Back to Land Life

by Laura Lilly

Sailing home past the Channel Islands.

We have safely and successfully returned to land after the end of our 2019 CCE-LTER Process Cruise! On Friday, we sailed back past Point Loma into San Diego Harbor and offloaded our month’s worth of scientific gear and samples. Only time and sample analysis will tell us what we found, but we know we conducted plenty of science! Over the course of 32 days, we did 93 CTD casts (ran out of time for the final 7), 26 MOCNESS tows, 3 SeaSoar deployments, and innumerable Bongo tows and trace metal CTD casts – not to mention Zippy’s solo excursion!

The numbers only capture half the story, though. Going to sea with 57 people on a 280-foot ship inspires you to get to know those around you, and our party bonded across scientific and geographic lines. We look forward to future collaborations around the world! We’ll miss the daily sightings of whales and dolphins, though.

You never forget sunsets (and moonsets) at sea.

Out of the fog and into the blue

by Laura Lilly

The Moving Vessel Profiler towing cable fades into the fog behind the stern of the ship

You know you’re off Central California in the summer when you wake up to the ship’s fog horn going off! Overnight, we sailed into thick fog off Monterey, and this morning we could barely see 20 feet away. Amazingly, as we sailed toward land, the fog lifted and we were greeted with stunning views of the mountainous Big Sur coastline gleaming in the morning sun. We even saw a pod of whales feeding several hundred feet off the ship’s bow.

As we neared Big Sur, the fog began to lift from the ocean, giving us a first glimpse of blue water and land

Yesterday we ended our 72-hour SeaSoar transect and recovered the SeaSoar. This morning, we launched the Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) for another all-day transect. Similar to the SeaSoar, the MVP gets towed behind the ship and completes diving profiles up and down of the upper 200 meters of the ocean. The MVP can go closer to shore, which is advantageous because we want to sample the waters right off the coast – sometimes with the bottom only 50 m deep! We are surveying this area off Big Sur in preparation for two sampling transects tonight and tomorrow night. Transects are where the ship sails in a straight line bisecting an oceanographic feature – in this case, various arms of the upwelled filament that we are tracking – and the science team conducts a series of CTD casts and zooplankton tows (to be explained more in-depth later).

We will be transiting in and out of the fog this afternoon as we zig zag inshore and offshore on our MVP transect. We are hoping for clear skies tonight as we start our first transect! In the words of Neil Young, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”.

Shortly thereafter, we sailed into clear blue skies, giving us dramatic views of the coastline. Here, Tristan and Stephanie search for sea otters in the water.

We are off to sea!

by Laura Lilly

The R/V Atlantis docked in San Diego Harbor

We are officially underway on our 2019 CCE-LTER Process Cruise! We left San Diego Harbor yesterday afternoon under sunny skies and smooth sailing conditions, and we are now heading north toward Monterey, California. We won’t see Point Loma again until September!

The goal of our monthlong cruise is to track water filaments that are upwelled in near-coastal waters off central California and flow out to the open ocean several hundred miles offshore. We are measuring various aspects of the biological production associated with filaments: viruses and bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton, along with the nutrients that fuel their growth. Our cruise the latest installment in the California Current Ecosystem Long-Term Ecological Research (CCE-LTER) Program, which was started in 2004. The program consists of a core body of scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and collaborators from numerous other institutions, as well as visiting scientists and volunteers from around the world. Our current cruise includes participants from as far away as Canada, France, Luxembourg, and Ghana! Yesterday evening, we stopped 20 miles offshore to test our scientific sampling equipment. Some of our graduate students and volunteers are out on their first sea trip ever, so they got a glimpse of the deployments we will be doing during the cruise. Stay tuned for future features on our various types of sampling equipment and the scientists who use them.

Gear stowage in the ship’s wet lab. We will be filtering plankton samples and sediment traps in this area.

We are sailing on the Research Vessel (R/V) Atlantis, which is operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) out of Massachusetts. Scripps and WHOI are both members of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), under which ships are built for certain institutions but are shared with other institutions based on where in the ocean the ship is and where a given cruise is going. The Atlantis has a unique claim to fame: it is the mother ship of Alvin, a submersible vehicle that can carry scientists to the seafloor to explore deep-sea communities. The Atlantis and Alvin have been sampling hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean for the past year, so the ship was in the right spot for our cruise. We don’t have plans for Alvin dives on our cruise, but you never know what could come up at sea!

The Atlantis sailing out of San Diego Harbor. Photo. courtesy of Jeff Ellen