Teamwork makes the dream work: the Scripps technicians of GP15

By Melissa Miller, Chemistry Technician (Scripps Institution of Oceanography – Oceanographic Data Facility)

At 4am I watched the meters of wire count down on a computer display as our ship’s scientific instruments neared the surface. The lab aboard the Research Vessel Roger Revelle bustled in anticipation of the sensors and water samples returning from the ocean depths. I hauled bottles, flasks and tubes into the sampling bay to analyze my share of the arriving seawater. For my group, this is just the beginning of the process—we have a chemistry lab set up onboard and analyze GP15’s samples 24 hours a day.

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Scripps ODF chemist Erin Hunt samples from the CTD rosette in the wee hours of the morning. Image: Alex Fox

At sea, the scientists and crew members of GP15 work around the clock to learn as much as we can about Pacific Ocean chemistry at each station. Most of the scientists onboard are collecting samples for their own research projects, but I’m part of a team of professional chemists and technicians from the Oceanographic Data Facility (ODF) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who help collect and analyze water samples. Instead of working on a specific project like professors and graduate students do, we supply data to different groups on every cruise.

I’m one of two chemistry technicians but we also have two Resident Technicians (ResTechs), an Electronics Technician, a Data Analyst, and a Computer Technician. As a Chemistry Technician, I am responsible for measuring marine nutrients, salinity and oxygen in the water.

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This oxygen is how we sample oxygen. We add chemicals to the seawater to form what’s called the precipitate, seen settled at the bottom of this flask. In the ship’s lab, acid is added to dissolve the precipitate and an analysis determines the concentration of oxygen in each seawater sample. Image: Alex Fox

Our measurements provide a backdrop for the smorgasbord of other scientific measurements being collected on this GEOTRACES expedition. Nutrients are elements like nitrogen and phosphorus that tiny ocean plants need to grow and photosynthesize. Aquatic plants and animals need oxygen to “breathe” and survive. Usually, the surface of the ocean is loaded with oxygen absorbed from the atmosphere, but if oxygen is low that can tell a story about what kinds of biological activity might be occurring beneath the waves.

I started out in oceanography nearly a decade ago as a volunteer, and I quickly realized I wanted to make a career out of being a sea-going technician. At sea, the days are long and the comforts of home are nowhere to be found, but when I return I can only seem to remember traveling to new parts of the world and making lifelong friends.

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Chemists Erin Hunt and Melissa Miller work opposite each other, sampling and analyzing nutrients and dissolved oxygen. They also share a birthday, and celebrated during this expedition. Image: Melissa Miller

I love being out at sea, and the sight of ocean stretching to every horizon. GP15 is so long that its 67 days are split into two legs, with Hilo, Hawaii serving as a halfway point. The other ODF chemist onboard, Erin Hunt, is staying for both legs—more than two months at sea. The rest of the team traded out in Hilo.

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The Leg 1 Scripps technicians: John Calderwood (electronics), Joseph Gum (data), Melissa Miller (chemistry), Erin Hunt (chemistry), Brendon Mendenhall (restech), Keith Shadle (restech), and Kenny Olsen (computer). Image: Alex Fox

As for the other members of the ODF team, ResTechs ensure everything goes smoothly and safely on deck. They bridge the gap between the scientists and the Roger Revelle’s crew who operate the heavy equipment, like winches, needed to lower scientific instruments into the ocean.

The Electronics Tech keeps the CTD rosette, along with its bottles and sensors, in good working order. The Data Specialist transforms all the measurements taken on this GEOTRACES expedition into an organized database—no small task with 27 scientific projects onboard. All that data needs somewhere to go, and the Computer Technician keeps the ship’s data servers humming. Innumerable other systems on a modern research vessel, from sonar to GPS to satellite internet, run through computers and without the Computer Technician their inevitable hiccups could cause serious trouble.

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Leg 1 Restechs Brendon Mendenhall and Keith Shadle manage the deployment of the ODF CTD rosette, which collects seawater and sensor data in the water column. Image: Melissa Miller

One major difference between the Scripps team and the other scientists onboard is that most of GP15’s scientists can’t get consistent sleep—they wake up when their group’s samples are hauled up from the deep and then spend long hours on analysis. The Scripps team is responsible for a large chunk of GP15’s scientific output, but we are some of the lucky few with predictable sleep schedules.

Our team structure allows us to work in shifts—either noon to midnight or midnight to noon. Our crew is ready 24 hours a day, but we each get 12 hours off in a row—something many scientists on board can only dream of.

