Bridging the Gap

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.48.44 PMContributed by Leah Shizuru


As I stood near the puka and gazed at the raw beauty of the steady flow of incoming ocean water spilling into the fishpond I listened to and appreciated the unmistakable sound of rushing water. What a thrilling experience for both the eyes and ears.

It was hard to fathom that the 80 ft gap directly in front of me would soon be closed. I pondered how the volunteers would ever complete this task when the water appeared to ebb and flow with such impressive speed. Though difficult to imagine, I was told that the enthusiastic bunch of men and women that worked daily on closing the puka, or gap, were making great progress with the help of a campaign to fund this labor-intensive project and raise awareness of the need to close the break in the wall in He’eia fishpondPani ka Puka.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.48.12 PM

Bridging the gap would be a crucial step toward restoring this fishpond to its original state and enabling traditional aquaculture to ensue again. Ultimately, caretakers of He‘eia Fishpond would once again be able to raise enough herbivorous fish such as mullet (‘ama‘ama) and milkfish (‘awa) to provide for the community. Sustainability. Preservation. Tradition.

Bridging the gap

Benefits of traditional fishponds extend to research and education. That is how I became involved with He‘eia Fishpond. Last summer I had the opportunity  to intern at C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education), a NSF Science and Technology Center, to work on a research project with Dr. Rosie Alegado looking at the microbial diversity in this coastal ecosystem. As part of my research, I ventured to the fishpond once a week with my two lab mates in order to gather water samples. These water samples were then taken back to the lab, filtered, and subjected to extraction of genomic DNA.

During these visits we got to know the Paepae o He’eia stewards (kia’i loko), learn about the history surrounding the fishpond and see the progress of the various other restoration

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.48.32 PM

Pictured left to right: Dr. Kiana Frank, Charles Beebe, Kyle Yoshida, and Ka’ena Lee

projects including the removal of mangrove from along the ancient fishpond wall  and invasive limu (algae) from in and around the pond. Our research aimed to complement these restoration efforts. Through a better understanding of the genetic makeup of microbes such as photosynthetic bacteria and microalgae that form the base of the food chain in the fishpond, better management policies could be implemented.

Our weekly visits to the fishpond also enabled us to see, first hand, the outreach efforts of the fishpond stewards. One evening during a 26-hour diurnal experiment in which we worked with Dr. Kiana Frank (who was analyzing microbial communities at different depths within the sediment as well as their sources of respiration and respiration rates), we interacted with a few children who were on the property.  

During the process of water filtration and processing of sediment cores we were surrounded by a group of inquisitive and eager children who wanted to help. Ka‘ena, who was 5 years old, asked, “What are you doing?” as he looked at the filtration apparatus, bewildered. My co-workers and I told him that we were filtering water that we had just collected in order to study the microbes in the fishpond. Ka‘ena looked puzzled and we could see from the confused, yet still-interested look on his face that we needed to add to our answer and perhaps simplify it. I quickly began to think of a way to re-explain this so that he could understand it. Thankfully, my labmate, Mikela, interjected, “Oh, ok! So you know when you’re finished cooking spaghetti noodles and you have to drain out the water?” Ka‘ena nodded. “How do you get rid of the water that you cook your pasta in,” Mikela asked. He described a strainer and Mikela replied in an encouraging tone, “Yes, exactly, a strainer. So what this is [as she pointed to the filtration apparatus with the filter membrane] is like the strainer and the microbes are like the spaghetti noodles that we want to keep.” What a perfect analogy to give to this young child! Ka‘ena beamed at Mikela and responded, “Oh, I see!” We followed Mikela’s lead and continued to answer the other children’s questions in a simplistic, analogous manner. What a treat it was to be able to answer their thought-provoking questions.


Illustration of Oahu fishponds by Robert Dampier, 1825. (Wikipedia Commons)

It was in that moment that I realized how this summer had come full circle: I was working for an organization that, in its very title, seeks to educate. I gleaned from the knowledge of Dr. Alegado and Dr. Frank and in turn was able to pass on that knowledge to these young kids. Not only had I learned more science this summer, but I had formed a deeper appreciation for my culture, for the faithful caretakers at He‘eia fishpond, and for the brilliant scientists (like those at C-MORE) who seek to better understand the environment in which we live. I saw the value of perpetuating knowledge from one generation to the next.

It was then that I understood the necessity of bridging the gap.

Hawaiian fishponds, also known as loko i‘a, were traditional forms of aquaculture that served as a dependable protein source for ancient Hawaiians. The oldest fishpond in Hawai‘i was built about 1200 years ago. By the 1900s there were only 99 of the 360 built in the islands that were operable. 

Leah Shizuru attends the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and will earn a B.S. in Microbiology Spring 2017. As a part-time lifeguard with Ocean Safety, she enjoys spending her free-time outside with her friends and family— surfing, hiking, swimming, paddling, and bodyboarding are just a few of her favorite hobbies. 

Leah would like to thank Yoshimi Rii, Hi’ilei Kawelo, Keli’i Kotubetey, and Dr. Rosie Alegado for their oversight and feedback on this blog post and would also like to thank Dr. Alegado for the opportunity she has to work in her lab.           

Inspiring community college students to pursue a career in ocean and earth sciences


Contributed by Johanna Wren

Ever wonder what questions community college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students ask when taken on a tour of a research vessel?

“Are all beds the same size?”, posed a five-foot tall student standing next to a 6-foot fellow student, as they inspected the state rooms in the R/V Ka‘imikai-O-Kanaloa.

Or, one of my personal favorites: “Can I drive the boat!?”

Each summer, a score of Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC) students meet every day for six weeks to immerse themselves in math and other STEM subjects as part of the KCC STEM Summer Bridge program, HāKilo II. For the past three summers, C-MORE and SOEST from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa have been invited to spend one week with these students, introducing them to ocean and earth science careers through hands-on experiences.

HāKilo II students on a field trip to R/V KOK at Snug Harbor. Photo credit: Heidi Needham.

HāKilo II students on a field trip to R/V KOK at Snug Harbor. Photo credit: Heidi Needham.

The theme throughout the week is Learning by Doing, so we embark on field trips, engage in career exercises, and interact with graduate students and professionals in STEM fields. Our goal is to help the students discover their passions, and urge them to follow those passions in their professional careers. I first got involved with HaKilo II’s SOEST week as a graduate research assistant with the C-MORE Education office in 2013. I have since helped to organize and lead the event each summer, as the intensive week of career exploration has become one of my favorite summer events.

Learning By Doing: Field trips!

