Friday, September 27, 2013

Crossing the Line...

People of the Interwebs. Hello. My name is Nathan Buck. I am the fourth, and usually silent, member of the trace metal team. Unfortunately, I am going to have to break silence here and take over the blog responsibilities from Peter, who has found himself in a spot of trouble. Big, big trouble. You see, Peter is trespassing and for this crime he is going to have to face a most dastardly punishment, which is why he can no longer write for his precious little blog here. Confused? Most of you should be but don't worry, I am about to give you a thorough explanation of Peter's predicament. But in order to give an accurate account, I will have to take a couple steps back and fill you in with some backstory. So if you will indulge me....

Pete and Randy - Pollywogs

Remember when you were in high school and college and you had to take all those English and humanities classes and you learned of the beginnings of Western thought and philosophy? And you read all those crazy stories, or 'Greek mythology' as they liked to call it, of gods and heroes and mortals and god-like men that made absolutely no sense. I'll give you a few examples to refresh your memory in case you have forgotten. Zeus learns of a prophecy that his wife, Metis, would give birth to a god greater and more powerful than him, so to remedy this situation, he simply swallows Metis whole. But Metis, unbeknownst to Zeus, was already pregnant with Athena and busted out of his head still whole and dressed ready for battle. Or Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man and was punished by being bound to a rock and having his liver pecked out by an eagle, which would grow back the next day only to be pecked out again by the same damn eagle. Day after day after day.

There are plenty more - Tantalus was made to stand in a pool of water which receded every time he attempted to drink it and below a tree whose fruit he could never quite grasp for eternity for stealing some ambrosia from Zeus's table. Odysseus, during his return to Ithaca, visits the witch-goddess Circe and she feeds his men wine and cheese, which turns them into swine. Poseidon straps Cassiopeia to a chair in the heavens in such a manner that as she circles the celestial pole she is upside down half the time simply for being too beautiful. There are a boat load of these punishment tales - the Greeks seemed to really like them - and I ask you to recall these tragedies for two reasons. First, you shouldn't really anger the gods because they will put a hurt on you and I think we forget that sometimes with our fancy new age living. Second, this is a little taste of what Pete's life is going to be like for the next four or five days.

The Roland H. Brown has just crossed the equator and thus entered the realm of Neptune. Peter, nor his father, Randy, have ever crossed this boundary on a boat, and never been initiated into the order of the Shellback, which means one thing - that they are lowly and despicable pollywogs. And Neptune hates pollywogs. And unfortunately, this ship is crawling with them and this has raised Neptune's ire. So much so in fact that early yesterday he sent one of his minions on board to inform us that he has passed judgment on these poor souls and he will be summonsing them to dole out punishments for their crimes sometime later in the week. Thus, Neptune will be boarding the ship in several days to hold court. I happen to have a copy of Peter and Randy's summons which I have posted below. They will be tried and sentenced as father and son. I have had to redact significant portions of the document per order of the King. No land lubber is to know their Wog names, the specificity of the crimes they have committed, or their punishments. This is top secret stuff, people!

Lowly Pollywogs Randy and Peter Morton

Summons. Having gained entry without due initiation, and thus trespassing with malice into the Royal Dominion of King Neptune, ruler of the Raging Main, and with proof of crimes committed by you against the laws and common practices of the realm, you Randy and Peter shall hence forth bear the names                                        and                                         respectively. Names which you must answer to until such time as you are cleared of your crimes and have been duly initiated into the Royal Order of King Neptune's Honorable Citizens, the Trusty Shellbacks.
                                    .  You are hereby found guilty of the following crimes: 
Breaking                                                                                    he-man             strength.
Using                                                                                 "dagum"                                     .
music                                                                  Dream Theater.
                                                 You are hereby been found guilty of the following crimes:
Polluting                                                                                                                    Dream Theater.
Polluting                                                                                                           bowel
movements                                                                                                                    exhaust fan.
Subjecting                                                  , poor father,


Employing                                                                                                                   leather chaps.

Punishment. As convicts in Neptune's realm you have one choice and that is the choice of no choice. Your punishment for the crimes detailed above are as follows: you must wear at all times                                                                                                      not contaminate his Majesty's ship with your                                                                         .  Additionally,                                                                                                                                         supplies                                                     clean.  For to demonstrate your worthiness to be deemed a Shellback you must                                                                                                                                                  
                                                    His presence.