As the cruise is nearing its end, the leg 2 group is looking forward to vacation in Tahiti, while the leg 1 crew has been home for weeks. The data will be finalized before R/V Roger Revelle makes port, then we’ll regroup in San Diego and prepare for our next expedition at sea.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Super Station, Super Techs – Part 2

Arrival: November 8

(Suggested background: A GEOTRACES Glossary, Super Station, Super Techs – Part 1)

5:00am – Wakeup

My alarm goes off and I claw my way out of sleep. In the windowless bunks below decks 5am is identical to high noon or 5pm. My circadian rhythms, thumping a cadence that might charitably be described as avant-garde, urge me to go back to sleep whether I’ve slept 2 hours or 12.

I stagger to the bow of the R/V Roger Revelle along with everyone else to watch the sunrise and commemorate GP15 crossing the equator—a significant nautical milestone. GTC Super Techs Laramie Jensen of Texas A&M University and Brent Summers of the University of South Florida look as though they’re uncertain the ceremony is worth the lost sleep.

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The GP15 team assembles on the bow of the R/V Roger Revelle at sunrise as the ship crosses the equator. Image: Alex Fox

A gang of clouds skulk across a band of creamsicle orange sky in the east. It’s not the finest sunrise any of us has seen on this trip, but the unfettered, 360 degree horizon is celestial—a spinning planet, orbiting a star in the midst of revealing itself one more time.

I am one of very few people on this ship who have not been to sea before. I wouldn’t have even known to put it that way. “Is this your first time going to sea?” Or, “Have you been to sea before?” I have been on boats, but that is not going to sea.

Going to sea means that for some period of weeks or months, your life takes place on the surface of the ocean. It sounds like a pilgrimage or a communion that must be taken, but it feels more like a pleasant illness or a vivid dream. Going to sea is being taken over, redrawing the boundaries of your life and submitting the traditional shape of your days for review before the great body of water you float upon, your shipmates and the task at hand.

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Laramie Jensen (left) and Brent Summers (right) are GTC Super Techs on this 67-day GEOTRACES GP15 expedition from Alaska to Tahiti. Image: Alex Fox

When the ceremony is through I follow Jensen and Summers aft to the GTC van—a clean lab built inside of a shipping container and bolted to the back deck of the Revelle. To prepare for our fast approaching 7am cast we need to load the GTC’s 24 GoFlo branded bottles in a ring around its white, powder coated frame.

I flutter the door to the van open and closed as Jensen and Summers alternate handing out the GoFlo bottles to GTC technician Kyle McQuiggan who loads them onto the rosette. Closing the door between each trip keeps commingling of the “dirty” outdoor air and the filtered “clean” air inside the van to a minimum.

When the last of the GoFlo’s leaves the van, Jensen and Summers don the hard hats and life vests (called “work vests” aboard the Revelle) required to work on deck and, along with McQuiggan, make sure each bottle is cocked and ready to fire. Among McQuiggan’s jobs is to snap the GTC’s bottles closed at predetermined depths with a computer linked to the instrument through a cable nearly 5 miles long.

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Laramie Jensen checks items off her list as Brent Summers inspects the GTC before a cast. Image: Alex Fox

Jensen patrols the perimeter of the GTC with a purple clipboard, checking boxes and conferring with Summers about GoFlo bottles that have leaked or otherwise misbehaved in the past.

7:00am – Shallow (1000 meters) GTC cast

We are ready to go. Jensen and Summers rip off shower caps used to protect the open ends of each bottle from contamination while on deck. Our ResTech is Drew Cole, he is one of two Scripps Institution of Oceanography employees on board to assist with and oversee deck operations. He clears a path for the GTC into the water by opening up a section of the ships railing.

Jensen controls the A-frame, a powder white arch of metal that can be angled toward the ocean or away from it with powerful hydraulics. At its apex is a pulley that the GTC’s cable rolls through.

Chief Scientist Greg Cutter of Old Dominion University drives the winch as he has for every single cast of the GTC on GP15 so far. On our deepest casts, this job requires him to sit on deck with one hand on the winch’s joystick for 4 hours.

Summers and I each hold tag lines, ropes looped through the frame of the GTC to keep it from swinging, as Jensen hoists it over the side with the A-frame. Summers and I pay out slack while keeping light tension on our lines with deck cleats.

When Jensen has the GTC dangling over the side, Cutter lowers it into the Pacific. When Cole gives us the OK, Summers and I slip our lines from the cleats and pull the brine soaked ropes back on board.

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Beneath the A-frame, ResTech Drew Cole monitors the GTC’s descent into the Pacific. Image: Alex Fox

This cast is only to 1,000 meters so it should be back on deck around 8am. We head to the bubble to distribute the empty sample bottles for this cast among a fleet of milk crates.

After finishing, we storm into the computer lab where the screen showing the GTC’s live data stream draws a crowd. Besides its rosette of GoFLo bottles, the GTC is loaded with a suite of instruments that measure things like the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll, oxygen, salinity, temperature and depth.

