The blog is back on again. I’m heading out to the Juan de Fuca plate on the R/V Atlantis, and I’ve decided to update this blog as I do. That’s all you really need to know for now.

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The last week passed like a 400 meter dash. It began suddenly when, after several delays, all resources became available at once, save for time. As samples were processed, data was simultaneously being analyzed for trends.

The trends emerged. First and foremost was the confirmation of increased phytoplankton growth in the Northern Pacific, and the moderate growth changes in the Bering sea which confirmed the validity of the experimental method. More intriguing were the ecosystem changes.

The relative populations of various species underwent drastic shifts. Two species literally reversed in dominance. Their combined population, meanwhile, held steady with a tenacity that suggested the results to be no random chance.

Phytoplankton store the energy the gather from the sun as fatty acids. This is how they impart their nutritional value on to the predators which consume them, all the way up the food chain to humans and humpback whales. There is no other source for these valuable omega-3 fatty acids in the ocean. However when phytoplankton are grown in the presence of abundant iron, they didn’t produce as much of these fatty acids. They instead relied on lower energy molecules which would had the potential to alter the seas which they fed.

Andrew enjoyed delivering his presentation, which was well received. The following day he boarded a plane for home. He had enjoyed his time working for Bigelow more than words could convey. Fortunately, Andrew rarely got the feeling of finality when he boarded planes. In this case he was certain that the story was not over.

Week 9

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Once home, there was much work to be done. The station samples were set aside to give preference to the iron enrichment samples. Piece-by-piece the data was assembled. First, the variable fluorescence data was downloaded, giving the health of the cells on each day. Then chlorophyll was extracted from filters and measured for concentration. Fatty Acid composition was started, as was the process of analysing preserved water under the microscope.

There were few distractions. Aside from renting a kayak one weekend and volunteering at Bigelow’s booth at a festival the next, there was little to do besides work and rest. It was not unpleasant.

Andrew was apprehensive. Over a few hectic days all of his work would be either rewarded or proven worthless. It was interesting to watch Helga and Joaquim give their opinions. Andrew began to understand that this was part of a larger process. A benefactor — in this case NASA — financed and expedition. The investigator then uses the opportunity afforded by their travel to a remote destination to perform experiments. While a hypothesis was employed to give focus, the results need not be in any way what was being measured. In total Andrew’s lab team had prepared to assess the iron enriched samples in no less than seven ways. If any of these showed a fascinating occurrence, it would be written about and polished up. If it was meaningful enough then it might entice another benefactor to finance further investigation, restarting the process. Andrew realized that while any project was being undertaken Joaquim and Helga were keeping in mind new experiments and ways of provoking interest in them.

Tomorrow would bring more chlorophyll, more microscopy, and more fatty acid chromatography. Andrew had only a few more days to find meaning in his work which he could present at the end of his program.

Day 42

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Unalaska, AK
53 54′50″ N, 166 32′00″ W

Global Time: 08:59 GMT | 7.19.2009 : Sunday
Local Time: 23:59 GMT-9 | 7.18.2009 : Saturday

Though Stacey and Andrew would not leave until Monday, Kristen and Mike’s plane left on Saturday. They left at 13:00.

At 17:00 Andrew returned to speak with the woman who managed the Ba’hai center. The faith was facinating, though not revolutionary. That seemed to actually be the point. It focused on a return to central principles of unity and love espoused through out most practiced religions. The outline was something he could have found online, though, so Andrew asked about the history of the local center and of the woman herself. Neither was brief or mundane. However, the woman who managed the center asked for little to be said about her or the center on a blog. She was quite willing to share any information, however she would have to insist on doing so face-to-face. This request would be honored.

Not much occured after Andrew returned. Dinner was eaten at a run-of-the-mill Chinese food restaurant and the rest of the night was passed on the ship.

New photos in Observations: Life on the Oshoro Maru and Unalaska, Between Legs 2 & 3.

Unalaska, AK
53 54′50″ N, 166 32′00″ W

Global Time: 11:18 GMT | 7.17.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 02:18 GMT-9 | 7.17.2009 : Friday

After eating, Dr. D’sa, Stacey, and Andrew packed. First they retrieved their packing containers from the Alaska Maritime Agency. Andrew asked if they were holding any mail for him. They gave him two post cards from a friend in Erie. Dr. D’sa, Stacey, and Andrew loaded their empty containers into the bed of a rented pickup truck and brought all of them back to the ship in two trips. Then, they transfered every sample and piece of equipment in their laboratory into boxes. By 1600 they had everything just about finished. Andrew asked for a ride into town. He had finally arranged a meeting with the woman who ran the Ba’hai center.

While Stacey and Dr. D’sa ate lunch, Andrew went to speak with the woman who’s home housed the center. He had asked the others to order him a burger before he went to speak with her. In truth, he had very little to ask, however a sense of resolution was needed. He had exchanged a few emails and would have been disappointed if he never followed up. He assumed twenty minutes would satisfy his sense of determination. By the end of the twenty minutes, however, Andrew asked if she might be available the next day. He explained that while he had no interest in accepting Ba’hai personally, it was fascinating to hear about, and he would like to continue without such tight time constraints. She warmly agreed to meet the next day.

After some souvenir shopping and a failed attempt to connect to the internet at the hotel, Andrew returned to the ship for dinner. He found Kristen and Mike were heading to the bar. When he finished he joined them.