“Bet you didn’t know you got a mouthful of critters every time you get in the ocean!” said peer-mentor Dan to a student while looking at what they caught in a plankton tow.

Learning by Doing is done best outside of a classroom, so we take the students on multiple fieldtrips. For example, during these field trips, students figure out how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, and why hillsides and surrounding ocean look the way they do. Seeing first hand – and trying to figure out why – there is coral wedged between layers of basalt high above sea level, turns sea level rise from an abstract concept into a tangible one. Learning by doing, seeing and feeling is so much more powerful than being told how the world works.

Student and instructor during a geology field trip, talking about the formation of O‘ahu and sea level change at Lāna‘i lookout. Photo credit: Johanna Wren

Student and instructor during a geology field trip, talking about the formation of O‘ahu and sea level change at Lāna‘i lookout. Photo credit: Johanna Wren

Even though we have visited some of the same sites every year, there are always new things to discover, and students never fail to impress and surprise me with their curiosity and insightfulness. I really enjoy showing students what lives in the clear and seemingly empty waters near the beach. After conducting a plankton tow, while looking at the copepods and other animals in the water, students often wonder if they swallow all of those animals when they go swimming. It’s really nice to see even the most intractable student, who wouldn’t part from her smartphone for more than a minute, get excited about the land and sea around her.

Learning By Doing: Experience as a near-peer mentor

“Let’s ask Daren, he knows everything.” – A commonly overheard statement by a group of students when they ran into a problem they couldn’t solve.

Spending a summer studying subjects that often take students outside of their comfort zone can be intimidating and scary to many. At the same time, there is nothing more inspiring than connecting with an individual you identify with, who shares your background or interest. This is where the near-peer mentors like Dan and Daren come in. Each year, a handful of senior KCC students, many of whom participated in HāKilo II in previous years, act as peer-mentors and play a pivotal role in inspiring and engaging students. Students can identify with a mentor who went through the program just last year, and who comes from a similar cultural and/or academic background. The students are less reserved with their questions, and the peer-mentors themselves develop into teachers with enthusiasm and confidence.

Students in HāKilo II learning about seagliders, and how to combine an interest in engineering with a love for the ocean, from Sarah Searson. Photo credit: Johanna Wren

Students in HāKilo II learning about seagliders, and how to combine an interest in engineering with a love for the ocean, from Sarah Searson, a sea-going marine technician. Photo credit: Johanna Wren

I especially like witnessing the progression from student one year to peer-mentor the following year. Watching them go from shy and unsure students to outgoing, empowered, and confident in their new role as peer-mentor is motivating. And what I always find remarkable is how humble the peer-mentors are: they all have an ‘if I can do it, you can do it’ attitude. Peer-mentors take on the roles of a leader, educator, and mentor, and they not only inspire the students, they inspire me as well.

Learning by Doing: Networking with people paid to pursue their passion

“Man, that’s the closest I’ve been to an astronaut!” said one student after talking to a geology professor working on the Curiosity Mission with NASA.

Instead of reciting statistics and course requirements, which often become overwhelming, we introduce the students to career professionals in a variety of fields, from surf forecasters to ocean engineers. Students “talk story” with 20 different professionals, hearing – and often seeing – firsthand what that career entails and what kind of education they need to get there.

HāKilo II students talking with a career professional, Kimball Millikan, about wave buoys and ocean engineering. Photo credit: Johanna Wren.

HāKilo II students talking with a career professional, Kimball Millikan, about wave buoys and ocean engineering. Photo credit: Johanna Wren.

Once students realize that many of the professionals they talked to get paid to surf, dive or hike (common hobbies among the students), their enthusiasm skyrockets. The type of questions they ask changes from general (e.g. “What kind of degree do you have?”) to specific (e.g. “What subject would you recommend that I focus on to get your job?”). The dedication that the professionals show not only to their profession but also to sharing their passion with young scientists is profound. At the end of the week, we ask the professionals to give one take home message to the students, and it is universally: “You work too much not to love what you do.”

The best part about this program for me each year is when students discover that their interests don’t have to stay hobbies, but that they can become their careers. A few weeks ago, I ran into one of the students who participated in HāKilo II two years ago and was a peer-mentor last year. When I first met her in 2013 she intended to major in Nursing. Since then, she has changed her focus, transferred to UH Mānoa’s Dept. of Oceanography Global Environmental Sciences program, and participated in marine biology and oceanography summer research experiences both in the U.S. and abroad. She is a true inspiration and role model, and I’m so honored to have had a small part in helping her find her passion.

Johanna Wren is a PhD candidate in the Department of Oceanography in the Toonen-Bowen (ToBo) Lab at Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research focuses on larval dispersal and population connectivity of reef fish using a biophysical modeling approach. She is interested in identifying biophysical drivers around the Hawaiian Islands that shape the connectivity patterns seen in reef fish communities today.


Bad Data/Good Data: How a physical study ended up giving insight into animal behavior



Contributed by Katie Smith

In oceanographic research, we plan, hypothesize, and make observations as carefully as we can, but nature can still sometimes find ways to mess with us. After all, research is about investigating scientific mysteries, so we never really know what we’re going to find. That’s not a drawback to research—it’s a feature. Sometimes, the most exciting scientific mysteries are the ones that lead in a direction we never expected, as I learned in a recent study of Māmala Bay.

Typical day for a physical oceanographer

As a physical oceanographer, I study internal waves. These are underwater waves that can be found throughout most of the ocean. Similar to how surface ocean waves travel on the interface between two fluids of different densities (those two fluids being the water and the much less dense air above it), internal waves can move through water that has different densities at different depths. In the ocean, the main properties affecting water density are temperature and salinity, so generally less dense (warmer and/or fresher) water sits on top of denser (colder and/or saltier) water. Any disturbance to this structure, such as a current forcing water up and over an underwater ridge, can create internal waves that move through the water. We don’t see these internal waves with the naked eye, but we can detect them with underwater measurements of water properties such as temperature and velocity.

View of Waikiki and Diamond Head from Mamala Bay. Photo credit: Katie Smith

View of Waikiki and Diamond Head from Mamala Bay. Photo credit: Katie Smith

For six months, I had a sensor deployed in Māmala Bay at 500 m depth to look for internal waves. This sensor, called an ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profiler), measures water velocity using sonar: it sends out a brief pulse of sound through the water column, and the sound bounces back off of tiny particles drifting in the water at different distances from the ADCP. The time it takes for the sound waves to bounce back tells the ADCP how far away each particle is, and the amount of sound that returns to the sensor (the “backscatter”) gives a relative estimate of how many particles are in the water at different depths. The Doppler shift of the sound that returns gives a reading of the velocity of the drifting particles and, thus, the velocity of the water in which they are drifting. In order to get a good velocity reading, though, there need to be a sufficient number of particles in the water for enough of the sound to bounce back and return to the sensor.

