I’m going to be working aboard the R/V Atlantis for three weeks (from Jun 25th to July 24th). Here are some details for the curious.

The Atlantis (Wikipedia) (WHOI)is 273 ft long, and is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Its the second Atlantis, and it shares its namesake, with the space shuttle Atlantis, which was named after the same research sailboat. It serves as the platform for the famous Alvin minisub (Wikipedia). You see, you can’t just toss a minisub on any boat you like, you need a lot of support equipment. The Atlantis has a housing bay designed for supporting the Alvin vehicle. On our cruise, however, we will not be needing Alvin, and so its not coming. We will be working at the bottom of the ocean, though, and for that we’re brining Jason II, a deep sea robot (Wikipedia) (WHOI). I’ll try to post a summary of what we’re doing shortly. In the meantime, feel free to click around those links, there should be plenty to keep all of you entertained. And by “all of you”, I mean my mother and possibly one other person.

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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.

Day36

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The Bering Sea
62 23′35″ N, 172 00′23″ W

Global Time: 08:22 GMT | 7.13.2009 : Monday
Local Time: 23:22 GMT-9 | 7.12.2009 : Sunday

In the mess hall Andrew had found a great time. He talked with Abe, the third officer, and some others about diving. Abe shared incredible underwater pictures which he had taken. Andrew presented his own less impressive but still interesting photos from when he got open-water certified in May. More than anything else it brought back memories of Dahab. Dahab was a small paradise town on the edge of the Red Sea which Andrew had spent one of the most relaxing weekends of his entire life. His pictures reminded him fondly of people he missed. After they finished talking Andrew went up to the observation deck to get some night air before he went to sleep.

Though it was not Dahab, the next day was certainly the most relaxing in weeks. He woke at 1100 hours for lunch, then went back to bed until three in the afternoon. When he woke up he did a few light exercises and then showered. Andrew spent some time in the ofuro, a Japanese hot water bath, then rinsed, and caught up on some hygiene. He flossed, trimmed his nails, and possessed by the impulse, shaved off his beard. He liked the face which looked back.

By the time he had finished dinner was being served. It was breaded chicken, and while the Japanese breaded their chicken very differently, it was still excellent. When he finished Andrew filtered his iron enriched samples. He decided to do a size fractionation of the sample which had not had the zooplankton removed although it was not necessary. For more on why, see “Notes > The influence of grazers”.

Later, after a few hands of poker with Stacey, Mike, and Kristen, they completed their sixteenth station. There would be another shortly after, but beyond that Andrew knew little. A storm was coming, and in an effort to evade it the schedule might undergo substantial revisions.

Day 35

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The Bering Sea
56 59′92″ N, 167 48′71″ W

Global Time: 12:00 GMT | 7.11.2009 : Saturday
Local Time: 03:00 GMT-9 | 7.11.2009 : Saturday

On Friday, at two hours past midnight Andrew woke from three hours of sleep only to learn that the station had, unsurprisingly, come early. This time, however, it had been so early that Stacey and he had missed the CTD run completely. Andrew returned to bed, but after an hour he woke, unsure. Had Stacey come in, telling him it was time once more? He had the feeling that she had, and he had assured her he would follow shortly, then fallen back asleep. Or perhaps he was imagining things. He compromised by dressing and then getting back in bed. If she did return, demanding an explanation, he would admit to his confusion but at least seem prepared.

When Stacey did wake him an hour more had passed, and he found himself trying to explain why he had been sleeping dressed. While they collected water, Andrew pulled himself away to watch the rest of the students cleaning up after a bottom trawl. The net which had been dragged across the sea bed all night contained a dazing array of bizarre fish. He may have enjoyed new experiences, but he had already had his fill of the gill nets and did not envy the others.

By the time that station was finished, it was breakfast time. Andrew remembered that it was his day to assist with prep and cleanup. He feared his hectic schedule might conflict, so when the bell signifying five minutes before a meal was rung out, he made sure to be the first there so he could carry the rice and soup from the galley to the mess hall.

