Victoria Selesnick's Blog

Saturday, August 30, 2014
Victoria Selesnick
Leaving the Foggy Newport Channel V14

The R/V Thompson sails through the Newport channel on its way to the base of the continental margin, Leg 4 begins for VISIONS'14. Photo Credit. Victoria Selesnick

September 8, 2014

Sorry for the late update, project work has certainly picked up on board the TGT! The leg 4 mates will all present our individual or group projects the day after tomorrow (Wednesday September 10th) in the morning before arriving back at Newport the next day and touching land for the first time in 2.5 weeks! I’m working on a proposal for a citizen scientist project, something I’m very passionate about and have some background in from past work with Audubon Society chapters in New England and Washington. It has certainly been a challenge, striving to anticipate the needs of a scientifically pertinent, as well as user-friendly interface. But ultimately I have found the process of creating and reforming my own ideas very rewarding. To the point where I would relish the opportunity to continue building on and editing the proposal I’ll present on Wednesday after I’ve left the boat in the hopes of submitting it. At any rate, the experience has been a lesson in taking an idea all the way from a creative daydream, safe in the confines of your mind, to on paper in the form of a proposal and working to make the idea into a tangible reality.

In other news, yesterday (while watching the cable palette on the seafloor) ROPOS caught an octopus on camera and followed it around for a while. At first, my leg mates and I speculated that the octopus must be a “baby” because it was so little (no larger than 10cm in height or width). But, after talking to the ROPOS crew, who had seen this kind of octopus before, we were told it was a fully mature adult Eastern Pacific Octopus. I’ll be honest, I had no idea octopi could be full-grown and still so tiny! As we watched this little guy (hereafter referred to as “Oscar…” because that is what Taylor has decided to name it) it tucked all 8 arms underneath its head/body and imitated an anemone polyp, changed its coloring to yellowish and speckled to camouflage with the sediment, and caught and ate a little benthic shrimp! Oscar the octopus was SO COOL!!! It was utterly fascinating to watch all the actions carried out by this tiny cephalopod, he even started taking an interest in the ROPOS cameras that were looking at him for so long, and began scooting across the seafloor to peer at us while we intently watched him.

September 1, 2014

This morning was my first full 4-hour-long watch in a few days, ROPOS was/is deploying and installing 3 seismometers at the Southern Hydrate Ridge site. Biological highlight of my watch: 2 starry flounders remained in close proximity to ROPOS and the seismometer setup site for the entirety of the installation. Then, when ROPOS was getting ready for the second installation, one of the starry flounders came up to the port arm and just hovered there. The ROV was at a depth of over 700 meters today, and since organisms don’t normally see as much light as ROPOS puts out at that depth, I suspected any bottom-dwelling critter would get out of the way (in a hurry) upon seeing a giant, light-radiating robot. Not these two flounder, they hung around the ROV so long that Tysen and I started referencing on of them in our notes as our “foreman flounder,” because the fish seemed to be watching ever move of the seismometer assembly.

In other news… it is (my fellow leg-4-mate) Lauren’s birthday this Wednesday (aka the day after tomorrow)!!!  Rumor has it, if we talk about it enough, or to the right people in the kitchen, we get cake. And cake, well, cake is always awesome. Coming up is a lecture/discussion by John Delaney later today at 1400. Other than those events, and continued project work in the main lab, there is not much to report today. Life it good, the people on the ship are wonderful and I’ll write more soon!

August 30, 2014

This morning I woke at 0330 and walked to the control room, for my usual 0400 watch with Tysen. I arrived to a carabiner being unclipped by ROPOS and Kevin and Billy leaving for their bunks from their midnight to 0400 watch… no more than 10 minutes after they left, and Tysen and I had logged into IRLS to being logging observations, ROPOS was on its way to the surface and the dive was over. I was (understandably) bummed that I woke at 0330 and didn’t get to take part in recording observations for one of (what I understand to be) the project’s most pivotal series of dives thus far. But, more than anything else, I am just impressed with the commitment and progress made by the ROPOS team in adapting to problems and continuing forward with this project.