Once my ADCP was hauled out of the ocean and back to the lab, I started to look at the data it collected. I used a method that essentially highlights repeating patterns in the data and the frequencies at which the patterns repeat. This type of analysis is useful when looking for signs of internal waves, because waves are themselves a repeating pattern. When I did this analysis, it showed a lot of activity occurring at a frequency of about one cycle per day. My experience with internal waves initially led me to think that this was a strong tidal signal, since many internal waves oscillate at tidal frequencies. Interesting! I might be observing an internal wave with a diurnal tidal frequency breaking at this location! But when I looked closer at the velocity readings, I realized that things were not what they seemed to be.

Animals are messing up my data!
The ADCP is hauled back on board after 6 months of data gathering. Photo credit: Katie Smith

The ADCP is hauled back on board after 6 months of data gathering. Photo credit: Katie Smith

When I looked more closely at my data, I saw that my “interesting” velocity signal was actually a false signal—an artifact of the ADCP receiving poor data. The ADCP had recorded consistently high backscatter near the bottom during daylight hours, but low backscatter at night. This means that during the day, the sensor received a nice, strong signal because there were lots of particles in the water for the sound to bounce off of. But during the night, the water near the bottom became incredibly clear, so the ADCP couldn’t get a good velocity signal. For the most part, the ADCP marked the weak signal as missing data as it is programmed to do. But sometimes, when the signal strength was at the border between too weak and maybe just strong enough, the ADCP recorded an unreliable jumble of numbers. The nighttime jumble was what caused my apparent “interesting” signal that was occurring at a cycle of once per day.

I now knew that my hypothesis of an internal wave breaking at a diurnal tidal frequency was based on false velocity readings, but this raised a new question: Why would my velocity readings be strong during daylight hours but weak during the night? The pattern repeated itself every day. To answer this question, I had to step outside of my usual research area of physical oceanography and into the field of biological oceanography. What’s happening is that there are organisms that migrate on a daily schedule in a behavior we call “diel migration.” Tiny zooplankton, fish, squid, and shrimp feed on plankton near the surface of the water, but they are vulnerable to being eaten by larger predators when they can be seen in the light of the sun. So during the day, they hide in dark waters too deep for the light to reach. At night, they swim upwards or “migrate” into shallower water to feed under the cover of darkness, when there is a lower risk of being spotted by predators.

My ADCP was located at a deep site where these animals were hiding during the day. This is why I had a high backscatter signal during daylight hours. At night, though, the animals would all move to shallower depths to feed, leaving such a low backscatter signal that the sensor couldn’t get good velocity data near the bottom. My backscatter signal was a record of diel migration!

A new direction

It turns out that the diel migration of these small animals in Oahu’s coastal waters is an area of active research. Previous studies have observed diel migration of these organisms, but they have mostly focused on shallower waters. I am now working with biological oceanographer Christina Comfort on a manuscript to report our observations of this migrating community of organisms. These observations could be important for the planned SWAC (Seawater Air Conditioning) system being built in Mamala Bay, as the intake pipe for the cold water feeding that cooling system is near 500 m depth and could affect or be affected by the presence of a large migrating community.

This study exemplifies why oceanographic research is an exciting, versatile line of work. Things don’t always go as planned, and data won’t always reveal what you expect, but that can be a good thing! You might find that your research takes you in a completely different direction that is still interesting in its own right. Oceanography is by nature an interdisciplinary field. The physics, chemistry, and biology of the ocean all exist everywhere simultaneously. Being able to start a project looking for a purely physical signal in the ocean and ending up with a manuscript about the behavior of small nearshore animals—this is one of the reasons I love doing oceanographic research.

Katie Smith is a PhD candidate in the Department of Oceanography at UH Mānoa. Her research focuses on the behavior and effects of internal waves in nearshore systems, and she is also interested in the interactions between the physics and the biology of the ocean.

It’s Not Always Bad to Cross the Line




Contributed by Michelle Jungbluth, e-mailed via satellite while battling rough seas along the Atlantic Meridional Transect. 

Monday October 13th was an exciting day for us at sea. This is the day we crossed the equator.

Me in the control room as we officially cross the equator - 0° 00.12’ N

Me in the control room as we officially cross the equator – 0° 00.12’ N

After a restless nights sleep, I woke up at 01:30 am to continue my normal early-morning routine before the big “Crossing the Line” ceremony at noon. Most of my daily routine included picking out hundreds of ~8 different copepod species (microscopic shrimp-like insects of the sea) into cryogenic tubes until breakfast. After about 21 days at sea collecting samples, my advisor Erica Goetze and I had individually isolated over 10,000 copepods, and at this point we still had three weeks of daily sampling to go.

That morning, I received an ‘anonymous tip’ from one of the police (a double agent?) recommending that as inductees we plan effective defenses, since it would be more fun for everyone. I made the last minute decision to save a portion of our stinky morning tow plankton goop for my defenses against King Neptune’s police force! This turned out to be quite useful when all of us not-yet-inducted line crossers got together before lunch to prepare our weapons: condom-water balloons!

My weapons to fight King Neptune's police force

My weapons to fight King Neptune’s police force

Why condoms? I would chalk it up to MacGyver-esque resourcefulness. The doctor had a large stock of condoms she did not mind sharing, since she too was crossing the line that day!   Condoms work quite well as water balloons. We also decided to include extra special “treats” in the balloons… purple dye, fabric softener for strong scent, and my favorite, the stinky plankton water. We then chose our hiding places, and I chose a location with two other line crossers, Ryan and Rafael.

At the strike of 13:00 the announcement came: “King Neptune has arrived on the ship, and any non-shellbacks (those who have previously crossed the equator) are to be put on trial for their crimes against his subjects!” That was our cue to quickly get to our hiding places and be ready to defend ourselves against the police. Seasoned veterans of the ceremony were chosen as the police force, so we knew who to expect.

Us "shellbacks" in our hiding place, on the defensive against one of the King's police

Us “shellbacks” in our hiding place, on the defensive against one of the King’s police

We were found within minutes. There have been many line crossings on this ship, the RRS James Clark Ross, so there were not many hiding locations left that the police didn’t know about. 

Once we were caught, trial and punishment were simple: sit before King Neptune and his lovely wife Aphrodite (i.e. John and Colin) and be put on trial. Guilty of a charge meant you received some volume of old, cabbage ridden, vinegary kitchen slop over your head, down your shirt, in your face … etc. Then before we were deemed an official “Shellback”, we had to kneel before the king and kiss a dead fish!

