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Testing Water Quality in the Hudson, from Adirondacks to Ocean - Associated Press

Featured News - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 12:00
Lamont's Andy Juhl helps lead an effort with Riverkeeper to test water quality in the Hudson River this week from its source in the Adirondacks to New York Harbor.

Louisiana Floods Damage 60,000 Homes - KQED

Featured News - Mon, 08/22/2016 - 12:00
Lamont's Adam Sobel joined KQED's Forum for an on-air discussion of the Louisiana flood and the role of climate change in extreme weather.

Astrobiology Primer v2

Chasing Microbes in Antarctica - Sat, 08/20/2016 - 23:16

The long-awaited version 2 of the Astrobiology Primer was published (open access) yesterday in the journal Astrobiology.  I’m not sure who first conceived of the Astrobiology Primer, first published in 2006, but the v2 effort was headed by co-lead editors Shawn Domagal-Goldman at NASA and Katherine Wright  at the UK Space Agency.  The Primer v2 was a long time in coming; initial section text was submitted back in early 2011!  The longer these projects go on, the easy it is for them to die.  Many thanks to Shawn and Katherine for making sure that this didn’t happen!

The downside of course, is that the primer ran the risk of being outdated before it even went into review.  This was mitigated somewhat by the review process itself, and authors did have a chance to update their various sections.  Some sections are more stable than others; the section that I wrote with Shawn McGlynn (now at the Tokyo Institute of Technology) on how life uses energy for example, covers some fairly fundamental ground and is likely to stand the test of time.  Less so for sections that cover planetary processes in and outside of our solar system; paradigms are being broken in planetary science as fast as they form!

The Astrobiology Primer is a very valuable document because it takes a complicated and interdisciplinary field of study and attempts to summarize it for a broad audience.  Most of the Primer should be accessible to anyone with a basic grasp of science.  I wonder if it could even serve as a model for other disciplines.  What if the junior scientists in every discipline (perhaps roughly defined by individual NSF or NASA programs) got together once every five years to write an open-access summary of the major findings in their field?  This might provide a rich and colorful counterpoint to the valuable but often [dry, esoteric, top-down?  There’s an adjective that I’m searching for here but it escapes me] reports produced by the National Academies.

The co-lead editors were critical to the success of the Primer v2.  I haven’t explicitly asked Shawn and Kaitlin if they were compensated in any way for this activity – perhaps they rolled some of this work into various fellowships and such over the years.  More likely this was one more extracurricular activity carried out on the side.  Such is the way science works, and the lines are sufficiently blurred between curricular and extracurricular that most of us don’t even look for them anymore.  In recognition of this, and to speed the publication and heighten the quality of a future Primer v3, it would be nice to see NASA produce a specific funding call for a (small!) editorial team.  Three years of partial salary and funding for a series of writing workshops would make a huge difference in scope and quality.

Ocean Slime Spreading Quickly Across the Earth - National Geographic

Featured News - Fri, 08/19/2016 - 12:00
Toxic algae blooms, perhaps accelerated by ocean warming and other climate shifts, are spreading, poisoning marine life and people. National Geographic talks with Lamont's Joaquim Goes about the changes.

Algae Blooms Adding to the Melt of Greenland's Ice Sheet - UPI

Featured News - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 12:00
The Black and Bloom project examines the role that microbes might have in darkening the Greenland ice sheet – and boosting its melt. UPI talks with Lamont's Marco Tedesco about the forces driving melting in Greenland.

Wildfire Spreading in Bone-Dry California Forces 82,000 to Evacuate - Washington Post

Featured News - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 12:00
Lamont's Park Williams talks to the Washington Post about how drought has been contributing to increases in fire activity over the past several decades in the western United States.

Scientists on the Recent Wildfires, Flooding and Climate Change - PBS News Hour

Featured News - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 12:00
The second large-scale fire in California this week is raging through the southern part of the state, and flooding in Louisiana is worsening. Combined with the fact that this past July was the planet’s single hottest month recorded, are these events indicative of climate change? New Hour talks with Lamont's Adam Sobel.

Construction in the Swamp

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Tue, 08/16/2016 - 22:48
Cap'n Mark's mudboat loaded with planking for the walkway.

Cap’n Mark’s mudboat loaded with planking for the walkway.