                                                            These two despicable Wogs will                                                                                         floors and passageways                             
                                                         poop decks.                        deterge                                                sterilize your grundels. They                                                                                                                    
                                                                                       happy ending. And they will do so until their appearance at King Neptune's court. May he have mercy upon their souls.

When King Neptune, who will be accompanied by his wife the Queen and his scribe Davy Jones, does board, he will most likely want to inspect the ship and he will want it clean. So Pete and Randy have a lot of cleaning to do the next several days. The King and his party will then want to be entertained, per usual, so let's hope Peter and Randy have some hidden talents or know how to put on a good skit because they will be the ones doing the entertaining. After entertainment the court proceedings will begin. Of course this is all for show, this trial, Peter and Randy are already guilty. We all know it. But Neptune loves semantics. After being officially proclaimed guilty there are only three more things our lowly Wogs must do to end their misery. They will have to visit the royal surgeon to be cured of their sickness, then the barber to have their hair fixed. Lastly, they must make a trip through the whale's mouth where they will emerge not as wogs, but Trusty Shellbacks and able to roam Neptune's Realm unimpeded.

Note: The ritual of crossing the equator and paying homage to King Neptune is a long one, going back many years into the past.  While in the times of wooden sailing ships, this rite could become a little dangerous, now it is a opportunity for a party enjoyed by most of the scientists and crew. This is a fun optional event on board ship in which most everyone participates. People may join/opt out at any time during the 'trial.' 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Finding Opportunity in Misfortune

21 September 2013

9o 30' N
28o 15' W

Hurricane Humberto certainly sent us running, but aside from rough seas, we were able to avoid any significant weather by adjusting our course. We were able to return to the 29o W line and work our way north behind the storm, to make up our missed stations before returning to our southward track.

Unfortunately, escaping Humberto was not to be the end of our worries. Since Madeira, we have suffered ongoing problems with the cable that deploys the ship's instruments and sampling bottles. Since we're spooling out almost 6,000m (~3.5 miles) of cable to sample the bottom waters of the ocean, little offsets add up quickly. Over the last two weeks of operations, the cable often became kinked and uneven as it spooled onto the winch.

To remedy these delays, the scientists and crew decided to move the instrumentation package to an alternate winch with newer cable (1.5 years old). Everything seemed to be performing excellently, until a weak spot in the cable was discovered, with almost 3,000 m of cable spooled out. Although the crew was quick to spot the problem and respond, the cable broke suddenly, and the instrumentation fell to the ocean floor.

(To see high-resolution pictures of a CTD-rosette, visit the Hiawaii Ocean Time series website here:

A back-up system was quickly outfitted with spare instruments and bottles, but the problem with the cable remained. Several fixes were attempted over the next two days, and finally a solution was discovered. The top wraps of cable were discarded, and the remaining cable was found to wind neatly onto the winch, without kinks, catches, or gaps. As soon as possible, the winch and back-up system were tested thoroughly, and we resumed our sampling schedule, albeit with a few modifications to the cruise plan. (To track the Ronald H. Brown, follow this link:

While the scientists and crew worked diligently to repair the primary sampling system, the trace metal operations were allowed to continue. The ship stayed at 15o N 29o W for almost three days, to offer the safest working environment for the repair work to proceed. It just so happened that for these entire three days, we were located right in a significant Saharan dust event. While these events are most common during the fall season, they are still unpredictable. To be able to repeatedly sample this extended event was an unexpected opportunity that we took full advantage of.

As seen in the figure below, the high loads of dust make our paper filters look almost like an emery board. These high aerosol dust loads translate into higher concentrations of dissolved and particle iron in the ocean. And just as expected, we have also seen an increase in the colonies of marine cyanobacteria called Trichodesmium, that use iron to take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to amino acids and proteins.

An unused filter on the left contrasted with a dust-laden filter on the right.
These high-dust conditions lasted for 3-4 days, producing almost 50 subsamples to analyze and experiment with.

For further reading;

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


9 September 2013

20o 30'

28o 42'

Rough weather ahead!

For those plotting our cruise track, especially along the East Coast, you may have noticed that you can follow our travels using the free chart provided by your local newspaper every year around July or August. Of course, I'm referring to a hurricane tracking chart, and we are expecting to experience some inclement weather over the next couple of days. Tropical storm Humberto (which means "famous giant" ... no kidding) has developed quickly and surprisingly close to the coast of Africa, and you can compare its projected storm path with our own location here:
Select the "Ronald H. Brown" from the "Pick a Ship" drop-down box on the right, and it should plot our progress and current location. You can also select the "Weather" option on the map, which should show Humberto's current location and projected cruise track.