Me receiving a hearty scoopful of kitchen slop over the head!

Me receiving a hearty scoopful of kitchen slop over the head!

As you can see, not even I – sweet and harmless Michelle – was safe from the wrath of King Neptune! You might be wondering, what were my “charges”? In all I received 8 charges, and here are a few of them:

  • Forcing my study subjects through a tiny mesh thus causing a slow and painful death
  • Pronouncing tomato incorrectly (according to the British dominating the science team)
  • Distracting the bridge with my day-glo t-shirts
  • Wearing a ridiculous fireman’s helmet
  • Spending all day tanning at the CTD while I say I am working (I have to sit there for hours concentrating animals from the water!)

My hair exuded the scent of vinegar for at least three days afterward, and I am still finding remnants of our ‘water balloons’ on the deck of the ship despite an attempt to clean them up that evening. In the end, it’s all in good fun, and will be one of the most fun and memorable days of this shellback’s life.

Continue reading

Storm Chasing on O‘ahu!

By: Shannon McElhinney

SMcelhinneyheadShotStorm chasing is a glorified way to describe what my MET628 (Radar Meteorology) class did for three weeks in November.  From October 21nd to November 13th 2013, the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) visited O‘ahu for the very first time.  The DOW is a mobile weather radar, an active remote sensing instrument, which emits radio waves to detect rain and clouds at different ranges.  The permanent radars typically used to monitor weather on O‘ahu are located on Moloka‘i and Kaua‘i, so this was a unique opportunity to look at O‘ahu weather- up close and personal.

Doppler on Wheels (DOW) Radar

Doppler on Wheels (DOW) Radar

The Hawaii Educational Radar Opportunity field project (HERO) was part of a National Science Foundation Educational Deployment of the DOW radar.  It was shipped all the way from Boulder, Colorado to Honolulu Harbor.  When it was finally unloaded from the ship, I drove down to the harbor with my professor and another student.  We were waiting in the hot dusty parking lot that would be its home base for the next few weeks, when it pulled up to the gate.  The giant blue semi-truck did not have a trailer on the back; instead it had an antenna, bigger than me.  It would get a lot of funny looks over the course of the project, as we drove it all around the island.

Each morning the class, as well as some undergraduates and National Weather Service employees, would meet for a forecast briefing.  If there was so much as a chance for mauka or trade showers, we deployed.  This was my first experience with hands-on fieldwork, and sitting in the operator’s chair, surrounded by all of the computers and switches, made everything feel real and exciting.  The DOW is usually chasing tornadoes in the Great Plains (it has been featured in the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series).  Hawai‘i weather seems tame in comparison, but we were blessed with a variety of interesting weather.

The downsides of HERO included the very early mornings, the constant sound of the transmitter, and watching computer screens for hours on end.  There was also the frequent disappointment when a storm cell died or moved out of range.  But I can’t complain. I got my five seconds of fame when Meteorologist Jennifer Robbins interviewed me for a Hawaii News Now segment (I even got a free surfboard locker when my apartment supervisor saw me on TV!)  I had some exciting moments, like trying to launch an uncooperative weather balloon between heavy tropical downpours.  I got to see hundreds of children’s’ faces light up as they explored the DOW at a community outreach event, the SOEST Open House.

The News crew caught our balloon launch on camera

The News crew caught our balloon launch on camera

The real climax of HERO came as the final week was drawing to a close.  A cold front was forecast to pass through the islands, bringing convective and windy weather.  The forecast group noted a cold pool aloft, which meant an even greater chance for instability and thunderstorms.  The only problem was timing.  The timing of the frontal passage could have been any time from Saturday night to Sunday morning.  To be sure we caught it, three consecutive groups were assigned to work through the night.  I was happy to be in the first group because we experienced a lot of pre-frontal action at the Wahiawa site.  Parked on the side of a highway, we were able to see a large band of heavy showers approach from the north, which eventually reached the site.  Later that night there was heavy rain all around the island and even some flooding in town.

This is the main radar display during the big cold front event, showing where the heavy rains are (top) and wind speeds (bottom)

This is the main radar display during the big cold front event, showing where the heavy rains are (top) and wind speeds (bottom)

Most of that night consisted of four graduate students and the technician crammed inside the truck to keep dry.  My favorite moment was when the second team took over at 2 AM.  As I emerged from the truck, after my 8-hour shift, I was surprised to see 15 other students there, huddling under umbrellas and open car trunks.  Nobody had wanted to miss out on the excitement.  So there we stood, 15 meteorology students on the side of a road surrounded by pineapple fields at 2 AM on a Sunday morning… for fun!

Surprisingly we got no inquisitive visits from the police or locals, as we had many times before.  Our deployment sites were often at beach parks, which put us in clear view of the public.  People would approach us in the DOW or during a balloon launch to ask what we were doing.  Most showed great interest and support, although some were suspicious.  One lady even asked us not to scan her because she feared we could see through her clothes!

Weather balloon launch

Weather balloon launch

Weather radars are not a common sight here on O‘ahu, but we hope to change that.  The data allowed for a detailed and never-before-seen view of how rain forms around the islands.  I was able to watch a small trade wind cumulus cloud form and develop all the way to the end of its life cycle, completely captured by the radar.  Most importantly, this project got a bunch of students and meteorologists together to take part in hands-on weather data collection.  Through collaboration and operating the radar, I learned more in three weeks than I could have in a whole semester in the classroom.


Shannon McElhinney is a 2nd year Masters student in the Department of Meteorology at UH Manoa.  Her current research uses models and observations, including airborne Doppler radar, to study the Hurricane boundary layer.  She also enjoys teaching some meteorology fundamentals to MET101 lab students.

A Bittersweet Cruise

A guest blog post contributed by Donn Viviani

I conduct my oceanographic research on a 186-foot-long ship at Station ALOHA, 60 miles from ‘Oahu and the site of the 25-year-old Hawai’i Ocean Time-series. Cruises last five days and are scheduled well in advance.  So I was surprised one evening when my advisor emailed, “we have to go sample the molasses plume right away!”  I thought he was joking: What molasses plume?

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses were spilling into Honolulu Harbor, and fish were dying by the thousands.  As microbial oceanographers, we immediately wanted to know how bacteria were responding.  Were they using the molasses to grow like crazy and breathing all the oxygen in the water?  We knew the Department of Health would look at fish and potentially harmful bacteria.  We didn’t think they would be very interested in the vast majority of microbes that are not dangerous to humans, but we sure were interested!

