Hi Reddit,

We are 20+ scientists from 7 different institutions, and we've spent nearly 60 days working on the research ship R/V Revelle in the South Pacific. We're here to talk to you today about life at sea, the marine carbon cycle, and doing field research in the time of COVID.

Here's our proof: https://twitter.com/GAViglione/status/1361754044969021440

EDIT 1430 HST — Thanks for coming by! If you want to learn more about our research, you can read all about it on the cruise blog: https://blog.bigelow.org/tag/SAMW21

Ask us anything!

Comments: 77 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

YusufIsNoodleCan16 karma

How many times a day does plankton try to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula?

SAMW21_team12 karma

We've teamed up with Plankton to figure out the secret ingredient in a special type of water that flows from the Southern Ocean toward the equator. This water feeds plankton all the way up to the equator, so it's important to understand what secret ingredient is making them grow happily! This secret ingredient might be some kind of trace metal, a special mix of nutrients, or some other special mix which we're hoping to identify through the experiments carried out during this cruise.

chrisdbw8 karma

Have you all noticed anything drastic or changing with the carbon cycle in the South Pacific when in comes to plankton?

SAMW21_team7 karma

This is a really exciting question that scientists on this cruise are very interested in. We're hoping that some of the data we collected on this cruise will help answer it, but answering these kinds of complicated questions takes large teams of scientists many years. The data and water we've collected on this cruise are just the first steps in that process.

Excellent-Goose47675 karma

How much do plastic micro particles affect plankton specifically?

SAMW21_team9 karma

We haven't been studying microplastics on this cruise, but it is an important field! To the best of our knowledge, scientists are still trying to understand how microplastics can affect plankton. A lot of work in the field right now is developing standards and coming up with ways to measure microplastics! You can find more information from our collaborators at WHOI--specifically in Dr. Kara Lavender Law and Dr. Neel Aluru's labs.

Ok-sct5 karma

How big were the largest waves you encountered?

SAMW21_team4 karma

The worst seas we saw were probably 4–5 meters (about 12–15 feet), but overall, there were only a few hours over the whole trip where we couldn't deploy our instruments. We did encounter some 50 knot (57.5 mph) winds, and some of the seasoned sailors on board have gone through pretty wild seas on previous trips (~65 foot waves!)

Ok-ket4 karma

Understanding that you’re only gathering information and conducting preliminary lab work at this time, have you found anything yet that has surprised or excited you in your areas of research?

SAMW21_team7 karma

We went through one patch of water that didn’t have large amounts of phytoplankton. However, on the way back when we passed through the same area, there was a huge bloom of the phytoplankton we were looking for. We are constantly monitoring the water by measuring backscatter, the light that’s bounced back by particles. When we went though the bloom, that value increased by 6 times. Chief scientist Barney Balch was giddy to see the bloom and we studied many other properties in that area.

Cspans4 karma

I have recently learned about CTDs and the temperature and depth readings make sense, but why does conductivity matter? Also, how often do you deploy them?

SAMW21_team4 karma

Conductivity is important to measure because from that, we can calculate how salty water is (saltier water transmits more electricity, so it has higher conductivity).

kaycee_weather4 karma

Is there such a thing as “migratory” plankton? I’m imagining plankton drifting through currents in the Southern Ocean and being deposited in the Atlantic/Indian/Pacific. If these plankton ecosystems exist, how do they influence the oceans they “visit?”

SAMW21_team6 karma

Plankton don't migrate from ocean basin to ocean basin, but they do move from the surface to deeper water over the course of a day (they're usually at the surface at night and then move deeper as the sun rises). This migration is called the diel vertical migration, and is the largest migration in the world in terms of biomass!

MauPow3 karma

How has ocean acidification been affecting plankton?

SAMW21_team2 karma

Ocean acidification affects plankton by making it harder to make their shells and also dissolves the shells they have. There is a group measuring pH onboard and there’s a system that measures CO2 (which is what increases acidity) in the atmosphere and the sea surface as the ship moves along.

MauPow1 karma

How does it compare to previous data? Or data from other regions?

SAMW21_team2 karma

Ocean acidification has definitely been measured in many places around the world, but we'll have to wait until we get back to land before we can analyze our data and compare it to other studies.

[deleted]3 karma

How rough was the sea in the South Pacific?

SAMW21_team2 karma

Our trip took us from Honolulu, Hawaii (21 °N) to 60 °S. We went through some parts of the ocean that are usually known for their bad weather but we were incredibly lucky to not encounter any big storms (also important to note that we went down to the Southern Ocean in the southern hemisphere summertime specifically to try to avoid getting hit by these storms!).

Survivingwho3 karma

You mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was the non-stop schedule. Could you give an example of an average day or a sample schedule?

SAMW21_team3 karma

Operations happen 24 hours per day. Crew members work 2 four-hour shifts each day to drive the ship, work in the engine room, and feed us. The scientists worked in 12-hour shifts sampling water every 20 or so miles — giving us about two hours of time between deployments. That time was often spent analyzing and filtering water. While towing the VPR (video plankton recorder), that team worked in shifts to monitor the instrument and keeping track of the plankton being seen via screens in the lab. That gave the rest the rest of the scientists time to catch up on analysis, so we appreciated that!

obviously_toast2 karma

Do you think the changes in travel since COVID will have any long term effects on the marine carbon cycle or trace metals?

