Posted on April 20, 2011
Hey y’all! I’d like to introduce you to my new project. Everyone, this is SeaMonster. SeaMonster, meet everyone. SeaMonster is a blog about all things ocean-related – from surfing to ecology to politics to submarines – and written by folks from the United States and the UK. We hope you’ll enjoy it, whether you’re already interested in the ocean or you’re just into stuff like cool videos, current events, monsters, sculptures…
Posted on February 9, 2011
Meet Grace. Hailing from Rutgers University, a meter-and-a-half tall and weighing in at just over 7 stones, Grace is ranked No. 1 on the east coast in carbon dioxide purchases this year. A powerhouse package of awesome, she also happens to be doing one of my favorite experiments on the ship. Grace brought most of that enormous CO2 supply with her (check out the oversize golden scuba tanks in the photo below) to investigate the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. For more than two weeks, she had incubators full of seawater connected to the CO2 tanks, all bubbling away at three levels: the CO2 in the atmosphere of pre-glacial Earth, today’s CO2 level, and the CO2 level we’re predicted to reach by 2100. The more CO2 is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 gets dissolved in the ocean (or these little mini incubated oceans, in Grace’s case), and from there she can see how the community of phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses reacts. These tiny lil guys are at the base of the food chain, and since their tiny lil lives are very sensitive to acidity in the water, increased CO2 (increased acidity) has some big effects further up the food chain. It’s a tedious but elegant experiment and we’ve seen some really cool results so far, but overall I’m just impressed that Grace made the DEA watch list for all that CO2. Congrats, Grace.
Posted on May 15, 2009
edit: I deleted this video when the audio stopped working. I’ll upload it again as soon as I can!
Here’s another short video I put together in the Antarctic. The footage is mostly of the scientific equipment we used. It’s less exciting than the last video I posted, but I hope it gives you an idea of what it was like on board the ARSV Gould, constantly deploying and retrieving scientific equipment. The first couple of scenes show some rough seas while crossing the Drake Passage; the last few scenes show us taking the Zodiacs out on the water, which was always incredible. Those orange coats you’ll see everyone wearing are nicknamed “float coats” (sort-of a cross between a life vest and a parka… really toasty, but unfortunately not entirely waterproof).
You can click the “HQ” button in the bottom right corner of the player to see the video in higher quality.
Posted on January 12, 2009
In honor of Inauguration Day, we decided to name an upcoming sampling site OBAMA (Ocean Biology and Antarctic Marine Analysis, or something cheesy like that).
Turns out, one of the scientists on board is friends with Obama’s new science advisor, and sent him an email about OBAMA. The response was as follows: the President will love this. Send us more info.
We are all completely dorking out, fretting over what to say in our must-be-perfect one-page memo to the Obama Administration. Suggestions?
Posted on January 11, 2009
Days tend to run together on board ships. Down here this has been
especially true, since the sun never sets. Here’s a recap of my last day:
0030, January 10th: on the back deck of the Gould. The back deck is
barely five feet above the water, so waves are constantly coming over the
railing and sloshing back and forth across the deck as the ship rocks.
It’s foggy and wet. We’re waiting to deploy the “Mocness,” a fancy
plankton net with nine several-meters-long, automatically-closing nets, a
fluorometer, and a number of other gadgets.
0200: half sitting, half napping in the electronics room, waiting for the
net to come back up. It’s still 1500 meters below the surface.
0245: back on deck, wearing waterproof bib pants and a “float coat” (a
lifejacket/parka hybrid). The Mocness is surfacing. We hook it to an
enormous crane, haul it on deck, and begin unloading the contents into
0330: huddled around the buckets, picking plankton out of the
0750: drowsily grab breakfast and climb the stairs to the bridge, where
everyone has gathered to try spotting the sediment trap, which has been at
the bottom of the sea for exactly one year. Usually I’m only on duty from
1600-0400, but today presence is mandatory for the sediment trap recovery.
At 0800 a button will be pushed, the trap will float to the surface, and
the first person to sight it wins 50 dollars.
0803: Rick and I spot the trap. I win 50 bucks.
0830: The next hour is spent hauling the giant trap, along with its radio
transmitter and floats (which look like enormous yellow hard hats) on
deck. The back of the ship opens up to more easily drag equipment aboard.
Some of the marine techs have to tether themselves to the deck to keep
from falling in as they operate the crane. Waves keep rolling on deck.
0930: a few of us are decked out in foul weather gear, scrubbing mud,
hydroids, and other sea gunk off of the old trap and floats. The swells
have picked up to about 15 feet.
1030: I’m on deck mousing shackles for the new sediment trap which will be
sent down for another year.