Thirty-six hours later, seven scientists, myself included, arrived at the University of Hawai’i Marine Center with all the equipment we might possibly need.  Scientists, captain, boxes of equipment, and the CTD (conductivity-temperature-density) sensor package crowded our 20-foot-long boat.  Out in Ke’ehi Lagoon, it was evident that something was wrong. The water was an odd dark color and the air smelled sort of like bread.  Later, I saw aerial photos that really showed the discoloration of the water.


Lowering the CTD into the molasses plume.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

We motored down the channel to the places the Department of Health had collected water samples.  I’ve never seen so many small crafts in the harbor on any of my past 60 cruises.  There were dive flags up everywhere and guys scooping nets for dead fish.  It was surreal.

Station one, near Aloha Tower, was confusing and disorganized.  None of us had used this boat before, and we were crammed like sardines between boxes of empty sample bottles.  Two scientists lowered the CTD over the side.  To check the sensor depth readout on the laptop screen, I had to crawl along the outside of the boat.  Eventually, we figured it out, filled our bottles with samples, and moved on as more boats arrived.

Our second station stunk.  Off Pier 38, there was a strong rotten egg smell, causing some of us to say “yuck” and others to say “Wow! Smells like hydrogen sulfide!”  We suspected the water below us might be anoxic (no oxygen).  Sure enough, the CTD oxygen sensor reported almost no oxygen between the surface and just above the bottom.  Anoxic water could explain the dead fish, which would have been suffocated.  The molasses was like a huge holiday buffet for bacteria living in the harbor.  They ate up all the molasses, breathed all the oxygen, and now some of them were living anaerobically (without oxygen) and releasing hydrogen sulfide.   Water at the next two stations also contained very little oxygen. We didn’t smell any hydrogen sulfide, but  there were many dead fish floating under the docks at the final station.


Taking oxygen measurements on board our “research vessel”.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

Back in the lab, we analyzed our samples to calibrate our CTD sensors, and to figure out what kind of bacteria were in the harbor and how fast they were growing.  We planned a second trip, to look for changes.  After washing some bottles, looking at data, and talking to some reporters, we were ready to go back out.

Our second cruise, a week later, was like going to a totally different harbor.  I saw both Jacks (‘ulua) and flying fish (malolo); I’ve never seen either in the harbor before.  At station one, the water surface was covered with a film of zooplankton, small organisms that eat bacteria and phytoplankton.  We didn’t smell hydrogen sulfide, and none of the stations were anoxic.  It seemed like microbes and water mixing through the harbor had cleaned up the molasses, and larger organisms were moving back in.


Interviewing the “TV Star”.
Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

We’re still analyzing our measurements, but I’ve learned a few things from this experience. First, people get way more interested in my science when it affects something relevant to them, like my Aunties calling me “TV Star” because they saw me get interviewed on the news.  Second, lots of interesting science happens in my own backyard.  Third, even harbor bacteria have a massive sweet tooth!

Donn Viviani is a PhD student studying the partitioning of primary production between particulate and dissolved phases in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. He is looking forwarding to contributing more guest posts on spontaneous research in his backyard and beyond.


Photo credit: Fenina Buttler

The One With The Peanut Butter M&M’s

By Shimi Rii

Shimi RiiIn May, I embarked on HOT-252, (possibly) my last HOT cruise for my Ph.D. project.  I say ‘possibly’ because you never know what your committee may spring on you at the last minute. Inside, however, I felt a bit giddy but already nostalgic – there were many adventures that sprung out of these trips to our most frequently visited station in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG).

Leaving Honolulu harbor

Leaving Honolulu Harbor for a business-as-usual HOT cruise.

I have now completed a 2-year collection of monthly DNA/RNA and primary production samples within the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program.  The HOT program is now on its 25th year of physical and biogeochemical measurements at Station ALOHA (22° 45’ N, 158° W), an ocean station representative of the NPSG, one of the largest ecosystems on Earth.  For the last 2 years, I had a duffel bag packed with acid-stained garb that was re-washed after every cruise, a mini toiletry set, my yoga mat, and my ukulele, all neatly set aside and ready to go each month.  On May 20, I folded my clean clothes full of pukas (‘holes’ in Hawaiian) and stowed away the empty duffel, hoping not to jinx myself.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

I’m looking forward to the benefits of lab life: carpal tunnel syndrome on my pipetting hand, the ability to tell which centrifuge is on by its particular drone, being able to catch up on All Songs Considered podcasts.  But I will definitely miss the monthly trips to Station ALOHA – especially the ping-pong match of playful insults I’ve grown accustomed to throwing at my shipmates, playing Dominion until the wee hours when we should be sleeping, and the constant fight against motion- or food- or microscope-induced seasickness.

In truth, my shipmates have become my sea-going family.  Each HOT cruise is marked by a random exciting event that distinguishes one from another, much like a Friends episode: “The One With All The Fish” or “The One With the Mysterious Smell (you know who you are).”  We worked like a well-oiled machine, understanding each other’s looks, knowing when a Trichodesmium bloom would occur, and enjoying moments of camaraderie at 1 a.m.

A cruise that will forever remain warm and fuzzy in my heart is HOT-242, my first birthday cruise. Though I’ve sailed on research ships for over 10 years, I somehow managed to stay land-rooted on my birthdays.  I woke up to a bouquet of balloons on my stateroom door with a gift bag full of candy and a card signed by everyone on board.  It was just another birthday, but I felt special. This year, I wasn’t going to have Facebook greetings from high school classmates that I never talk to anymore.  Never mind that I had to wake up at 3 a.m. for my CTD cast; I was with my Station ALOHA ‘ohana (family) and it was going to be an awesome birthday at sea.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Science on my birthday cruise was nothing out of the ordinary, with every hour being accounted for and occurring like clockwork, as per usual on a HOT cruise.  The only thing different was an assignment to track down a rogue seaglider that was deployed a week prior.  This seaglider, an autonomous profiling instrument designed to give us real-time environmental data, decided to ignore all assigned depths and commands and it fell on our crew to bring the rebel home.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a spontaneous jaunt to Kaua‘i across the 72-mile-long Ka‘ie‘ie Waho Channel.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

I had been feeling great for the first 4 days of the cruise, and by the time the ship started its channel transit, I was done with my work and watching movies in the lounge with a bag of peanut butter M&M’s.  Unexpectedly, that familiar, slightly acidic taste had developed in my mouth.  “You doing alright? Ready for your birthday cake?” My colleague teased, noticing my fear-filled wide eyes.  “Are you sweating?” He kept on. I glared and waved him away weakly, overcome with sudden shivering. The M&M’s were now sloshing around in my stomach, much like the water around the boat.  It was dinner time, and the smell of sautéed shrimp, normally my favorite, didn’t help. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, determined to make it to my birthday at sea celebration.

