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6 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 7, Life on a Research Vessel….

Posted by dlebental. 3 Comments

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 3- Day 7

I have now been asked a few times, what is life like at sea? So I asked my colleagues on board, and the answers were very broad….

When it is not science it is Food, Books and Movies …. Dr. Kathy Barbeau

A lot of tired eyes –John W

Unlimited Diet Coke and Science– Jesse

A Dream Come True.. — Dr. Mark Ohman

Plenty O Fish– Pete

Better than a roller coaster– Dave

Doing research while living on a vessel is very different than being on the mainland. Normal, every day activities get shifted,  and there is a lot of hurry up and wait for the science to be done.

When we are not pulling up lines, filtering water, or preparing for the next leg of research to be conducted, we are limited in options.

Sleep…? (Seems to be the number 1 option for most!)

Bunk Beds

The army crawl to get to the top….
Picture taken by Erica Kelly

The first day of the cruise, two of my colleagues/friends came to help me onboard, and took this picture of me in my new quarters. As you can see, the space on top is nice and tight, if not for the army crawl, I would have never made it up! Now I get rocked to sleep every night, hoping the swells are not strong enough to knock me off my bed 🙂 I have spent 7 nights on this vessel in that bed, and if I haven’t fallen yet, I probably won’t. Right?

Now the SeaSoar has been out the past few days, so we have had time to sleep, since only one instrument is in the water at a time. Tomorrow we are anticipating doing a transect line, which means the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts will be done every hour from sunset to sunrise.


The CTD being deployed to gather data and collect water samples.


The CTD contains bottles that collect water at different depths.  One major part of this cruise is looking at plankton, and some plankton go through a vertical migration which means they move up the water column towards the surface of the water at night to feed and avoid predators. So by conducting the casts at night, this will allow us to have a better understanding of the water column, it will also mean, no sleep for a while, or you can do what Mike does….



Night Shift

Some people choose beds… others choose bean bags.


2 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 6, SeaSoaring Away….

Posted by dlebental. 5 Comments

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 2- Day 6

July 31, 2012 was a rough, dark and stormy night….we hit swells of 2.4 m (8 feet), the boat was swinging, our stomachs were turning and it was time to deploy the SeaSoar. Finally at  2100 (9:00 pm PST) the Captain of the Melville announced that we were “all-clear”. We could start lowering the SeaSoar  into the water.

The SeaSoar is this airplane-looking-like  instrument that is lowered behind the ship and towed through the water. Some might say it soars through the water!

The SeaSoar

Crew standing next to the SeaSoar before deployment.

The SeaSoar is vital to the success of our mission to identify the exact location of where the California Current meets more denser coastal water. This instrument is connected to a computer in the lab on the Melville which tells the SeaSoar when to go down 900 ft ( that is equal to 3,600 laps around the track) in the water column to collect data, when to come back to surface and then yo-yo back down.


Waiting to help Deploy
Everyone gathers to see where we are needed. The delicate SeaSoar must deploy regardless of weather and swells.

It is very delicate and requires many people to lower it into the water.  The SeaSoar is hand carried to the A-Frame and connected to a special winch to be lowered down into the Pacific Ocean. The wire that connects the SeaSoar to the ship  has a special cover over it that makes it more hydrodynamic and streamlined in the water to reduce the shaking of line when it maneuvers through the water.


SeaSoar being lifted for deployment

SeaSoar being lifted by A-Frame for deployment into the Pacific Ocean.

The SeaSoar is dragged along ten-60 mile transect lines (each line is equal to 20 runways at LAX). Each line takes 8 hours since we are going 8 knots (or 1 mile per hour). The data that is sent to the ship includes water temperature, water salinity (the amount of salt in the water), density, dissolved oxygen and other things involved to determine the quantity of zooplankton in the water. This is the picture of the salinity data after 4 lines, and three days of towing the SeaSoar. Can you see the front? (front= the line that separates the CA coastal current from denser water)  Hint: Look for a difference in colors below.


Salinity Front

The SeaSoar is tugged through the water collecting salinity data. This graph shows the change in salinity from our transects.




1 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 3, Releasing the MOCNESS

Posted by dlebental. 2 Comments

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

July 30- Day 3

Late last night we attempted to release the MOCNESS. No, this isn’t a long-necked sea monster but rather a piece of equipment used to capture zooplankton, some of the tiniest animals in the ocean. MOCNESS stands for Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System. It consists of 10 separate nets that go out simultaneously. Each net opens and closes at a different depth with only one net being open at a time. The CCE researchers will look at how many, what types and what kinds of zooplankton species are at the different depths ranging from 0 ft to 1500 ft. At its deepest, the MOCNESS will be lowered about a quarter mile deep (~1500 ft) into the Pacific Ocean.

The Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing Systems

The Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sensing Systems

We drag the net next to the boat, and the plankton get funneled down the “tentacles” to the cod-end. This consists of ten nets that are computer operated to open and close at different depths. The trick is to straighten the nets out so everything works correctly. Sometimes its easier said then done.

The zooplankton that is caught in the net is counted and classified so they can study what types of zooplanton are found at different depths. Different types of zooplankton include krill (euthausiids), copepods (look like Plankton, from Spongebob) and jellyfish.



Zooplankton caught in the first tow of the MOCNESS


Many animals participate in a vertical migration. What that means is during the day, many animals such as krill will try to go deeper in the water to avoid predators such as blue whales, sardines and other animals that find food with their eyes. By going deeper in the water, there is less light, so they can hopefully avoid being eaten. At night they go back to the surface of the water, where there is smaller zooplankton or phytoplankton (tiny plants in the water) that they can eat for food.

Cat and Jenni are experts at deploying and retrieving the MOCNESS. Jenni is a year one PhD student and Cat is a year two PhD student both at Scripps Institution of Oceanography working with Dr. Mark Ohman. Together they work to help gather information on the types of zooplankton living at different depths of the ocean.

Jenni and Cat

Setting up the MOCNESS to collect zooplankton in the Pacific Ocean.





1 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 1, I’m on a boat!

Posted by dlebental. 4 Comments

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

July 28- Day 1

I am so excited that today is my first day as the Teacher at Sea! I am a high school chemistry teacher in Los Angeles County. I was chosen to go to sea with a group of oceanographers, marine biologists, chemists and other scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. We will be studying everything from dissolved metals in the ocean to deep-sea fish.

This particular trip is going to explore the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. The scientists will all be working together at the same site looking at how climate change has affected the ocean. My job is to share this research with my students, fellow teachers and the public. Of course, I also help out with the science!

We are on the Research Vessel (R/V) Melville, which is the longest ship in the Scripps Oceanographic fleet.


R/V Melville

The longest ship in the Scripps Fleet: R/V Melville, my home for the next 30 days!

This ship, fully loaded, weighs 3,026,000 lbs or 2,516 tons.  A male African elephant can weigh up to 4.5 tons and blue whale weighs 200 tons. Therefore it could take almost 560 elephants  or 12 blue whales to weigh as much as this ship .

As we were steaming out we came across these cuties….common dolphins!

 CA common dolphins

Our escorts out to the deep blue….