In the downtime we have, between dive watches, lecture/discussion meetings every day at 1400, and working on our group/individual projects, I have been taking pictures (of pretty much anything) and experimenting with, or getting to know, my camera. I’ve been pretty lucky, every day there has been some kind of critter (Valella valella, Albatross and today: a Sea Lion) to practice taking shots of as they move through the water and air surrounding the ship. Being out on the open ocean, and being part of a project so uniquely influential to oceanography, I’ve sort-of tasked myself with taking a walk (at least to the bow) on the outside of the ship every day to take it all in. As a result, all the photos I’ve posted on my blog (thus far) have been taken by me, personally. 

The crew and science team are all currently watching (or participating in) the second of two PIA (Platform Interface Assembly) dives today. Sitting, watching the ROPOS live feed in the main lab, the calm and colorful voice of Chief Scientist. John Delaney, transmits comments and narration through speakers through the ship.  This dive is almost over, I’m going to go outside ☺

August 29, 2014

This morning was the first time I didn’t wake up at 0330 for my 0400 dive watch since being aboard the TGT. Fear not, I didn’t oversleep and miss my watch (thank goodness, that would be terrible!), there just wasn’t anything in the water or being deployed during my assigned watch (between 0400 and 0800).  At the end of last night’s dive (some time around 0230 on 8/29) it was clear there would be no dive during my watch time today, so Kevin was nice enough to wake and notify me to turn off my alarm.

I woke just after 0700 and walked around the outside of the ship, to where ROPOS was resting on deck, up to the deserted bow, and I just took in the calm of the morning. It was wonderful to be outside when the light of day starts to permeate through the hazy moisture surrounding the ship. Since I am usually hunkered down making observations on IRLS during this time, it was my first chance to experience the cool, wet condensation of the deck and railings, a group of albatross resting with a pair gliding together flying inches from the waters’ surface, and see all the equipment sitting in open air. There wasn’t even another human around; I heard no voices talking or tools being used to work on various elements aboard the ship. Everything, in both sound and appearance, seemed a calm and glowing, blue-grey.


Upon heading inside for breakfast, the normal bustle of activity was also reduced, compared to every other morning so far. This is when I began to wonder where everyone was, and what they were doing… why was the vessel so quiet? And, since there was no one in the main control room, or on deck, and only crew, myself, Daniel and Myesa (my bunk mate) in the canteen, I reasoned there was probably a meeting of the minds going on somewhere onboard. Also, with so little activity occurring, the meeting was probably important.

Today, as it turns out, is the day the science team and crew are all preparing for to connect multiple previously deployed components together… and, once connected (hopefully) turn them on. This is a critical and pivotal occasion for two reasons, this will be the first time attempting to connect (and test) all the deployed units in the makeup of a Platform Interface Assemblage (PIA), and the actions carried out today in the assembly process will have to be repeated over and over, making many more PIAs on the ocean floor, before the project is complete. It is no wonder there was such stillness on the Thompson this morning, there is a lot of focus and investment in the next few day’s tasks, and none of it has ever been done before.
The whole ship has a vibe of strong intellectual and emotional investment on the plan, and its’ execution, over the next few days…which has made me reflect on the pressure we put on ourselves when pursuing our passions. Every single person on this ship has taken a different journey to get on board, devotes themselves to their own individual motivation for being here, and cares intensely about the mission of the cruise for the success of the overall project.  This is the kind of supportive and strenuous environment is exactly what I hoped I’d experience on my leg of Visions’14, and what I will strive to be part of, both professionally and personally, in the future.

August 28, 2014

Learning to Rock Instead of Roll; the First Days Adjusting to Science and Sleep at Sea

