On the last cruise, we had three outstanding undergraduate students participating as Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography will be on board the San Diego Coastal Expedition.
Going to sea for research is a rare and valuable learning opportunity for undergraduate students, and our three SURF REU students will share their personal perspectives and experiences in this online journal. Follow along, and learn what it's like for these first-timers to join Scripps scientists and graduate students onboard research vessel Melville for the science trip of a lifetime.
Meet the Students:
Elvira Hernandez Lopez
A famous quote by the late Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, world class educator and civic leader, says “Life is just a minute only sixty seconds in it, forced upon you, can’t refuse it. Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it, but it’s up to you to use it. You must suffer if you lose it, give an account if you abuse it, just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.”
I can truly say I have been a true champion with my 248 hours of sea time! I am quite proud of myself and this achievement will be the highlight of my life for years to come. As I reflect I must do so with appreciation and gratefulness for such an opportunity.
Photo: Jesse is grateful for his experiences on the San Diego Coastal Expedition
The environmental changes that take place in the ocean are real and this cruise collected data to help us understand the effects. Effects such as hypoxia, or reduced dissolving oxygen, acidification due to the increase pCO2 levels and low pH, and also ocean warming of 1°C, are issues we must address.
I was glad I was on the Shelf Team, the team that used the ROV as the medium in which to assess these issues. The ROV allowed us, at times, to see what’s going on and what to expect. By no means is this information conclusive, as we only looked at summer conditions, but it is a guide as to where and what we should look at.
The intensity with which the ROV team worked was, well, INTENSE! The research technicians worked just as hard as the ROV team. What better way to learn what is common and what is not, then by actually studying it? Being on the team made an impact on my understanding of marine ecology and marine animal behavior. Mike Navarro is an outstanding graduate student mentor. There was nothing I couldn’t learn from him and nothing he was not willing to teach me.
At times we had to trawl at the bottom of the ocean which was a learning experience. The trawl captured some valuable information as to how the marine organism’s habitat changes with depth.
Photo: Jesse (right) and his fellow student scientists make trawl operations fun!
I met some amazing people. Faculty, graduate students, crew members, and other undergraduates I will work with in the future. They were very patient and very persistent. They enriched and enhanced my skill set by letting me work on many of their different projects. They even challenged me to broaden my perspective and to step outside my comfort zone.
The San Diego Coastal Expedition was a fun and memorable experience and I look forward to many more oceanographic ventures this summer!
-- Jesse Andrews, Morehouse College undergraduate student
Lions, Tigers & Bears, no, not really. Now that I got your attention, I might as well tell you a little more about the San Diego Coastal Expedition. I really love being a scientist; it’s like sitting in the theater attentively watching a Jet Lee movie. Science keeps you on the edge of your seat. This cruise is truly amazing and I have enjoyed everything thus far. As I mentioned earlier, I have been heavily involved in all things on this cruise. From CTD casting and micro-bacterial filtering to multi-coring and ROV operations. Where else does an undergrad get a chance to experience such a phenomenal opportunity?
Whether it’s physical oceanography or marine biology, this cruise has truly taught me the art of team work. It’s normal to work together as a team, but to innovate and collaborate with other teams all for the cause of science is remarkable. Again, I love being a scientist.
Pulling all-nighters is normal for me as an undergraduate student who can sometimes procrastinate. However, these all-nighters are different. You get to experience some amazing things, from seeing polychaete worms to learning about the complexity of salps courtesy of Amanda Netburn. Salps are these cool tunicates that live in the epi- and mesopelagic zones. Also, I cannot forget my first look at brachiopods. These cool marine animals are filter feeders that can live at deep depths in the ocean. They often are confused with clams because they have similar morphological features.
Photo: Salps attached to the multicorer after a nighttime deployment.
Worms, Salps & Brachiopods, oh my! I am learning so much from the graduate students, I would have never thought titration could be so much fun! I did it in chemistry class my sophomore year, but like the year suggests, I was truly a wise fool because I didn’t think people would actually use it in the field.
Well, back to work I go, it’s multicoring time!
-- Jesse Andrews, Morehouse College undergraduate student
In about half an hour R/V Melville
is docking in port. Ten days went by really fast. I remember walking into this ship for the first time and seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces, now all those people are my friends. I really enjoyed being on the sea and living with a lot of different people specializing in various subjects ranging from engineering, paleontology, and marine science all the way to art. Each person has such an interesting story with very different backgrounds, yet what we all share and what brings us all together is the thirst for adventure, passion for traveling, and willingness to explore and learn about the world around us.
