Blog 11 – Incredible Memories

As this adventure ends I wonder if I will be the same person when I return to land. Will I miss the soothing rocking of the waves when I go to sleep? Or the deep blue color of the ocean where I find peacefulness when I stand on deck looking for whales? Will I miss the sense of belonging to the best group of scientists and crew that never cease to amaze me and teach me something new every day?

Will I leave a part of me in the Pacific Ocean and take a new me to the desert? Will I long to return or just hold on to my memories that I have made out here in the ocean?

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The Pacific Ocean and me.

Those unforgettable memories include the day of my 38th birthday, when our net was covered in pyrosomes as it was coming out of the water. As a birthday present, a jar full of pyrosomes was set aside for my students. Or, on that same day, walking into the galley to find a huge cake baked by Mark, our head chef, with everyone singing happy birthday.

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On my birthday holding a jar of zooplankton containing pyrosomes and salps. This jar was set aside for my students that I will take to my classroom.

Or the time Dr. Mark Ohman and I filmed the propellers of the ship underwater with a GoPro camera attached to a pole. Or the day he was pointing out and yelling with enthusiasm, identifying by name the organisms that would drift by in the water. Or the night I observed the recovery of the drifter with its attached experiments. It was one of the most beautiful nights, with an amazing group of scientists working in unison.

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Holding the biggest pyrosome we came across during an Oozeki net tow.

I take these memories with me and so much more. I am grateful for the personal and professional experience. The knowledge that I have gained will be poured right to my students and shared with as many people as possible.

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Our group photo the last day of the cruise.

Thank you to all the oceanographers on this CCE-LTER cruise, thank you to all the crew, and thank you to Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Science Foundation for this incredible opportunity.

Blog 10 – Copepods

I never imagined that I could find so many similarities between the ocean and the desert. They both bring me a great amount of happiness and serenity. They are open and seem so endless. They are both immensely beautiful. And… they have copepods!

Copepods are incredible crustaceans adaptable to many living conditions. They are small, yet visible with the naked eye. They move fast and most are transparent. Their first pair of antennae are long and curved like a smooth elongated “S.” Sensitive receptors are at the end of these antennae which enable the copepods to detect changes in flow and in chemical changes. Their bodies have a cylindrical shape and most have a rapidly beating heart!

Copepods are found all around the world wherever water is present. There are copepods living in the Salton Sea near the Imperial Valley desert. Just recently, a new species was discovered living in a single pond in the Chihuahuan Desert in Northern Mexico!

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Copepod found in one of our net tows.

With more than 13,000 species, mostly living in marine waters, copepods are the most abundant animals living in the ocean away from the seafloor.

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Maxillipeds help copepods in feedings. These look like beautiful feathers. Photographed by Dr. Rasmus Swalethorp.

In our cruise we have experts studying copepod population growth of three species found in the California Current. These species are collected by Cat Nickels, a Ph.D. student working in Dr. Mark Ohman’s laboratory.

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From left to right, the three species collected by Cat Nickels: Calanus pacificus herbivore, Eucalanus californicus ambush predator, and Metridia pacifica omnivore.

Every morning during our cycles of research while we follow a patch of ocean water, Cat collected 30 females from each of the three species. Next, she would incubate them at the right temperature, fed them freshly collected ocean water containing tiny phytoplankton food, and checked for egg production every 12 hours. If she found eggs, she would separate the female from her eggs to prevent her from eating them. Then Cat would continue making observations and count the number of eggs that hatched.

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Cat Nickels, Ph.D. student counting hatched copepod eggs.

Her experiments compare how reproduction varies with phytoplankton intake for the three copepod species. Studying copepod reproduction is important because it can provide clues to the success of different species as conditions change in the future ocean.

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Dr. Mark Ohman, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is also the Director of California Current Ecosystem LTER site

Blog 9 – Biogeochemical Cycles

How fast is the ocean changing? Animals and plants in the ocean hold the key to this broad question. What do animals in the ocean eat? How much and at what time? Can they adapt to climatic changes? If so, how?

These are some of the questions that drive the research conducted on this vessel. In order to get a better understanding of the interactions between living organisms and their environments scientists look for clues in the biogeochemical cycles.

You have probably heard of the water cycle or hydrologic cycle. It is a never-ending process that takes water through many phases throughout the Earth’s spheres. These include the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. For example, surface water in a lake evaporates into the atmosphere. As water condenses, it forms clouds and then returns to land as precipitation (rain or snow).

Other very important cycles are called biogeochemical cycles, which include the carbon, nitrogen, and iron cycles. By studying how these elements move through Earth’s spheres through an oceanographer’s eye, we obtain clues about the changes that take place in the ocean over time.

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Dr. Mike Stukel from Florida State University uses various methods to study the cycling of carbon in the ocean.

Dr. Mike Stukel, a Scripps graduate now based at Florida State University, seeks to better understand how plankton process carbon from the atmosphere into the ocean and the processes that also pump carbon from ocean surface waters into the deep ocean.

At the surface level of the ocean, phytoplankton use the carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Then zooplankton consume the phytoplankton. Some of the carbon is used to make their bodies and some is released as waste. This waste can sink to the bottom of the ocean in the form of marine snow, so-called for its white snow-like characteristics. The carbon within the waste can be broken down by bacteria, remain at the bottom of the ocean for thousands of years, or it can be upwelled and used again.

One way to determine this rate of particle sinking is by studying the decay of elements such as Uranium- 238 and Thorium- 234. Thorium- 234 sticks to particles that sink to the bottom of the ocean. Through his experiments, Dr. Stukel can determine the rate that carbon is being taken out of the ocean.

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Brandon Stephens, Ph.D. student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography filters sea water to collect organic material for later analysis.

Brandon Stephens, Ph.D. student at Scripps, is also interested in the carbon cycle. He focuses his research on dissolved organic matter. This matter that comes from all living things is made up of carbohydrates, amino acids, and lipids. His first step is to filter many gallons of sea water to collect enough organic material. The filter is removed and frozen. When Brandon returns to land he will analyze the filters by combustion. In other words he will burn each of the filters. By doing this, he will be able to trap the gas released as carbon dioxide and calculate the amount of carbon per liter of sea water.

Nitrogen is another key element studied here. Nitrogen is very important because it is used by every living organism and forms part of every cell in the human body. Almost 80 percent of the atmosphere is made up of nitrogen gas but we cannot use it. It has to be “fixed” into a suitable form by special types of plants or algae. Or the nitrogen in once-living organisms can be broken down into the correct form by even smaller organisms such as bacteria.

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Alain de Verneil, a Scripps Ph.D. candidate, measures the amount of dissolved nitrogen in the ocean.

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The deep pink colors show the higher concentrations of nitrogen at increasing depths.

Finally, the iron cycle is researched by Dr. Kathy Barbeau from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This important element is required by almost all organisms in the ocean during respiration. It is an element necessary for all living things, including humans. On the earth’s crust iron is an abundant metal but in the ocean it is present only in very low concentrations.

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Dr. Kathy Barbeau from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, studies the cycling of iron.

Collecting sea water samples and processing them in Kathy’s laboratory at sea is no easy task. One big concern for contamination of her samples is our ship! It is made completely out of steel, including the ship’s hull and structures on deck, as well as cables that may have rusted. This rust is a form of iron that could easily contaminate samples.

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Trace metal rosette mostly made out of plastic. Its bottles, screws, and cables have a coating that lowers the risk of iron contamination.