Catherine Fuller: Maintaining Balance, July 1, 2019


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 1 July 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 60’ 15” N
Longitude: 145’ 30” N
Wave Height:
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 101 degrees
Barometric Pressure: 1020 mb
Air Temperature:  13.2° C
Relative Humidity: 94%
Sky: Overcast


Science and Technology Log

When I read some the material online about the NGA LTER, what struck me was a graphic that represented variability and resiliency as parts of a dynamic system.  The two must coexist within an ecosystem to keep it healthy and sustainable; they must be in balance.  On board, there is also balance in the studies that are being done.  The Main Lab houses researchers who are looking at the physical aspects of the water column, such as sediment and plankton.  The Wet Lab researchers are looking at the chemical aspects and are testing properties such as fluorescence, DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon), and DOC (dissolved organic carbon). 

Working deck
This is the working deck of the ship, where the majority of equipment is deployed

Today we deployed Steffi’s sediment traps, a process during which balance was key. First of all, each trap was composed of four collection tubes arranged rather like a chandelier. 

collection tubes
These are the collection tubes that will be staged at selected depths to collect sediment

These were hooked into her primary line. Her traps were also attached to two sets of floaters: one at the surface and one as an intermediary feature on her line.  These allowed her traps to sit at the proper depths to collect the samples she needed.  The topmost trap sat 80m below the surface, while the next three were at subsequent 25m intervals. 

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Sediment trap #Sikuliaq

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Bern’s time lapse of the sediment trap deployment
hazy sound
Steffi’s traps were released against the background of the smoky sound.

We also collected more samples from another run of the CTD today.  Again, the Niskin bottles (collection tubes) were “fired” or opened at various depths, allowing sampling through a cross section of the water at this particular data point PWS2. Unlike our previous collection, these samples were filtered with .45 micron mesh to eliminate extraneous particles.  This is a very careful process, we needed to be very careful to eliminate air bubbles and replace the filters regularly as the clogged quickly.  For one depth, we did collect unfiltered samples as a comparison to the filtered ones.  Many groups use the CTD to collect samples, so there must also be careful planning of usage so that there is enough water for each team.  Collection is a complicated dance of tubes, syringes, bottles, labels and filters all circling around the CTD. 

Steffi and buoys
Steffi looks over the sound as the buoys marking her traps recede into the distance.

Later this evening, we’ll have the chance to pull up Steffi’s sediment traps and begin to prepare her samples for analysis. 


Personal Log

Balance is key in more ways than one when you’re living aboard a research ship. Although it’s been very calm, we experience some rolling motion when we are transiting from one site to the next.  The stairways in the ship are narrow, as are the steps themselves, and it’s a good thing there are sturdy handrails!  Other than physical balance, it’s important to find personal balance.  During the day, the science work can be very intense and demanding.  Time schedules shift constantly, and it is important to be aware of when your experiments or data collection opportunities are taking place.  Down time is precious, and people will find a quiet space to read, go to the gym (a small one), catch up on sleep or even watch a movie in the lounge. 

A couple of weeks before I left, the Polynesian Voyaging Society hosted a cultural group from Yakutat, who had shipped in one of their canoes down for a conference.  We were able to take them out sailing, and the subject of balance came up in terms of the worldview that the Tlingit have.  People are divided between being Eagles and Ravens, and creatures are also divided along the lines of being herbivorous and carnivorous.  Rather than this being divisive within culture, it reflects the principle of balance.  Both types are needed to make an ecosystem whole and functional.  And so, as we progress, we are continually working on maintaining our balance in the R/V Sikuliaq ecosystem. 


Animals seen today:

A few dolphins were spotted off the bow this evening, but other than that, Prince William Sound has been relatively quiet.  Dan, our U.S. Fish and Wildlife person, remarked that there are more boats than birds today, which isn’t saying much as I’ve only seen three other boats.

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