What followed was uproarious. Kristen had been responsible for her own research, and had never drank on the ship. Now that she was finally finished and going home it was time to celebrate. She took it upon herself to expose the Japanese students who had come along to a myriad of American cocktails: The margarita. The Bahama mama. The Irish car bomb. Andrew was thrilled any time he was able to employ his broken Japanese. When the waitress brought the beer and shot glasses for the Irish car bombs, one girl looked at them in curiosity. “Kah…bom?” Andrew used the word for “chemistry”, and then pantomimed the act of dropping one into the other. The girl smiled and nodded in recognition. “Mix.” She said. Andrew nodded.

They left before eleven to meet a curfew at 2300. It applied only to the Japanese students, however the others honored it anyway. Back on the ship, celebration continued until two. Kristen stayed up the longest, conversing not only with the students fluent in English, but with crew members who spoke none. Through the use of an interpreter, she made it known how much she appreciated all of them. Andrew was amazed at his ability to connect. It was thin, but tangible. Andrew and a crew member with a ridiculous perm managed a few broken exchanges. As Kristen would make her next declaration, he would catch a bit of what one of the Japanese said to another. Sometimes he would contribute what he could. “Kano hetowa, henna desune!?” “She’s crazy, right!?” It was a good night.

Day 41

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Unalaska, AK
53 54′50″ N, 166 32′00″ W

Global Time: 18:30 GMT | 7.17.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 09:30 GMT-9 | 7.17.2009 : Friday

Andrew awoke at an unknown hour. He could hear a deep rumbling further forward in the ship: the bow thrusters were engaged. They were used for precise lateral movement. That meant the Oshoro maru was docking. He checked his alarm. It was 0930, just as scheduled. On his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth he glanced out a bulkhead door which opened onto the deck. He could see the harbor sliding along side the ship.

After washing up he met Kristen, Stacey, and Michael to disembark for brunch.

Day 40

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The Bering Sea
54 17′86″ N, 166 30′25″ W

Global Time: 12:15 GMT | 7.17.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 03:15 GMT-9 | 7.17.2009 : Friday

For several days, life aboard the Oshoro Maru had been consistently dull. The night of the July 16th was a pleasant break from that boredom.

While playing a game of cards, Stacey, Andrew, and professor Seito heard the phone in the mess hall ring. The ship had phones connecting all the major rooms, but Andrew had never heard any of them used before. Professor Seito answered.

“Darae deshtaka?” asked Andrew. The call came from the bridge. A whale had been spotted. Everyone in the mess hall dropped what they were doing and headed above. When Andrew arrived he wondered if he would be able to spot the whale. Suddenly, it showed itself in an unmistakable display. It breached.

Emerging from the water in its full form, the hump back whale displayed its body for those who could not see beneath the waves. It emerged like a missile from a submarine. The water parted as a massive form broke through. The whale was both enormous and beautiful. It then fell, crashing upon the waves. Andrew wondered what the experience was like for a creature that lived 99.999999% of its life underwater.

For the next several minutes it repeatedly slapped the water with its massive fin, producing gigantic splashes. Soon, however, a quick fog shrouded the whale and the sea, leaving only the sunset.

Afterwards, all returned to the mess hall for drinks. Andrew and Stacey had all the students and professors sign t-shirts they had made. A good time was had by all. At three Andrew returned to his cabin to sleep. He would sleep soundly in the knowledge that in a few hours, he would be subject to the laws of the United States of America.

Day 38

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The Bering Sea
62 28′99″ N, 173 58′65″ W

Global Time: 23:56 GMT | 7.14.2009 : Tuesday
Local Time: 14:56 GMT-9 | 7.14.2009 : Tuesday

All through Monday they worked, while the weather worsened. By the next day Andrew had seen his wish fulfilled. There was no rain, and though the waves were not severe by a fisherman’s standards, they were enough to cancel another station and make Kristen ill. Andrew felt bad. He also felt like he was on a ride at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood amusement park called “Noah’s Ark”. He resumed his Japanese study intent on completing all of its forty lessons before the end of the trip. He was currently on lesson thirty four.

Day 37

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The Bering Sea
62 54′10″ N, 172 04′03″ W

Global Time: 17:31 GMT | 7.13.2009 : Monday
Local Time: 08:31 GMT-9 | 7.13.2009 : Monday

After getting in bed at 0300 and expecting to be woken in two hours for the next station, Andrew was surprised when he woke himself after 0800. He dressed and headed up to the CTD room to see if there were any clues to what had happened. It seemed most likely that the six o’clock station had been scrubbed, probably due to bad weather.

It was not unusual for him to be uninformed when plans were changing minute by minute. Himself and the other American’s excluded, the rest of the researchers did not need to be informed ahead of time. They each had specific duties, like operating the CTD or plankton nets. They all worked on twelve hour shifts. They knew when they had to be on duty and when they did not, and if they were on duty and a station arrived, they would set to work. Stacey, Andrew, Dr. D’sa, Kristen, and Mike had their own affairs, and merely paid for space on the ship. Unlike the others, they worked opportunistically.

In the CTD room Andrew found Dr. D’sa who said that he had woken at seven. While that was still after the 0630 station, the schedule had it listed as taking an estimated two hours. Dr. D’sa added that he had heard the waves we were evading were supposed to be swelling as high as four meters, over thirteen feet high. If that was the case it would definitely explain their justification for skipping that station.

According to the computers, their next destination was at 63 N 172 W, but they were currently trawling. Already they could see crew preparing to pull in the net via close circuit cameras on display in the CTD room.