Today is the start of our second full day on the Thomas G Thompson (TGT), and last night was the first time I actually slept since leaving port on Tuesday afternoon. Let me try to explain how abnormal this predicament is for me.  Airplanes, cars, terminals, name it, give me a tray table or a rolled up sweatshirt to put my head on and I'm down for the count in less than 7 minutes. By anyone's standards, I am a really good sleeper. But, as my Leg 4 teammates tuckered out and retired to their bunks from fatigue, seasickness, or Dramamine drowsiness between our meetings and watches, I couldn't get a wink. Instead, I would lay awake, waiting to slip away, and get rolled from my back to my side (like a sea turtle trying to right its self) with each passing wave. Eventually I would start thinking about where I am (the open ocean!) and what I’m doing here (participating in what may be oceanography’s biggest project ever, both in scale and global influence!!) and get myself so excited and worked up that there was no way I could get to sleep. But, last night…last night was different. I got ready for bed at 1900, because my Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) dive watch is at 0400 each morning, and braced myself with folded blankets between my body and the bunk frame. It. Was. AWESOME! Instead of rolling back and forth in my bunk all night, I moved with the bunk and the ship rocked me to sleep. To future leg members of VISIONS’14, or anyone who might want advice about sleeping aboard a ship, rocking is much better than rolling.

Continuing with the theme of things aboard a ship being similar to, but not quite the same as what I'm used to, I helped Orest (one of the scientists researching on board the TGT) calibrate a pH probe and thermometer yesterday on deck. Any other pH probe I've used in a laboratory setting has been about the size of a pencil. The probe, which will be deployed deep into the water column on a heavy-duty housing with other probes and sensors later in the cruise, was more the size and shape of a stick of dynamite. Additionally, the readings from the probe are wired to be read inside the main lab of the ship, as they will be when the unit is deployed. This meant that instead of holding the probe in calibration buffer for a minute or less and glancing slightly to the side of the probe for the pH value reading, I held the probe in solution for 5+ minutes on deck while Orest took readings from inside the main lab of the ship, and communicated with me when to insert, remove and rinse the probe with DI over a walky-talky. Altogether, a completely familiar protocol, and yet a completely different experience from any other calibration I'd took part in before.

Finally, all through the first day on the TGT, there was a constant stream of little blue bubbles floating on the surface as the ship passed by. To me, they resembled the "floats" or air bladders I've seen on hydrozoans known as Portuguese Man of War (aka the who’s sting is so painful and scary that people refer to it as a jelly fish, even though it is actually colony of individuals equipped with toxin-filled stinging cells called nematocysts). Based on my prior knowledge concerning other cnidarians, all of which possess those nasty nematocysts, I was pretty skeptical that these critters were as cute and harmless as they looked. I consulted my fellow Leg 4-mates, various scientists and crewmembers, and quickly checked the internet for more information. I found that these little guys are called Velella velella, which means by-the-wind sailor, or little sail (seriously, that is the cutest scientific name I have ever heard!). I also discovered that they are similar, but not the same as what I’d experienced or known about before the VISIONS’14 cruise (sensing a theme here?). Velella velella are also cnidarians as well as hydrozoans, and they, too are composed of a colony of individuals, just like the dreaded Portuguese Man of War. But, they are much tinier (rarely larger than 6cm long) and much less deadly than their larger, scarier relative because the toxin in Valella’s nematocysts is toxic to its prey, but essentially harmless to humans.

Further study of Valella displayed what a unique hydroid they are, being highly mobile at all life stages (most hydroids have at least one sedentary or “polyp” form in their life cycle). Little Sails have free-swimming larvae, floating polyps, and even at the very start of their life, young Valella form a drop of oil, which floats them to the ocean’s surface. They do have an air bladder made up of buoyant float tissue, which allows them to float to the top of their open ocean habitat, along with a chitinous, triangular sail, which catches wind and propels them around on the waters' surface.  I’ll admit, they're pretty cute looking, and while their taxonomic relationship to Portuguese Man of Was might have biased me at first glance, they are only mildly irritating to humans and will not sting you with a million tiny nematocysts… should you choose to touch one. In hindsight, my complete disbelief that these tiny, floating organisms could possibly be harmless might seem a bit paranoid to the average person. To that I say, the tales my SCUBA dive masters told me about being stung in Australia would make you a little skeptical of all organisms with tentacles too.

All in all, Leg 4 (my first open-ocean cruise) has started off really well. My fellow Leg 4 team members are extremely nice, and none of us have been seasick longer than the first day out of port! The food is delicious (like everyone said it would be), the ROV dives are epic to watch, and even more compelling because we/I get to take part in recording their events for the ROV ROPOS Integrated Real-Time Logging System (IRLS). I look forward to the journey ahead, and if my experience so far is any indication, I think my sea legs will only get stronger :)