As you can see, we're on a direct course towards the storm, but never fear ... the captain, chief scientist and NOAA have decided that if Humberto continues to develop rapidly in our direction, we will head due east towards Africa, allowing Humberto to pass behind us to our west. Once the storm has passed, we'll return to our cruise line and continue our science operations.

Storm path of Tropical Inconvenience Humberto

Speaking of, why would we ever risk a scientific expedition right in the middle of hurricane season? Well, the same winds which carry these seasonal tropical storms from Africa across the Atlantic also carry something else: Saharan dust.

Much of the ocean's surface waters have low concentrations of iron, which is an essential micronutrient for many microscopic marine plants (also known as phytoplankton; see Rachel's August 7th post below). Saharan dust is rich in iron, and the supply of this dust to the ocean could fuel the phytoplankton to grow. These dust storms can be so intense that they extend across the Atlantic, over Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, even reaching Texas:

As part of the trace metal team from Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory/University of Washington and Florida State University, we are collecting samples to help us to estimate the iron supply to the ocean by these dust storms. We are collecting aerosol samples (dry deposition) and rain samples (wet deposition) as well as ocean water samples for dissolved and particulate iron. With these four pieces of the puzzle, we hope to build a more complete picture of the cycling of iron and other trace metals in the ocean.

Iron-rich dust is blown over the ocean, fueling the growth of phytoplankton,
which form the base of the food chain in the ocean. (image by Jack Cook, Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution).
For more info, see

Other useful links:
2007 article about trace metal sampling during the CLIVAR cruises

Negative effects of iron supply in the Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


30o 13' N

23o 15' W

... and we're off! Once the a/c was fixed, we wasted no time leaving port late Sunday evening.

After a good night's rest, we ran a couple of test sampling casts on Monday so the new participants could practice their roles before we returned to the A16N line. We worked out a few hiccups, made a few tweaks, and in the end, everyone felt ready for the real work to begin.

Because our teams on the second leg are a little different from the teams on the first leg, we want to make sure that differences in operators do not cause artificial differences in our data. Therefore, we take several precautions to ensure that the data sets from each leg match up seamlessly.

Reference Materials

Reference materials are small subsamples of a larger, well-mixed sample of seawater. These subsamples are specially treated so that the analytes (i.e. things we're measuring) are preserved for a long time. By measuring a reference material, a new operator, method or instrument can be validated against a historical data set of measurements of the same analyte in the same sample. The picture below shows reference materials for the analysis of dissolved nutrients (left) and oxygen, and you can follow this link for more information about trace metal reference materials:

Reference materials for the analysis of
dissolved nutrients (left) and dissolved oxygen (right)

Crossover Station

Another method of intercalibrating data sets is by sampling and analyzing a set of samples from the same location, referred to as a "crossover station." The first station of our second leg (station 71) is a repeat of the last station from the first leg (station 70). While the surface concentrations for some analytes might vary slightly due to changes in sunlight, temperature, winds and waves, or biological processes, the mid- and deep-water concentrations won't have changed over the time we spent in Madeira. Therefore, each of the two teams should measure the same concentrations throughout the water column at our crossover station. If not, then the new participants can fine-tune their instruments, techniques, standards, etc. to correct for differences in their results.

Several locations that are regularly used as crossover stations are found throughout the world oceans, including BATS in the North Atlantic and ALOHA in the North Pacific.

Bermuda-Atlantic Time Series (Station BATS):

Hawaii Ocean Time series (Station ALOHA):

Friday, August 30, 2013


August 29, 2013

As we say goodbye to Rachel and the other participants of the first leg, we welcome the new arrivals for the second leg. I am Pete Morton, a postdoctoral researcher (like Rachel) with Bill Landing at Florida State University. I arrived in Madeira on the same day as the RV Brown, and joined our friends in port to celebrate the successful completion of the first leg.

While hotels are abundant in Madeira and other "holiday destinations," it is often more convenient and affordable to rent an apartment for the few days you are in town. We were very fortunate to find a four-bedroom apartment about 100 yards from the ship, for about 1/4 of the cost of a hotel room! Not only is it more economical to share an apartment, but it has allowed us plenty of relaxed opportunities to exchange information about the sampling and analytical operations.

