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27 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 29, Last Day…

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 25- Day 29

Today is the last day at sea. All good things must come to an end and I thought it would be a good time to reflect. Everyone is working very hard to clean up lose ends, and prepare for our arrival at port tomorrow.

Part of tiding up is exploring the last minute crevices of the ship. The R/V Melville (the ship that we are on) was made with a bow dome. Back in 1969 when the Melville first set sail, scientists thought it would be great to have windows in the bottom of the front of the boat (bow dome), so that they could watch marine life such as dolphins and whales in their habitat.

Life Aquatica Bow Dome

Life Aquatica Bow Dome

To get to the dome, you get to walk down a very steep ladder, two flights until the bottom…

Carole on way down to dome....

Carole on way down to dome….

But once you get down there the view is worth it….

Bow Dome

Today, the R/V Melville is the only ship  in our fleet that still has the bow dome.

At night when you sit down there with the lights off, you can see the bioluminescence of the zooplankton as the water flushes by the windows, it looked liked we were in space with stars flying by and we sailed at “light speed” through the water. It was a great way to end a great month.


This trip has taught me a lot about how oceanographers work at sea and what science looks like in the field. Oceanography is a field thats takes a lot of subjects and combines them. I am very lucky that I was able to work with everyone on this trip. I would like to thank Scripps Institution of Oceanography for having me and all of the researchers for sharing a little of their world with me.

Science Crew on CCE 2012

Science Crew on CCE 2012

If anyone has any addition questions, the best way to reach me is dlebental@yahoo.com. Signing off from the R/V Melville from the 2012 CCE-LTER Cruise in the Pacific Ocean!

22 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 26, Copepods…

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 22- Day 26

I have been told there are many ways to tie a knot, but did you know there are just as many ways to study an animal?

Copepods are type a of zooplankton that is commonly found here in the Pacific Ocean.They are related to crabs and lobsters, and are very small. There are two researchers here, Kat and Alexis, that are looking at these animals from two completely different points.

Meet Kat: She is an oceanography student looking at copepod reproduction.

Kat Copepod


Every few days for two weeks she went “fishing” with these bongo nets for copepods.



When the nets came in, she sorted all of the animals under a microscope until she found female copepods. Each female would be placed in a little dish and monitored every hour to see if it laid eggs. If she did lay eggs, she was removed from her eggs (so she wouldn’t egg them) and then Kat would watch the eggs for two days to see how many of the eggs hatched.


Meet Alexis: we flew him out here from France, because of his expertise with the Underwater Visual Profiler (UVP) (the blue tubes sticking out at the bottom of the CTD). The UVP is a fancy camera attached to the CTD. When the CTD is lowered into the water, the UVP takes pictures every second so we can have an inventory of all of the plants and animals directly in the path.



When the CTD comes back to the surface, Alexis spends a lot of time in front of the computer sorting all of the images from marine snow to copepods. By doing this, we can calculate how many copepods are found in this area.

Here are a few of the images he found:













Although Kat and Alexis work in to different areas of oceanography, by being able to work on projects together, like this cruise, they will be able to tackle problems from different angles. The the nature of oceanography is interdisciplinary. And, it sure has been fun to watch all these great minds coming together!



22 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 24, Marine Birds

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August 20- Day 24

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

Brian has the best job on the entire boat. From sunrise to sunset he gets to sit up in the bridge (the top of the ship where the Captain is) looking for marine birds and mammals. Brian has a computer that is connected to a GPS unit, so whenever he sees an animal, he can mark the exact location. So far on this trip he has seen many types of birds including the  Black-footed albatross,  four different types of Shearwaters, storm-petrels, Cook’s petrel, Common and Arctic Terns, and the rare Xantus’ Murrelet.

Birdwatcher Bryan

Birdwatcher Brian


Black Footed Albatross

The Black-footed albatross are known to roam widely over the Pacific Ocean, and never touch land except to raise chicks. They nest on small islands like some of the remote Hawaiian Islands and Midway Island. All types of albatross are considered threatened because of  long-line fishing. The albatross will see a fish on the line, eat it, and get stuck on the bait, which results in them drowning. Seeing them here in the Pacific Ocean is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.