Seeing everyone work so hard has been an inspiration to me, especially my mentor Benjamin Grupe. Each night he would stay up until early morning getting only few hours of sleep. Despite the obvious exhaustion, he would do anything to get the most out of this experience, and despite occasional minor technical failures, he would not get discouraged, always staying positive with a smile on his face. It is also important to give credit to our chief scientist Christina Frieder who performed an outstanding job with overall organization of the cruise, round-the-clock availability, and ability to make wise, important decisions on the spot. She had the most challenging job on this cruise and she fulfilled all the expectations of her position and beyond. It is important to acknowledge all the people who made my experience unique and enjoyable as well as the people who made this cruise possible in terms of organization as well as funding. I feel very honored to be a part of this experience. I had an opportunity to witness, learn, and perform real marine science that will have large-scale applications. This is something that not many students can experience before going to grad school, if even then.
Photo: Blanka bonded with new friends over science, art, adventure, and more.
Being able to interact and talk with such a wide variety of people on this cruise helped me make a choice on my educational path for the near future. I am planning on applying to a Master’s Program in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
, which will provide me a wide overview of topics in the marine world. After completing this program I am planning on working in the field of global fisheries. I am planning on focusing on applying science, real data, and conservation strategies in order to promote sustainability. While working, I hope to find a topic that will be interesting enough to me that I will dedicate my Ph.D. degree to it. I am interested in negative anthropogenic impacts, which I hope with enough supporting data will help me make a change in existing policies.
I wish the experience on the research vessel lasted longer, but I also realize that this is only the beginning of my journey of working towards making a difference in this world. Once again, thanks to everyone who made this trip possible, and thank to all of you who read our blogs and supported the goals of this cruise. I hope I will once again have an opportunity to participate in a research cruise because, trust me, you don't have to ask me twice to participate in such an amazing adventure.-- Blanka Lederer, recent graduate of UC Berkeley
This is my last blog entry before the end of the cruise and believe me, there are a lot of things that I’d like to say, but no worries, I’ll keep it short.
First of all I’d like to thank all of those who made this experience possible, not only for me, but for all the members of the San Diego Coastal Expedition. Second, I’d like to thank Carlos (Yes, Carlos…he told me not to use the “Dr.” anymore, so, here I am being a bit more informal), he has been an amazing mentor, and has proven to be both an incredible comedian and a top notch German professor! Wunderbar!
I came to this cruise with no idea of what I was getting myself into, and to this day I have not found a reason not to feel extremely happy with my decision of joining. If they were to invite me again, I would accept in a heartbeat, because now I can say with all confidence there is nothing like working at sea.
Photo: Elvira (right) and her fellow shipmates practice wearing their
survival suits during a ship safety training exercise.
But before I say my goodbyes, I want to talk about what I’ve been doing. For the past days I’ve done my share of multicoring; however the highlight was definitely helping with the otter trawling. Oh the joys of trawling! It was a pretty intense yet fun experience! For those who do not know what trawling is, well, it’s pretty much a way of collecting a fauna sample from a specific area of the ocean. As I said, trawling was fun, but to say it was messy is an understatement! Nevertheless it was nice to hold and observe organisms larger than a polychaete (not that I have anything against those lovely worms, of course!). Flat fish, crustaceans, echinoderms, mollusks! You name it, it was there, and thanks to Mike and Amanda I got to learn a lot about the organisms inhabiting the San Diego margin.
Photo: Elvira helps with the otter trawl.
Overall, this experience made me realize that I made the right career choice. You know that saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life” (or something along those lines), well, that is exactly how I feel about this. Who knows, one day I might get a chance to come back to the Melville, and hopefully not as an undergrad…but I’ll leave it there, I don’t want to jinx it!
Photo: (L-R) Svenja, Jesse, and Elvira find the fun in night operations on deck.
Ruined pants, holey socks, crazy dirty shoes, peeling nose, achy back, and bruises all over…and you know what? I couldn’t be happier. The San Diego Coastal Expedition set the bar really high for other cruises to come. But all good things come to an end, and from this one I take with me a bunch of amazing memories, a huge deal of new ideas and knowledge, new friends (or should I say, the scientists of tomorrow!), new adventures, and a crazy amount of pictures! (believe me, I’m sad I’m only able to share a couple).
Photo: New friends
So, this is goodbye! I hope you enjoyed reading the adventures of a pretty lucky undergrad that sneaked into the wonderful world of oceanographic science on board the Melville. Just one tiny piece of advice: If you ever get the chance to go to sea, DO IT. YOU WONT REGRET IT!