View of the RV Brown from just outside our apartment in Funchal, Madeira

When preparing for a research cruise, you do your very best to prepare for any imaginable emergency. However, on occasion something will need to be fixed that requires resources beyond those immediately available at sea. During the first leg, we discovered that one of our laboratory van air conditioner units needed to be replaced. Having the short layover in Madeira made it possible to have a replacement unit shipped from the US to the RV Brown and installed while in port. Unfortunately, the ship's A/C system has required some repairs as well, and we are delayed leaving until Saturday, August 31. While it is certainly nice to enjoy some extra time in Madeira, these delays place a little extra stress on our upcoming schedule. It remains to be seen how this delay will affect our sampling schedule, but we hope that the extra stations sampled during the first leg will minimize the effect of the delayed departure.

Until then, we'll do our best to enjoy the sunny skies, cool sea breeze, and unhurried schedules :-)

The FSU trace metal team replacements: Randy (left) and Pete Morton

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Ocean, pH, and CO2

August 22, 2013

This is my final blog post, written as we transit from Station 70 into port in Maderia. The original plan for Leg 1 was to complete 66 stations. Due to everyone's hard work, crew and scientists, we were able to complete four more stations than planned. I have just collected the last set of aerosol samples from this leg of the cruise. Our last CTD cast was yesterday at 4 pm, at Station 69.  The last cast of Leg 1 happened at 1 am this morning, so there are some very tired people on board at the moment.

Yesterday, while our CTD was in the water, I took some pictures of the salts/CO2 lab. In this lab people are making high-precision measurements of salinity, total alkalinity, pH (not just as simple as putting a pH probe in a bucket of seawater!), total CO2 , (or dissolved inorganic carbon - actually these guys are out on the afterdeck in a lab van just like the trace metal group) and partial pressure of CO2  . SCUBA divers or anyone who's taken high school physics should know all about partial pressure and Boyle's Law - the amount of gas that is dissolved in a liquid is inversely proportional to depth and temperature. Since we know that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing (we've just passed 400 parts per million - higher than any time in the last 800,000 years), and we know that the ocean is a net sink for CO2  (this means that the ocean absorbs more CO2 than it releases), we are interested in determining how the increase in atmospheric CO2 is, or will, affect the chemistry of the ocean.

The ocean is a giant buffer system which, on geological timescales (i.e. 1,000s of years) is in equilibrium. Our blood is also a buffering system. Our bodies can only function within a very narrow pH range. If our blood pH becomes too high (towards basic) or too low (too acidic), all sorts of bad things happen, such as proteins denaturing, red blood cells bursting or collapsing, enzymes are unable to work. So, in order to prevent organ failure and, untimely death, our blood pH is maintained within the optimal pH range. This process is called homeostasis.

The oceans work in much the same way. In seawater at pH 8.2 (the average pH of the global ocean) carbon dioxide exists predominantly in three forms (species): CO2, HCO3- and CO2-3. The dissolved carbonate species in seawater provide an efficient chemical buffer to various processes that change the properties of seawater. For instance, the addition of a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid (naturally added to the ocean by volcanism), is strongly buffered by the seawater carbonate system. Thus, the pH of seawater stays relatively constant. Of major concern is that scientists have noticed a decrease in oceanic pH in the last 100 years of about 0.1 pH unit (a 30% increase in hydrogen ions/protons). Although the ocean remains a basic medium (> pH 7), this phenomenon has been called 'Ocean Acidification' - or 'The other CO2 problem'. As life in the ocean has evolved to live at an optimum pH, deviation from this range has serious implications for life - especially for organisms that build calcium carbonate shells/skeletons, such as corals... which begin to dissolve as pH decreases.

I took some pictures of Kevin Sullivan (University of Miami - CIMAS) at work determining the partial pressure of CO2 in seawater, or more specifically, the fugacity of the gas (accurate calculations of chemical equilibrium for gases require the use of fugacity rather than the pressure). Don't tell anyone I told you to, but take a look at the Wikipedia page for a more complete explanation of fugacity of a gas:  Kevin says that he is not expecting to observe a change in the fugacity of CO2 over the last 10 years, despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 . This is reassuring and is testament to the efficiency of the ocean buffer system. The problem is that no one knows how much CO2  the ocean can absorb before the ocean can no longer buffer its pH efficiently. So even though on geological timescales we can expect the ocean pH to be effectively buffered, on the timescale of marine life cycles, a much less rosy picture is beginning to emerge.