The weather is miserable, but there is no let up in the forecast. However, we seem to be in a local area of less rain, and more importantly no lightning. The worst weather is in northern Louisiana. They are getting 15-20”. While waiting for a break in the weather, we assembled some of the wooden planks into walkway sections. As the rain let up a little, we finally decided to go for it and head to the site. We loaded up the mudboat and Don and Keith took a load over to lay down the walkway. Don is the technician

Carrying the lumber down the plank walkway

Carrying the lumber down the plank walkway in my borrowed duck hunting suit.

for the fiber optic system and Keith is a UNAVCO GPS engineer. Tim is a professor specializing in geodetics, while I have experience with subsidence on a variety of scales, including our GPS and compaction meters in Bangladesh. When they returned, we followed with more of the supplies. The wooden walkway allowed us to only sink up to our ankles instead of our knees in the mud. Carrying the supplies out, we started construction

Keith holding the post while Don gets ready to use the pressurized water jet to help insert it into the ground.

Keith holding the post while Don gets ready to use the pressurized water jet to help insert it into the ground.

on the structure that will hold most of the equipment – solar panels, GPS receivers, batteries, modem. Sinking the six 4×4 columns into the mud was tough, but less so than we envisioned. After that, we managed to get most of the structure built while Don worked on the compaction meters. We were completely soaked, but got a satisfying amount done. Returning to camp, we spent the rest of the day planning, buying more supplies, and dinner. Our biggest question mark is how to attach a GPS antenna to the reference rod that goes

Keith and Tim screwing the framing onto the structure after sinking the posts.

Keith and Tim screwing the framing onto the structure after sinking the posts.

down 37 meters to the bottom of hole 1. The size of the rod and the standard thread size for GPS equipment do not match. Adapters are not readily available. Tim and I wanted to install GPS antennas on both the reference rod and the upper casing, but it is not clear whether the two antennas will interfere. We decided against putting two on the same well, but may add it later if feasible.

The next day, the weather remains lousy, but we are still in a pocket of less rainfall

Keith and I pose by our newly installed solar panels . These will power both the GPS and the optical fiber strainmeters.

Keith and I pose by our newly installed solar panels . These will power both the GPS and the optical fiber strainmeters.

than much of Louisiana. We started out soon after sunrise. All the rain meant that the planks sank farther into the loose mud than the day before. By now, walking in thigh high muddy water all the time is usual. We split into different tasks. Tim and I mounted the solar panels, Keith set up the GPS antenna mounts and Don redid the compaction meter electronics. Later Keith and I set up the receivers and batteries while Tim and Don redid the conduit connecting the compaction meters to our control platform. Tor Tornqvist and a John, a

The waterproof box that holds the 3 GPS receivers and other electronics. I protected it with an umbrella during the installation - until the wind destroyed it.

The waterproof box that holds the 3 GPS receivers and other electronics. I protected it with an umbrella during the installation – until the wind destroyed it.

graduate student from Tulane University, visited us in the morning and went back to the camp via a pirogue, a small Cajun boat. As time went on, the rain lessened. Best weather we’ve had. We are working well together. Hardship makes for good bonding. By 2pm, we had finished all we could do today and called for Mark to take us back.

We decided we needed a machine shop to make the adapter, which needs to be stainless steel. That is not possible until Monday morning. The rest of our needs we could get at a hardware store. After

Tor and John paddle away from the site in a pirogue

Tor and John paddle away from the site in a pirogue.  It will be a 20-minute trip back to the camp for them, with a tailwind.

lots of discussion about the plans, Tim delayed his flight home. Don will decide at 10 am tomorrow morning if he needs to delay his flight. The aim is for everything but the reference rod to be done by midday tomorrow. If so, Don can leave. Keith will stay to the end, to set up he reference rod. Since so little is left that needs manpower, now that the major construction is done, I will leave as scheduled tomorrow morning. We are approaching completion of the site. While I hate leaving before it is completed, I have other commitments and this group can easily do the work without me. We will shortly have two extremely sensitive compaction meters and three GPS receivers to monitor ground subsidence and sediment compaction. If we can get more funding we will install another optical fiber in the middle depth hole and another GPS. Meanwhile we have the world’s best compaction meter in one of the world’s worst sites for fieldwork and solid ground.

