I arrived home from our last research cruise about six hours before my first class of the semester today. We were troubleshooting our Particulate Inorganic Carbon sensors in the Pacific Ocean around the Channel Islands in the Santa Cruz Basin for six days. We had a member of the WET Labs team aboard the SCRIPPS RV New Horizon with us, Alex Derr, helping to calibrate and repair the sensors they have developed for us to use ultimately in Canada in February aboard the John P Tully.
We ran into many problems, including one instance where someone in the science crew (name withheld), snipped the cable feeding information from the CTD to the computer on board and one where a spider web-like filament (scientifically termed “sea snot”) had been systematically altering the data we obtained. Once, I had to send a CTD in the opposite direction to throw off something that had begun to alter the data obtained by one of the PIC sensors by almost a volt. We managed to solve most of these problems and were obtaining reliable and consistent PIC profiles by the end of the cruise. Many of these problems, however, were reflecting something positive about the environment we were running our equipment in.
These waters were extremely productive. From the ship, you could see the floating specks illuminated within the clear blue water. At night, the productivity was evident as vertically migrating zooplankton came to feed on the phytoplankton. We saw more jellies, salps, and other tunicate-like creatures than I had ever seen. These creatures caught the attention of the many squid that were in the area at the time. They would jet up to the surface, propel themselves and release their ink as they fed on their prey. Little did they know, an even bigger nekton was headed their direction. We were about to pull up the CTD when a dark grey dorsal fin cut the water ten feet from the boat. The dolphins stayed there for hours, illuminated by the ships light and feeding on the squid. I caught all of this on camera, and the video can be viewed below.
Among the other creatures we saw were humpback and grey whales. Inspired by all of the wildlife around us, I did a lot of drawings. One of which will hopefully be the new T-shirt design for the Ocean Society of Berkeley (shown below).
One of the scariest parts for me is launching incredibly expensive equipment into the ocean with little more than a GPS tracking antenna connected to the Iridium network. I think we all may have grown at least one grey hair when a Carbon Explorer Float (lucky number 13 of course), costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, went missing. The clock on the CE013 had been reset to January of 2000 and wouldn’t have surfaced for another thirteen years had Todd Wood not sent a signal to the float telling it to abort its mission. When our professor, Jim Bishop, had given up the search and contented himself with the fantastic results of the imaging system of another float, the Carbon Flux Explorer, saying it was all OK because it was “raining shit!” (in Carbon ocean chemistry, that’s a good thing..), we had all given up hope. When Todd came into the room and told us we had detected the signal, it began an hour long hot-and-cold search for two small antennas in a dark and vast night sea with nothing to guide us but a signal strength hovering around 90, a forever changing heading, and a giant spotlight. We found and retrieved the float and embarked on our return trip back to the SCRIPPS Institute. Jim Bishop, our fearless leader, held on tightly to his cup (cup number 13) and assembled the scientific crew (13 of us, too) for a last group photo at the stern of the ship.