Welcome aboard!

“Intrepid Volunteers” Michael Courtney and Annie Thorp record their observations and adventures as seasoned volunteers aboard Pacific research vessels. Check in often as they attempt to translate the language of the sea and the notations of the scientists into language for the rest of us.

See more from the Sea

Kristina, Annie, Rhea, Margaret, Clare

Recovering the spar buoy off the bow of the Oceanus

Recovering the Eddy Lander through the A-frame at the stern

Our stateroom aboard the Oceanus

Intrepid Volunteers dressed for success

Back Home Again

Oct. 18, 2012

When we last posted, we were heading for Newport, trying to beat the storm. Captain Jeff Crews, with perfect timing, put the ship between the biggest swells as we slid between the jetty fingers entering Yaquina Bay. The bridge wasn’t visible until we were almost under it. We were tied up at the dock when the high winds and pouring rain arrived. We were able to get most of the packing done before getting soaking wet. At home now, we are still trying to catch up. The living room floor is still strewn with rain gear, computers, and clothes. We have today to clean up the garden before the winter  rain starts again tomorrow. Sleeping in a non-moving bed for as long as we want has been wonderful. Annie says she still feels the rocking of the ship.

Oceanography is hard work. From the hard physical labor of working on the deck of a ship to attending to the minutest detail in the lab requires constant concentration. We once again were able to work with and learn from some of the greatest scientists we know. Clare Reimers, our chief scientist, has spent most of her life researching things that most of us don’t even think about, but which could affect each and every one of us. Her assistants, Rhea Sanders and Kristina McCann-Grosvenor, are the “super science mom’s” we wrote about on our last trip with them. They again left their young children at home with their husbands to further increase scientific knowledge. Margaret Sparrow, once again was with us to do her magic, processing and analyzing the water samples from the CTD. She has without question done more CTD’s than the rest of us combined. Jim McManus, the other chief scientist, and his team, Jessie, the two Chris’s, and April taught us a lot about multi-coring. Deploying and recovering equipment at sea is tricky at best. Everyone has to work in unison. The deck is rolling. Heavy instruments are swinging on a wire and have to be controlled by tag lines. The sea is often sloshing over the deck. Dressing for success means boots, full rain gear, hardhat, and life jacket.

I don’t think any research cruise goes without any hiccups or the need to instantly re-plan the day. Mechanical snags, weather changes, or the need to obtain more samples mean the schedule changes often, and the crew and the science party have to be flexible and able to re-focus instantly. But Clare says we obtained lots of good data and good data will keep her lab busy for months to come.

We feel privileged to have been able to help with this cruise. We thank the scientists, the marine techs, and the Oceanus crew for a great trip.

Mike and Annie

About to Cross the Bar

Oct. 15, 2012

This morning the seas were somewhat calmer so we went to work before breakfast. We did one multi-core, a quick breakfast, another multi-core, and then a CTD. Everyone scrambled to finish the cores and the water samples. Then it was time to secure everything on deck to make sure it wouldn’t more as we head for Newport. Crossing the bar at the entrance to Yaquina Bay can be a challenge in rough weather especially when the forecast is for 50 knot winds.

This afternoon will be a busy time with packing up equipment and personal items. Stay tuned as we will write more about this trip a bit later.


What’s Neodymium?

Oct. 14, 2012

Jim McManus

I have been learning so many things since I came out on this cruise. Lots of new vocabulary, terminology, and concepts that still seem a bit vague to me. But I will try to pass on my rudimentary interpretation of the work of James McManus, the other principal investigator on this cruise, and the technicians and student who are working with him.


Professor McManus is a geo-chemist and he works on the chemistry of elements that have potential interest to paleo-oceanographers.  In the case of this cruise he and his group are studying the chemistry of neodymium or Nd, which can be found in sediments and sedimentary fluids along the continental margin. Hence, some of our coring deployments, and water samples are focused on neodymium and its isotope composition within the sediments. Neodymium belongs to the family of lanthanide or rare earth elements, known collectively as REEs, which all share a similar electronic configuration.


Variations in the isotope composition of Nd within the ocean are thought to trace ocean circulation, especially deep water circulation. Nd is found in sediments and in sediment fluids in near and far ocean depths but the concentrations vary. Some of the variation in Nd concentrations is a product of diagenesis, the physical and chemical breakdown of sediments. They want to know how or if diagenesis might influence the composition of the ocean’s dissolved Nd isotope composition.


The importance of understanding ocean circulation is that it is one factor that influences climate.  Lots of other factors influence the Earth’s climate as well including tectonic processes, orbital parameters, and atmospheric chemistry.  Understanding how, when, and where ocean circulation has occurred through time might prove to be useful for understanding current, and possibly future, processes influencing our climate.


Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element. While all isotopes of a given element share the same number of protons, each isotope differs from the others in its number of neutrons. Wikipedia


Latest news flash: 9 pm, near Yachats

The weather has changed again, but not for the better. The seas have been coming up most of the day. As we arrived at our new station this evening the wind and the waves and the rain made conditions less than ideal. We deployed the multi-corer, but on recovery the cable got wrapped around one of the feet and the corer came up upside down. The corer weighs about 1500 pounds so it took some tricky line work to get it flipped over in the water and bring it back on board. This was while waves were covering the deck on a regular basis. Those of us who were out on deck worked well together. We got the job done and everyone is safe. Right now we have suspended deployments while we watch the weather which is not predicted to get much better in the next 24 hours.







Life on a Research Vessel

Oct. 14th, 2012

Recovering the CTD which stands for
Conductivity (measuring salinity), Temperature,
and Depth. Many other measurements are also
taken such as oxygen and fluorescence. Water
samples are taken at various depths and tested for
nutrients like nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, and phosphates,
disolved gasses like freon, oxygen, helium, methane,
and CO2, and disolved metals like lead, iron,
manganese, and pigments like chlorophyl, and beta-

Water samples being processed and tested. Yes, the
open refrigerator is part of the science.

The mess. With the anticipation of more good food,
it gets crowded at meal times.

What’s Cooking?

Kris Alberty and Taylor Williams, keeping us full and happy.

What’s Cooking? 43 N, 124 W

October 13, 2012

There is an old saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. On a research ship, the way to the crew and scientist’s hearts is through our collective happy stomachs. And the cooks onboard have truly stolen our hearts with their amazing meals, creative menus, and with their obvious passion for their work in feeding us. The other day, we celebrated Kristina’s birthday and we had three special meals in her honor including a chocolate cake garnished with chocolate covered strawberries.

Cookbooks of many kinds, from the classic Joy of Cooking to French and Hawaiian cuisine, can be found in the galley. The art and science of food procurement and preparation on a rolling moving ship are daunting, but our dynamic culinary duo is up to the task.

Chief cook Kris Alberty and steward Taylor Williams both have years of experience cooking on a variety of ships. They take obvious pride in their work and they truly aim to make us happy.

Kris was trained at Western Culinary Institute in Portland, now a Cordon Bleu School. He grew up on his family cattle ranch where he learned how to cook from his Dad as well as his Mom. He learned to appreciate a variety of foods most kids would shun from his parent’s rule, to “clean your plate.” He would taste things unusual to a child, like avocados and blue cheese, or his Dad’s gumbo and found them to be delicious. He helped in the kitchen at home as a child and continued to work his way through college by cooking. He has worked on yachts and other ships.

Taylor, has been cooking on ships since high school. He has also worked on yachts and catered special events. He attended the Culinary Arts program at Clark Community College in Vancouver, Washington.

Both men talk about how challenging cooking at sea can be when the galley keeps moving. All food and supplies must be planned and purchased ahead of time as there are no food deliveries at sea. Once onboard, all foods must be stowed safely with limited storage space. Taylor mentioned that he enjoys having the opportunity to “get a second chance,“ in the unlikely event that someone does not care for something he made. The person will be back for the next meal and for the duration of the cruise. One advantage is they always know ahead how many they will be preparing meals for and they don’t have to advertise. We all know when it is meal time. They both prepare three meals a day, 7 days a week, a rather intense schedule, and no days off while at sea. Even when they are in port, turn around times are often very quick and they must buy whatever they need, asap. They are truly amazing and we salute them with huge kudos and appreciation.


Changing Conditions

Oct. 13, 2012

After several days of near perfect weather, winter like conditions have arrived. Last night the seas came up, the rain started, and the ship was rolling. It was difficult to write last night. Holding on to the computer, the desk, and the chair while using the keyboard proved I didn’t have enough hands.

Yesterday was a busy day. We were up at 6am and worked into the evening before moving out farther for another multi-core. We did 7 deployments. One deployment of the Eddy Lander, four CTD’s, one slow-corer deployment, and one multi-corer deployment. Between each deployment we readied the next piece of equipment. Annie records each and every detail in multiple notebooks. The deep-sea winch has started a habit of quitting at inopportune times, requiring someone to go down and restart it. As the seas came up during the day, we were often working in waves washing over the deck. Securing equipment became more critical inside and out.

This trip had been so calm that it was easy to think something would stay put when you put it down. Now everyone is telling their “worst sea” stories, an indicator of changing conditions, with their “it could be worse” attempts to cheer us up. Even though we laugh about everything, there is always the awareness of operating safely and not making mistakes that could get someone hurt.

We are arriving at our next station for a recovery of the Eddy Lander, so we must go suit up.

Mike and Annie


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