P.S. Don delayed his flight and Sunday and Monday the group finished everything. A machine shop built the missing parts on Monday and Keith, as the only one remaining, will install it Tuesday. Success, despite the weather.

What We Can Say about the Louisiana Flood and Climate Change - Washington Post

Featured News - Tue, 08/16/2016 - 16:19
Over 2 feet of rain in less than 72 hours caused historic flooding in Louisiana this week. Chris Mooney talked with Lamont's Adam Sobel and other scientists about connections between the storm and our warming planet.

Visit to a Different Delta: the Mississippi

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Tue, 08/16/2016 - 00:00


Structure at Well 1, the deepest one, with the temporary solar panel and electronics.

Structure at Well 1, the deepest one, with the temporary solar panel and electronics. The Mississippi River is behind the line of trees in the background.

This summer I am visiting a different delta. I am in the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana rather than the Ganges-Brahmaputa Delta in Bangladesh. We are installing several GPS as part of a system of instruments to measure sediment compaction. In Bangladesh, we have installed two sets of wells drilled from 20-300 meters deep with stretched optical fiber strainmeters. We measure the length of the fiber every week and have been watching as they shorten when the sediments compact. Now, a group of us has been able to get

Tim and Keith examining Well 3, the shallowest well.

Tim and Keith examining Well 3, the shallowest well.

funding to put an improved system in the Mississippi Delta near where land subsidence and deposition is already being measured.The effort started a few years ago at a meeting on coastal subsidence in New Orleans, which worsens the problems of sea level rise. A group of us combined to propose a “supersite” where we could apply multiple methods to measure subsidence and compaction. Mean Allison and Tor Tornqvist were finally able

Don sits on well 1 to see how much motion the compaction meter will pick up.

Don sits on well 1 to see how much motion the compaction meter will pick up.

to raise enough money from the Army Core of Engineers to drill 3 wells and install new generation optical fiber strainmeters in them. These provide continuous measurements accurate to better than a millionth of a meter. The wells were drilled in January and are 37, 90 and 128 feet deep. Mark Zumberge’s team installed strainmeters in the shallowest and deepest wells in July. Now I am here in Myrtle Grove, Louisiana with Tim Dixon, Don Elliott and Keith Williams to install 3 GPS receivers at the site, two

Here is how I looked during the rain on the first day.

Here is how I looked during the rain on the first day.

attached to the casing and the tops of wells and on a rod that goes all the way to the bottom of the deepest well. These will give us the absolute elevations of the tops and, in one case, the bottom of the wells. We will also build a new platform to host the receivers, batteries, solar panels, and all the electronics, including the modem to transmit the data. Then all the gear will be separate from the wells.

After arriving and meeting up over dinner, we drove to the “camp”, house we are renting at the Myrtle Grove Marina near the site. It is usually used as a vacation home and for duck hunting. The site itself is only accessible by boat. It is only a 10 minute ride by mud boat, a flat bottomed skill that

Tim emptying the muddy water from his boot.

Tim emptying the muddy water from his boot.

can travel over almost no water. An air conditioning breakdown upstairs left us all sleeping downstairs on the couches and the floor. More importantly, the weather has been rain and thunderstorms for days. In the morning it was still raining pretty hard, but no lightning. After a lot of discussion on possible ways to do the installation, we were able to take advantage of a break, or at least lessening of the weather, to visit the site. Mark Brockhoeft took us out on a mudboat into the marsh. After working there with rain from above and mud and water below, we sailed back with a plan of how to proceed. Mark leant me better gear for working in the rain and mud, which were much worse than I expected. Later in the day, Don and Keith got the supplies we need and we started preparing to head out tomorrow to start construction, weather permitting.

In Hoboken, a Glimpse of Cities’ Future Fights Over Rising Seas - Washington Post

Featured News - Sat, 08/13/2016 - 12:00
Encroaching waters already are threatening some cities. “Right now, the policy [in many places] is postponing the solution for future generations. It’s an injustice," said Lamont's Klaus Jacob.

Does Air Pollution Reduce Cycling’s Health Benefits? - National Geographic

Featured News - Wed, 08/10/2016 - 12:00
Columbia University scientists, including Lamont's Steven Chillrud, are using innovative tools to investigate how vehicle exhaust impacts cyclists.