As the GTC descends, Co-chief Scientists Karen Casciotti of Stanford University and Phoebe Lam of University of California, Santa Cruz watch green, red, blue and yellow lines drip down the monitor. Where certain lines peak or falter they make notes to sample water from the corresponding depths to investigate. Their expertise and experience allow them to pick the most interesting or unexpected hydrographic features out of the screen’s lineup.

We snag a fresh estimate for when the GTC will resurface and march down the main hallway, known as “Route 66.” I’m trailing Summers and catch up to him outside the bubble. Jensen emerges with her water bottle and looks confused to see us. “Did you guys just follow me here without knowing where I was going?” she asks.

We scratch our heads and Summers acknowledges he hadn’t thought about why he was following along. After a month and a half of spending close to 24 hours a day within an arm’s length of each other, their relationship is symbiotic. They seamlessly defer to whoever has the clearest idea of what to do next, like hemispheres of a single brain.

7:30am – Breakfast

We finish eating at 7:45am. There were eggs and something blurry I ate without looking closely at it. It felt less like eating and more like staving off discomfort. Not dissimilar from bottle prep, the idea is to take care of it as quickly as possible.

8:00am – Shallow GTC recovery

In hard hats and work vests they approach their stations. Jensen again controls the A-frame. Summers and I wield long yellow telescoping poles, each with a carabiner slipped into a notch at the end. The carabiners are attached to the ends of the tag lines.

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Telescoping poles are used by the Super Techs and others assisting with the GTC recovery to attach tag lines to the instrument and steady its return. Image: Alex Fox

Summers and I stand on either side of the gap in the railing, no barrier between us and the ocean below. The outline of the GTC appears at the surface and we swoop in with our poles, hooking the carabiners to loops of rope positioned around the GTC’s perimeter. Once the GTC is hooked we ditch the poles and wrap the tag lines around nearby cleats, pulling in slack as Cutter reels in the heavy instrument with the winch.

We strap the GTC to the deck and put shower caps back on the GoFlo’s. We retreat to the van to receive the GoFlo bottles, each one now laden with 12 liters of seawater. Before entering we slip off our deck shoes and into rubber clogs worn no place else on board. Like the GTC, the van’s interior is designed with contamination in mind. Hinges, screws and fixtures are all plastic.

The air inside is filtered and cool, and when everything is dripping and sodden it feels like a cave. Jensen and Summers are the van’s only daily visitors, in part to reduce the risk of contamination.

McQuiggan and Sveinn Einarsson of Old Dominion University carry the bottles to the threshold of the clean van. As the procession of GoFlo’s arrive, a familiar dynamic plays out.

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Sveinn Einarsson of Old Dominion University carries a GoFlo bottle to the GTC van and an increasingly impatient Brent Summers. Image: Alex Fox

As with unloading the GoFlo’s, the door is closed between trips to minimize contamination. This allows Summers to gently berate McQuiggan and Einarsson with minimal opportunity for rebuttal.

The door opens and McQuiggan presents a bottle. Summers feigns disgust. “Oh no, it’s him again.” Summers grabs the GoFlo and retreats. On McQuiggan’s next trip Summers looks past him, asking no one in particular, “Hey, can we get someone else?”

After this plays out around 22 more times in different combinations, the GoFlo’s line the walls of the van and are ready to be sampled. The process of divvying up the water typically takes around 4 hours, so we settle in.

8:10am – Processing in the van

Chief Scientist Cutter joins us in the van to take some samples of his own while Jensen and Summers work. Each GoFlo has a spigot at the bottom to release its water. Jensen and Summers each sit before a GoFlo on orange 5 gallon buckets. There is an almost religious solemnity to the reverence afforded to this water, the effort expended to ensure its purity.

Everyone is filling their bottles in a focused silence when the ship rolls and Cutter’s sampling hose breaks free of its spigot. The GoFlo’s seawater, pressurized with air to increase flow, explodes from the spigot directly across from Jensen. She recoils in shock as the cold ocean water soaks her back. Cutter shouts apologies as he scrambles to quell the geyser. Cutter apologizes profusely and Jensen sets back to work.

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GP15 Chief Scientist Greg Cutter (right), Brent Summers (middle) and Laramie Jensen (left) sampling inside the GTC van just after an errant stream of seawater doused Jensen’s back. Image: Alex Fox

We finish sampling at 11:40am—a fast turnaround I’m told.

Before heading up for lunch we perform the final inglorious step of sampling in the van: squeegeeing the floors. One might ask, “Why squeegee the floors? Is this a glass bottom van?” The squeegees are to herd the water sloshing about the van into a series of drains.

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Laramie Jensen and Brent Summers squeegee water into the drains of the GTC van. Their work is wet and the floors catch it all. Image: Alex Fox

“But, Alex,” one might say, “why doesn’t the water go down the drains on its own? Isn’t that, like, the point of drains?” The logic is sound, but again I must intercede: the drains actually sit just above the rest of the flooring. In the absence of any slope to sweeten the deal, gravitationally speaking, the water is content to slop around the van as the ship rocks from side to side. Ergo, we squeegee.