Leech's Storm Petrel

Leech’s Storm Petrel

Xentus Murrielet

Xentus Murrielet

Leech’s Storm Petrel and Xantus Murrelets are two birds that seem to be attracted to the lights on this boat. They land on the boat, but then have a really difficult time taking off from the hard, flat surface. Normally these two types of birds spend their entire lives on the water, only going to land to breed on cliffs, so they can fall of the cliff to get the momentum they need for take off. They just aren’t built for taking off from a boat so get stuck.  In the mornings, Brian is kind enough to go around the ship to ensure that none have landed on the ship, and help those that have fly off the side of the ship by essentially throwing them off the boat!


There have also been a many types of mammals seen on this trip including Fin whales, Common dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Northern fur seals, Sei whales, and half a dozen other whales that were too far away to identify.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Normally when one goes whale watching, one is lucky if you see a whale spout in the far distance. The spout is the moist warm air the whale breathes out when it surfaces. A couple days ago we had two Fin whales that not only came up for air, but circled the boat checking us out. We were able to identify them as Fin whales because of their unique coloration and the position of the dorsal fin in relation to the blowhole. Fin whales are very interesting because they haven’t been hunted commercially since they are found so far off-shore. They are a baleen whales, which means that they filter their food through brush-like bristles called baleen. They take a big mouthful of water and filter out all of the zooplankton to feed on. They prefer large zooplankton, such as krill.

Flying Dolphins

Flying Common Dolphins

We have been very lucky to see lots of common dolphins on this trip. They play in water and we have been seen in pods (groups of dolphins) as large as 150 dolphins with all different sizes. They were on the front (which we are studying) where we are finding the highest concentration of plankton and fish.

Part of this study is to look at where large animals, including whales, dolphins and birds are located. If there is an area with a  lot of zooplankton, there should be a lot of fish feeding on that zooplankton, and there should be a lot of larger animals such as whales and birds feeding on those fish. Brian will be able to help us make connections with the plankton data that we have collected to show how the formation of fronts affects the entire food web from something as small as a phytoplankton to something as large as a blue whale.


21 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 23, A Day at Sea…

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August 19- Day 23

Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

My days at sea are very different than my days on land. Part of this study has been looking at vertical migration, which means that some animals swim deep into the sea during the day to avoid predators and then come up or migrate to shallow waters at night to feed. In order to look at this, many of our studies have taken place in the dead of night. On land, this is when I would be asleep!

So my schedule has looked like this the past few weeks:

02:00- 04:00 Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device deployed into the water, when it returns I have had to collect the water, each bottle opens at different depths. Then I go and filter the water with Megan and Carole.


Megan and Carole collecting water to be filtered for nutrients

04:30-7:30 Drifters, fancy buoys that mark the location of water that we are studying, have water bottles attached to it at different depths. Every 24 hrs, we pull in the drifter to swap out the bottles. The bottles are then filtered for different nutrients, including chlorophyll.


Ali and John setting up the Drifters

7:30-8:15 Real Breakfast in the Galley (Dinning room on the ship)

Breakfast in the Galley

Breakfast in the Galley


Daily Fruit

Daily Fruit

10:30-12:30 Filter more water…

The times that I am not filtering water, the Trace Metal group is collecting water or the Bongo Nets, MOCNESS, or Oozeki Nets are being deployed. We all work in rotation so at every given moment some type of data is being collected. But this is normally the time that I try to get a few hours of sleep in.

17:30 -18:30 (5:30pm-6:30pm) is dinner time. I normally wake up just in time for dinner. On Sundays everyone wakes up for dinner. Every sunday the Chief Engineer BBQ’s outside on the deck.

Sunday Steak

Sunday Steak

Steak Dinner

Chef Bob prepares meals for Kings and Queens!

Chef Bob makes sure that we are all well fed. After dinner there are more rotations…



So after a wonderful meal with great company, I get to learn about what others have seen or done throughout the day. Then, if I am lucky I can squeeze in another nap before the cycle starts again at 2:00am…


17 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 21,Twinkle little Scat

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 17- Day 21


Dr. Mike Stukel is studying how carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen, flow through the food chain. By looking at the amount of carbon, which is found in the scat (poop/fecal matter) of zooplankton or other sinking material, he can determine the amount of matter flowing through the ecosystem.

