Friday, October 31, 2008

Up the river!

This morning we did our first station in about 95 meters (310 feet) of water at a location about 15 miles south of the Mississippi River delta. We got all of our pumping equipment working and also were successful with our bottom-trip sampler. The bottom-trip sampler has a simple mechanism that “feels” the bottom and closes two water sampling bottles so that we get water from within a few feet above the sediments.

From this first station, we then headed into the river, entering Southwest Pass, the largest of the delta outlets. We collected samples as the salinity decreased to nearly fresh water. By dinner time we were at Venice (Louisiana, not Italy) which is as far down the Mississippi River that one can get by road. This being Halloween night, many people jokingly suggested we head into New Orleans for some trick-or-treating. However, ship time is not cheap and this is being paid for by a government grant, so work calls. We’re headed back down river, it being the turn for Jim’s group to sample.

In honor of Halloween being our first day at sea, my “costume” consisted of a napkin converted into an image of a Dramamine bottle which was then taped to my chest, and I gave a suitably sick look. There were others who brought wigs for a good laugh. And then, my tech carved a pumpkin to look like me. I am now munching on the roasted seeds from that pumpkin. Does this mean I’m eating my brains? How suitably ghoulish!

Before departure

Co-Chief Scientist’s Blog, 10/30/08
Greetings from Cocodrie, LA. We’ve all arrived and are in the midst of loading ship and getting set up. As co-chief scientist, my duties right now are to make sure everyone in the scientific party knows where to set up and where they can bunk as well as communicate any of their needs to the ship’s crew. I also talk with the captain and marine superintendent to make sure they understand our cruise plan and any special equipment or sampling needs. Fortunately, the LUMCON folks who operate the R/V Pelican are a great bunch, more than willing to help insure a successful cruise. And, most of our scientific party were with us for our May cruise, so they pretty much know what to do. Thus, I can sit back, write my blog, and wait for the occasional cry of “Alan...where does this go?” Oops, I hear it now, time to do something! (Or maybe it’s time to make my bed...even though I’m chief scientist, I have to make my bed, just like everyone else.)

Right now, the crew is getting the trace element winch installed. This winch has a kevlar line on it, rather than the usual steel cable. This kevlar line allows us to collect samples with minimal metal contamination. The crew is also loading on a small motorboat aboard so that later in the cruise several people can go on a side trip up the Atchafalaya River, the other big outlet of Mississippi River water besides the bird’s foot delta. Students and techs are busy setting up various sample processing gear as well as “plumbing” the ship with our clean water line. This water line consists of teflon-lined plastic tubing and allows us to pump uncontaminated seawater into the lab from about 20 ft off the side of the ship.

Our scientific party consists of scientists, students, techs, and a postdoc from several universities (University of Southern Mississippi, University of South Florida, and University of Georgia) as well as a high school teacher from Alabama. Our teacher/volunteer will take this experience back to her students...perhaps some of them will become oceanographers or geochemists.

We will be departing at midnight, 12:01 am on Halloween! About six hours after departing, we’ll be off the mouth of the Mississippi River. We’ll do a test station to make sure everything (or do I mean everyone) is working and then head up the river for a few hours. After that we’ll do four lines of stations, working our way west towards Texas. In about a week, it’ll all be over...except for all of the analyses we’ll need to do back home in the lab.

Update: 7:30 am, Halloween. We're approaching our first station and our group is slowly arriving in the galley as they find their sea legs. Fortunately, the seas are not too bad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cruise 2 begins next week!!!

Everyone here is excited (and busy) with the 2nd MAG-Mix cruise coming up next week. We just found out 2 weeks ago that all of the sampling equipment we stored at LUMCON got washed away during the flooding from Hurricane Ike. DOH!

Among the lost items were our pickle barrels that we use for collecting large-volume water samples (200 liters, or about 50 gallons). Inside the barrels, we had stored our PVC suction hose (300 ft of 1.25" ID), and the discharge hose that runs from our pump to the barrels (~40 ft of 1.25" ID). All gone! Also, we had left the two large tanks (~250 gallons) that we use for collecting really big water samples from offshore, and these have not turned up either. Well, so much for saving money by not shipping the supplies back and forth.

Needless to say, we have been incredibly busy trying to track down new supplies. The pickle barrels have become popular as back yard rain barrels, so not only are they in short supply, but the cost has gone up from $4/each to $15/each. Leslie and I finally found some last week, and we picked them up from Mr. King's donkey pasture in Odessa, FL on Monday (I wish we had taken the camera - there really was a donkey in among all the pickle barrels).

The hoses have been ordered, and they should be assembled and on the way to our lab by now. In addition, we are purchasing a new high-volume pump as a back-up so that we don't have a repeat of our experience from the 1st MAG-Mix cruise. We are also re-doing our small pumps which we use for processing the water from the pickle barrels. The old ones were just too slow! They often took 10 or twelve hours to pump a barrel of water through our Mn-Fiber, and our goal is about 3 hours. Our new pumps should do a better job, but it will be quite a bit of work over the weekend getting everything ready.

In between all this, everyone is really busy with school work. Alanna has decided to not come on this cruise because of her heavy course load (Calculus II, in particular), so Iuri Herzfeld will be joining us, instead. Iuri is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, but he's been helping out with my lab for about a year. Leslie and Erik are both coming, again, so they are making sure they are ahead in all their course work. And, I'm teaching 3 courses this semester, so I am busy lining up guest lecturers and exams for when I am on the research cruise.

I hope everyone enjoys the blog. I'll try to post to it once more before we hit the road on Wednesday, and then we should be able to keep it updated daily while we are at sea. Feel free to post comments and email us with questions.

Wish us luck!
-Dr. Krest
USF St. Petersburg