July 4th festivities

Lots of red, white, and blue, as well as jokingly shouting “‘Murica!” abound yesterday as independence day was celebrated at Woods Hole. The day started off with a parade at noon, featuring many people dressed up in sea-related paraphernalia. Yay, science!

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Horseshoe crab!

Horseshoe crab!

I have no idea what this is supposed to be

I have no idea what this is supposed to be

Awesome street ink fight

Awesome street ink fight

It was amazing how crowded Woods Hole got (and now I finally understand the contrast between the “summer people” and “winter people”) on this day of festivities, and by the time fireworks rolled around, there was a ton of traffic and barely any spot on the beach. We didn’t feel like braving the traffic up to Falmouth, where the fireworks were, and decided on a spot just off Oyster Pond. Unfortunately, the weather has to be your friend here, and similar to the sunrise earlier, the sky was completely clear, except for just the area where the fireworks come out. We were reduced to fawning over misty splotches of colour behind the clouds. It was pretty, but I’d recommend spending the day in Falmouth instead and trying to watch it from there.

It's like the sky was mocking us. Maybe there are just permanent clouds over that area.

Deja vu. It’s like the sky was mocking us. Maybe there are just permanent clouds over that area.

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OceanQuest cruise

One of my good friends from University of Toronto visited me this weekend. Since we didn’t want to infringe on WHOI residences’ no overnight guest policy, she found nice couchsurfing hosts from MBL to stay with. They were extremely engaging and kind; we met for pizza and chatted about things to do around Woods Hole such as scallopping later in the summer, bioluminescent dinoflagellate blooms, and the OceanQuest cruise, which one of them works for. The pier for the cruise is right across from the Marine Biological Laboratory campus near WHOI.

Being suckers for educational, touristy shenanigans, we immediately decided to try it out. For $25, you get an 1.5 hour cruise around WHOI and the Elizabeth Islands, which extend southwest from WHOI, and learn about the cool creatures around Woods Hole’s waters, as well as the geological history of the area. Although this cruise was tailored towards tourists and children, I was impressed with the scientific accuracy of the descriptions, and some of the animals were fantastic to play with!

They use lobster traps to catch these animals, keep them on board for a few days for educational purposes, then release them

They use lobster traps to catch these animals, keep them on board for a few days for educational purposes, then release them

Horseshoe crab - the coolest creatures!

Horseshoe crab – the coolest creatures! You can place them on your head for a head massage (I tried, but it wasn’t the most comfortable unfortunately)

Another crab that likes to live in rocks - you can see it would be very well camouflaged

Another crab that likes to live in rocks – you can see it would be very well camouflaged

Developing a project

When I first spoke to Lauren regarding project ideas, I was given two choices of current projects to work on: larval settlement behaviour in turbulence (focused on Matlab analyses) or on deep-sea hydrothermal vent larvae identification (focused on microscopy). Being a sucker for statistics and data analyses, I naturally picked the former. Additionally, the lab’s work using particle image velocimetry (PIV) is a relatively new method of quantifying larval behaviour, and I wanted to gain some exposure to a new field since I’ve already done some larval identification work for a previous field course.

PIV. The vectors between the two annuli in bold are used to calculate local flow (Wheeler et al., 2013)

PIV. The vectors between the two annuli, in bold, are used to calculate local flow (Wheeler et al., 2013)

Larvae of benthic organisms, such as those of our study organism the eastern oyster (C. virginica), may adopt sensitivity to specific settlement cues for habitat optimization (there may be strong selection against those who don’t, who may then likely settle in unfortunate places such as the open ocean). Benthic regions such as oyster reefs are characterized by turbulent conditions, and it has been speculated that oyster larvae may use turbulence as a settlement cue. There has been mixed results in whether turbulence does induce settlement, and controversy over the possible confounding effects of artificial particles used in PIV (since an effective control, without particles, does not exist in these experiments since one cannot calculate relative larval velocity to the same degree of accuracy without them).

My project attempts to address 1. whether particles indeed affect the larvae (done by comparing the relative observed larval abundance and absolute verticle velocities in water seeded with algae and with particles); 2. whether turbulence affects the frequency of larval helical swimming behaviour (done by programming a script that can identify helical tracts); 3. how turbulence can affect phototaxis (done by the addition of light in turbulence experiments, which are typically done in the dark).

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Experimental tank setup that we will be using for turbulence experiments. The two grids stir the tank at various frequencies to emulate different turbulence levels (Wheeler et al., 2013)

The experimental work, which will commence once the hatcheries have larvae available in mid-July, is done in a separate wet lab, the Shore lab. Although we will be using another tank set-up for the experiment (above), Jeanette Wheeler (a third-year graduate student) is piloting a new flume tank set-up, and we had a chance to poke around some of the setup there last week:

Dangerous Class IV laser

Class IV laser used to light the field of view

Larval injector (from which the larvae can enter the water column) with the camera setup. Since this tank is much bigger than the typical experimental tank, it is more budget-friendly to inject the larvae upstream of the camera field, rather than distribute them randomly throughout the tank

Larval injector (from which the larvae can enter the water column) with the camera setup. Since this tank is much bigger than the older experimental tank, it is more budget-friendly to inject the larvae upstream of the camera field of view, rather than distribute them randomly throughout the tank

Visualizing turbulence characteristics as the water flows around the injector (to emulate what the larvae would feel) using fluorescein

Visualizing turbulence characteristics as the water flows around the injector (to emulate what the larvae would face) using fluorescein

Flourescein is pretty cool

Flourescein is pretty cool

As fun as Matlab is (<- I’m actually being completely serious), I’m definitely looking forward to the experimental work in mid-July. I wonder if I can raise baby oysters in a tank/watch them under a dissecting microscope when we’re done using them? One can certainly hope!