Andrew did not have the presence of mind to do the mental math, but he figured he was actually getting a livable amount of sleep. He estimated something like five-and-a-half hours a night, averaged out, just not in the consecutive fashion he had been raised with. By the time breakfast ended, things were going well. He found time to steal a shower before he set about monitoring the iron experiments. It took him two hours to complete. It was a relief that it was the last day for the first half of the experiment. He had made it over the hump, and the work would get marginally lighter.

The day was the longest yet. Another early station meant that he was denied the two hours of sleep he had been promised, though Dr. D’sa had agreed to forgo a station at 0500 the next morning. This was wise. In one day, Andrew had filled seven pages of his lab notebook. He had not only completed “This Side of Paradise” before breakfast, he had finished Saul Bellow’s “The Victim” before he finally closed his eyes for the night at three o’clock in the morning.

The Bering Sea
56 10’54” N, 169 37’84” W

Global Time: 08:00 GMT | 7.10.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 23:00 GMT-9 | 7.9.2009 : Thursday

Andrew had been wrong. He had woken on his own, having dreamt of a bizarre comedy/nightmare about legions of hapless undead in which Andrew had not actually been a part of. Seconds later, Stacey entered to wake him. They would reach the next station in ten minutes, she said. Andrew wondered how long he had slept. The clock said it was eight in the evening. Andrew had been asleep for two and a half hours.

His hike only a few hours earlier had left him feeling like a G.I. Joe action figure, but not in the good way. If he were to move his limbs more than a few degrees he was certain his tendons would snap like cheap rubber bands. He stretched a bit and wondered where all his clean clothes had gone, then realized that they had been in the dryer for three days. This put him in a good mood for some reason. Although on one hand it appeared he was beginning to suffer from dementia, on the other his jeans and his nice fleece were finally dry. And the jeans fit him again, too.

More work, more F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Andrew returned to his bed at eleven hours past noon.

The Bering Sea
56 00′00″ N, 168 58′86″ W

Global Time: 02:00 GMT | 7.10.2009 : Friday
Local Time: 17:00 GMT-9 | 7.9.2009 : Thursday

The next station was complete around 0600. After that, there was another that would come some time between 0900 and 1100. Andrew returned to bed to steal another few hours. After the noon station, there would be eleven hours until the next one. Andrew was excited for the much needed down time, but he also had the iron experiments to maintain.

When he finished all his work, it was 1700, dinner time. Andrew had no idea what day it was, and he was over halfway through “This Side of Paradise”. He would eat, and then he would sleep. He would sleep and he would not wake until someone woke him to go to work, and he would not rouse a moment sooner.

Day 32

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The Bering Sea
Various locations

Global Time: 08:59 GMT | 7.9.2009 : Thursday
Ships Time: 23:59 GMT-9 | 7.8.2009 : Wednesday

At ten the ship left port, guided by a pilot boat. As the time of the next station had not yet been released, Andrew began reading one of the books he brought, “This Side of Paradise”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At 1500 he met Stacey and Dr. Dsa to learn of the upcoming week. The forecast was constant work, starting in three hours with the first station of twenty-one. Andrew decided to get the iron samples out of the way. He began filtering around 1600, then collected water at 1700, and dined a half an hour later.

Dinner was excellent. They served sashimi, which is much like sushi except not as artful. Andrew, who tended to prefer quality and taste over pretension loved it, especially the fresh legs of king crab which had been carried on board the previous night, still fidgeting.

Following dinner Stacey and Andrew returned to work. Andrew passed the time while waiting for larger filtrations to complete by reading. They completed their filtrations at 00:30 (half past midnight). As there was another station in less than two hours, it made more sense to simply stay awake and pass the time with Minori and Keita who were drinking in the mess hall. Andrew had already found common tastes with Minori in their mutual preference for bourbon, and while he did not know Keita as well as her, Andrew had watched the live action adaption of “Death Note” with him a few nights earlier (the copy was an English dub, fortunately).