Finally in the mess hall, I closed my eyes to concentrate as my ‘ohana sang “Happy Birthday” and presented me with my cake.  I can do this, I told myself. This day can still be awesome. I managed a smile and stood up to cut the cake, when the room blurred and started spinning.

Gulp. “Fernando, cut this,” I blurted out, shoved the knife in his hand, and ran to the nearest head (bathroom on a ship).

Thanks to HOT-242, it will be a long time before I can eat peanut butter M&M’s again.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Shimi Rii is a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Her current research looks at the diversity of tiny eukaryotic phytoplankton and their role in carbon cycling in the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres.  She enjoys creating things, relaying the awesome-ness of microbes to high school students, and practicing science writing. 

Chasing Plankton

By Michelle J. Jungbluth


October 23, 2011.  The day started out sunny, warm, pretty much a normal day on Oahu.  Little did I know that it was going to be my own personal ‘D-day’, the next day would be the beginning of a very busy 14 days.  I was having a great night grilling at a friend’s house in St. Louis Heights.  After taking a step out of the house to get some fresh air, I looked mauka into the sky, and noticed the clouds looked darker than usual over the windward side.  “It’s going to happen tonight…” I said, more to myself than anyone around me.  Sure enough, a couple of hours later I went home, hopped on the internet and checked the rainfall. They had already received over an inch of rain in Kaneohe, with no sign of letting up.

I had been preparing for months: e-mailing undergraduate clubs looking for any bodies willing to be ‘on call’ for helping with sampling, assembling all the supplies I would need, checking the forecasts, and generally keeping my wits about me waiting for the day to come.  Greater than 2 inches of rain in 24 hours, that was my trigger.  No less.  I started my “rain watch” in late August, after that any hint or mention of rainfall made my ears perk up, and I immediately checked the forecast.  But one of the first things I learned is that it actually can be difficult to predict severe weather on the islands more than a few days out, unless it’s a monster of a storm.

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

You might be wondering why I am chasing a storm. Well, I am interested in the response of the plankton community to storm events and how these storms influence the marine food web around the Hawaiian Islands.  We know that the influx of nutrients causes rapid changes in the plankton communities within short time scales, and I specifically want to know what is happening to different species of copepod nauplii (youngest life stages of copepods, the most abundant metazoan in marine ecosystems all over the world)  after these storms, as compared to calm non-storm periods.  This requires sophisticated DNA-based methods, which will be the topic of a future blog article and (hopefully) a few journal articles.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Once I arrived home on the night of the storm chase, I sent a flurry of e-mails: to my list of available volunteers to start assigning days to people and get the first couple of days covered, to reserve a boat  for all 14 days at HIMB, and finally, the e-mail to my advisors, subject line: “Storm chase-now!” with obvious contents.

The 14 days of sampling was a whirlwind of activity.  I drove all my supplies from UH Manoa across the Koolau Mountains to HIMB, took the shuttle boat across to Coconut Island, loaded my supplies onto the boat, drove it to my GPS-located sampling location in the center of the South Bay, collected all my samples, measured the water quality, left my supplies on HIMB (I am ever so grateful to someone who will remain anonymous, thank you for sharing your space), and drove my samples back to campus for processing, which was another hour of work.   Then rinse and repeat the same procedure for 13 more days.

Michelle deploying the plankton net

Michelle deploying the plankton net

 The dynamics of the bay tend to change rapidly, and we could see that in the clarity of my plankton samples as well as the water quality measurements.  One day the chlorophyll levels were low and stratified, the next day they were high and seemingly well-mixed.  “Oh look, the freshwater lens is coming, I better collect my zooplankton before it gets here!” to avoid clogging my fine-mesh plankton net.  Each day was an adventure.

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Each day also presented unique challenges. One day an unmanned sailboat slowly drifted past my boat while I was anchored, and we called it in so that someone could tow it back to its origin before it drifted into the unsuspecting reef.  Another day we rescued a fellow boater whose engine failed and left them stranded not far from HIMB.  On a breezy Sunday, we were anchored at the field site, and then out of nowhere a sailing race began in the exact region of the bay we were sampling from!  I don’t think the sailors were thrilled about it but hey, there was little I could do, I had been sampling there for the past 2 years doing my time-series.  And then there were the days we got stuck in the pouring rain… I rushed to collect my samples while my wonderful volunteer intermittently bailed the boat to keep us from sinking.  However, most days were average, gorgeous Hawaiian days, and sampling could not have gone more smoothly.  Those days always remind me how lucky I am to study biological oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.   I am finally processing those samples for my PhD work and getting some really exciting data, which is a nice addition to having stories about storm chasing.

Michelle Jungbluth is a student in the Biological Oceanography department at UH Manoa characterizing the response of plankton communities to storm events in Kaneohe Bay. She is specifically looking at the response by copepod nauplii, the youngest (and more abundant) life stages of copepods, using a DNA-based method called quantitative real-time PCR to study their role in the marine food web. 

Aquatic Soldiering – The Norm

By Christine A. Waters

Christine A. WatersI told myself I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. Whaaaat am I doing here?” As the sun beat down on us mercilessly, I played through memories: the incisive friction of Kevlar antennas and tie-downs tearing from my grip in the Chihuahuan Desert under gusts of wind, the swelling cramps in my neck and lower back from carrying 40 lb rucksacks full of gear through twelve miles of coniferous forest in Georgia, and the sweltering heat of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical contamination suit and mask training during monsoon season in Korea. The discomfort of my sunburn was magnified by those memories. Oh, shade! Oh, sundown! 

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Our ten-foot inflatable raft wafted up-and-down in the gentle, rolling waves of Kiholo Bay, off the west side of the Island of Hawaii. We were trolling along the shore, surveying waters along the coastline for radon. “Radon?” you say. “Affirmative, radon – the very same one that causes lung cancer when breathed.” Radon is enriched in groundwater from our islands, relative to the ocean (that is), and so we look for it and measure it and use its concentrations at sites (along with salinity, temperature, nutrient and chlorophyll-a concentrations) to tell us where and how groundwater is affecting the coastal zone. In areas like Kiholo Bay, this frying pan where I was currently baking, groundwater is the primary conveyor of nutrients and contaminants to the ocean. So, we survey nature’s bug juice.

