Claire Knox's Blog

Julie Ann and Claire Leaving Seattle
ROPOS Control Center

ROPOS pilots guide the robotic vehicle as it enters the water above Axial Volcano.

Poetry Night – July 17, 2013

I arrived at the library early last night to quietly practice my poems before Poetry Night. However when I entered, there was a group playing cribbage with a crowd gathering and I knew that I wasn’t going to get my final run through. As I sat there watching the game, I couldn’t get the unfortunate lyrics of Eminem out of my head, “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti / He’s nervous but the on the surface he looks calm and ready…”. I tapped my foot as I replayed these lyrics and looked over at John Delaney. A quick smirk crossed my face as I thought about him listening to the lyrics. His distaste for limericks might be overshadowed by current rap. The clock kept counting down to 7:45 as more people trickled in. The less enthusiastic people were the last to arrive and were forced to sit at the center table instead of the squishy chairs around the edges. The unimportant lyrics kept running through my head, “He keeps on forgetting what he wrote down / the whole crowd goes so loud / He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out / He’s choking how…”.

John kicked off the evening by explaining the origins of poetry night and recited a poem. He then called upon others who began the evening with their confident voices and wisely chosen pieces. The evening flowed as others contributed. The documentarian, Ben, sang a stirring song with his expressive voice. I wish it could have been recorded however I fear it would not live up to the wondrous performance. Other surprises included poems about stout used to enter a contest to win a pub in Ireland, a poem memorized when twelve while traveling with his grandfather, and other creative original poems. The night was winding down and I felt comfortable enough to read my offerings. I had chosen two poems to bring with me, a recent favorite by Mary Oliver and a sestina I wrote when I was seventeen. The published poem was a backup piece in case I was too nervous to read my own work.

As I made eye contact with our informal moderator and raised my hand, the person sitting next to me did as well. I offered for him to go first and he accepted but I instantly regretted my automatic response as my confidence subsided. Owen’s offering was a song sung in the style of an Irish artist which was the most surprising and special moment of the evening. My nerves increased and too soon it was my turn. I read The Journey by Mary Oliver as my first piece and then quickly launched into my second without saying whom the author was. I unfortunately stumbled three times while reading as I doubted myself and the quality of my work. Upon finishing, I was so relieved that I started to explain that it was an original which was met with applause. It was a success.

The final piece was written and read by Dana, a spirited deckhand. Before she started her tale she said it was too long and we prodded her until she agreed to read at least half of it. Her eyes crinkled as she started her story and her lip upturned as she read the dialogue with different voices. Two pages in when the tension was growing she looked up and said, “Should I keep going?” We all yelled back yes and she returned her eyes to the page with a swift grin. The story ended too soon and my bedtime arrived quickly after. Poetry night was a huge success but I couldn’t help but feel gloomy. My time on the boat is ending soon and it is sad to think that this amazing array of people will never be together again.

CTD Deployments – July 9, 2013

The scientific community is guilty of using acronyms without ever explaining what they stand for. They are utilized so often that by the time you ask, “What did that last acronym mean?” two more have already been used. One acronym that I used on every research vessel is CTD.
The CTD is a primary tool to determine physical properties of seawater. It is mounted on the bottom of a cylindrical frame known as a rosette. The name CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth which are the three main measurements made. Using these parameters, other quantities can be derived like density. The CTD senor is not the only sensor attached to the rosette. Typically there is a dissolved oxygen, pH, and transmissometer sensor. All of these sensors create a real time vertical profile while the rosette is being lowered in the water column. Also attached around the outside of the rosette frame are twenty-four 10-liter Niskin bottles. These spring-loaded bottles are able to capture water from a preset depth by being triggered to close from a control room. While only one sensor on the rosette measures conductivity, temperature, and depth, the overall large instrument package is typically called a CTD as well.

The process to deploy the CTD is a long but straightforward. First, all of the top caps of the Niskin bottles must be cocked open by connecting a lanyard attached to the top to a small hook which when triggered will drop the loop. After the top is cocked, the bottoms are tilted open and connected to the top lanyard as well. Once both ends of the bottles are open, final adjustments like closing the spigots used for sampling are made. Tag lines are attached to the metal frame to reduce the amount of sway as it is raised in the air then lowered into the water by the winch. The CTD platform is lowered at a constant rate through the water column (typically at 30-60 meters per minute). While it is being lowered the computer in the lab is receiving the data and is plotting the parameters verses depth to create vertical profiles.  The Niskin bottles are usually triggered to close as the CTD is raised in case any areas of interest where spotted in the vertical profile. When the CTD reaches the sea surface, tag lines are again attached using long poles and a detachable carabineer like mechanism. It is raised by the winch and placed on the deck.