To gather his samples, he lowers vials filled with salt water that is more dense (heavier) than the salt water in the ocean into the deep . These vials sit in the ocean at different depths, so anything that floats down the water column will float into the vial. It’s kind of like a floating poop scoop!

When he lifts the vials back to the surface, he then filters out any zooplankton that might have swam into the trap so he can look at all of the marine snow that was collected. Marine snow is what scientists commonly call all the scat and other materials, such as phytoplankton, that fall through the water column. It can look like snow falling through the ocean.

Talk about Dirty Jobs, Dr, Stukel is truly up to his eyes in ocean “dirt, dust and scat” everyday.

Vials for Sediment Traps

Sediment Traps

Closeup Vials

Closeup of Vials in Trap

Sediment Trap Setup

Dr. Stukel and Dr. Landry Sediment Trap Setup

Sediment Trap Lowered into Water

Sediment Trap Lowered into Water


Sprinkle, Twinkle little Scat,

zooplankton produces that.

Down below the ocean so deep,

like a spec of dirt we care to keep.

Sprinkle, Twinkle little Scat,

zooplankton produces that.


Through the ocean, down they go,

slowing sinking, marine snow.

In the Vials on our Trap,

some people might call it Scat.


Dr. Stukel studies scat, and the nutrients that flow through that,

Sprinkle, Twinkle little Scat,  zooplankton produces that.

16 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 19, Trace Metal Group

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea & Dr. Kathy Barbeau, Iron Expert at Sea & Rhyming Queen

August 15- Day 19

The amazing tale of four people, adrift in the sea, trying to study the oxygen produced for you and for me…


Team Barbeau

Team Barbeau

Dr. Kathy Barbeau

Iron Binding Expert in the Open Ocean

Dr. Barbeau was the best, and up for the task, of measuring the iron, adrift in the sea…

Not the iron your mom uses to flatten your shirts, but the element iron, that is found in the earth,

The most abundant element found on this earth (at least by mass). Iron is used in many  things, from ships, cars and boats, to airplanes that go fast.

In the ocean, iron is special, for it is indeed, an element used by phytoplankton as a nutrient they need.


Iron Team

Iron Team: has an awesome task of finding out how much dissolved iron is in the water at different depths.

This team that you see, it is a team of three.

Angel, Adam & Teresa, you see, and Jon who hangs out with them when he can’t seem to find his key.

In order to accomplish this task, the task of measuring iron adrift in the water, they must be dedicated (and fast).

Water can be contaminated by other water at sea, so this is the job of this team, since water that has been touched by the ship is no longer clean.

The ship that we sail, is made of steel, a form of iron, you see, which will contaminate our samples at sea.

Special equipment is used, and not shared, for this equipment is covered in plastic for the metallically impaired.


They obtain their water from a special “clean” Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) device, that is covered in plastic parts and special paint to prevent rust from forming on the device.

Then they go into their “clean van,”  which is a trailer strapped on the deck, their space away from the “rusty can”…(ship didn’t rhyme).

Clean Lab

Clean Lab

In the lab the bottles are strapped, on the plastic racks attached until they are tapped.


All-plastic Niskin bottles


Emptying Bottles

Emptying Bottles

Angel is pumping the bottles with gas, not the gas that you had after beans late last…

But the gas is nitrogen, which is of course clean, this gas helps push the water to the next scene.



The water passes through a tube to a filter, a filter held only through plastic gloves, I’m  telling you sister.

Teresa is certain the water is clean, since she is also standing under an air filter that hums like a hive of bees.

This filter ensures that air in the lab is as clean as can be, so that the water won’t be contaminated and look like tea.

Water Filtering

Water Filtering: Teresa holding the water under an air filter, to ensure that there are no particles in the air that is touching the water.

At the end of the day,  some of the water is stored, in these funny containers which we keep on board.

Iron in Water Incubation

Iron in on-deck Incubations: Sometimes iron is added to water (as a control) to see how much more phytoplankton might grow with added iron. This water in incubated for 72 hours at time.

The reason we are interested in iron (yes why?), is because it is the metal in short supply,

Iron is known to help phytoplankton grow, this growing is important as so many know,

Phytoplankton, feed zooplankton, who feed fish big and small, in addition phytoplankton produce oxygen for us humans, the big and the small.