In America, Minori’s English might have been described as broken, however Andrew considered it more than passable for conversation. She spoke well enough to tell him about herself, surprising Andrew with how American life in Japan could seem. She had more mature tastes in alcohol than most American college students. She drank regularly, though never appeared drunk. She rode a motorcycle and played the base guitar. She was also gracious in answering Andrew’s questions. Did all Japanese read manga? (Pretty much) Did she know martial arts? (Five years of Aikido) Did she have a boyfriend? (Also, yes).

Until the next station arrived, they talked. Andrew practiced his Japanese, and asked if they were familiar with certain American games. They had rock-paper-scissors and thumb wrestling, but not padidile or most other car games.

At two the ship arrived at its way point. When all work was finished there was once again less than two hours until the next sampling station. This time Andrew decided to get what little sleep he could.

Day 28

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The Bering Sea
56 30.83′ N 177 02.46′ W

Global Time: 02:56 GMT | 07.05.2009 : Sunday
Ships Time: 14:56 GMT-12 | 07.04.2009 : Saturday

In America, it was the forth of July, however on board the Oshoro-maru, it was a day which was unique only for its uneventfulness. All stations had been visited. The ship was steaming. This meant it was traveling, at its cruising speed. Besides filtering samples of water for the Iron Enrichment Experiments, there was little work to be done. The tests were going well in the scientific sense, however the initial data was unexpected. This always raised the possibility of contamination, so the results of part II would say a good deal. The only real work on board was a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning of the ship in preparation for the return to port. The Japanese operated very clean ships. This task coincided with Andrew’s work in the lab, excusing him from it. He regretted this, and hoped his lack of participation had not been noticed.

Overall, it was a time allowing for a well appreciated respite from work.

One more water sample needed to be collected before the return to Dutch Harbor. Joaquim, Stacey, and Andrew needed another sixty liters of water for the second half of the iron experiments. In the second half they would repeat their work with water from iron-rich waters. Since no other CTD stations were planned, they could not collect water as they had before, from the remote operated water capturing Niskin bottles. Andrew was disappointed to find they would simply collect using a bucket on a rope. He had been eyeing a 30 L Niskin bottle which he hoped they could use. Unlike the bottles attached to the CTD, which were closed by a signal that traveled down the wire supporting the frame and released a switch, the manual method required a weight, called a messenger, that traveled down the line and struck the switch physically. Andrew had used this type once before in the Red Sea, with a smaller setup. It was nice releasing the weight, in a kind of visceral satisfaction. Aboard a massive vessel, standing on a platform extending above the water and dropping a slug the weight of a wrench over the side. Its plop, and the knowledge that somewhere under the waves, thirty impressive liters of water had been caught.

The bucket-on-a-rope plan would work just fine, though, too.

Day 26

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The Bering Sea
56 45.26′ N 177 32.33′ W

Global Time: 19:00 GMT | 07.02.2009 : Thursday
Ships Time: 07:00 GMT-12 | 07.02.2009 : Thursday

