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Port Call at French Guiana

09/18/2011, 10:00 AM by Lollie Garay
The Elusive Adriane<br/><br/>Credit: Courtesy of Adriane Colburn
The Elusive Adriane
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Adriane Colburn


LAT 6.22N LON -51.37

Yesterday, the Melville was parked at the buoy in French Guiana (the port is too shallow for the ship, so they just moored offshore) where they made the personnel exchange by water taxi.  Boxes of much needed supplies made it onboard, along with PI Will Berelson, Rachel Foster, and Michael Oliveri. (Adrian’s replacement). Before she left the ship, Adriane shared a post with me that she had sent to her family and friends about her voyage.  In her words:

 “Hi  As most of you know I’m currently somewhere in the middle of the ocean between Barbados and French Guyana.

 I’m out here with a team of scientists who are researching the Amazon Plume- that would be the plume of fresh sediment and nutrient filled water that enters the ocean from the mouth of the Amazon River. They’re trying to determine why the plume area- a huge swath that extends north from Brazil- is such a successful carbon sink. In other words, unlike most warm parts of the ocean, this area is storing CO2 rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. The idea of why this is happening is a bit complex, but it has to do with small organisms in the water column –phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria and their relationship to nitrogen and carbon. “

 “In any case, here I am adrift (somewhat plankton-like) on the sea on the Melville. Having finally gotten my sea legs with the help of modern medicine, I’m taking photos, looking through microscopes and wondering how it is that taking water samples here and there in this seemingly endless sea, can answer any of the larger questions of life on earth. Seemingly it can- or at least, it can answer the question of why the plume is a carbon sink.”

 “Out here I feel very small and it does bring into question how anyone has ever learned anything about such a vast and dynamic system that is the ocean. There are about 50 people on board including crew and scientists and the labs are teeming with activity. Scientists from a number of universities have set themselves to various tasks from examining zooplankton-feeding rates, to the relationship of available light to plankton growth, to making predictive models. Equipment is sent down into the water at all times of day and night to collect water samples at different depths, core samples from the sea floor, and to collect critters. Experiments are covering the decks; and beakers and microscopes are all over the indoor labs.”

 “ I enjoy working with the zooplankton team, which often involves tweezing tiny animals out of the mesh of nets or catching baby krill out of a bucket with an eyedropper. That’s what I call fun!”

 “Out on the bow, away from the action packed lower aft deck, the sea stretches out to the horizon in varying shades of blue depending on how deep into the plume we are. We started out with the aqua waters of Barbados -so clear you could watch the mahi mahi swim past. At night flying fish, attracted by the ships lights, would skim across the water like silver birds. Now we ‘ve moved into water with a slightly more greenish -brown hue as we ‘ve gotten into the plume area. The seas are light by most sailors’ standards, (probably not mine- anything more rocky than a windy day on Little Hosmer Pond in Vermont is dramatic for me!)   Today I’ve noticed that my stomach muscles are sore from trying to constantly hold myself in place. Still, somehow I’ve gotten used to the constant motion and moving horizon line; and have gotten into the habit of watching where and how I set things down. As my equilibrium is truly not made for the sea, this has taken me a little while, but I am surprised to be finally unphased by the constant motion after almost two weeks. “

 “It is unarguably beautiful out here, albeit monotonous in comparison to life on land; or for that matter, being at sea in the Arctic where the seascape was in the habit of changing by the minute. Here we have the warm weather- 80's and 90's and refreshing breezes; startling clouds and fiery sunsets; an occasional ship far out on the horizon; and the swell of the ocean.”

 “It’s hard to fathom the great distances this water is sloshing around. It is not in any sort of human scale for pondering. Did this swell headed our way start half way around the world?  Human scale is miniaturized out here at sea, which is quite clearly a non-human place. We are not built for it, yet build things for it- boats and ships and seasickness medication and life vests and survival suits and underwater rovers and submarines. We have the machines to let us exist here, like space ships in space. I’ve been re-watching 2001: a Space Odyssey while on board for some aesthetic inspiration. The ocean is a bit like space to me - just closer and with a cultural history, albeit a floating one that exists on land and vessels, and of course in lore. For the sea itself could seemingly care less. “

 “The zooplankton are going about their day as they slosh around in the currents- one beast among billions in the waves- for all we know comfortable in their role. It certainly brings into question what the point of anything is when you pull up a bucket of sea water and look under the microscope at a whole tiny, dynamic world that, strangely, has a tight grip on our own. The air we breathe is controlled in some way by the little microscopic plant I looked at yesterday.” 

 “SO… That’s my diatribe from sea. I would have liked to have sent more of these, but frankly, I haven't been all that excited about sitting in front of my computer while we roll around out here. If you want to know about the science and/or see a few photos I’ve have taken (and some that were taken last year) take a look at this website!”

 Thanks for your contributions to the blog Adriane- safe travels home!! :)



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Question of the Day

  • Do the bacteria in the water make us sick?

    Only a few of them.  Bacteria are in every habitat on Earth, growing in soil, hot springs, radioactive waste, water, as well as in organic matter and the live bodies of plants and animals. Bacteria recycle nutrients, with many steps in nutrient cycles depending on these organisms, such as nitrogen fixation.