-- Elvira Hernandez Lopez, UC San Diego undergraduate student
The food on the ship is great, the cooks are doing an outstanding job of feeding us high quality diverse meals. Endless supplies of candy, snacks, and juices are always available in the kitchen. Boxes with M&Ms, Reeses, Milkyways, and many other candies are refilled daily. Even our chief scientist keeps a drawer of nuts, dried fruits, and big chocolate bars of different flavors in her desk full at all times. We are very well taken care of and I am not sure when the next time is that I will be able to have so many different options of delicious food available since after this cruise I will go back to the student lifestyle. This means for the next couple of months I will be preparing packaged microwave meals, canned beans, simply prepared vegetables, and attending occasional meetings and talks on campus where free food will be served for lunch as a bait for people to attend.
Despite the fact that we are being truly spoiled, it is true that comfort food is necessary for all the hard work everyone has been doing. There is always someone in the lab working, and usually there are people on the deck either deploying CTD, taking mud samples from the multicorer, or simply hanging out enjoying the view of beautiful ocean with the view of San Diego in the background. For the past two days, the deck has been mostly occupied by the people fixing the otter trawl net which I am glad to announce has been successfully fixed and used and then fixed again, and is ready to use tonight at 3 a.m. Last night we stayed up late sampling for the benthic organisms. Every time we deployed our net, we got something new. Last night we caught a midshipmen fish that had an amazing golden design made out of fluorescent chromatophores on its belly. I am very excited to sample the deep ocean tonight for the last time on this cruise. There are only a couple more days left and since I have been so busy with various activities and excitement it almost feels like time does not exist. I care about time only when I am about to go to bed and I realize that I have to wake up just in few hours for my shift. I rarely know what day of the week or date it is which feels good because as they say in Poland “Happy people don't worry about time.”
Photo: Blanka helps mend the otter trawl in preparation for its next deployment. Photo: Working with the specimens collected from the otter trawl has been one of
Blanka's favorite research activities on the San Diego Coastal Expedition.
I enjoy having different projects going on around me because that allows me to participate in different research projects at different times and my activities do not get monotonous. Also, working with different people feels refreshing and I really enjoy working with and getting to know many different people on this cruise. Every team has different objectives and every group leader has a different style, which allows me to see a wide spectrum of research strategies. Judging what works and what doesn't shapes my own ideas and style as a scientist. Watching graduate students working on their projects is making me pick up good habits such as being patient and detailed-oriented, which will definitely help me avoid fundamental errors in the future when I decide to conduct my own research.
The availability of different research also gives me an idea of what I am more interested in, simply judging by the level of energy and excitement I reach while doing certain activities. Otter trawl and plankton trawl are definitely on the top of my list of things I feel most passionate about, which will definitely help me shape my career path.
--Blanka Lederer, recent graduate of UC Berkeley
Ever since my adventure on R/V Melville began, dolphins jumping out of the ocean have been an everyday occurrence, and my thirst for wildlife has been growing. Every day I have been eagerly searching for other signs of marine life. Yesterday, my hopes were finally met by the iconic view of a whale fin above the surface of the seawater on the background of the beautiful California coast.
The weather has been treating us nicely. Some people have even been saying that there isn't enough rocking at night to help them go to sleep, but honestly I prefer a calm sea over people getting sea sick. Speaking of sleep, for the past few days various research projects have been active through day and night, which is the reason I have been getting up at 4:30 a.m. to help the seeps research team collect data. In addition, I have been helping other teams with their projects, which resulted in replacement of my beauty sleep with only a few hours of naps in between.
The nature of science and research is unpredictable, therefore not everything always goes according to the plan. In our case, there have been a lot of changes and adjustments to the originally proposed schedule. All the teams have been extremely flexible and understanding of the necessary changes and willing to cooperate with others working unusual hours. Everyone is really friendly and nice to each other, including the crew members, and it is starting to feel like one big family. The thing about living on a ship is that you cannot get away from anyone for more than 270 feet at any given point, so I guess people have to find ways to deal with each other, and so far everyone has been doing an outstanding job.
Photo: Blanka helps sort through the trawl net, counting
hundreds of sea urchins among other ocean-bottom dwellers.
Early yesterday morning, I had an opportunity to help out with the otter trawl operation, which turned out to be one of the most fun experiences I have had so far on the ship! The trawl net was thrown overboard twice to sample the deep ocean's seafloor for signs of life. Once the net was retrieved back to the ship, we rushed to search through the net. I was extremely excited to dig through the net for sea urchins, sea cucumbers, gastropods, sea anemones, sea stars, brittle stars, crabs, benthic fishes, and octopi. Unfortunately, after the second trawl the net broke and we have been working hard to mend the holes. I hope we will be able to use the net once again on this cruise. I am excited to be able to explore one of the least known environments on earth -- aren't you also curious what we are going to find? I am sure we will share our discoveries with you all, so don't you worry. Now I need to go catch up on some sleep since tomorrow at 4:30 a.m. I will once again be monitoring computer screens as we search for signs of the highly desired methane seeps!