SAMW21_team3 karma

The reduction in travel due to COVID last spring was definitely measurable in the atmosphere, but began to rebound pretty quickly once lockdowns around the world started to ease. It is proof of concept that altering human behavior can make positive impacts, but it's important to realize that most of that small reduction in emissions came from pretty drastic changes in personal behavior. Systemic changes in industries are the long-term solution.

Also — 2020 provided a really interesting look at a world with lower greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists will definitely be studying its short-term environmental impacts for years to come.

obviously_toast2 karma

Have you seen any whales?

SAMW21_team3 karma

Yes! Seeing marine life is one of the highlights of working at sea. We saw a humpback whale up very close one day, and a whole pod of pilot whales swam alongside our ship. Hoping for more before we hit land!

wayfarerer2 karma

Are new Plankton species still being discovered? Were there any found on this cruise?

Is the ARGO program data useful in your Plankton research?

SAMW21_team4 karma

There are definitely phytoplankton left to be discovered! We thought perhaps we had discovered a new one but it was identified after a few days. There are thousands of pictures and videos we’ve taken of plankton, so it may still happen.

Some ARGO floats measure chlorophyll and back scatter, the reflection off of particles in the water, and that can tell us things about plankton populations.

Conscious_Ad_6252 karma

What is the purpose of studying plankton and what do you hope to discover amongst your findings?

SAMW21_team4 karma

Phytoplankton (plankton that photosynthesize) are responsible for half the oxygen produced in the world. They are also the base of the entire marine food chain. The ocean is a massive sink for carbon — it takes up about 1/3 of the carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) that humans emit every year. When the ocean sucks up atmospheric carbon dioxide, its chemistry begins to change. We don't know what that means for plankton or the marine food web in general.

The part of the ocean we were looking at is a major source of nutrients to the rest of the global ocean. It's really important to understand the processes that set how nutritious that water is in order to better understand how this region can influence marine ecosystems around the world. Everything we learn about phytoplankton can help us better understand the bigger picture of global climate and climate change.

coryrenton2 karma

Do research ships have special measures equipment for preventing ship waste from contaminating what you are studying in excess of what say a cruise ship is required to do?

SAMW21_team3 karma

That's a great question! Back when trace metals (metals found in the ocean in very small quantities) were first being studied, scientists thought those metals were incredibly abundant in the ocean. Turns out, they were just measuring the metals that were coming off the ship! Now, when we want to study metals like iron, we have to be extremely careful. On this trip, we used an instrument called "Big Jon" to help us collect "clean" water.

Big Jon is a piece of fishing equipment that we can deploy off the side of the ship (about 15 feet off the side). It has no metal parts and can suck up water from the ocean to a metal-free space we have prepared on the ship. The scientists who work in this area are very careful not to contaminate the samples at any point along the way.

The crew also helps us out by avoiding throwing "slops", or food waste, over the side of the ship while we're collecting samples!

Ok-ket2 karma

What do you find most challenging about conducting research on a ship? What is the biggest positive?

SAMW21_team4 karma

The most challenging part of conducting ship-based research is working around the clock — no holidays and no weekends off. Scientists work 12-hour shifts and our only breaks come when the weather is too severe to deploy our instruments safely. Severe weather also makes it hard to sleep, but we've been very lucky on this cruise, weather-wise.

The biggest positive on this cruise has been being part of a COVID-free bubble. After some very strict isolation and masking protocols, we have been living our normal lives aboard for the last six weeks and definitely enjoying every moment of human contact. Generally speaking, though, the biggest positive is the people you meet at sea! Many of us have made some of our best friends on cruises.

myhamsterisajerk2 karma

How common are black smokers and how important are they to the marine life?

SAMW21_team4 karma

Black smokers — a kind of hydrothermal vent — are pretty common among ocean ridges, and scientists are still discovering more of them. They're really important to the marine life that live in these extreme conditions. They also provide an important source of iron to the ocean. Like people, plants in the ocean require their daily vitamins and iron is scarce in much of the ocean. We have a group of scientists on board who are studying iron and other trace metals to try to understand how different phytoplankton grow when they have access to more iron.

myhamsterisajerk2 karma

Are hydrothermal vents important to marine life or a necessity?

SAMW21_team5 karma

Hydrothermal vents are very much an active field of research, and it's hard to imagine an ocean without them. They're definitely a necessity to the many organisms that live on and near the vents. In addition the the creatures that live in these extreme environments, the nutrients that can be found in the fluid that they spew into the ocean can be found 1000s of kilometers away and provide nutrients for organisms elsewhere in the ocean.

Hydrothermal vents are also super interesting to study because many scientists believe that they can give us clues about what life on early earth or on other planets may be like.

silo47911 karma

How does coastal nutrient loading influence the near shore phytoplankton community? Enquiring estuarine ecologist here.