Greenland ‘Summit’ Plunged to Record Low for Last Day of July. So What? - Washington Post

Featured News - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 12:20
Greenland and its ice sheet have warmed briskly in recent years, and this summer has been warmer than normal. But in July’s final moments, at the apex of Greenland’s ice sheet, the mercury plunged to 23 degrees below zero (-30.7 Fahrenheit). Lamont's Marco Tedesco and other scientists explain why a short cold snap doesn't make a trend.

NSF Joins Early Career Scientists aboard a Training Cruise

The Future of Deep Science - Sun, 08/07/2016 - 22:39
Rose Dufour talks with early career scientists and crew members. Photo courtesy of Dan Fornari

Rose Dufour, program director of ship operations at the National Science Foundation, talks with early career scientists aboard R/V Atlantis. Photo courtesy of Dan Fornari

By Bridgit Boulahanis

Rose Dufour loves science. “You have to,” she says, “to work this job for so long.” Rose is the program director of ship operations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the government agency that funds most ocean science in the United States, and she is responsible for making our training cruise (among many other research cruises) possible.

Every earth scientist knows about NSF, but it can be rare for those of us early in our careers to get to actually chat with a representative of the funding agency. Rose knows that, so she tries to attend as many early career workshops as she can.

This was her first time going to sea with one of the workshops she funded, and she says the experience was beneficial in both directions. “It is crucial that we communicate with early career scientists about the NSF facilities available to them,” she emphasized, because that is one way to ensure young scientists learn to write effective proposals. On her end, the ability to experience firsthand the value of the program and see what interests early career scientists was fascinating. She also got to dive in Alvin, a research submarine, and she loved it.

“What I do at work every day is important, and I don’t ever go in and feel bored,” she said, but her favorite part is that she gets to spend days at sea. Like the scientists she came here to inform, she loves being on the ocean.

Early career scientist Katrina Twing with NSF's Dufour. Courtesy of Dan Fornari

Early career scientist Katrina Twing with NSF’s Rose Dufour. Photo courtesy of Dan Fornari

Rose also mentioned her hope that other young scientists would be participating from afar through telepresence. Telepresence has been a crucial component of our experience during this workshop, and it is a growing aspect of ocean science. From the ship we conducted several “live streams” that anyone could tune into, making it possible for other scientists and the general public to remotely participate in our cruise. Combine those live video streams with interaction through social media, and suddenly the entire world had the capacity to be a part of our research in real time. Not only was this a great tool for showing the public the excitement of science in real time, but it also allowed early career scientists anywhere in the world to follow along with the exciting lessons we were learning aboard—and they are important lessons.

“I hope early career scientists will leave this with the confidence to write a proposal,” Rose said, “because NSF wants to fund them!” She assured us that there are plenty of opportunities for scientists at all levels, and that we should pursue them. Whether the person is an undergraduate looking to go to sea for a day or a new associate professor trying to lead his or her first full expedition, NSF has programs and funds that they should aim to use. “Also, we are all very friendly,” she said. She encouraged those who are applying to NSF programs to email their program director.

On our cruise, researchers gathered around whenever we got a moment free to pepper her with questions about how science gets funded. On that topic, Rose kept it incredibly simple: write an innovative, interesting scientific proposal.

Bridgit Boulahanis is a marine geophysics graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research utilizes multichannel seismic reflection and refraction studies as well as multibeam mapping data to explore Mid-Ocean Ridge dynamics, submarine volcanic eruptions, and how oceanic crustal accretion changes through time. Read more about the training cruise in her first post.


The Surf Organization Driving Ocean Health Research - Vox Populi

Featured News - Fri, 08/05/2016 - 12:00
Vox Populi talks with Lamont's Peter deMenocal about an philanthropy raising funds for ocean science that's led by surfers.

The US Coast Is in an Unprecedented Hurricane Drought — Why This Is Terrifying - Washington Post

Featured News - Thu, 08/04/2016 - 07:00
Lamont's Adam Sobel explains that the lack of hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. in recent years is a relatively short-term fluctuation. The projections for increased storm intensity are for long-term global trends.