13 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 14, Shrunken Cups

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 10- Day 14

Chemistry Lesson of the Day: 

Boyle’s Law states that if you increase the pressure

you will decrease the volume.


I’m a chemistry teacher, what can I say. I wanted to see Boyle’s Law in action. My idea was that if I take three different types/sizes of cup and lower them into the ocean, where the pressure is greater than on land, the the cups should shrink (less volume).

August 10, 2012, 2:00 am, I started Day 14 at sea. This was a big day, I finally received permission to attach my Styrofoam cups and heads to the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Instrument) a device that we were going to lower 2,000 meters (6,600 feet or 5 laps around the running track) below the surface of the water.


Styrofoam Cups

Preparing for Deployment

Before I left, Centennial High School students, Compton High School students and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Jr. Docents all decorated these cups for me.

Three Schools

Three Different Cups

To prepare these cups for deployment I carefully placed a piece of tape over the tops, so none of the cups would get eaten or stuck in another cup. Then I carefully placed them into mesh laundry bags to attach to the CTD.

Styrofoam Cups Being Lowered over Ship

Styrofoam Cups Being Lowered over Ship

After the CTD was in the water, I quickly ran inside to watch the monitor. I was anxious to have the CTD back on the deck of the ship. I’ve never deployed cups before, I didn’t know if this would work. And if it worked, how small would the cups be when they came back?

CTD Reader

Shows the depth and speed of the CTD

From inside we are able to monitor the speed the CTD goes down and the amount of wire out on the winch.

Senor Readings

Sensors on the CTD measure Dissolved Oxygen, Salinity, Temperature and few other things.

Once we hit 2,000 m it was time to send the CTD back to surface. The majority of the cast we went down at 60 meters per minute (MPM), which took us over 30 minutes to go down and now I had to wait another 30 minute until it reached the surface.

This is what we saw…


shrunken cups

When deploying the CTD, there was a hugh spike at around 1500 m on the fluorometer, a machine that sends out a light to see how much life (plankton or animals) are in the water, this spike could have represented a giant squid that attacked our cups due to the brightly colored designs in the bags.

8 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 12, Team Oozkeki

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 8- Day 12

Once upon a time, (okay August 7, 2012),  there was a group of volunteers hanging out on a boat, not really a boat, a ship, not just any ship, a research vessel.

Oozek iCrew

The “Crew” preparing for the Oozeki….

This group of strong, intelligent, strapping young volunteers were about to deploy the “Big O”.

Oozeki Team.1

Oozeki Team

Although they knew they were working on Team Oozeki, they had no idea what to expect. Or what they would find.

Oozeki Net

Designed to gather fish from 1500 ft below the sea…

This not so itty bitty net (30 ft, the length of a small sailboat)  is towed slowly behind the ship at a depth of 1500ft.

Dr. Tony Koslow and Dr. Pete Davison, two scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, are interested in the types of fish that live deep in the water. They refer to this zone of water as the mesopelagic zone.

Now animals that live in this zone are not the animals you see in an aquarium. Aquariums and scientists both struggle to capture these animals alive, let alone in a condition that could keep them alive in a tank.

These animals have had to adapt to their harsh environment. One that lacks light and has a minimum amount of oxygen. The animals that live in this environment are amazing!

Balloon Squid.1

Balloon Squid

No its NOT a water balloon! Its a Balloon Squid, a type of cephalopod that has 8 arms, 2 eyes  and fits in the palm of your hand.


Me holding a salp

Everyone keeps saying we are having a “salpy” month. I had no idea what they were talking about.  Now I do. This very rare Salp  (the one I am holding) feeds and moves at the same time by pumping water through its body. Salps are very common in the Pacific Ocean, but this specific species (Thetys vagina) isn’t.


Lantern Fish

5 Little Lantern Fish ready to go…

Lantern fish are known for their ability to produce light on their body, some also have two little “headlights” on top of their noses.

Vampire Squid

Vampire Squid

The Vampire Squid, like the Balloon Squid, also has 8 arms. And, like the Lantern Fish it can generate light at the end of his arms. The Vampire Squid has been known to scare off predators by lifting its arms towards the predator and lighting up only the tips of his arms while waving them. It might look like its casting a spell, when really it is trying to save his own life!

