PLANKTON ECOLOGY LABORATORY

 

 

Ben McGlaughon's Blog

 

10 September 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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We’re down to 6 days left on the water! The last couple days have been pretty uneventful for me, but there has been a lot going on around the ship. We’ve done a ton of CTD casts and multicores, and from what I can tell there have been some interesting findings. There was a film crew from Dan Rather’s news program on the ship yesterday, so it was even more crowded around here than usual. I think we’re finally about to get back to doing MOCNESS tows and LOPC casts, so I should have some work to do today. There’s only so much a person can do on a ship to keep from going completely insane! There was a nice sunset off the bow last night, so I’ll attach a picture of that. That’s about it for now, maybe I’ll have something interesting to say before the end of this trip…

 

7 September 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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It has been a fairly routine couple of days. Yesterday we spent a lot of the day trying to get water from a water tanker. We finally got that situation figured out and made it to our new station. We passed by the Deepwater Horizon site once again, coming closer than we had before. I’ll attach another picture of all the action at the site. You can see the two platforms that are drilling the relief wells. Last night and today we’ve been going through the usual motions, two MOCNESS tows and an LOPC. I think we’ve been finding a few traces of oil in some of our bottom cores, so hopefully we’ll be seeing some interesting results soon. I’m gonna get some rest before an early CTD cast around 5:00 tomorrow morning. Adios!

 

5 September 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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And we’re back! We had a port call in the thriving metropolis of Gulfport, MS, from the 2nd until the 4th. It was definitely good to be back on solid ground! Trips to Wal-Mart for essential supplies (lots of zipties) were made, and we even found ourselves at an outlet mall. We found a great oyster bar called The Half Shell where we ate dinner on the first night and lunch the next day. They had amazing charbroiled oysters and happy hour starting at 3. Nothing wrong with that. We also found a bar called The Quarter with good beer on tap and an awesome local live band. All in all, it was a good couple days off the boat.


We spent the first leg of the cruise at stations to the south and southwest of the Deep Horizon well head. Now we’ll be spending some time at stations to the north and northeast of the well head. Should be interesting to compare what we’re seeing, since from what I can tell this is the direction most of the oil was moving after the spill. We’ve done two MOCNESS tows already today, and one LOPC cast with another scheduled this evening. Hopefully we’ll stay busy, and I’m sure the next two weeks will go by in a flash!

 

1 September 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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We have finished the first leg of our cruise! We’re currently steaming back to Gulfport, Mississippi. I think we’re actually a day ahead of schedule. It will be good to spend some time on dry land, make some phone calls, and perhaps drink an adult beverage or two. The past couple days have been busy with the usual activities. We got in a couple more good LOPC casts and several MOCNESS tows.


We were also within view of several oil rigs at our last station, it’s amazing just how big they are. They look like floating cities off in the distance. You could also smell the oil from them from as far as way as we were. I can’t imagine what it must be like if you’re actually on one of them! We were operating near the R/V Cape Hatteras, and there were some good pictures to be taken while the sun was setting behind her. I’ll check back in after the port call, cheers!

 

30 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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We’ve been on a wild goose chase for the last few days, hunting for oil! There’s another research vessel, the R/V Cape Hatteras, which left Gulfport at the same time as us and is doing similar research to ours. They gave us a heads up that there were some deep oil plumes they had discovered and would be good to survey. So we’ve essentially been searching the Gulf of Mexico for deep water oil plumes. With limited success. At each potential station we send down a deep CTD. The CTD rosette is equipped with Niskin bottles which can actually take water samples at predetermined depths. They are controlled by a computer which can “fire” them at a specific time during the cast. When the CTD gets back onto the ship, the water samples can be analyzed for just about anything. In our case we’ve been looking for gases in the water, such as methane, which would indicate a deep plume of oil. So far we haven’t been finding methane. So the search continues!


I believe we’re going to temporarily give up our search for oil plumes to move on to a station that sits above a mud volcano. I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I would assume it’s an underwater volcano that expels mud. Just a shot in the dark.
I’ll attach a picture of the ship’s deck where we do most of our work. In the foreground you can see the MOCNESS setup, and in the background people are collecting water from the CTD rosette.