1600: in the “rad van” (a trailer which has been bolted to the back deck
to contain all radioactivity) getting some samples ready for the
scintillation counter, which will determine the radioactive content in
about 90 tiny vials.
1800: I try running on the treadmill. This proves pretty difficult with
the 15-foot swells. After being thrown into a wall, I opt for the
stationary bike instead.
2000: in the MT (marine tech) shop helping Dan build stairs for the
birders, who we are going to leave on an island for a few days to study
penguins. Why do they need stairs on an island? Beats me. Miraculously,
I survive the evening without chopping a single finger off with a power
2330: midrats (“midnight rations”). This is always my favorite meal of
0005: seven of us climb into the bunk of an unsuspecting marine tech, who
0130: there’s not a lot of science going on tonight, so three of us are
back on deck scrubbing stuff. The sky isn’t exactly dark, but thanks to
the fog it’s an eerie shade of purple. A few petrels are bobbing in the
Posted on December 28, 2008
…as if that pun has never been made before. Apologies.
Anyway, here I am! After nearly 30 hours of flights and layovers, I have made it to Punta Arenas, Chile. At the Santiago airport, representatives from Raytheon (the company that oversees many US polar deployments) met our group and breezed us through customs. I totally felt like a VIP celebrity … if celebrities ever arrive at airports wearing enormous backpacks and hiking boots.
Punta Arenas is, incidentally, home to the southernmost beer brewery and southernmost grapevines in the world.
Time for me to go to bed. Early tomorrow morning I will head to a giant warehouse overlooking the Strait of Magellan, where I will be issued my cold weather gear, and then move onto the LM Gould.
Posted on December 21, 2008
Our ship must appear, to some birds, like the only truck stop along an ocean highway stretching for hundreds of empty miles in any direction. Throughout our voyage, a strange assortment of birds—from sparrows to owls—found their way to the SSV Seamans.
Most of our avian guests paused to rest for just a few hours before heading on their way. Others stayed for days at a time. One such bird was a baby egret we found cowering in the scuppers. We named him Henry. Though he was clearly starving, we were forbidden by the ship’s authority to feed him, which of course only made us love him more. A few of us formed an underground coalition to sneak Henry scraps of fish.
Henry looks longingly through a porthole
Chapter I, in which the enemy arrives
Two weeks after Henry presumably took off for home, a plague of nearly fifty boobies set upon the ship. While Henry was a loveable bird eliciting much sympathy, the boobies were quite the opposite. They established their stronghold high in the ship’s rigging. Singing out with cacophonous gurgles and squawks, the boobies began to launch a barrage of fecal missiles.
Boobies on the courseyard
Chapter II, in which I become a casualty of warfare
We did what we could to stand our ground. Late one evening, just after midnight, I was on bow watch. I was alone. I was harnessed to the bow of the ship, and had nowhere to run. I was thus was acutely aware of the boobies crowing overhead. Listening to the little splats landing on deck behind me, I was beginning to think that putting on my foul weather gear might not be a bad idea. All of a sudden, I saw a falling guano-bomb out of the corner of my eye. With lightning-fast reflexes, I managed to lean to the side just in time to avoid being pooped upon.
This must have been exactly what the boobies wanted me to do. Yes! Yes! She’s leaning this way now … wait for it, wait for it … fire away! And as I leaned, a second booby released a massive shit. I saw it coming, but was too far off-balance. There was nothing I could do. It was…
(should I say it?)
…it was a booby trap.
Chapter III, in which we launch our counteroffensive
Days passed. We were forced to retreat. The foredeck was plastered in bird droppings despite our daily deck washes, and the ship reeked. It was time to do something. Viva la resistance! Our first method of attack was potato gun, a sizeable air rifle fashioned by the ship’s engineers from an old bilge pipe, capable of shooting chunks of potatoes and small carrots. High-speed vegetable proved to be difficult ammunition, but finally we hit a booby. Cheers erupted from the onlookers below as brown feathers were sent flying from the topyard, but the example of one unfortunate booby was apparently not enough to ward off its cronies.
Adam fires the potato gun
Chapter IV, featuring a giant slingshot
While one contingent of our crew stayed in the rigging with the potato gun, another team attacked the boobies from on top of the doghouse. This time the weapon of choice was an enormous slingshot. Created from surgical tubing and a large plastic cup, the slingshot required three men to operate. We had a few more successes launching cabbages, apples, and potatoes, but this still was not enough. The boobies had gained a lamentable sense of impudence and fearlessness.
loading the slingshot
Chapter V, in which we get desperate
The battle raged on like this for several more days. Finally it was decided that serious weaponry should be employed. Our solution: fire hose. Up into the rigging went Dave, the chief engineer. Up into the rigging went the fire hose. And up into the rigging spewed a six-million-pounds-per-square-inch torrent of seawater. Dave valiantly faced many gooey white counterattacks as he sprayed down every last cursed booby. Soon, they were all confusedly flying around behind the boat. Back on deck, we commenced our victory celebrations, and considered erecting a small commemorative arch on the quarterdeck.
