10/15/05 - Getting ready
On Sunday, October 16, 2005, a small crowd of Life on the Edge 2005 scientists, technicians, and educators will gather at the state port in Morehead City, North Carolina. At the dock we will use big cranes and pulleys to load our gear onto the R/V Seward Johnson. Our “gear” is much more than duffel bags containing toothbrushes and extra socks—it is all of the equipment that will be needed to conduct 20 days of around-the-clock scientific research at sea. The scientific gear falls into three categories: things for collecting, things for storing what we collect, and things for recording our discoveries.
Our collecting equipment includes things like nets, traps, and buckets. We use many types of nets to collect samples. Some nets, such as plankton nets, dip nets, and otter trawls, are lowered overboard from the ship. The Neuston net is very big (about 6 feet by 6 feet) and is made of mesh, metal, and additional weights, which makes it quite heavy. We also bring a selection of collecting equipment to use during dives taken in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible: traps for catching crabs and fish, giant “forks” for collecting coral, and long tubes for sampling sediments from the ocean floor. In addition to the collecting gear, we bring along a huge “tool box” so that we can make modifications or repairs to the gear while at sea. The tool box has a wide range of materials from wire cutters and tin snips to duct tape, fishing line, and cable ties.
After we collect specimens, we need to prepare and store them. To do this, we bring along a large selection of glass and plastic jars and bottles in all shapes and sizes, from tiny vials for storing DNA samples to large wide-mouth jars for storing fish and sponges. Every specimen needs to be placed in some kind of preservative. Alcohol and formaldehyde are the two most common preservatives used during our mission. Instead of taking up precious cargo space with many barrels of prepared preservatives, we bring only a few barrels of highly concentrated preservatives. When we need to store specimens, we dilute the preservatives to the correct concentrations. Every specimen that we collect gets a waterproof paper label that tells the date and time it was collected, the location from which it was collected, the type of gear that collected it, and the name of the person in charge of that collection procedure. These labels are vital to the science that goes on long after the mission is complete. Using information contained on the labels, we can begin to construct an understanding of the organisms and their relationships within the deep sea ecosystem.
The final selection of gear is what we need to record data while we are out at sea. Cameras and computers have replaced scientific sketchbooks and handwritten notes. We use both video and still cameras to record our collection. Many of the animals lose their colors and patterns when they are preserved, so photographing them from the sub while they are in their natural environment is a priority. To record and help identify unique specimens, we take pictures of the specimens on a black backdrop with their collection labels and a ruler (to show dimensions) alongside. All of the photos and videos are stored and backed up on computers, DVDs, and CDs. Additionally, we use computers to write descriptions of what we observe during dives and to record data, such as dive locations, water temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels. Every computer is “bungee-corded” to the workspace so that it does not crash to the floor or slide across the workbench during high seas. We also bring about 40 reference books with us to create our own “at sea library.” With no access to a regular library or to the internet, we must choose our reference materials carefully so that when we see or catch something unusual, we can identify it. The books are “bungee-corded” onto the bookshelf as well.
We will spend several hours getting the scientific equipment loaded and secured before stowing our personal belongings. Our small duffel bags with rain gear and clothing require minor attention when compared to setting up the mission’s lab. After pulling away from the dock and steaming towards our first sample site, we will have a safety briefing and our first science team meeting. Hopefully, Monday morning will find us on location and ready to use all the gear we have brought on board.
10/15/05 - No Data