Shannon Marie Owings

Shannon Marie Owings

Title: Undergraduate Student
Institution: University of Delaware
B.S., Chemistry (expected graduation May 2013), University of Delaware
Role on this research cruise: Manganese trace metal analysis

Blog Post Oct. 28

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m on a research vessel in the middle of the ocean. But then I see really cool science going on and it’s a wakeup call I’m actually here! Being a part of this research experience has been an amazing opportunity. Back in August I don’t think I understood what I was getting myself into when I realized how thorough the packing and planning was. The packing lists were specific, down to the gram of each chemical that was in each crate. Now I understand the importance of thinking through all the supplies you’ll need because we are on the middle of the ocean and can’t run out to the store if we need something. I’ve realized I’ve taken advantage of many small things available in a lab on land, including having a sink that dispenses deionized (DI) water. Out on the ship there is one machine in the lower lab that makes DI water and we have to fill up carboys to have a source of DI water in the upstairs lab. I’ve learned when packing for a research cruise it’s necessary to be aware of how much sampling may occur so you have the right amount of pipette tips, falcon tubes, gloves, syringes, filters, kimwipes, etc. So far, we have had everything we need and have not run out of any materials (knock on wood!). When we are setting up and doing experiments on a ship, it is also extremely important to consider the movement of the ship. Everything has to be tied down and secured with straps and bungee cords, I have to think twice where I leave a solution and always make sure solutions are securely capped. An instrument sliding off a table is never something I’ve had to consider working in a lab back on land.

One of the most interesting parts of this trip is everyday life on a ship. The food has been excellent! Every day there is breakfast, lunch, a cheese appetizer at 3 (AKA cheese o’clock), dinner, and then all sorts of late night goodies and candy kept out for people up late. There are plenty of options for each meal to satisfy all types of appetites. And we still have fresh vegetables and fruit two weeks into the cruise! There is always coffee brewing and hundreds of packets of tea to choose from at any time. The kitchen staff takes very good care of us. The crew is very approachable and it’s possible to sit with new people at meals and get to meet new people. I was surprised to learn there is a gym on board with different cardio machines and weight lifting machines so people can work out when they are not on shift. I was concerned about the ship feeling small after being on it for a long time, but I still find myself in new places. There are plenty of different places to spend time to take a break from work. There is a movie theatre with hundreds of movie selections, a library with all sorts of books and two computers connected to the internet, four different labs, and plenty of places to hang out on deck. One of my favorite spots is the top of the ship with a great view of the gorgeous sunsets.

I think it is a privilege that I get to be a part of the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason operation. I get to see Jason in action as an event logger when Jason is in use roaming the bottom of the ocean. The hydrothermal vents at 3,500 meters (approx. 12,000 ft.) are so interesting! We’ve seen thousands of shrimp, mussels, crabs, and eel-like fish called zoarcids living at incredible pressures and depths. It’s amazing to actually see the life at the bottom of the ocean on the screens. Jason has so many abilities and the pilots are very skilled at controlling the manipulators to carefully use syringes and collect water samples in tricky crevasses using multiple 2D TV screens to create a 3D awareness.

This cruise has been an awesome oceanographic experience. I learn something new every day; whether it’s talking to the crew about the ship, the Jason crew about how Jason works or talking to other scientists about what they’re researching down at the hydrothermal vents. This is great preparation for oceanographic cruises I will go to in my future as a graduate student or oceanographer!

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