(The following pics were all taken by me, Rachel Shelley)

Kevin Sullivan (University of Miami - CIMAS) at work determining
the fugacity of CO2 in water column samples - a novel use of a cooler!

A closer look at Kevin Sullivan's cooler. Despite the home-made look of Kevin's equipment,
it is a very sensitive piece of equipment, used for determining a fundamental property
of seawater and the global carbon cycle.

Pam (top) and me (bottom) don our survival suits - a perfect fit!!
Sunset off the port side...

... and moonrise off the starboard side.

Goodbye from me - the next post will be from Pete Morton (also a post-doc in the Landing lab at FSU).
(EOAS wants to thank Rachel for blogging about her experiences aboard the RV Ron Brown and for explaining and documenting the science being conducted.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Life Aboard Ship

August 18, 2013

Day 15, and only 4.5 more days until we get into port in Madeira, Portugal. As always, the days have sped past. The first 3-4 days tend to be the hardest as you adjust to your new schedule and getting your sea-legs. After that, one day, more or less, blends into the next - especially when you have a 05:00 start scheduled for the next day, as we do tomorrow. Some groups aboard are running their analytical systems 24-7, and so are doing shifts. For the trace metal four, life is a little different. With the exception of Joe Resing, who is analyzing dissolved Fe and Al, we are collecting samples for analysis in our home labs. We are collecting samples from approximately every 1o of latitude, or every other station. This means that we don't have a regular schedule. Although we try to avoid doing our CTD casts in the middle of the night, sometimes, due to our arrival time on station, it is unavoidable. Our early start tomorrow will likely be followed by breakfast (07:00 - 08:00), and an nap!

Having said all days blend into each other, that is not entirely true. For example, Tuesday night is games night, and Saturday night is card night. I have yet to make either, due to schedule clashes, but card night in particular is the talk of the day on Sunday (i.e. today). It seems that the CO (Commanding Officer) cleaned up at poker last night!


Safety is taken very seriously on oceanic research cruises. On the Ron Brown, there is a safety drill at least once a week. Participation is mandatory. Last week there was a simulation of a fire in the laundry room; the result of 'someone putting their tennis shoes in a dryer.'  Smoke canisters were set off and the crew, some using Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA; like SCUBA, but without the 'Underwater' part) had to respond by isolating and extinguishing the 'fire.'  We also did an abandon ship drill.

This week, we did a full set of drills: 1) Fire; 2) Abandon ship; 3) Man overboard. Man overboard was the most exciting, with a full rescue simulated. Boatswain Bruce Cowden threw Oscar overboard (see pics). Oscar was equipped with not one, but three GoPro cameras to capture his dramatic rescue. The rescue boat was launched, and I can happily report that Oscar was successfully rescued and is recovering well from his ordeal.

(photo: Rachel Shelley)

Oscar goes overboard!!
(photo: Bruce Cowden)
Onlookers include Boatswain Bruce, Engineer Megan, Captain Pickett, me (Rachel), and Christine.

Oscar's view of the Ron Brown - HELP!!!
(photo: Bruce Cowden)

Man overboard!!!
(photo: Rachel Shelley)

The rescue boat speeding to save Oscar!
(photo: Rachel Shelley)

Look at the color of that sea!! We are truly in blue water now. Primary production is low in this region of the North Atlantic. Major nutrients (nitrate and phosphate), as well as trace metal concentrations, are too low to support high biomass. As a result, visibility is excellent. At 28 m (84 ft) we can still clearly see our CTD rosette.

Oscar's rescue from his perspective
(photo: Bruce Cowden)

Junior Officer Jim Rosenberg, swims to Oscar's aid. Crew Mike, Megan and Nick watch from the rescue boat.

Oscar makes it safely back onto the Ron Brown
(photo: Rachel Shelley)

Clear water - the trace metal rosette at about 10 m.
(photo: Rachel Shelley)

Note that the bottles are all open. This indicates that the rosette is on the way down. We fire our bottles closed on the up-cast so that they are rinsed with seawater on the way down.

It's good to be the PI...

This is what post-docs in the Landing group are expected to do! This is a picture of me 'holding the umbrella' to keep Dr. Bill Landing shaded from the hot sun!
(photo: Bruce Cowden)