Shipboard Science: It’s All About Collaboration This Week

The Future of Deep Science - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 15:03
 Bridgit Boulahanis

Amanda Netburn of NOAA (left) and Doreen McVeigh of North Carolina State University work in a lab aboard the R/V Atlantis. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

By Bridgit Boulahanis

Most of the year, marine geophysicists are indoor creatures—we can usually be found in our labs, working with data on our computers. This research cruise is different, because, while data collection is always a scientist’s prime directive in the field, this cruise has the added goal of training early career researchers to use the wide variety of tools and techniques represented on board.

That objective is what led to me leaning over the edge of the ship at 2:30 a.m., using a hook at the end of a very long pole to pull a gigantic camera platform onto the deck. The more we learn about how other researchers’ science is conducted, the more broadly skilled we become. Being early in our careers was a prerequisite to joining the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) Deep-Submergence Science Leadership Cruise, so every participant is eager to learn new techniques and find opportunities for collaboration.

Bridgit Boulahanis with the camera platform just hoisted aboard ship. Photo courtesy of Bridgit Boulahanis

Bridgit Boulahanis with the camera platform, just hoisted aboard ship. Photo courtesy of Bridgit Boulahanis

The mentors are shining examples of how teamwork across disciplines leads to more exciting science. Dan Fornari, a senior scientist in geology and geophysics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, built the camera platform I was reeling in. It had been entirely re-purposed a few hours earlier. Dan’s research focuses on the seafloor, and the platform was designed for his projects, but when the scientists studying the water column began discussing ways to collect more samples, Dan stepped up. Over the course of a couple of hours, he attached extra cameras, removed seafloor sampling devices, and added a few lights to facilitate the study of the tiny particles floating in seawater. It was ready for water column sampling.

Interdisciplinary work was happening all over the ship. I spent much of the afternoon helping researchers transfer water from sampling bottles recently pulled from the ocean into large jugs. I was nervous, but Amanda Netburn, a pelagic ecologist at NOAA, assured me that there was no way I would mess up pouring water from one container to another.

As we filled the water bottles, we discussed our fields’ various sampling techniques. Our research couldn’t be more different—I study the rocks under the ocean; Amanda studies the fish swimming in it. Her cruises involve a large net being dipped well below the ocean surface and dragged behind the ship in order to catch a few fish that she will study. My research requires instruments pulled behind the ship that blow giant bubbles, which send sound waves through the earth that are recorded on specially designed microphones, telling us information about the rock layers below. We have plenty in common, though. We talked about how both of our fields once used dynamite—hers to catch fish, mine to create sound waves (both practices ended long ago, and we discussed the much better techniques and technology used today)—and we both want to increase human understanding of the planet we call home.

This cruise is important because of all of the great data we are collecting, but it is the learning and connections being made aboard that will serve the participants for many years to come. Collaborations are springing up between diverse fields, and everyone has learned new sampling techniques for future scientific endeavors. No matter what scientific discoveries come out of this cruise, the training aspect is already an unmitigated success.

Bridgit Boulahanis is a marine geophysics graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research utilizes multichannel seismic reflection and refraction studies as well as multibeam mapping data to explore Mid-Ocean Ridge dynamics, submarine volcanic eruptions, and how oceanic crustal accretion changes through time. Read more about the training cruise in her first post.


The Magic of Exploring Under the Sea

The Future of Deep Science - Sun, 07/31/2016 - 22:03
 Bridgit Boulahanis

Stephanie Bush of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (left) and Chiara Borelli of the University of Rochester emerge from the research submarine Alvin after the first dive of the training cruise. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

By Bridgit Boulahanis

There’s something magical about being under the sea. I believe if we could transport every member of Congress to see the ocean floor by submarine, even once, funding to marine science would skyrocket.

On Saturday, two of my colleagues, both early-career scientists, got the opportunity to spend eight hours in the research submarine Alvin, roving the seafloor almost a mile below the surface, grabbing creatures, sediment, and water samples to advance the research of our science team.

It was their first submarine dive, and as they stood on the ship’s deck waiting to climb into the sub, their excitement was contagious. Much of the science party gathered on deck to watch the submarine’s launch: first carried to the edge of the deck by tracks not unlike a train, next hoisted upwards by a rope that could lift one and a half blue whales, and then lowered gently into the rolling sea where it bobbed and dipped as the Alvin team swam around it, doing a final check before descent.

