Sunday, January 29, 2006

Greater Number of Samples?

My last entry had a huge gap before it and I would just like to give you an idea of why things have become so hectic. We started the season sampling from the zodiac to collect two bottles per depth, a 1 liter black Teflon bottle for our delicate samples and a brown plastic gallon bottle for our pigment filtrations. Pigments are a sample taken to define the types of biological matter present in the water; this is frozen and sent back to the US for HPLC analysis. These were taken in this order and each depth would take about 5 minutes to sample from. This has increased to 8 bottles and the time required to sample each depth is about 15-20 minutes. So things have changed more than slightly. I thought over the next couple days I would run through the reasons for increasing the amount of samples and explain what these samples are used for.

Back when we were experiencing early growth of a pretty large phytoplankton bloom, we realized that the DMS samples (delicate gas samples) needed to be sampled out on the boat instead of trying to re-pour the samples after getting them home. The reason for this is that the phytoplankton are more apt to create DMS while being disrupted. There is not really any good way to keep from disrupting them while transferring them from the black bottle into a sample vial. This is one of the difficult sampling situations we had decided against back in the beginning of our stay. This is unfavorable for us due to the increased amount of time out in the boat pushing our very full day back and potentially sacrificing our ability to perform well on rough sea days. We fear this from the aspect of seasickness and loss of good sampling technique.

Since we started this type of sampling we have had better reproducibility until the bloom really started to produce. A couple samplings later it became obvious that there was still some DMS production occurring in the samples. Too many of the phytoplankton were getting into the samples so we had to resort to increasing our time out on the boat again. This time the answer was to pass the water through a Nytex mesh screen to remove a large portion of the phytoplankton. Since the transportation of the samples with the phytoplankton still insolution was the cause of extra DMS, this simple screening keeps the DMS levels stable and our analysis more exact.

The next issue…

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Too long of a pause.

Wow!  It has been a very long time.  We are getting near the end of our stay here and it is really starting to become obvious how much we have to complete before we pass the whole operation over to Maria.  If I have not said it before Maria Vila is a Graduate student from Barcelona Spain who is here to take care of our project for the last month.  She has had a whirlwind training period but she will have everything under control.

So in the last seven days all of the ships have left and gone on their way, mostly everyone who stayed were holding out for our hurricane to have passed.  Yes we recorded hurricane force winds here; up to 78 knots!  Not only did this event clear up keep us inside but it completely changed the dynamics of the phytoplankton colonies that we were investigating.  This changes things for us but it is a part of the natural organization here.  Well now that all of our sailing friends are gone we are all alone.  This is good but it has been very nice having visitors.  We have built great relationships with all of the people here at the station but when people are limited to anything we crave a little variety.  Plus the people that have made it all the way down here on their own boats are a special breed and bring great stories.

Kerry and I are really starting to crave home but that should be expected from anyone that has come down here to work endless hours in the lab for almost four months.  We also have many things to catch up on like my thesis needs to be finished this semester, something I was supposed to have time to work on down here.  But all of this pull to get home will not completely outweigh the erg to stay here with our new friends.  I am already starting to realize how difficult it will be to leave.

Oh yeah… today is my sisters birthday! Happy Birthday Joy!  Another reason to get home is to see my family.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Successful sampling and Boats galore!

After yesterdays failed sampling trip we were determined to succeed in sampling today.  We were so lucky for the weather that we had today.  It was so clear and beautiful that we were able to see the Mountains in all of their glory.  Better than that our sampling went smoothly letting us soak up the sun and take in the sights.  While we were sampling at station E we saw the Clipper Adventurer entering the area from the Lemaire Channel.  The Clipper was due for tours of the station earlier today but had some better sights to see on their way.  We left E and while sampling at station B the 338 foot cruiser came by us with only three people out on deck watching their entrance to the harbor.  I don’t know, but they must have been serving drinks or lunch inside for so few to be out in the beautiful weather.  If I had paid $10,000 to get on a boat in Antarctica I would be stapled to the bow.  This makes four boats in the harbor right now, Amazing!  I had no idea that we would ever see anybody down here except for the scientists and staff.  I have to say that it is not bad to have people coming around asking questions about what we are doing and being truly interested in hearing about science that we are conducting.  It is also nice to see new faces and hear about the outside world.  The New York Times is not always the way to get information.

Our other guests are the Canadian vessel Sedna IV, the Chicago Vessel of two Onora and the Spirit of Sydney from Australia.  These boats are all sailboats.  The Onora and the Spirit of Sydney are family owned boats that are on fun trips while the Sedna’s trip may be fun their goal is to complete a documentary about climate change in Antarctica.  The crew that will be on this boat for the next year, during a winter over deployment, is the very same crew that filmed a documentary on climate change in the Arctic.  They have very kindly given the station a copy of the series; it is five DVD’s filmed in HD.  This series was on the Discovery channel.  Last night they visited us and gave us a wonderful overview of their early filming and a nice little talk from a scientist on board studying cold tolerance in Antarctic birds.  This was very nice and educational.  