11:40am – Lunch

1:30pm – Bagging samples in the bubble

We are back in the bubble, bagging and packing the morning’s samples. Jensen and Summers slip by each other and switch places periodically. They bend over the crates of samples like farmers tending to their harvest—plucking the finest produce to bring to market. Everything is double bagged to keep it free of trace metals.

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Brent Summers (left) and Laramie Jensen (right) organize bottles inside the bubble. Image: Alex Fox

They have an easy, constant banter. I am sometimes the target of good natured ridicule. When I appeared at 1:30pm, the time we had agreed to meet back at the bubble, they were already working. “Early is the new on time, Fox,” quipped Jensen.

3:30pm – Deep (4,347 meters) GTC cast

We play through the same routine that started our day. Despite the repetition, Jensen and Summers retain a keen eye for detail. They inspect mechanisms that must now be burned into their collective mind and scrutinize their functioning. If a GoFlo bottle fails to fire when McQuiggan triggers it, the loss totals around $10,000 when all the funding required to send it beneath the waves is taken into account.

3:30pm – Pigments, radium and thorium (PigRaTh) CTD rosette recovery

I am forced to break away from Jensen and Summers to do a little sampling of my own. When I signed on as the Outreach Ambassador for GP15 I was informed I would also have a small scientific assignment, if I was up for it. I agreed, and have been sampling the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll along the length of our journey through the Pacific.

I fill six plastic two liter bottles from the non-trace metal clean CTD rosette and pump their contents through six filters designed to catch the chlorophyll. This measurement helps quantify biological productivity and makes me feel like part of the team. After the water finishes pumping I seal each filter inside a labelled plastic tube and send them into the minus 80oC freezer for storage.

5:30pm – Dinner

6:45pm – Deep GTC Recovery

We retrieve the GTC in the island of light created by the ship’s deck lights. A yawning darkness surrounds the Revelle in all directions. Today’s schedule is pretty tame. Jensen says we’ll be in bed before midnight.

7:00pm – Processing in the van

Jensen and Summers fill bottles large and small, each labelled with a numbered GEOTRACES sticker that encodes the sample’s provenance—GPS coordinates, time, depth, bottle number and corresponding hydrological features.

Summers casts a sideways eye at some of the plastic bag lined milk crates in the van. He’s worried they were left outside for too long. After shuffling thousands of liters of seawater from the ocean, to GoFlo bottles, to smaller bottles and, finally, into crates or freezers, Jensen and Summers remain exacting.

I ask if they find it hard to drink enough water, spending so much of the day in constant motion. Jensen says she makes a point to consume at least two liters a day. She worries aloud Summers might not drink enough water.

“I’ve always been an intermittent chugger,” bristles Summers. “I drink enough water,”

Between the silences, the jokes and the work, they look out for each other.

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Super Techs Brent Summers (left) and Laramie Jensen (right) sampling inside the GTC van. Image: Alex Fox

Jensen grew up in landlocked Vermont, while Summers spent his boyhood by the beach fishing and diving in Florida. Each of them took a similar path to chemical oceanography, thinking they would be off to medical school after their undergraduate educations concluded. But they were seduced by field work at sea and the application of chemistry, a subject they each found fascinating, to the ocean’s depths.

On her first oceanographic expedition, Jensen got violently seasick. After five days in the lake-flat Chesapeake Bay, the vessel headed out to the North Atlantic. Jensen was feeling invigorated doing chemistry at sea, but as the waves got bigger things took a turn. Not sure what to expect she ate some ice cream and settled in for a movie.

She spent the following 27 hours evacuating the contents of her stomach on deck. The crew outfitted her with a harness to ensure she couldn’t bounce overboard and colleagues brought her saltines and some headphones.

“I was miserable,” recalls Jensen. “I didn’t do any more science on that trip, and I had to really think about whether this was still what I wanted to do.” But, in a testament to her grit and capability, Jensen wasn’t dissuaded and applied a shotgun approach to seasickness prevention on her next expedition.

She had everything from Dramamine to Scopolamine to strange music claiming to recalibrate the inner ear. She even brought acupressure wristbands. With so many remedies it’s hard to know which did the trick, but she avoided a repeat episode and is now rock solid at sea.

10:30pm – Done processing in the van

10:56pm – Done bagging samples from Deep GTC cast in bubble

We reward ourselves with a snack in the ship’s mess hall.

Jensen and Summers crush huge bowls of cereal. I follow suit. Summers has one bowl of Frosted Flakes, then switches to granola for his second bowl. Jensen opts for Lucky Charms, then floats some Frosted Flakes on the leftover milk.