Summer Solstice Sunrise

The summer solstice in Falmouth began with the Falmouth Arts Festival, which featured upbeat, jazzy artists performing in a tented dance space in the Falmouth public library square. Granted, we seemed slightly out of place in comparison to the endearing middle-aged couples that filled the crowd, but the evening high-spirited and the music was fantastic.

2013-06-21 20.29.06Since this is my first time living on the coast (except for a few of my earlier childhood years), I was keen on watching a sunrise over the ocean. Oyster Pond is only a few minutes away from an east-facing beach and I managed to convince a few other brave souls to stay out by the beach most of the night in high hopes of a magnificent sunrise. This is what we got:

Clear skies everywhere, except for where the sun comes out

Clear skies everywhere, oh, except for the part where the sun comes out

Not only was it blocked by clouds, but the sunrise was a bit far too north to be over the oceans at this time, when the solstice leads to a northeast azimuth. It may only be possible to view an ocean sunrise later in the summer, when the azimuth moves south towards a more eastern angle. Disappointing, but beautiful nevertheless…the perfect sunrise still eludes us!

Shining Sea Bikeway (Oyster Pond to North Falmouth)

Typically, SSFers bike south from Oyster Pond on the Shining Sea Bikeway to get to work, but the majority of the Bikeway lies north of Oyster Pond. The distance from Oyster Pond to the northern end of the bikeway is about 8 miles one way, and about 4 miles to the Great Sippewissett Marsh: 2013-06-19 19.56.54 2013-06-19 19.57.16 2013-06-19 19.57.39 2013-06-19 20.03.53 2013-06-19 20.04.59

There's nothing much more north of the marsh except for this groovy-looking shack...I wonder what it is?

There’s nothing much more north of the marsh except for this groovy-looking shack…I wonder what it is?

The return trip (16 miles) took about 2 hours, so keep that in mind because sunset is at around 8 here and it tends to get quite creepy when dark (although that’s when you encounter less people on the trail, which is perfectly conducive to belting out eg. you sexy thang while biking, knowing that there’s no one around). Don’t forget to bring lots of insect repellant, since the area is mostly a saltwater marsh (although, I was under the impression that mosquito larvae resided in freshwater?). After being swarmed by mosquitoes in just a quick picture stop, I had master the art of one-handed bike riding while taking a photo to prevent further abuse. Although the marsh at sunset contained an almost magical quality, I probably will stick to the beautiful stretch of the bikeway that hugs the beach just south of Oyster Pond from now on.

2013-06-19 20.39.15The night biking journey further continued as a bunch of us biked down (with flashlights!) to the local pub, Captain Kidd’s. Boy was I glad it was a Wednesday night, so we didn’t stay for long, because the drinks here are ridiculously expensive (for American standards, which equals average-priced for Canadian standards). A pint of anything other than PBR hovered around $6 (as a comparison, that equals to some 6-packs here). However, the bartenders are nice, the atmosphere is lively, and it’s filled with WHOI students/employees. Definitely a neat place to check out!

Meeting James Cameron

An email was sent to the SSFers earlier this week, something about greeting the Deepsea Challenger and James Cameron at the WHOI dock yesterday. My head must have been so far up in my Matlab script, because it took a Google search to realize that the director of Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar, along with the first single-manned submersible vehicle to explore the deepest parts of Mariana Trench, was going to be here!

It was clearly marked with a banner, in case you confused it with something else...

It was clearly marked with a banner, in case you confused it with something else…

James Cameron stayed inside that tiny white ball for the entire duration of the 9 to 12-hour dives

James Cameron stayed inside that tiny white ball for the entire duration of the 9 to 12-hour dives

Inside the white ball

Inside the white ball

The team

The team

WHOI represent!

I don’t think it’s physically possible to have more WHOI paraphernalia in this photo

The event started off with speeches from Susan Avery, the Director of WHOI, James Cameron, a tour of the Deepsea Challenger, and finished off with a question period. After that, I knew what the big deal was about: he is one of three people to have actually seen the deepest bottom of the ocean floor, an area apparently the size of North America, and he is donating the vehicle that he did it in to WHOI. The press bulwarked our attempts to interact with him, but I was lucky enough to shake his hand (!), get a question in, and thanks to the help of Susan, get a photo of this momentous occasion:

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SSFers with Susan Avery and James Cameron

It is refreshing to see such a famous director, who is capable of reaching so many people, share his passion for oceanography and become involved with the scientific community WHOI. His speech focused around the importance of promoting curiosity and educating the next generation about the importance of scientific discovery. As he says, perhaps when we empower the voters with knowledge, funding and support for the sciences will follow.  As an aspiring oceanographer, I definitely hope that it will, and his speech has further encouraged me to continue my involvement in departmental and outreach activities. For now though, let me just revel at how awesome he is, and how lucky we were to be able to be here.

Update: a fellow SSFer Camille just informed me that she’s on the news release video, and another, Claire, was in the article. Yay!

Dogs in the lab

Look who came up to greet me yesterday morning!

It's the dog from "Up"!

It’s the dog from “Up”!

Try concentration on work with this guy at your feet

Try concentrating on work with this guy at your feet

Pretty much sums up Roscoe’s style

What a delightful way to start a otherwise bleak Friday morning (full with a tropical storm warning). Lauren brings Roscoe in on rainy days when she takes the car, so it’s either the sun or the dog. Win-win.