The Onora crew joined us for this presentation making this gathering even more special.  Jim and Jean Foley have been circumnavigating the globe throughout their retired lives.  This is their second long trip lasting 1 year.  But 10 years ago they went on a 3 year tour of the world and traveled around the entire globe.  They are documenting their trips on a web site at .  We are all looking forward to seeing more of all of these people, we are talking about having them over for dinner tomorrow.  

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Slammin Seas

At 7 o’clock this morning I thought I had had my great experience of the day when I stepped out of the bio lab front door and almost fell over an elephant seal.  He was very playful and cute but this very cool sight was greatly lessened by the awesome seas that we experienced today.  We could see this morning that the winds were going to make going out and sampling station E very interesting but we really had no idea what was really happening out there.  Let me explain this a little better.  The southern side of Anvers Island is where we are located.  We have no protection from the raw ocean.  There are some rocks here and there that help a little, but not enough to call protection.  So when we get a northerly wind it brings us open ocean built waves, we saw what this really means today.  So after two days of a steady wind and a low pressure system quickly approaching, we should have known better.  But the wind measured at the home station was only 13knots, so we headed out for our Thursday morning samples.  Just after we had made it out of hero bay the waves picked up to 3-4 feet and they were tight spaced.  By the time we made it out to the tip of Bonaparte pt. we were pretty well shaken.  We had determined that we would make it out to station E and determine the feasibility of sampling out there.  We motored on rising up and down in the swells which had grown to 5-6 feet.  The waves would twist the boat allowing waves to plow over the side of the boat burying Maria in water.  Every time we twisted I would correct to stop the flooding, eventually we were heading the wrong direction.  I looked down to check the GPS, not 2 seconds later the boats’ nose was in the air and we were falling off the backside of a huge wave.  We landed hard and the boat momentarily bent in half.  All of our equipment made an attempt to evacuate the boat, and we almost lost Ron and Maria over the side.  This was the turning point.  We were still more than a mile away from station E and we had been motoring along for 20 minutes.  Turning around in the waves that had built to 7-8 feet was a little hairy but we made it fine and we were on our way home, with the waves.  Lots of Fun!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


So it is the running joke here that “I live in a RAD VAN down by the Ocean”.  For those who don’t know why this is funny it is from a line in Chris Farley’s sketch about the “Inspirational Speaker”.  He tells kids how it is so important to be good and finish school or “You Will Be LIVING In a Van DOWN BY THE RIVER”. This is applied to me because I am always down in my radioisotope lab that is a cargo van converted into mobile lab space usually found on a Research Vessel but used here due to the lack of space available in the lab.  My Van is located at the end of the pier away from all personal interaction, and a place that is viewed as the place no one wants to be.  I have to tell you that I am so happy to finally have the chance to run some real experiments here, but I will be totally burned out soon.  

Today was extra boring, no sampling and no boating due to strong winds.  Boating is prohibited when winds reach above 25 knots and a good portion of today we had a steady 30 knots with gusts into the 40’s.  That is ok I had plenty of other tasks to tend to.  We are investigating a possible contaminant in our samples here.  In analyzing samples for DMS we are seeing production in the vials while they wait to be analyzed.  We still have yet to discover what is going on in these waters, and this is much more complicated now that we are having a heavy bloom period of phytoplankton.  

We have visitors staying here in Arthur Harbor for the next week or so.  They are a Canadian film crew here to film the daily happenings around the station and they will be trailing some of the science crews around here that are involved in animals and plant research.  No love for the chemists.  I can understand that it can be difficult but chemistry has the ability to define many things in great detail.  I will write more about this later.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Photolysis Experiment

The photolysis experiment that I talked about the other day is used to measure photolysis of DMS while determining what bandwidth of solar radiation is causing the breakdown of DMS. What I mean by bandwidth is what range of sunlight is responsible for this. I built a black PVC box with separate cells within it that hold samples in continuously flowing fresh seawater under a cutoff filter. The cutoff filter only allows wavelengths of light above its cutoff through. We have cutoff filters at 290, 300, 320, 340, 360, 380, 400nm. From this array of filters we can determine which portion of the solar spectrum is causing photolysis. We are able to determine the strongest degradation by reaction tracing with 35S isotope. DMS labeled with a 35S isotope is added to the samples to determine what percentage of the sample is photolyzed.

I have not finished the analysis but when I am done I will give an idea on what we are observing here.

Guidance from my home Lab.

I have had the chance to chat with some of my friends back home, they are also my lab mates, to get some information on some analysis techniques down here. They answered my questions swiftly and correctly, thank you Jordan and Emily. In the process of gaining this much needed info I ask Emily what she thinks I could do to try and interest some people to continue reading my fading blog. She told me that it would be a good idea to just tell what I am doing on a daily basis and to get some background on the other projects that are being conducted here. So I am going to do just that. I need a little time to get a better idea on what the BIRDERS, BUGGERS, PHYTOS, and the KRILLERS are actually doing out there, but I will try and fill these pages with some cool stuff about what is being done here. Maybe there is something down here that you might want to do.