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Super Techs Laramie Jensen and Brent Summers take cereal very seriously. Image: Alex Fox

In the midst of our spiritual communion with milk and processed grains, we see our colleague Vinicius Amaral of the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is part of the pump team.

The pumps push seawater through filters for four hours at a time to capture ocean particles for study. During Super Stations the pump team’s schedule is hellacious—a 50 hour marathon with just four hours of unscheduled time for sleep.

Amaral is a shell of himself. He mutters something by way of greeting us, but his gaze drifts to some far off shore of liminal consciousness. We see him put what looked like an empty plate in the microwave and then disappear into the bowels of the ship without another word.

Jensen, Summers and I start chatting and forget that we need to get to sleep. Finally, we dislodge ourselves and put back the five kinds of cereal that rescued us in our time of need.

11:38pm – In bed

My berthing is close to the front of the ship, and when we’re on station the Revelle’s bow thrusters are constantly chugging to maintain our position—keeping the cables we string down to the bottom straight.

I have a slight headache. My feet are pruned from standing in seawater in the van. Tomorrow is likely to be an even longer day and my 6am alarm will come faster than I want it to.

Another one – November 9

5:45am – Wakeup

I wake up like my home is being burglarized. The lights are on and Jensen and Summers are standing in the doorway. My roommate Sveinn Einarsson and I bolt up. The GTC cast we went to sleep thinking was scheduled for 7am is now going in at 6am.

This occurs pretty regularly. One sampling system finishes early due to unforeseen ease or efficiency, and the next item on the schedule slides up. This effect compounds if there are multiple casts between the present and your instrument’s time slot.

McQuiggan saved us this morning. He always goes the extra mile to make sure we are ready on time by waking up an hour and half before the GTC is scheduled to deploy.

We hustle above deck and throw on our safety gear. My face feels like a mask of mashed potatoes beginning to slide off.

6:10 am – First Intermediate (2,200 meters)  GTC cast

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GTC technician Kyle McQuiggan prepares the GTC for a cast in the early morning light. Image: Alex Fox

McQuiggan calls out GoFlo bottle numbers to Jensen and her clipboard as he cocks each bottle. Summers and I secure our tag lines. Shower caps off. A-frame out. Splash.

The GTC disappears underwater as the sun is coming over the horizon. The sea is a little rougher than we have become accustomed to in the tropics. The same winds that drive the upwelling at the equator are pushing up waves. The Revelle occasionally pitches and rolls just enough to remind me to keep my balance.

6:15am – Bubble prep

Jensen and Summers intone the names of scientists for whom they are collecting samples as they check off bottles for each crate.

Summers: “Conway?”

Jensen: “Conway.”

Summers: “Shiller?”

Jensen: “Shiller.”

The bubble is hot today. Beads of sweat form on Jensen and Summers’ foreheads.

We finish at 6:57am.

7:30am – Breakfast

After eating, we sit with McQuiggan in the computer lab waiting for the GTC to come up. Summers looks at his right hand. He points out a red slice in the webbing between his index finger and thumb. He shakes his head at the injury. “Almost everything I do involves salt water and this part of my hand.” And then, in faux dismay, “I shouldn’t have to live like this.”

7:45am – First Intermediate GTC retrieval

8:00am – Processing in van

The morning sun is coming in one of the small rectangular windows of the van, illuminating Summers’ right shoulder. He squirms. “It’s warm.”

Without looking up, Jensen empathizes, “I just want one day where I’m not constantly physically uncomfortable—not dripping in sweat inside the bubble or something.”

I notice something strange about their bottle filling technique—every 10 seconds or so they intentionally miss the mouth of their respective bottles in a very controlled looking way.

I ask them about it. The practice has nothing to do with staying trace metal clean. Jensen derives some small satisfaction from eliminating condensation on the sides of her bottles, while Summers detests droplets at the rim of his bottles and hunts them down with extreme prejudice.

I marvel that they both plucked nearly the same irrational compulsion from the ether. The practice has no real consequences, they seldom run out of water for samples and when they do it’s due to leaking bottles.

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The GEOTRACES numbers attached to each GoFlo bottle will be stuck to each sample to let scientists know where it came from. Image: Alex Fox

They avoid touching things like the milk crates so they won’t have to change gloves. During GP15’s first leg, from Seattle to Alaska to Hawaii, they went through a package of 2,500. Now they’re running low and looking to conserve. When I’m not available to move crates for them, Summers kicks them towards the door with short chops of his feet.

The two of them are well matched. I watch Summers remove GEOTRACES stickers from the right side of the paper they’re stuck to, Jensen from the left.

There seems to be no end to their interlocking preferences: Jensen likes filling small bottles, while Summers prefers filling big ones.