  A Hawaiian green sea turtle glides up to the raft and checks us out for a minute. (“Us” are a group of three: two undergraduates and me, a grad team chief, Jane-of-all-trades.) What makes the water do? Well, that’s what I imagine the turtle thinks in passing. This type of thinking helps me get the job done. Soon, we are finished – but not with the day. It is just lunchtime. As I throw on a coverall to protect the few remaining bits of my hide that aren’t lobster pink, we hastily get the raft ready for a new operation. Today’s special for lunch will be: wet crackers, salty cheese with bits of sand, some grapes (who doesn’t like grapes?), and don’t forget to drink water! Our dining facility is the raft, as we’re motoring out to the location of our first radium sample, past the reef, in the middle of the bay. Radium analyses, I will explain in a bit. For now, soldier, we are collecting water samples, and this is a need-to-know kind of job!

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

“Don’t look at my butt!” my undergrad (unofficial rank = specialist) yells, as she leans over the side of the raft to begin filling our 20 L cubitainer with water. (This is almost always the comment that is made by the poor battle buddy grabbing the sample.) And as we try to hold the raft in position with the oars, the afternoon’s typically choppy tide is beginning to fight with us. Oh no, you don’t! Beat your face, Water! The ocean does not assume the front-leaning position. I am not pleased.

Nonetheless, we are successful! Sample obtained and water quality parameters (salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen) recorded, we return to the shore to dump it into… a trash can. Ah, science is glamorous! Since there is so little radium in the ocean, we need to collect large volumes of it for measurement. We collect ~60 L of sample.
Radium is a radioactive, daughter product of thorium. Thorium likes to attach itself to particles, is very immobile, and is relatively deplete in ocean waters compared to those originating from land. Thus, little radium is measured on the ocean surface relative to the amount of radium we measure in rivers, lakes (or other bodies with shallow sediments), and groundwater. Radium attaches to particles in freshwater. Where freshwater meets saltwater, it begins to be replaced by chloride from the saltwater, and so it falls off of particles (and into the ocean water). This new supply (compared to the low ocean concentration) is what we’re actively looking for in the waters we sample.

Because radium is radioactive, it decays. So, we can use the radium that lives for the shortest time period to constrain how long the water we’ve sampled has been in nearshore waters and how much mixing with ocean water is taking place. This will be important for identifying things like: how long do groundwater-supplied nutrients stay in an area or how long does contamination persist in recreational waters, et cetera. In the lightest of sense, someday, soldiers in survival training will be forced to tread water in their ACUs in this stuff, and we want to make sure we know what quality of water they’re sucking up – but also how many and how well the phytoplankton (at the bottom of the food chain) are growing around them in the eight hours they’re doggie-paddling.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

After eight radium trash cans are filled and filtered (Oh yes, there’s filtering!), we’re ready to roll-out for the day. The sun is setting, and the sky is a beautiful orange, pink, purple, and grey. Hurray! The white tern that is often at Kiholo Bay in the evening eyeballs us from his rock. It’s okay, tern. We’ll see you tomorrow! And tomorrow, I’ll wear long sleeves and sunscreen to the battle. With all the talking that goes on in my head, I wonder at the evidence we’ll discover in this place for groundwater’s impact on the nearshore environment and the coastal ecosystem. On top of this, I wish I could give the world a better answer for why I’m still here. But the truth is, given all my training and history, I really just enjoy this dialogue that’s happening. 😉

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a third-year graduate student in the Marine Geology section of the Geology and Geophysics Department. She is working with, advisor, Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova, on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

Breaking ice in Antarctica… to discover what lies beneath

by Jaclyn Mueller

Mueller headshot

In March of 2012, I had the opportunity to take part in Antarctic research for the second time in my life. As a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I study RNA viruses that predominantly infect phytoplankton, with a focus on communities in the Antarctic. When I heard that some help was needed on an upcoming Antarctic research cruise, I couldn’t wait to get back down to one of the coldest, windiest, most desolate and absolutely beautiful places on earth. The 40-day expedition took place on the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a research vessel and icebreaker. The cruise was part of a large, multidisciplinary study called LARISSA: Larsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica, which is a National Science Foundation initiative funded to investigate the ecosystem impacts of a catastrophic loss of ice that took place in 2002, when a 3200 sqkm piece of ice disintegrated from the Larsen B ice shelf into the Southern Ocean on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We had a number of scientists on board, ranging from physical oceanographers, glaciologists, and geologists, to biogeochemists, marine benthic ecologists, phytoplankton specialists, microbiologists, and virologists!

The Nathaniel B. Palmer breaking through ice in Antarctica

The Nathaniel B. Palmer breaking through ice in Antarctica

As we departed Punta Arenas, Chile, the Straights of Magellan were quite choppy from the high winds and stormy weather in the area. Many people were immediately ill and turning to Dramamine and saltine crackers for comfort. Surprisingly, as we exited the straights and made our way into the Drake Passage, the seas became incredibly calm. The Drake Passage is the stretch of water where the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean come together and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current rips through the narrow passage between the southern tip of Chile and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s notoriously one of the roughest crossings in the world. When the waters are abnormally calm, the passage has been referred to as the “Drake Lake,” and we were lucky enough to experience it!

On our transit through the Admiralty Sound, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the scenery utterly breathtaking. I truly cannot put into words how beautiful and unique the world is down there. We saw numerous whales, seals, birds, and penguins with enormous ice capped mountains erected on either side of the Sound. Everyone’s spirits were high, with the sun shining and clear blue skies for miles. After the sun went down, a new beauty took over. It was impossible to capture the calm, serenity of the night with my small point and shoot camera. But imagine pitch-black darkness for miles in the distance, with the moonlight casting shadows over an endless sea of icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits. The stars were incredible. You could literally see the entire Milky Way from the top of the ice tower on the ship! At night, the captain, mates, and ice pilot used radar and spotlights to look for icebergs. It was really pretty amazing to watch. Though this vessel was built to break ice, we still had to avoid the giant icebergs and any “fast ice,” or really thick, sturdy ice.

 Clear blue skies on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula

Clear blue skies on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula

Most of our sampling in the Antarctic was dependent upon sea ice conditions. We spent a lot of time breaking ice and attempting to get to stations on our planned cruise track, but often had to make on-the-fly decisions to change location. When ice conditions were really bad, the ice prevailed! If conditions worsened at night, we had to wait until sunrise for easier navigation to determine our next plan of attack. If we were unable to make a large enough hole to maintain the ability to maneuver the ship, the ice was capable of closing in on us with great enough pressure to legitimately squeeze us in! (Don’t worry; the captain wouldn’t let this happen.)