At this point, the sensors are done and the last thing to do is collect the water in the Niskin bottles. Many different protocols are used depending on what will be analyzed. For example when nutrient concentrations are measured, the water must be passed through a 0.45 μm pore sized filter using a plastic syringe into a polyethylene bottle that is then frozen for later analysis. This morning we were filling glass bottles for methane concentration analysis to occur back at the University of Washington. We attached small rubber tubing to the spigot near the bottom of the bottle and opened a small air valve in the top allowing water to flow freely. We filled the bottles three times the volume as a wash to ensure that the samples were not tainted. Once they were filled to the brim, a plastic cork was placed over the top and it was crimped shut with a metal cap. This morning it took approximately 80 minutes to do a cast to 800m and fill 2-3 sample bottles per Niskin bottle using a team of four people (two samplers, one log keeper, and one capper).

A Perfect Day for a Boat Ride - July 12, 2013

My mom has always said that I’m a lucky person. I always disagree because I don’t want to jinx my good luck streak. However after today I will admit that I am a very lucky person.

This afternoon, John Delaney came into the main lab and asked us to round up all the students. After the stragglers were located outside, Delaney explained that they were launching the small boat and there was room for one student. He asked us to decide amongst us to determine the lucky person who would be able to go out. A few students graciously withdrew their names as they had previously had adventures on the small boat. I proposed drawing names out of a hard hat and the others agree. I folded and ripped identical pieces of paper on which we each wrote our name. We folded it in quarters and had our TA select the winning name. My heart was beating quickly as my tense muscles waited for him to unfold the paper. He read my name and I was elated.

We launched from the third deck and had a slanted, bumpy descent in the small boat sliding against the Thompson. The purpose of the trip was for the documentarian to get some footage of the ROV being deployed and the ship from afar. It was an ideal day with flat seas and sun glittering on the water. We set out and did a lap around the vessel waiting for the ROV to be deployed. The ship looked so big as we crossed just a couple meters away from the enormous bow. After watching the ROV be deployed from the water, we started to do another lap but saw porpoises close to our small boat and pursued them for a while. It was amazing to see their glistening backs as they arced above the waves. We did a couple more laps for the video footage but I just enjoyed the amazing scenery and beauty. It was indescribably magnificent with only the ocean on the horizon. I felt so lucky as we bounced over the petite waves back towards the research vessel. If I happened to jinx my lucky streak today than so be it because today was a perfect day.

Thoughts on Life After College – July 7, 2013

The question I dread most is: What are you going to do after college? When I was fifteen, I knew that I wanted to study the ocean. I was fascinated by how it worked as a system supporting diverse life and was drawn by how the mechanisms were not fully understood. In high school, I took advantage of opportunities that got me involved in ocean science. I volunteered at the Seattle Aquarium, competed in Orca Bowl, took a Marine Biology class, and went on a small research expedition with classmates. When I entered college, I felt lucky that I had already determined my major as friends around me struggled. They had an added pressure to decide quickly to finish in four years and not increase the number of student loans. Some people even withdrew from college to stop wasting money taking nonspecific courses.

Now that I am starting my third year of college, I get asked the question regarding my future more frequently. When I think about what has interested me in the past, a wide range of topics come to mind. I loved learning about utilizing alternative energy sources, atmosphere and ocean interactions, the effects of the chemical composition of magma, organism interactions in the ocean, and the different applications of chemistry. The common thread is that I love to learn about science that can be studied in the ocean. So when people ask me what I want to specifically study or what job I want to have, all I can definitively say is science. It is frustrating that I can’t confidently define this further. Until now, I have moved linearly through my life and the uncertainty of my future causes uneasiness.

The piece of advice I have heard in every lecture by John Delaney is to find something that you are passionate about. Something in the field of science that turns you on and to pursue it because you don’t want to waste your life on something you aren’t interested in. While I have heard this advice from multiple people before, it hasn’t resonated with me until now. I have spent my college career so far focusing on good grades and defining my success solely on that. But what I have been thinking about this year is what I want to get out of attending the University of Washington. I want to have experiences that define who I am as a student and I want to utilize them to determine what I want to do with my future. This will require a large change in my mentality and how I chose to learn as a student.