When they moved into the same room they shared a moment of panic. Each of them indicated that they had strong feelings about which bunk they inhabited. Separately, they dreaded the other’s answer might deprive them of their preferred sleeping arrangement. But the truth was more harmonious than their imagination: Summers prefers the top bunk while Jensen craves the quick getaway of the bottom.

I ask each of them what their counterpart brings to their joint enterprise. After muddying the waters with jokes, Summers admits that Jensen works hard and is unfailingly kind.

“Even when we have only gotten a few hours of sleep and we have to rack GoFlo bottles or whatever—nobody cares if it’s hard,” says Summers. “Things just have to get done, and we both understand that.”

Jensen chimes in: “It must be very difficult to predict that two people will get along and work well together. We got lucky—this is a friendship.”

Summers scoots close to Jensen and stares as she tries to stop laughing and produce some of his finer qualities as a co-worker. “He’s efficient, organized and, even though it’s clichéd, he’s a hard worker.”

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Super Techs Laramie Jensen (left) and Brent Summers (right) take a breather to enjoy the sunset. Image: Alex Fox

The two are together almost every waking moment, but have established clear and honest communication that allows them to work through the inevitable moments of friction.

“When there is tension it’s not usually personal,” says Jensen. “We’re often just tired or frustrated, and so we’ve learned to keep things in perspective.”

At this point, they’ve developed a sixth sense for issues that need to be addressed and when the best medicine is to shake it off or take time alone to reset.

They’re quick to remind me that it’s all in the service of something larger.

“All these little, basic tasks we have to deal with are important if you want solid data,” says Jensen. “We are doing our small part in this huge enterprise to learn more about the ocean.”

11:19am – Done processing

11:30am – Lunch

12:00pm – Back in the bubble

We are done at 1:33pm.

4:15pm – Nap until 5:30pm

5:30pm – Dinner

I show up a little late and the night’s main entrée, corned beef, has run out. I eat a mound of fried clam strips. I am less than satisfied.

7:10pm – Bubble prep

We finish at 7:45pm.

8:33pm – Second Intermediate (600 meters) GTC cast

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Laramie Jensen (left) and Brent Summers (right) prepare for a night cast of the GTC. Image: Alex Fox

9:30pm – Second Intermediate GTC recovery

9:45pm – Processing in van

Cutter joins us in the van to sample once again. I quiz him about the Super Techs.

“The Super Techs are a huge part of the success of what we’re doing out here,” says Cutter. “Hundreds of people are counting on these guys, and there is no way we could get the quality of data we do without the Super Techs.”

I hope that I’ve solicited an effective pep talk for Jensen and Summers in the name of telling their story.

It’s 11pm and I’m hitting a bit of a wall. The clam strips have not stood me in good stead.  I am hungry and tired. Jensen and Summers seem cheerful and awake.

The home stretch – November 10

1:08am – Done processing

1:28am – Done eating cereal

1:40am – In the bubble bagging samples

Super Twins thank you
Notes of appreciation for Super Techs Laramie Jensen and Brent Summers stick to the plastic walls of the bubble. Images: Alex Fox

Soon I will say goodbye to this world of piecemeal sleep and near constant work.

Remaining just outside of most of their tasks makes the whole experience sleepier, less engaging. I imagine they are pulled along by the thought of finishing, knowing that they will finish faster if they work faster. I have trouble seeing our current task with fresh eyes any longer. I am just enduring a car ride to a place I’ve never been, not sure how long I must wait but knowing it’s not over yet.

When this station is finished, they will begin preparing for the next one, not a Super Station but more densely packed. Their break will be measured in hours, not days.

I ask them if there are parts of this process they’ve repeated so many times that they find satisfying.

“Itʼs satisfying to finish a station,” says Summers without hesitation. “We get to sleep and eat cereal.”

“But then you have to get ready for the next one,” I say, concerned.

Jensen and Summers raise their eyebrows and nod gravely.

2:11am – Finished bagging samples

2:15am – “That’s a wrap,” says Jensen

2:35am – In bed

7:00am – The phone rings 

Our room gets a wakeup call for Sveinn because we are ahead of schedule again. Traumatized, I fall out of bed and answer because I sleep on the lower bunk.

10:45am – Wakeup

I wake up in earnest and thank my lucky stars I don’t have to keep following the Super Twins.

 

GP15 blog posts written by Alex Fox unless otherwise stated.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Super Station, Super Techs – Part 1

The ultimate goal of GEOTRACES and GP15 is to better understand the world’s oceans. But focus only on the edifice of accumulated scientific knowledge that GP15 hopes to produce, and one risks papering over the efforts of the human beings laying the bricks of data.

hardhat heros
Jensen, Summers and other members of the GP15 team prepare to retrieve the trace metal clean CTD rosette. Telescoping poles are used to attach tag lines. Image: Alex Fox

During GP15’s nearly three-day Super Station at the equator, I followed Laramie Jensen of Texas A&M University and Brent Summers of the University of South Florida, both graduate students in chemical oceanography working as Super Technicians on GP15. “Super Techs,” as they’re called on board, collect and prepare high quality samples for scientists aboard the Roger Revelle and back on land.

