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Sampling in the Oxygen Deficient Zone off Mexico - week 3

By: Maggie Gaspar


This week has been both exhilarating and exhausting beyond that which words can describe. Sleep schedules, normal work hours, and the time for relaxation are no longer found in most scientists’ daily routines on board the R/V Sally Ride as we rush to fit in as many stations as possible before the ship must head back to port. I was tasked with an experiment consisting of incubation series, meaning I must inject samples with different nitrogen tracers then “kill” them with a concentrated chemical solution at specific time intervals after the initial injection. My days are defined by a nearly 24 hour continuum of preparing the CTD rosette for a cast, sampling the cast, then injecting and incubating the samples. Science doesn’t wait for daylight to break, nor does it stop when the sun sets over the horizon, not even for Christmas day, and therefore the CTD is constantly being deployed and hauled back on deck for several scientists to drain its contents to analyze every particle, chemical, microbial organism, etc. at all hours. Christmas was certainly not a day to forget for Chef Randall however. He kept exceeding our expectations of how delicious food could be for every meal, snack, and dessert that were brought fourth throughout the day. Meal times are usually the only times I can afford to take a break between incubations so very rarely find enough time to sit down and enjoy a book, rather my heart longs to gaze out at the ocean and its ever-changing energy . As the vessel carried us father south into the ODZ, the tropical climate made itself known: the waters turned a bright cyan color with a visibility that would make any scuba diver envious, various birds such as frigates and boobies circled the ship on open wings, a vast array of little fish and jellies seemed to swarm the boat from all sides, and the sun shone brighter than I have ever experienced before. Another difference in these warm, tropical waters however was the presence of pollution. Small plastics would bob alongside the ship, nearly being mistaken for a little critter on the surface. The breaks that I took to observe all these changes around me provided a feeling of peace and calmness amidst the occasionally rough waters of my science experiment troubles. The ebb and flow of my emotions are so dependent on how well my experimentation goes; on the precision of every milliliter injected and every bubble that could possibly contaminate my samples. I feel as if I need to watch the ocean to remind myself that even the most turbulent waters will still restore to calmness given some time. Some crew members that I have become close with over the week have even started to join me if they see me sitting outside during the few and far between breaks from lab work. Their company is always so comforting compared to the sterile and often stressful environment of a laboratory and I continue to learn more about their lives at sea. Though this is far from the relaxing serenity of a vacation cruise, being surrounded by people with a similar passion for the ocean and drive to discover the unknown has kept me afloat.

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