I have finally had the chance to run a Photolysis experiment. My personal focus on being down here in the Antarctic Peninsula was to study the effects of solar radiation on DMS. Although I am here to run analysis on many other aspects of the organic sulfur cycle a major portion of this cycle has been found to rely on my area of focus. What is photolysis you ask? This is a molecular breakdown of a substance that occurs when a photon bombards it. Photolysis is observed in daily life through the lose of color in carpet in front of the sunny window or fading of the upholstery in the car. The sun can also cause the holes that seem to just appear in the deck umbrella and can cause a plastic chair to collapse under you. The sun has the power to break down color and the actual structure of cloth fibers; it will weaken plastic and break down the integrity of many materials. The sun plays a very large role in chemistry, not to mention the huge role it plays in the breakdown of simple molecules found in the surface waters of the ocean.

The sun plays such and important role in the cycling of chemicals from the oceans due to the huge area that they cover, totaling somewhere around 75% of the surface of the Earth. This gigantic area is continuously bombarded by solar radiation and many organic compounds are being broken down and recycled to be used for another purpose. In the case of the Sulfur that we are interested in, DMS (dimethylsulfide), it is broken down into Sulfate molecules and is returned to the atmosphere. Sulfate in the atmosphere will help form water droplets and then form clouds and eventually the sulfur will be returned to the Earth. Turning into sulfate aerosols is not the only pathway that a photolized DMS molecule will take; this is a large part of my studies.

I will tell more about how the experiment was run and what it shows us tomorrow, right now it is time for bed.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sampling introduction!

Our new comers made it out in the boats today for a deep sampling out at Station E. The purpose of this event was to try and determine where the DMS concentration in the water column drops to 0. Other side points to going out were to give everyone a good idea on how things work out on the boat and why it can take so long to complete sampling. Unfortunately this was not one of the best days we have had out at Station E, but it also gave a good perspective to what types of things can go wrong while out sampling.

A couple of the problems that occurred out here started with a malfunctioning depth sounder. The wind combined with the current was moving us off station; therefore we did not know what depth we could lower our bottles to safely. Plus we were given a new measuring pulley, called a block, for sending the bottles down to the specific depth and this block measured in feet. We have been operating with a metering block since the beginning; it gives us time to stop the winch in the correct place, it was more exact and meters are the unit of measure that all of the teams use out here. This just tested out math and ability to remember conversions. We also found out mid drop that the block was slipping and not measuring, leaving us with incorrect depths. Wait there is more… We decided that since all were feeling a little green, some more green than others, that we would head back with just a 10 meter and surface sample. In bringing up the bottles to the 10 meter point the waves picked up and the first bottle hit the side of the boat, breaking off the sampling valve and spilling the sample. We needed to come back with something so a new bottle was recocked and sent back down, even though none of us really felt like doing anything else. After much time being invested this sampling was successful. Ron performed DMSPd filtrations right on the boat to determine what type of effects can occur to the samples while they are in transit back to the lab and waiting for us to filter and prepare. On Research Vessels, where we are used to performing this analysis, we have the ability to process samples instantly, we feel this gives a much more precise measurement.

Our new members now have a great appreciation for the difficulty involved in the sampling process.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Arrival of the January Crew

Our team has arrived! The Biocomplexity group is finally together again. Ron Ray and Maria were on another trip that I took last summer to the Sargasso Sea, right in the vicinity of Bermuda. Yes we were in the Bermuda Triangle and nothing happened out of the ordinary. Back to Palmer… Everyone had a great crossing but they were all very happy to have arrived. Now it is time to try and get resituated around here. Lab space will need to be reallocated and the stations residents are in store for a lot of shuffling in their cabins. We are going to be fully loaded with 45 residents after we have moved everyone off the ship and everyone else on who is going to participate in the LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) cruise. There are some people losing a person out of their bunkroom and some will need to move to accommodate rooming situations. The most invasive switch here is a lab swap for the phytoplankton group; they have many people leaving on the cruise leaving only one behind. The Phyto group is set up in the largest lab on station to supply enough room for their people and equipment. Some equipment is leaving on the cruise but much will stay behind and will be moved to a smaller lab to open lab space for another large group. They have been working on this transition for weeks. We all have a lot of training to complete, for ourselves and for the newer people. We need to learn processes so that we can take some vacant places in the Phyto group, help our new people to understand our analysis and prep, and to start up all of our experiments that have been on the back burner while there was only two of us here. This is all going to lead to a very busy first week and a half.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Team

The Gould is on its way to Palmer as we speak. They are bringing us freshies and much awaited people who will help make our lives easier and more interesting. Ron Kiene, Ray Najjar and Maria Vila are the support staff on route to our humble abode. Ron is one of the first people to get real in-depth with DMSP and phytoplankton. He is bringing us copious amounts of knowledge that we need of the ecology and behavior of phytoplankton, allowing us to perform better collection and analysis of our sulfur compounds. Ray is our meteorological modeler who is here to help guide us in supplying good aspects of data that will help him turn around a more representative model of this portion of the organic sulfur cycle. Maria has been working on her PhD mostly with DMSO from phytoplankton and has much experience with isotope methods to determine chemical pathways. This dynamic team is going to liven up this event tremendously. We are anxiously looking forward to their arrival.