AGH! There’s ocean all around me and I don’t know where I am!! Well, sort of. I know I’m on the Pacific Ocean and that we’re heading south right now. Last night we spent the night around Heceta Bank, where we’d seen the humpback whales, so I believe by now we are probably south of Florence.
I want to introduce you to the projects on board, as well as a few of the scientists and ship’s crew. There are two types of projects on this trip: scientific and educational. Dr. Leigh Torres is the Principal Investigator (“The Boss”) for the science projects and Tracy Crews is the Principal Investigator for the educational research project.
Let’s start with the education research project, since that is why I’m here. Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon Coast STEM Hub secured funding to test the question of whether a unique, hands-on experience with “near peer mentors” stimulates enough interest for students to prevent them from dropping out of science in college. The teachers were invited to see if this kind of experience will help increase interest in STEM fields for both teachers and their students back at home. The “near peer mentors” term refers to the fact that we have several levels of academic students: high school students à undergraduate college studentsà graduate students à professor & high school teachers. This is also an opportunity to help grad students learn to communicate and teach others about their research.
OK, now for the Science research. We are out here primarily to collect data on the population abundance and behavior of marine mammals and pelagic birds. Pelagic means open ocean, so these are the birds that spend most of their lives on or above the ocean. Most of them raise their chicks on land, but that’s the only time we’ll see them on land. Except for those pesky and abundant gull species.
Ms. Almasi and Etasha work on the CTD
There are four scientists on board, if you don’t count Tracy, the high school teachers, or the high school students. As I mentioned before, the Principal Investigator is Dr. Leigh Torres, whose expertise and research area is marine mammal ecology (especially the distribution, abundance, and behavior). She has two graduate students on this cruise who are working on their Master of Science degrees: Amanda and Florence. Jane is another grad student who works with Dr. Rob Suryan on the ecology of pelagic birds, such as albatross, shearwaters, storm petrels, and fulmars. Amanda studies harbor porpoises and Florence works on the feeding ecology of gray whales. On this cruise, Florence is managing the data from a large, heavy contraption called the CTD.
Jane Dolliber (left) and Dr. Leigh Torres (right) doing observation duty.
The CTD collects data that is useful for a wide variety of projects. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. A very heavy piece of equipment, the CTD has sensors for conductivity, temperature, elevation (an altimeter), pressure (helps measure depth), and a GPS. There are also about 12 water chambers for collecting water samples. Here’s one of the coolest parts – Florence and/or the ship’s Marine Technician, Croy, can program the sample collection from the Tech Lab. So they tell the CTD from the computer to close these chambers at different depths – and they can read what depth the CTD is at from the graphs generated on the computers. Once the CTD is pulled back up to the surface, the chambers are opened and water is removed and tested.
Why do they need the conductivity measurement? Turns out that electrical conductivity is determined by ions in the water. Many ions are salts, so the more ions in the water, the greater the conductivity, and the higher the salinity (salt content). This feature – salinity and/or conductivity – determines which species of organism can survive in the water. Pretty cool, huh?
So far the CTD has been deployed 4 times on this journey – and right now it’s about lunch time on Wednesday. Our deepest spot will occur tomorrow when we head north to the Columbia river.
P.S. The Styrofoam cups and plastic bottles and containers just went down with the CTD and will be reaching a depth of 1,400 meters. This
Coming soon: spotlight on the researchers!
Also, if you are interested in having me interview someone on board about a particular career, please let me know. There are 25 of us on board – 13 students, teachers, and scientists plus 12 ship crewmen and women. More soon!