Jensen and Summers are integral to the success of GP15, but public recognition of their toil is likely to be relegated to a handful of acknowledgements in the back pages of scientific journals.

The tight schedule of our expedition often forces them to forgo sleep for 24 hours or more, with most of that time spent working together in tight quarters. During GP15 they sleep, eat and work on the same schedule. If I see one of them, I justifiably expect the other to be nearby.

sky bird
A seabird flies over the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Image: Alex Fox

The scale of GP15 and the intensity of activity during its stops to collect data can coalesce into something overwhelming. Much of the data produced by this expedition will take a year or more to analyze and interpret. To say each day’s progress is incremental is an understatement.

Contemplating the immensity of GP15’s 39 stations spread across more than 5,000 miles of ocean becomes a liability when, for Jensen and Summers, the task at hand is to split almost 300 liters of seawater into an array of plastic bottles.

What’s a Super Tech?

Each of the major systems GP15 uses to collect samples has one or two Super Techs. These individuals, usually graduate students, look after the instrument itself and help manage the distribution of the samples it produces.

GTC drip
The trace metal clean CTD rosette emerges from the ocean. Tag lines keep it steady as the winch reels it back on deck. Image: Alex Fox

Jensen and Summers are assigned to the trace metal clean CTD rosette, which, through some linguistic sleight of hand, is abbreviated to GTC by the scientists of GP15. What makes the GTC different from other CTD rosette sampling systems is that it specializes in studying trace metals.

Iron is the prototypical trace metal in the oceans. Like all trace metals, iron is scarce, but some of the world’s most prolific marine ecosystems depend on it. Studying an element present only in tiny quantities means samples can easily become contaminated—especially aboard a metal ship.

Just walking around on deck could track in sample ruining metals. With science that is so sensitive to contamination, every precaution is taken to keep samples free of wayward metals. The GTC is made of plastic, titanium, and powder coated aluminum to ensure that the trace metals in its water samples come from the ocean rather than the instrument.

Super Techs collect water on behalf of all researchers looking for samples from the GTC. Centralizing this responsibility streamlines the process of doling out water, cuts down on miscommunication and limits the number of people touching, and potentially contaminating, samples.

What’s a Super Station?

GP15 cruise-track
GP15’s cruise track. Each dot is a different station. Red dots are Super Stations, which receive the most attention from GP15’s instruments. Blue and purple dots are “full” stations, white dots are “demi” stations, the three brown dots are shallow or shelf stations and the green dots are places the Revelle will stop in port. Photo: GEOTRACES

A station is someplace the Roger Revelle stops to take measurements and collect samples of seawater. Each station splits into individual casts of the five sampling systems on board—each one devised to siphon its own breed of data from the Pacific. The transit of those instruments into the deep and back to the surface splinters further into particular depths where bottles seal in water or pumps filter out particles for study.

Super Stations are GP15’s most intensive sampling efforts. They take 52 hours or more to complete. Super Stations receive this extra attention because of some feature that piques oceanographers’ interest. Often, this means the station coincides with something like a hydrothermal vent or a deep sea trench, or that the same location was sampled by a previous expedition—affording an opportunity to compare measurements.

What this extra intrigue amounts to is spending more time at the station to collect more water and more measurements. Here at Super Station 29 the main attraction is the equator.

What’s super about the equator?

At the equator, the trade winds blowing from the east drag water on the ocean surface west. Just above and below the true equator, the rotation of the Earth produces what’s called the Coriolis Effect. This spins the easterly wind, and the surface water it’s pushing, to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.

A simple way to think about how the Coriolis Effect works is to try to draw a straight line across a spinning piece of paper. The spinning causes a line that would otherwise be straight to curve one way or the other. The direction of the wind’s curve switches depending on the hemisphere in the same way the arc on the spinning paper would if you flipped the paper over. The difference is that the Earth is a sphere so “the other side of the paper” is geographically quite close by.

nasa
The band of green at the equator shows the dramatic increase in chlorophyll, used by phytoplankton in photosynthesis, as a result of upwelling. Phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food chain and their presence supports innumerable other species both large and small. Image: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, data from SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE

As the wind pulls surface water away from the equator it is replaced by deeper, nutrient-rich water. This infusion of deep water nutrients is called upwelling and often occurs on the coast. Those nutrients fuel phytoplankton growth which then attracts the whole gamut of ocean life.