 

28 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

 

The weather has been less than stellar for the last couple days, so things have been a little off-schedule. We’ve gotten into somewhat of a routine, with a fairly similar game plan at each station. My role is to assist with the shallow and deep CTD casts, the MOCNESS tows, and the deployment of the LOPC whenever possible. These all happen at least twice a day and take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours to complete. So I get a couple 1 or 2 hour naps each day, and that’s pretty much it!


A couple nights ago we watched dolphins jumping and swimming alongside the ship while we were on the move, which was a pretty cool sight. Also, one of the crewmembers caught three Mahi Mahi off the side of the boat, which the ship’s cook then prepared for dinner. Being a native eastern North Carolinian, to me nothing beats good, fresh seafood! Because of the weather there haven’t been too many chances to take pictures, so I’ll include a picture of the R/V Oceanus from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute website…

 

25 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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We finally deployed the LOPC today! It was our first time doing it, so we expected there to be some complications. And there certainly were. We want to sample as much of the water column as possible, so we want to send the unit down as deep as we can. It’s rated to go down to 660 meters, and we sent it down 600 meters today. 600 meters is over one-third of a mile, for those of you counting at home. That means we had to send 600 meters of cable down over the side of the boat. By hand. And bring all 600 meters back onto the boat. By hand. In the rain. Seriously, it rained the whole time. It took us from about 9:00 this morning until about 1:00 this afternoon. But, we got some data which is always good. Hopefully we’ll figure out a better system to make things a little easier and less time consuming. In the meantime, enjoy a picture of me with the LOPC in my awesome hard hat and life jacket…

 

24 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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We’ve begun doing our MOCNESS tows, which I believe stands for Multiple Open-Close Net System, or something like that. It’s basically a big contraption that allows you to do multiple plankton tows at predetermined depths. Essentially there are 10 nets attached to a motor; when you’ve towed the open net at the depth you want for however long you want, you push a button and that net closes and the next one opens. Hard to explain on paper but it’s a pretty ingenious concept.


It’s a fairly laborious process, and takes close to 4 hours from beginning to end. It’s also good to do a daytime tow and a nighttime tow to get a good feel for any migration patterns the zooplankton might be exhibiting. So, it involves waking up in the middle of the night to do work, which everybody loves! I’ll attach a picture of me spraying down the nets after a tow, to prove that I’m actually doing some work on this trip. There’s a reason they call it the MOCNESS monster…

 

23 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico

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My job on this cruise is mainly going to be deployment of a Laser Optical Plankton Counter (LOPC). This is essentially a tube that gets lowered through the water, counting any particles that pass through the tube and break the beam of the laser. It sounds pretty simple, but is actually pretty impressive, expensive technology. So here’s hoping I don’t break it. So far we haven’t been able to deploy the LOPC because we’re still trying to figure out the safest way to go about it. I’ll be sure to post an update as soon as we get things figured out.

Usually on cruises like this, the ship can produce fresh drinking water. However, since we’re in a body of water that is full of oil, we won’t be filtering our own water to avoid potentially fouling the filtration system. The most action we’ve seen so far occurred yesterday afternoon, when we linked up with a water ship. The idea was to pass a hose from the water ship onto our ship and refill our fresh water tank. These are two boats exceeding 150 feet in length, so it’s not as simple a process as it sounds. I’ll attach a picture, but at one point the boats were drifting within about 20 feet of each other. Pretty impressive stuff.
That’s about it for now; hopefully we’ll be deploying the LOPC sometime today. I’ll also be helping with the MOCNESS tows which I’ll explain later.

 

22 August 2010

R/V Oceanus, Gulf of Mexico, 28 42.372 N; 088 24.989 W

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Today is our first full day out at sea on the R/V Oceanus, and we’re currently drifting within eyesight of the Horizon Deepwater oil well site. I’ve attached a picture of all the ship traffic in the area. We got underway from Gulfport, MS yesterday (Aug 21) at about 0130. So far things have been fairly uneventful; we attempted the first cast of the CTD but realized we’d need to add a lot of weight to it in order to keep it from bobbing in the waves.

The two days we spent in Gulfport preparing the ship also went off without too much of a hitch. There were lots of people running around looking extremely busy. I finished getting my gear set up pretty early, so I had a lot of time to kill. I helped out wherever I could, but for the most part people wanted to set all their gear up themselves. That’s about it for now, I suppose I should go try and look busy…