So just remember as you sail the deep ocean sea, there is plenty of life yet to be…. The ship is a mighty fine place to be, as long as you always keep one eye on the sea….

Vampire Squid Eye

You never know who or what is watching you!



7 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 10, Ahoy E- Front

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 6- Day 10

Ahoy E-Front!

After 10 days of being at sea a lot has happened. And, we found the front!!

This front is where the California Current meets the inshore currents. We have named this particular front “E front” as in eddy front, since it looks like an eddy (possibly two eddies) from the satellite pictures we are getting from NASA.

So now we verify the location by staying up ALL night collecting samples.  The sampling started at noon and did not end until noon the next day. It was a long 24 hours. And, no we didn’t do all our work in or by the hot tub!


Working Together

Scientists working together to beat the clock….

The samples had to be done at night so we could ensure that the zooplankton was present at the sampling depth (remember they migrate up and down in the water column). So almost every hour on the hour we gently lowered a Bongo Net into the water 300 ft, waited 30 seconds, then gently brought it up. All the water would flow through the net leaving the zooplankton from the light zone of the ocean, also known as the epipelagic zone , to be caught in the net.


Bongo Nets

Bongo Nets, used to collect zooplankton from 300 ft deep.

When the nets were retrieved we placed the samples in bottles.  Based on the picture below of the zooplankton retrieved from the bongo nets, can you tell where the front is?


Bongo Net

Can you see the front?


Another type of sampling we did was lowering the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth instrument, which looks like a cage with plastic bottles in the middle) into the ocean down to 900 ft. Now the CTD can open bottles at different depths to collect samples.  Last night I helped in the chlorophyll lab, so we needed to fill 4 bottles with water from each of the 8-sampling depths. Once the water was obtained, we then went inside to filter the water, which consisted of pouring each bottle of water through a different type or size of filter paper, then collecting the paper, preserving the filter paper in acetone and freezing it. This needed to be completed before the next station. So we were working feverishly.


Water Filtration

How water collected from the CTD is filtered


By the end of the night we had successful completed 13 CTD, Trace Metal CTD and Bong Net cycles. This was my one last look before going to bed 🙂



My office view 🙂

6 Aug 2012

CCE LTER Cruise: Day 9, Leadership at Sea

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Written by Dana Lebental, Teacher at Sea

August 5- Day 9

I think about Leadership as a class that I took in graduate school. It is important to be a leader, yet not everyone can be a leader. Being at sea has redefined leadership for me, it has reemphasized the importance of having priorities in life and sticking to them.

Last night we did Transect-One down through what we are calling the “E” as in Eddy Front. Which consists of very intense sampling and everyone was assigned to collect data for one of the ten labs. We alternated between CTD, trace metal CTD and Bongo nets at 13 locations across the front. It was less than an hour between CTD casts, each going down 900 ft. When the CTD would return to the surface, there were eight different lab groups surrounding the CTD to collect samples. The sampling started at noon and did not end until noon the next day, it was a long ALL nighter. The scientists were under major pressure to gather the data in a short period of time.


The CTD being lowered into the water.

The trace metal group was outside deploying the CTD when the wire snapped. The CTD was connected to the winch, it was lifted from the boat, and moving over the rail, when the wire snapped. The two safety (tag) lines were still connected and luckily it was not completely over the side yet, so we didn’t lose the instrument. When it fell, it hit the side of the boat and broke a few panels.

Broken Boat

The side of boat that saved the CTD from tumbling over

Now there were many ways to handle to this situation, however on this ship, safety and science are the two priorities. The crew went into fast action to re-secure the CTD, since it was hanging off the ship. The side of the boat was fixed to ensure the safety of everyone on board. And, afterwards the CTD was re-connected to the winch and we tried it all over again.

Bad Wire

Manufacture error, was a near miss on the R/V Melville

The snapping of the wire set the transect back almost four hours.  The Primary Investigator, Dr. Mike Landry and Chief Scientist, Dr. Mark Ohman, knew that this CTD needed to be included in the data, and so they waited to include it.  It was amazing to see how calm the leaders of the ship were. This event could have been much scarier than it was. But because the team is amazingly good at what they do, it wasn’t. In the end, everyone was kept safe and the science was able to continue, and this is due to the great leaders on board our ship.