apparently allow to seep in and prevent freedom of exploration. At sea, exploration of ideas is less encumbered by rules of engagement. Perhaps the rarest of scientists are always “at sea,” never dithering with boundaries and are instead free to meander across scales, dimensions, and disciplines, eventually emerging with unexpected and shattering ideas.

For non-sailors, to be “at sea” usually implies confusion or disorientation. As in, “She was at sea with String Theory.” On the contrary, my definition of “at sea” as of NAAMES #4 has evolved to mean freedom of exploration.

Luis Bolaños (Oregon State University, expert in microbial genomics and bioinformatics) at the rail. Where are his thoughts taking him at sea?

Written by Kim Halsey

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 30, 2018

April 2nd, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

A New Adventure

Another beautiful sunset in the North Atlantic.

NAAMES #4 is my first long-term ocean-going research cruise. The anticipation built as I prepared to leave my husband and Paisley, my golden retriever, at home for an entire month. Did I pack everything that I need? Would the food be good? Would I enjoy the experience? Yes, yes and yes!

Not only have a learned a lot from the other scientists around me, but I have enjoyed the experience and built new friendships along the way. There are now only 10 days left at sea, and I can say with confidence that I am happy that I have participated in the NAAMES campaign.

A rainbow in the waves of the North Atlantic.

Not only was the field-work a new experience for me, but the research was as well. Coming from a microbiology background, atmospheric science and the study of aerosols was completely new to me as I started this journey. However, I was excited and anxious to learn something new. The collaboration among biologists and aerosol scientists has been rewarding as we are all here for the same goal, to learn more about the North Atlantic phytoplankton bloom.

Written by Alyssa Alsante

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 26, 2018

March 27th, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

Fourth and Ten (+ One)


We are currently at the first station to be occupied by the fourth and final NAAMES field campaign. It is a bittersweet experience both scientifically and personally. This station represents the final push of an epic joint exploration of marine and atmospheric sciences made possible by the thoughtful investigators who wrote the interdisciplinary proposal; a proposal that NASA found compelling enough to fund and was ultimately made possible by politicians and taxpayers who know that we move society forward through scientific endeavors. I would be amiss not to mention the crew(s) of the R/V Atlantis, our mother ship for all campaigns, who provided a professional, safe, and inviting atmosphere for what must seem like slightly controlled chaos to take place.

As participants we look back and see what we have done right, evaluate and discuss our amazing findings, and feel proud of our contributions to the larger fields of marine and atmospheric sciences. We also have enough hindsight from the past few years to look back and see what we will do even better next time. For many of us, it also represents an era in our careers, ranging from providing the experience and data to build and help finish graduate degrees, bolstering mid‐career scientists, and providing fresh ideas and avenues of exploration to more seasoned scientists. It will, and has already, created new collaborations, publications, proposals, and challenging concepts to tackle in the future.

The ten scientific crew and one ship’s personnel who have participated in all 4 NAAMES campaigns.

That is the number of people, both scientific (10) and ship’s personnel (1), who have participated in all 4 of the seagoing campaigns. What the ten people pictured above represent is the consistency between cruises that is critical to the successful training of new team members and implementation of the planned science. What is not represented above are the countless people who were here for 1, 2, or 3 voyages who bring fresh personalities, flavors to the galley, and ideas that can motivate, enlighten, and ignite new relationships and scientific curiosities. “Thank you!” to those on the ship, in the air, and on the ground who made all of this possible and successful.

Written by Jason R. Graff

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 25, 2018

March 27th, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

We left out of San Juan Puerto Rico and crossed the Sargasso sea and the
abysmal plain to our first station for the last NAAMES cruise. Here
the North Atlantic is our mistress and her secrets we will explore. As
ships crew we find ourselves in some of the most remote locations on this
pale blue dot and few are more remote feeling than the desolate ocean
between Newfoundland and the Azores.

A tumult of rough seas and blustery storms being blown down from the
Arctic. Here is where we will settle in for the next twelve days, here is
where the science happens.

The R/V Atlantis cruising across the North Atlantic Ocean

I am always amazed at the orchestration of these multi platform trips, as
it is beyond difficult to get every piece of gear and every person at a
start point let alone an end.

We live in close proximity for nearly thirty days at a time with a lack of
sleep and long hours but we do it together and we do it for a cause bigger
than our creature comforts. A fact that helps me sleep well at night.
NAAAMES is personally one of my favorite trips and it isn’t for the cold
winds or the confused seas, it is for the crew of people, determined to do
something amazing, coming together as a family. It is my fourth trip out
here and I can safely say that they are in fact family now and could even
pass as ships crew themselves.

Derek Coffman (in front) and other members of the NAAMES scientific crew on the bow of the R/V Atlantis.

Written by Ronnie Whims

NAAMES-IV Expedition: March 24, 2018

March 26th, 2018 by Kristina Mojica

A seabird catching a ride on the R/V Atlantis as it moves north.

Like this young pelagic seabird (let’s call it a juvenile gannet) soon to spend its life at sea, taking a short respite on a chance encounter, I find myself fortunate to have found the research vessel Atlantis (as part of the NAAMES IV campaign). We are still on our trek north to our first station, and as a newcomer to Craig Carlson’s lab I have been learning the various techniques his lab uses to constrain DOM cycling in the surface ocean. My training began by twice daily measuring the incorporation rate of tritiated leucine into heterotrophic bacteria (i.e., bacteria production rate). We are measuring the incorporation rate of tritiated leucine as a proxy for the uptake rate of organic carbon, as dissolved molecules, by heterotrophic bacteria.

Because tritiated leucine is a radioactive compound I have do this work in, essentially, an outfitted shipping container, called the “Rad Van”. No it’s not the “totally rad, man” kind of Rad, but the Rad-ioactive kind of Rad is pretty awesome because it is used to tell us something about the environment. The processing time of surface samples has been fast so far, something like 10-15min twice per day, but we will soon begin full casts to 1,500m twice per day, requiring most of the day to work through what we collect.  Reflecting back on life in the Rad Van these last few days, it’s not so bad tucked away in there; it’s isolated and so can be quiet and at times lonely but to know that the isotopes will remain confined to that space is reassuring. As far as changes in bacteria production during this cruise, we expect rates to be high at the surface ocean decreasing with depth and increasing as we work northward into the more productive spring bloom of the North Atlantic. The idea is that the regions of the ocean with higher bacteria production rates are associated with greater organic matter sources on which they had adapted to grow at faster rates.

View of the North Atlantic from the deck of the R/V Atlantis

Though both this work and the NAAMES group are new to me, I am enjoying the work and eager to start looking at data. Many of the PI’s, including the Carlson lab, will participate in subsequently NASA supported cruises as part of the EXPORTS program. And I look forward to continuing this work on as a participant in that program. So perhaps once the trip on the Atlantis has provided its brief oasis, as it has for the juvenile gannet’s migration, I will be ready for the next leg of the journey as part of the Carlson lab.

Written by Brandon Stephens