--Blanka Lederer, recent graduate of UC Berkeley
Well, Hello! I’m here again. To be honest for the last
couple of days I’ve been thinking about what to write next. I was wondering if
I should touch more on the science that I am doing, or probably talk more about
just my daily life here on board. After having the chance of chatting for a
good couple of hours with some of my mates, I realized that this cruise is a
whole lot more than just learning a great deal about San Diego’s underwater
Some of us have been playing cards during our free
time; pretty cliche don’t you think? On a ship, playing cards, I guess we’re
pretty close to being real life pirates! Anyway, it has been pretty fun hanging around new people and enjoying
the little moments we have to relax. Because believe it or not, there is never
a dull moment on this 24-hour-a-day operating research vessel. Every day there is
something to do: sorting, helping with the CTD, deploying and recovering
devices, working with the multicore, labeling, seep-searching, underwater monitoring, or following
the live feed from the ROV.
I am really happy to be working with Carlos; he is one of
the funniest people I have ever met. He gets pretty serious when we’re sampling,
but once in a while he cracks a joke and makes me laugh so hard that I don’t
mind working on seafloor bacteria samples at 3 a.m.
Photo: Elvira (right) and Svenja help Carlos extract samples from a seafloor sediment core. Photo: Elvira is happily drawing inspiration from
everything around her on the R/V Mellville.
I feel really blessed to be here. Everyone is so incredible!
I have a list of adjectives that I don’t think even begins to describe the awesomeness
that the Melville is carrying right now. For starters, this ship is packed with
brilliance and creativity! And I
haven’t met anyone who is not a good team player. Everybody is definitely
unique, funny, nice, and did I mentioned awesome already? We have people with
non-profits, others with stories about adventures around the world, and some
with life lessons that have inspired me to work harder for what I want. No
doubt, after this cruise I have tons of reasons to keep pushing harder to
eventually become the best researcher that I could possibly be.
We still have four more days to go. Even though I am going to
miss being at sea, I’m excited to go back and start working on the samples we
have collected. Oh well, back to work! Sea time is precious and we have to make
-- Elvira Hernandez Lopez, UC San Diego undergraduate student
Everything seems to be made in China, but when it comes to oceanography at Scripps, a majority of the tools used on this voyage are made by Scripps. This ranges from filters in the lab to nets used in the bio box on the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). These past few days teams have been working, collaborating, and adjusting these tools as necessary, and it’s amazing to see it all happen right before my eyes. Photo: Undergraduate student Jesse Andrews helps deploy
Scripps' Remotely Operated Vehicle in San Diego waters.
I have been a part of many operations that include the CTD casting, which is a tool used to measure conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water in the ocean, specifically in the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). This helps us measure the salinity of the water (conductivity), temperature, and depth so we can better understand and analyze the biological processes, such as metabolism, photosynthesis, and respiration that take place in the organisms.
Could you imagine mud underwater?! The Shelf Team, which includes me, uses an ROV to examine the conditions of the organisms on the seafloor, includng one of my favorites, the Sebastes saxiola, or Rock Fish. We also have been able to use a miniature CTD to analyze the conditions many of these organisms live in. This is by far the coolest because we're 350 meters underwater!
Photo: Jesse and fellow student scientists and volunteers learn the ropes from a
research technician in preparation for retrieval of the CTD.
And if you thought I was done then you’re absolutely wrong! Scripps graduate student Kirk Sato is leading a really “mini” project analyzing, filtering, and looking at bacteria in the ocean. When I say “mini” I mean microscopic, just on a bigger scale. Kirk is curious to know what bacteria live at certain depths in the ocean. These bacteria make up the organisms that inhabit the ocean and matter to their biological processes. I have been working on Kirk's team as well.
There is plenty to do on the San Diego Coastal Expedition aboard R/V Melville, and I am glad I am able to learn on-the-spot and in-the-trenches. Oh wait, I've got to go. ROV time! I’ll tell you more later.
-- Jesse Andrews, Morhouse College undergraduate student
Yesterday was amazing! It was the first multicorer
deployment for the Oxygen Minimum Zone Team. From a depth of about 800 meters we got some
beautiful sediment samples. I have to admit that even though it was quite
chilly and windy outside, it was extremely fun.