At four o’clock everyone was on deck. Andrew had been wrong. By four in the morning, it was already light out. After a few hours floating at sea, the gill net was retrieved. Andrew had participated in the ritual the previous day. Standing in a space the size of a back yard, everyone took their places. First the net came out of the water and into the hands of about ten men, five on each side. It crossed the deck, where it was sucked into a round funnel that looked like a product of Dr.Seuss. The funnel gathered the net together and sent it bunched up along a pipe to the other end of the ship, where a winch was pulling it. As the net came onto the ship, the ten men who stood on a platform that put them level with the side of the ship would guide the ropes from each side. Fish were stuck in the net, not like butterflies trapped by a barrier but like props at a tacky seafood restaurant. They were ensnared in it, usually by their gills. The men would free the fish with a practiced jerk. With hands on the net material they would whip the fish around, often slapping it on their leg, or flinging it high into the air. Wherever they landed, the were kicked across or pushed with a hose to the sides, where others would throw them in laundry baskets. When a basket was full it was moved to the side of a long table. In turn, each fish would be measured, weighted, gutted, cleaned, and thrown on conveyor belt which carried them, side-by-side with the pipeline of net, toward the back of the ship to be put in the hold. The deck rung out with the noises of fish slapping hands and slamming into walls. After miles of net and hundreds of fish, plus one small shark and a few unfortunate birds, the collection period was complete. At this point, all involved with collection began to assist in the cleaning. Cutting boards were laid on the stage. More hands began measuring the fish, cutting the fish, pulling out their insides, and passing them up the line. Initially, Andrew was told to go around with a basket and collect large strings of fish eggs. As the organs were pulled out, Andrew would sift through and pull out handfuls of shiny, pink, ball-bearing sized pearls. It was bizarre, but Andrew tried to remind himself that he had eaten eggs just like these on sushi. Still, seeing the way they were acquired was not pleasant.

He had only been at his egg collection job for about ten minutes when he was summoned by Joaquim, Stacey, Christen, and Michael. They were placed at the end of the assembly line, arms deep in a trough full of blood and fish. They were assigned to remove any dangling entrails and rinse the fish before placing them on the belt. All fish went through them, and they were completely overwhelmed by the rate of the incoming product. For the next thirty minutes they joked about the unpleasantness of their charge as they went about it. In fisheries and canneries, a man could get paid $50 an hour to do the kind of work they were doing for eight hours every day. Either that, or he’d be an immigrant laborer doing it for whatever the boss chose to give him.

Andrew was quickly forced to get over any initial squeamishness he had about sticking his hands into their gills or dragging out their organs with his rubber-gloved hands. When the five of them could finally go inside they were among the last to do so. Andrew decided to get breakfast before taking a shower.

It seemed they were serving fresh fish eggs with the rice that morning. Though an excellent dish, Today, Andrew opted instead for a bowl of cheerios from his private food stores.

Day 25

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The Bering Sea
56 58.20′ N 177 54.96′ W

Global Time: 08:00 GMT | 07.02.2009 : Thursday
Ships Time: 20:00 GMT-12 | 07.01.2009 : Wednesday

The day had been long. It had started at 0400, when Andrew rolled out of bed to assist in the retrieval of the gill net which had gone out the previous evening. It would end with the re-release of the net.

After an ordeal which would most likely always return to Andrew whenever he ate salmon, he had returned to bed after breakfast. There would be two stations before dinner and samples of water had to be filtered as part of the iron enrichment experiments. The iron experiments had been going very well.

The only snag at all so far had been a small crisis of conscience. Though Andrew had insisted on referring to the project as “their experiment”, Joaquim seemed set on calling it “Andrew’s experiment”. He would remind Andrew on occasion the influence such a study could hold. There was apparently a large gulf between the availability of the information they were collecting and the need for it. Their research could, in part, strengthen or dismiss premier theories on the key growth factors of an organism thought capable of healing damage done to Earth. Yet despite the fact that Joaquim had suggested the project, that he had defined the parameters, and that the work was Andrew’s first foray into the field, Joaquim was far too generous in sharing credit. The fortunate side effect of that tick of guilt had been an increased drive to finish his proposal and otherwise prove his worth.

In the evening, the gill net had gone back out. The net was a green ribbon. Each mesh hole was large enough to fit a baseball through, and though only about three meters from top to bottom it stretched for around two miles. It hung from floats at the surface, ensnaring the fish which swam into it. The end of its folded pile was dropped in the water. It trailed off the back of the boat. As the boat steamed along, the net was drawn of the back like a thread unraveling off a sweater. Andrew stood on one side along with several others, and using long bamboo poles, they poked at it as it slid by, keeping it from tangling. At last, what began as a pile the size of a sedan became an inconspicuous trap. The next morning at 0430, they would once again retrieve it, and once again the entire crew would turn out to collect, measure, and clean the fish it bore.