Even with Alvin at the depths, those of us left behind on the ship were involved with their exploration. Radio communication between the submarine and the ship has been possible for years, but our expedition is the first to utilize text and picture messaging between the seafloor and the ship. The text communication is still so slow that the average millennial would demand a new phone before using this system for even a day, but it allows the science party to stay in contact throughout the dive, conferring on discoveries and important places to stop and take samples.

 Bridgit Boulahanis

Mussels brought back from the seafloor by the submarine team. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

By mid-morning, texts from the deep had sent word: coral and mussels had been found and sampled! In the afternoon, I was sent to the top lab, where Alvin communications happens, to add an extra stop to Alvin’s sampling tour. I radioed down to give them coordinates and to request a sediment core. I will not be diving in Alvin on this expedition, but even speaking over a radio to the team at the bottom of the sea gave me a heady rush of excitement.

When the submarine finally surfaced, a small boat was deployed with crew members who dove into the water and helped tie ropes to the submarine in order to hoist it back onto the ship. Those of us gathered on deck gave a round of applause to Chiara Borelli and Stephanie Bush, the scientists returning from their first mission to the deep. They seemed enthralled to the point of giddiness with both what they had just done and with the wealth of samples they had to offer: a basket full of corals and mussels, mud, sand, and water.  They recounted to us the experience of dropping deeper and deeper, to the point where light no longer penetrates from the surface, and watching the green blinking of bioluminescence float into view out of their portholes.

 Bridgit Boulahanis

Corals collected from the seafloor go into an oven for drying. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

It’s midnight now aboard the R/V Atlantis, yet in the Main Lab, the Hydro Lab, and the Wet Lab, every single workstation is full.

At the far end of the Main Lab, Mercer Brugler of the American Museum of Natural History has just removed a surprise anemone from a mussel. He carefully transports it via razor blade into a test tube and screws on a lid. Mercer works on corals and anemones, but his goal was to collect corals on our cruise.  He hadn’t even hoped to get an anemone, and he is clearly elated. Across from him, Katlin Bowman of UC-Santa Cruz is looking through a microscope at tiny spikes on her coral sample, exclaiming that now she knows what was poking her hand through her gloves. Her workbench is covered with paper towels, yet still damp, and she uses gentle precision to scrub coral branches with a toothbrush. Once they are sufficiently clean she moves them into an oven where they sit to dry.

On the other side of the table, Jeffrey Marlow of Harvard and Sean Jungbluth of the University of Southern California are bent over pushcores, pulling each clear tube from one bucket and cataloging it before placing it into a box for further analysis. Cores are cylinders shaped just like PVC pipe that Alvin pushes straight down into the seafloor. This technique provides an excellent way to understand the ocean floor because it keeps the mud layers in the same order they had at the bottom of the ocean. Once they’ve cataloged each core as a whole, Jeffrey and Sean will remove the sediment from the pipe in inch long slices and begin their analysis of each of those subsamples. They laugh as they work even though they have a very long night ahead of them.

 Bridgit Boulahanis

A pushcore arrives for sampling. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

Across the hall in the Wet Lab, Doreen McVeigh of the North Carolina State University is sorting mussels. She has a tub full of them; some so small you can’t even see them, others as big as my fist. She is cheerily arranging them based on their size, an indicator of age. She is going to try to keep the older mussels alive until she gets back to her lab so that she can undertake better understanding their life cycle. As she sorts them she moves the ones that are old enough for her study into buckets of cool sea water, and for the rest of the cruise she will be making sure that the water remains an environment where her mussels can thrive. Nearby Amanda Netburn, from NOAA, is carefully planning out her mission aboard Alvin for tomorrow, making sure each sample collection device will fit aboard the submarine.

Dan Fornari of Woods Hole is hurrying through the main lab carrying a power drill, while Chiara follows close behind him with a clipboard. They have just pulled a new gravity core out of the ocean. Gravity cores are much longer than the push cores that Jeffrey and Sean are working on, and Chiara is thrilled that they pulled in a few feet of mud for her research. She selected the site earlier that day from aboard Alvin—close enough to a methane seep to pick up the chemical signal, but far enough away to miss hitting the rocks and biology that are so common near these features.