While I have thinking about this topic since I wrote my application essay for this expedition, the idea was revisited this morning with John Delaney and my TA, Owen. But just like every thought provoking conversation I have with John Delaney, he always ends by saying, “And remember, free advice is worth what you pay for it”. However in Delaney’s case, I always seem to get much more than what I pay for.

The View from the ROV Control Room – July 6, 2013

One of my favorite things to do aboard the vessel is to watch the video feed of the ROV camera when diving. While it is fun to watch on the main lab television, the best view is from the back of the ROV control room. Standing in the back you can take in the complete scene with all of the screens ablaze and the scientific dialogue being tossed around the room. Communication is key during these procedures to keep the ROV moving in the correct direction and having the ship following at the proper distance. While it can appear quite effortless, you understand the skill that it takes to perform simple tasks such as grabbing a rock sample and placing it in a box. You also appreciate everyone’s disposition as small jokes are made during extreme concentration. When the robotic arm controller pulled a pole from its holder to test the soft sediment depth he whispered, “There can be only one. Shhzzmmm.” As if the plastic pole he was grabbing was a lightsaber and he was Darth Vader.

While I was on watch this morning, a ROPOS crewman asked if anyone needed any snacks as he was going up to the galley. Everyone muttered a ‘no thanks’ besides John Delaney who said, “How about a banana split?” The crewmember started talking about how he didn’t know if there were all the ingredients necessary and Delaney retracted his request with a chuckle saying that it was just a joke. My focus returned to logging for the dive and the next thing I knew, the ROPOS crew person had returned. He presented Delaney with a small bowl rimmed with half a banana sandwiching miniature scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce. Delaney was surprised as the room erupted with laughter. The ROPOS crewman apologized for not having whipped cream or cherries although he had searched the kitchen high and low. Everyone just smiled as Delaney ate his 2:00am snack while watching the ROV operate a mile below the sea surface.

My First 3 Days Onboard - July 4, 2013

As we left the UW Docks, I couldn’t stop grinning. I was so excited to be apart of the VISIONS’13 expedition and contribute to this unique experience. I loved cruising through the waterways that I know so well as a coxswain for a rowing team in Seattle. I made one last call home from the deck of the Thompson as we sailed off into Puget Sound and eventually into the Pacific Ocean. Transit to the first station (Primary Node 3B) took approximately 36 hours from when we left the UW Docks.

Living aboard a research vessel is a surprisingly easy adjustment to make. One striking difference is that the vessel never stops running. At a single time some people are sleeping, quickly eating, or working. It is very similar to a college student doing a marathon study session for an exam. They strive to produce high quality work usually fueled by caffeine and short amounts of sleep. Besides the odd schedule, everything else aboard the vessel is fantastic. The food is great and it is a joy to take a break from cooking every night. The weather conditions are perfect and I am fortunately adjusting to the rocking boat very easily.

My favorite thing so far has been learning about the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) onboard, ROPOS, and watching it work. During transit we were given an orientation of ROPOS as it sat on deck. I was surprised how big it was and how elegantly all of the tools and mechanisms were arranged. As we watched it getting lowered into the water for its first test dive, we joked that it was an oceanographer’s versions of the Rose Bowl kick off. As silly as this sounds, it was the exact feeling that I had. The ball was hanging in the air ready to be returned by the offense as the crowd cheered like crazy.

One of my jobs aboard the vessel is logging observations of the ROV dives on the Integrated Real-Time Logging System (IRLS). I love sitting behind the crew that drives and controls the ROV. ROPOS is able to move and work with such grace. Sometimes it is hard to believe that it is actually working underwater because it looks so effortless. However after sitting in the control room, I know that it takes lots of coordinating between the chief scientist, driver, navigation, bridge, and robotics controller. This morning (from midnight to 4am) was my first time logging as ROPOS dove down to Primary Node 3B. However during the descent, all of the lights shut off on the ROV unexpectedly. The next few hours involved diagnostic tests and finally the recovery of ROPOS for repairs on deck. It was disappointing that the dive didn’t go according to plan but I know that I will have many opportunities to log while ROPOS is diving.

It is amazing that we have only been at sea for three days. It seems very short and long all at the same time. We have learned so much about at sea life and I am glad to continue this education.