Dave with the fire hose
The next day, the boobies had returned, no doubt with vengeance in their tiny, evil hearts and excremental ammunition in their tiny, evil intestines. We were shocked. We were crushed. We had been soundly defeated by boobies.
the boobies return
Posted on December 15, 2008
When things are going well on the helm, it’s incredible. It’s powerful. You can feel the force of the water pressing against the helm in your hands. You are in a position of ultimate control. You know where you’re going and how to get there. The boat does as you say.
This rarely happened.
You might think that steering would be less difficult than, say, hoisting up several hundred pounds of sail. Or finding your location in the world from just the declination of a star. Or calculating at exactly what time the sun will be at its zenith. But you would be wrong on all accounts.
Unlike a bicycle or car, a ship does not respond immediately to turning the wheel, which means you must sense when to stop turning the wheel before you get on the desired course. Assuming you don’t over-correct (I usually did), you must then hold this desired course for any number of hours. This means paying attention to the true direction of the wind (which is tricky when there is an apparent wind due to the motion of the boat). This means paying attention to changes in weather. This means paying attention to how full the sails are. This means paying attention to how much right rudder or left rudder you might need to use. This means … I sucked at steering.
I notice one night, around 4:00am, that I am having more and more difficulty maintaining the course ordered, and have to constantly change my steering. Eventually, all actions become useless. I decide to inform the chief mate, attempting to mask all terror in my voice.
Hey … Chief Mate? I squeak. Something’s wrong with the helm.
Wrong with the helm? says Chief Mate. I don’t think so.
Yes, there is! I say, a little indignant.
Well … what’s the ship doing? asks Chief Mate.
Absolutely nothing I tell it to do. The helm is useless. By now, I am panicking, because the boat seems to be doing exactly the opposite of what I am steering.
Be more specific, says Chief Mate. What is the ship doing?
Well … [painfully long pause] … It goes left when I steer right, and right when I steer left! Something is terribly, horribly wrong! I say, imagining that some gear has gotten itself reversed and–horror–I have broken the helm.
Chief Mate looks up at the sails. Chief Mate goes over to the railing and looks at the water. Chief Mate begins to laugh at me. Chief Mate informs me: the ship is going backwards.
Apparently, with my supreme lack of talent on the helm, I had steered the bow of the ship directly into the wind. Nice work, dumbass. I wish I could say that this were the only time I put a 135-foot brigantine into reverse, but, as it turns out, it happened to me again… three more times.
Posted on December 15, 2008
Continuing our tour of the SSV Seamans…
Climb out the ladder from the doghouse and you will find yourself on the quarterdeck of the Robert C. Seamans. The quarterdeck is a raised deck in the back of the ship, and–between the helm, compasses, and proximity to the doghouse–is essentially the center of the ship’s command.
Pictured above is the quarterdeck, as seen from aloft. The giant white triangle is the mainstays’l (main-stay-sail). Below that white rectangle on the deck is the doghouse. Just aft of the entrance to the doghouse is the helm: the bane of my sailing existence. More on that later.
Facing forward on the quarterdeck, you get a view like this:
Moving forward up the port side of the ship is the science deck, where most scientific equipment is deployed. That big white thing controls a monster coil of wire, which sends equipment down as deep as 3,000 meters.
Continuing to walk forward, you will pass under the topyard and courseyard, where the square sails are set. Pictured here is Pete, perched on the topyard, while I lay aloft on the port shrouds:
All the way forward is the foredeck:
Those red and white cone things–called “tubas” because of their shape–are for ventilation. Every hour they get turned so that they face into the wind, bringing much-needed cool breezes down to the living quarters below decks.
The bow was one of my favorite places on the ship. At the risk of calling to mind Titanic: standing at the bow of a ship, you really do feel like you’re flying. It’s even better out on the bowsprit. On the bowsprit, there is no deck beneath you. You’re floating about twenty feet above the water. During the daytime, you can catch dolphins racing the ship. At night, if you don’t mind the terrifying feeling of flying through pitch black, you can sometimes see glowing green bioluminescence being churned up as the ship slices through the water.
From the bowsprit, you get another good view of the ship, and all its rigging. There are 93 pieces of running rigging (we counted once, during a slow dawn watch). Learning every single line was one of our first–and most important–tasks on the ship. It was also one of the most difficult. Take a look at all these lines coiled and hung around the foremast:
…now imagine me, never having set foot on a sailing vessel before, staring at these coils in utter confusion. Seriously? You guys think I need to know what all of those ropes do? Seriously??