Saturday night aboard a research vessel is not like a Saturday night on the town, but the scientists on board are about as happy and excited as any average person on the dance floor. It’s not so bad working crazy hours when you’re doing what you love. I know that as I go to sleep tonight, in the pitch black of my on ship bunk below the water line, I’ll be imagining bioluminescence dancing before my eyes, and an inconceivably massive underwater world waiting for me to explore.

Bridgit Boulahanis is a marine geophysics graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research utilizes multichannel seismic reflection and refraction studies as well as multibeam mapping data to explore Mid-Ocean Ridge dynamics, submarine volcanic eruptions, and how oceanic crustal accretion changes through time. Read more about the training cruise in her first post.




20,000 Discoveries Under the Sea - Christian Science Monitor

Featured News - Sat, 07/30/2016 - 12:00
Scientists like Lamont's Suzanne Carbotte are tapping new technologies to unravel the mysteries of the deep.

Life Aboard a Research Cruise: 24-Hour Workdays, Amazing Discoveries

The Future of Deep Science - Sat, 07/30/2016 - 07:52
Aboard research cruises, the teams work around the clock to make use of every precious second of sea time. Bridgit Boulahanis's team launches the AUV <i>Sentry</i> in the evening and monitors its progress through the night. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

Scientists work around the clock aboard research cruises to make use of every precious second of sea time. Bridgit Boulahanis’s team launches the AUV Sentry in the evening and monitors its progress through the night. Photo: Bridgit Boulahanis

By Bridgit Boulahanis

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; … then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Being drawn to the sea appears to be a part of the human condition, but marine scientists seem especially enticed by the mystery and power of the open ocean. Evidence for this is abundant aboard any research expedition—you have to really love the ocean to want to go to sea as a scientist.

When scientists say “research cruise,” they aren’t talking about sunny afternoons of shuffleboard and margaritas on deck. Life aboard a research vessel means tight spaces, few amenities, and workdays that can easily last 24 hours or more.

At sea, the scientists get a preliminary look at the seafloor's bathymetry. Processing the data will further refine the view.

At sea, the scientists got a preliminary look at the seafloor’s bathymetry. Back on land, further processing of Sentry‘s data will refine the view.

Research expeditions are expensive, and scientific funding is limited, so it is crucial that scientists make the most of the little time that we get at sea. Research vessels take advantage of the entire day, with a portion of the science party working during daylight hours and the rest working through the night. Many researchers work not just their own shift, but a portion of the next one, as well. Sleep is limited, meals are abbreviated, and the work often requires hours of physical labor. Sometimes life aboard the vessel feels like an exhausting slog.

There are also aspects of being at sea that are enthralling, wonderful, fascinating. When you’re aboard a research vessel, the lines between senior faculty and graduate students become thin, and collaboration is immediate and constant. The excitement of data streaming in real time and looking at preliminary results can be intoxicating. There are moments of panic when it looks like things won’t go as planned, and then there are also moments of absolute joy when everything falls into place.

Friday morning fell into the absolute joy category—during the previous night we had collected shipboard multibeam data, over 600 gigabytes of data from the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry, and successfully deployed a multicore that collected several feet of sediment. We found exactly what we expected and hoped for—a spot on the seafloor where methane bubbles up from below. Methane, a greenhouse gas that many people associate with cows, naturally seeps out of the seafloor in many places.

The AUV Sentry captured images of marine life as it explores the ocean floor.

The AUV Sentry captured images of marine life as it collected seafloor data.

Even though current scientific understanding suggests that this particular source of methane doesn’t significantly contribute to climate change, it is important for scientists to understand and quantify all of the various sources of methane, and this is one difficult type to find. These vent sites are also fascinating because they are so often home to a wide variety of marine life: microbial communities, deep sea corals and crustaceans can be found around them. Sentry‘s photos from our first dive show that these creatures are present (and some even abundant) in the region where Alvin, the human-occupied submersible that we’re also working with, will descend with two scientists on Saturday.

Usually by the time scientists leave a ship after a research cruise, we are drained to the point of collapse, but exhilarated with the results to come. That exhilarating thrill of discovery may be why, for many of us, going to sea feels like coming home.

Bridgit Boulahanis is a marine geophysics graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research utilizes multichannel seismic reflection and refraction studies as well as multibeam mapping data to explore Mid-Ocean Ridge dynamics, submarine volcanic eruptions, and how oceanic crustal accretion changes through time. Read more about the training cruise in her first post.






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