SAMW21_team2 karma

Nutrients lead to phytoplankton blooms along the coast any place that they get blown or washed into the sea. That can be good for certain plankton but also lead to oxygen depletion and harmful red tide events. Also, depending on the currents in the region, these effects can be felt pretty far out at sea!

PantherIscariot1 karma

Do you have any good plankton recipes to share? Plankton stir-fry, plankton burger, plankton shake? Anything like that.

SAMW21_team4 karma

We haven't resorted to eating plankton yet, but one of the scientists says "deep-fried anything tastes good!"

Ok-ket1 karma

After more than 60 days at sea, what will your final days on the ship look like, and what are you most excited for once you leave the R/V Revelle?

SAMW21_team3 karma

The last two weeks of our voyage have been spent transiting from the Southern Ocean back to Hawaii (3,450 miles!). Lots of time has been spent cleaning, packing, and starting to process our data, but it also leaves lots of time for relaxing! Favorite activities are sunbathing on the deck, stargazing on the deck, and reading (also on the deck), now that the weather is warm. We also held a fierce cribbage tournament and we have an ongoing ping pong tournament that needs to get wrapped up in the next few days!

There are many things we're looking forward to about getting back to land, but chief among them are: a 276-foot walk (the ship's length is 274 feet), fresh fruit and vegetables, taking a shower without falling over, and beer. Oh, and seeing our families and pets. Hi mom!

infinitesnapshot1 karma

How much personal space do you have on the ship?

SAMW21_team3 karma

The ship is 274 feet long and there are 43 of us on board, so there's not a ton of personal space, especially when we were far south and it was too cold to hang out outside. But, many people on the cruise have had the luxury of their own rooms, which is usually not the case on research ships.

infinitesnapshot1 karma

Do you have a chef or do you all take turns cooking?

SAMW21_team3 karma

We have two chefs on board — it's definitely the hardest and most important job on the ship! As we like to say, "food is morale". Our head cook, Richard, also might be magic — he kept lettuce fresh on board for almost 50 days! Sometimes, scientists do help out with cooking. One of our scientists cooks steaks every Sunday night and another one has made us a mean sourdough!

Ok-ket1 karma

You stated earlier that you were in Southern Ocean during it’s summer. Did you encounter any icebergs?

SAMW21_team4 karma

We did see a few! On our way south, they were visible on radar and the ship slowed down due to foggy weather. When we headed north again, some were close enough to see and it was very exciting — some people asked to be woken up to see them. We could see waves crashing on them and took some great pictures. We estimated that one was 400 feet tall and maybe a mile long!

Survivingwho1 karma

What does the crew do for fun while aboard the ship?

SAMW21_team3 karma

The crew and the scientists spend a lot of their downtime hanging out together. Some favorite pastimes include movie nights, game nights, a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, ping pong, and stargazing. Since our experiments stopped last week, we also got to turn the tanks that we kept samples in into hot tubs. Nothing beats the view!

Survivingwho1 karma

What was the overall goal of your research? How can it best be applied?

SAMW21_team2 karma

The part of the ocean we were looking at is a major source of nutrients to the rest of the global ocean. It's really important to understand the processes that set how nutritious that water is in order to better understand how this region can influence marine ecosystems around the world. Everything we learn about phytoplankton can help us better understand the bigger picture of global climate and climate change, because phytoplankton in the ocean take up about 1/3 of the carbon dioxide that humans emit every year.

One application of this research is to better hone our satellite monitoring of the oceans. Satellites can measure things like temperature, salinity, and plankton from space, giving us a much bigger picture of the ocean than we can get from a single ship or even a fleet of research vessels. But it's important to go out and make measurements from ships to improve how reliable our satellite measurements are.

Shemoose1 karma

I assume you are diving to do the research. Any scary experiences while diving?

SAMW21_team2 karma

Most oceanographers actually don't dive to do their research! We lower instruments over the side of the ship to collect our data. Some of our instruments have sensors that can record quantities like temperature and salinity, while others allow us to collect water from different depths that we can analyze back on board.

horsedrags1 karma

Are you finding "New Plankton" my term for PCB laced micro-plastic in your samples?

SAMW21_team2 karma

No one on here is specifically looking for microplastics but we have seen plastic waste like water bottles float on by, so it's likely that there are microplastics in the water here. It will be interesting to see how the field of microplastics research develops in the future.

obviously_toast1 karma

How does life at sea during COVID feel different than life on land?

SAMW21_team5 karma

After undergoing 14-day strict quarantines, 5 COVID tests apiece, and 17 days of social distancing on the ship, we actually have the rare opportunity to live a "normal" life on board. This is unusual, because often being at sea feels quite isolating, but during this trip, we've had more social interaction than any of us have had in a year! The ability to play games and share meals together is something we're not taking for granted on board.

obviously_toast1 karma

What types of wildlife and/or environmental objects have you encountered?

SAMW21_team6 karma

In addition to humpback and pilot whales, we've seen tons of pelagic birds — albatross, prions, terns, frigate birds, blue- and red-footed boobies, and probably many more. We've also seen a few cool jellyfish, a small white-tipped shark, squid, and yellowfin tuna!