We had a really successful deployment; as weird and
unimpressive as it may sound, we had mud to spare! Yay team! It was an almost
12-hour shift, during which I helped with the set-up of the multicorer,
deployment, core removal, and sample processing. Along with Dr. Neira and my
awesome bunkmate Svenja, I prepared a couple of sample sets that we will use
back at Scripps to study benthic meiofauna.
When the cruise started Dr. Neira warned me, “The first
deployment is going to be messy and chaotic.” I realized after the first couple
of minutes that I underestimated his words. Regardless of the muddiness, I had
a really good time. In fact, I think it was because of the muddiness that I enjoyed it so much. I am looking forward to working with the samples we collected. Even
though microscope work is not as exciting as field work, being part of the
behind-the-scenes process makes the lab work way more exciting!
Photo: Elvira carries a freshly collected deep-sea mud core to an on-deck
cold room for storage before processing.Photo: Elvira and her bunkmate Svenja
got their hands dirty processing seafloor mud samples.
For the past few days I have also been helping with
deployment and recovery of the CTD. Good biceps workout I must say! I hope in
the coming days I get to help with the chemical analysis of the samples as
Overall I am having an incredible time. No more sea sickness
for me. In fact, the motion of the ship is quite relaxing and soothing at
night. Earlier today I got the chance to have some freshly brewed coffee
while sitting on deck. To be honest, I could definitely get used to this.
One more week to go! Despite the fact that my phone just died
and I don’t have access to my favorite TV shows, I don’t miss being on land
that much. (Don’t feel bad mom, I do miss you).
Am I forgetting something? I guess I never really introduced
myself properly…so Hello! As you might have seen already my name is Elvira, I
am an undergraduate student at UC San Diego, and I am more than happy and pleased to be
part of the San Diego Coastal Expedition!
-Elvira Hernandez Lopez, UC San Diego Undergraduate Student
Hello everyone! I recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelors of Science, studying Conservation and Resource studies with a minor in Forestry. I am interested in marine biology and conservation. Specifically, I am interested in fisheries and reducing bycatch, with the goal of designing sustainable fishing strategies in order to meet the world's dietary demands, thus preserving vulnerable marine populations. I am hoping to attend graduate school to learn more about policies and strategies to meet my goals. I envision myself working in the field ultimately obtaining a doctorate degree in the field of marine conservation and management.
Throughout my life I have developed a very special relationship with the ocean. My grandfather was a ship captain and my father is a sailor. Ever since I started walking I would sail with my father on his sailboat. At seven I started competitive racing on little boats called “Optimists.” After I immigrated from Poland at age 14, I continued my interaction with the oceans even though I stopped sailing. In my junior and senior years of high school I participated in Bahia summer program, thanks to Ocean Discovery Institute, in which I had an opportunity to travel to Baja California, Mexico, for five weeks in order to conduct scientific research on marine environments. The Bahia program sparked my interest by exposing me to hands-on science experience, making me realize the importance of research. While at the university, I participated in various internships, volunteering opportunities and programs that related to ocean conservation, ecology and biodiversity. Despite my history and experience in the field, I still have a lot to learn. My enthusiasm for learning and exploring is driven though my excitement and expanding passion for the world oceans. Textbook knowledge about marine science and biology is interesting and informative, but there is nothing like the experience of going on a research vessel, witnessing and participating in the actual research that will have important implications in furthering knowledge on the marine ecosystems.
This summer I am participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and am working in Lisa Levin's lab. My mentor, Benjamin Grupe, a graduate student in Lisa's lab, is helping me understand deep ocean methane seeps and their ecology. On this cruise I am hoping to further my knowledge of deep oceans, receive hands-on research training, and most importantly have fun enjoying every moment of living on a ship, being on the ocean, and conducting scientific research. I am extremely happy to be here and while sitting on the dock, I look around and I feel at home, and this home of mine I am determined to explore and protect.
Photo: The first 24 hours of the research cruise was dedicated to surveying
the seafloor for signs of methane seeps using multibeam technology.
Photo: Blanka Lederer assisted with CTD operations,
specifically collecting seawater samples for dissolved inorganic carbon analysis.
So far, the food is great! The crew is extremely friendly and the lab setup looks scientific and professional. As soon as we left the port we saw two sea lions sitting on a marker buoy, and a number of dolphins started jumping out of the water which created a truly scenic view at sunset. The Seeps Team, of which I am a part, started surveying the bottom of the sea floor looking for signs of disturbance and gas plumes. I have been helping other teams with their projects by assisting them with sample collection. It is fascinating to learn about other research conducted on the ship and learn how everything is interconnected. People are smiling and seem happy. The weather is great! I am glad to be here!
--Blanka Lederer, recent graduate of UC Berkeley