 Adelie penguins on an iceberg

Adelie penguins on an iceberg

Breaking through the ice provided a very different experience for me, as far as cruising conditions go. Usually I get used to the constant rocking of the vessel with the rolling motion of the ocean, but in the ice, conditions are often very stable whilst on station. However, when we were moving through the ice, crushing along growlers, and pushing aside ice floes, it often sounded and felt much like an earthquake. The ship would often get stuck up on an ice floe and tilt sideways, slowly and dramatically, and then crash back down to position as it collided into another one. Working at sea requires us to tie everything down, as we often run into rough seas and everything slides across decks and floors, off of counters and tables, or tips over and onto the floor. While on station, we tend to forget these things; so once we start moving again, everything goes flying!

 A minke whale and crabeater seals following in the ship’s wake

A minke whale and crabeater seals following in the ship’s wake

On the cruise, I assisted with sampling for the Smith Lab, a Benthic Ecology lab at UH that studies organisms that live within and on the seafloor. I worked the night shift from midnight to noon. Scientists usually break up the work on oceanographic cruises into two 12-hours shifts to allow for constant operations around the clock. When it costs over $100,000 a day to operate a research vessel of this size, we can’t afford any breaks! Since I was working as an assistant to one group as well as collecting samples for myself, I had my work cut out for me. If my samples came up at noon, I had to process them fully before I could get to bed, and was still expected to be back and ready for action at midnight! It’s a good thing that ship had a fancy coffee maker and an in-house barista, ready to make me mocha lattes every morning!

 Image of the seafloor showing brittle stars and Scotoplanes (sesea pigs (a species of sea cucumber). Photo credit: Craig Smith

Image of the seafloor showing brittle stars and Scotoplanes (sesea pigs (a species of sea cucumber). Photo credit: Craig Smith

The benthic (seafloor) sampling began with a camera survey of the seabed to determine whether or not the sediment was soft enough for Megacore sampling. The Megacore is a piece of equipment with 12 plastic cylinders that penetrates the seafloor to collect cores of sediment ~20-40 cm deep. When the equipment came back on deck, below freezing temperatures made it very difficult for scientists to retrieve the cores as they were often frozen in place. We then sectioned the sediments by pushing the core up through the plastic cylinder with a piston extruder to slice off 1 cm sections; which were then analyzed for chemical composition, and abundance and diversity of organisms, both large and microscopic. This whole procedure took about 2 hours for deployment and retrieval of the Megacorer, and anywhere from 3-24 hours of processing of the cores.

Megacore sampling on deck

Megacore sampling on deck

The Blake Trawl was one of the more exciting operations, though processing of the sample was very time-consuming and tiring. We basically dragged a net along the seafloor which collected a bunch of sediment and rocks, and any organisms greater than ~2 cm in it’s path. After hauling the large glob of sediments, rocks, and organisms on deck, we dumped it onto a sorting table to hose away the mud and reveal the interesting creatures! The Blake Trawl sorting photo shows scientists hosing away the sediments during one of our night shift trawls. This was the very beginning of the process where we stopped to take a photo… by the end we were covered in frozen mud and water spray from head to toe! It was so cold outside that the water literally froze to our Mustang suits (orange float coats/pants, required for on deck operations), and formed icicles along the edges of the sorting table. As we uncovered the organisms, we sorted them into buckets of filtered seawater, and saved them for identification and food web analyses.


Paulo Sumida, Buzz Scott, Jaclyn Mueller, Caroline Lavoie, and Laura Grange sorting the organisms from a Blake Trawl. Photo credit: Amber Lancaster

We unfortunately did not make it to all of the intended stations due to difficult ice conditions throughout the cruise. However, we were still able to collect a large number of samples from the Larsen A embayment for all of the scientists. We hope to put our samples from the water column and sediments into the context of climate change effects in this region, and determine the impact of large ice shelf losses on the ecosystems below. Continuing to monitor and explore these regions is crucial to understanding the implications of global warming in such a delicate, unique environment.

Jackie Mueller is a PhD student in the Oceanography Department studying marine RNA viral diversity and dynamics. She is using cultivation independent techniques to characterize the composition and structure of the RNA viral community along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Creatures Lurking in the Darkness

By Anela Choy

In clear waters to the far north-west of Hawaiʻi’s main islands is a series of submerged and partially submerged remnants of once volcanic islands and drowned coral reefs.  These land masses and the 139,797 square-miles of the surrounding Pacific Ocean comprise the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, our nation’s largest conservation area and one of the largest conserved areas of marine environment globally.  Of the Marine National Monument, the vast majority of this protected area consists of deep, offshore waters that are also the least explored.

In the summer of 2009 the good ship Hiʻialakai carried a crew of scientists throughout the Monument on a month-long journey to conduct a variety of scientific and cultural explorations.  The Drazen laboratory in the Department of Oceanography at UH Mānoa is also known informally as the Deep Sea Fish Ecology Lab and thus, our participation was focused on using baited deep-sea traps to describe the vastly unknown cast of fishy deep-sea characters.  John Yeh, who designed and built the trap, and I repeatedly threw the trap off the back of the ship at various depths (mostly in very deep waters thousands of feet below the sunlit surface) and at various locations within the Monument.  In addition to comparing the Monument’s deep-sea scavenger community to others’ around the world, we wanted to see how this community varied in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Monument.

The creatures lurking in the darkness were a surprise not only to science but especially to my eyes and mind.  Bright red Heterocarpus shrimps with antennae as long as pencils, slinking and shiny eels with smooth grey skin, ugly deep-sea fish known as rattails with their eyes and stomachs blown-up…these guys were enough to give any normal person nightmares.  Most disturbing (and perhaps most fascinating!) was the giant hagfish (Eptatretus carlhubbsi) that came up in one particularly slimy haul.  We won’t talk numbers and sizes, but know that it was as big as any respectably scary boa constrictor or python.  The hagfish had a face only a mother could love, with multiple fleshy barbels dangling from a large slimy hole (i.e., nostril).  There were no real eyes to look into, only primordial eye spots that held no sign of emotion or previous life.  What stuck with me most (yes, pun intended) was the heinous amount of icky, sticky slime and mucous that oozed out of the collection of glands running along the length of its chubby, slithering body.

photo by A. Choy

photo by A. Choy

John and I spent hours burning through an entire roll of paper towels to clean the continually oozing sticky stuff from the hagfish and everything it touched, including us.  When the spineless fish was as clean as we could get it, we snapped an array of pictures as if it was a celebrity.  That month in the Monument left me awe-inspired and entertained, truly driving home the reality of Earth’s deep-sea environment being less explored than the surface of our moon.

photo by A. Choy

photo by A. Choy