This upwelling and the marine life it supports is what makes the equator special for GEOTRACES. “Many of the trace metals and isotopes we are studying on GP15 are tightly coupled with biology,” said Chief Scientist Greg Cutter of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. “We are studying the linkage between biology and chemistry in the ocean.”

Prep: November 7

2:30pm

Most of GP15’s science party is catching up on sleep as the Roger Revelle motors south towards the equator. I am on deck with Jensen and Summers preparing for the coming Super Station.

Under the equatorial sun I feel like an ant smoldering beneath a magnifying glass. We make several trips to stow 12 plastic crates in pallet boxes scattered about the ship. Each crate is full of labelled bottles containing the previous station’s seawater samples.

Crates
Laramie Jensen (left) and Brent Summers (right) shuffle crates full of seawater samples on deck in preparation for the equatorial Super Station. Image: Alex Fox

This preparation is not optional. If Jensen and Summers kicked back in between stations, the relentless schedule would bury them like an avalanche upon the Revelle’s arrival. If they fall behind it could delay the entire ship’s scientific operations—and with the ship’s operating costs totaling around $60,000 per day, every second is valuable.

We move inside the ship, clanking shut heavy, metal doors behind us. Jensen and Summers remove their shoes and we pile into an improvised clean room we call the bubble—plastic sheeting covers every surface to keep contamination at bay. The room is small and claustrophobic with three people inside.

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Summers’ sneakers and Jensen’s clogs just outside the bubble. Image: Alex Fox

Jensen and Summers’ anti-contamination practices make them easy to find, I just look for their abandoned shoes. Summers, 23, has short brown hair and wears black athletic shorts and a turquoise t-shirt covered in pineapples. He is wiry and alert. He laughs easily but carries some kind of tension with him everywhere—perpetually coiled and ready to spring into action. His sense of humor is dry and acerbic, but beneath the stream of baseless insults that keep Jensen and others entertained he is genuine and conscientious.

Jensen, 24, wears black synthetic pants and a black cotton t-shirt. Her brown hair—lighter than Summers’—hangs just past her shoulders. Outwardly, Jensen seems the more relaxed of the pair—sometimes bursting into disconcertingly accurate renditions of bygone pop hits—but she is meticulous. She wears a blue plastic watch on her right wrist that is always timing something—today it has been 17.5 hours since the GTC was last in the water.

B L bubble
Jensen and Summers organize for the coming equatorial Super Station in the bubble. Each of them have one “clean” gloved hand and one “dirty” bare hand as they organize containers that will hold trace metal samples. Image: Alex Fox

They both stand around 5’5 and have oceanic blue eyes—Jensen’s lighter and tropical and Summers’ the darker blue of the North Pacific waters we passed through in late September. It’s not hard to see why they’re sometimes called “the twins.”

The plastic coated bubble appears to contain an unadulterated mess of plastic bags with little open floor space, but the Super Techs flit about easily, stepping in the cracks between crates in their socks.

We finish for the day around 6pm. I tie up some loose ends on the computer and I’m in bed by 11pm. We start work just after 6am tomorrow and from then on we’ll be working or catching our breath for more than 48 hours.

Stay tuned for part 2!

GP15 blog posts written by Alex Fox unless otherwise stated.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Deep sea mining appears on GP15’s radar

Imagine the year is 2022, a 500-foot deep sea mining ship bobs in the equatorial Pacific Ocean—7.5 degrees North, 152 degrees West. Four years earlier, this was Station 23, where GP15 measured ocean chemistry from the gleaming surface to the sunless abyss.

Mahi mahi hunt the flying fish hiding in the mining vessel’s shadow. A hose as thick as a tree trunk emerges from the ship’s hull and into the azure waters. Shafts of sunlight parallel the hose’s descent until the water turns cold and dark.

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A deep sea mineral exploration ship surveys the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean. Image: DEEPGREEN

The motors driving the vacuum pumps are deafening. Sediment that took tens of thousands of years to accumulate is sorted by the ton. Like gold rushing 49ers in the riverbeds of California, these deep sea miners are panning an area of the deep Pacific seafloor called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone for potato-sized nuggets called polymetallic nodules.

nodule
Polymetallic nodules like this one, the size of a potato, are tens of millions of years old. They grow less than a quarter inch every million years. Image: NOAA DeepCCZ expedition

These metallic spuds take millions of years to form and are rich in the raw materials needed to make cell phones, wind turbines and electric car batteries—manganese, cobalt, nickel, copper, and rare earth elements. Demand for these technologies is on the rise and so are the prices of the metals required to manufacture them. Cobalt for example, is essential for producing the lithium-ion batteries in most cell phones. In March of 2018, the price of cobalt hit a record high of $95,250 per ton, a rise of more than 400 percent since 2016.

CCZ USA
The red blocks represent deep sea mining claims inside the Clarion-Clipperton Zone as of 2018. Layered atop the continental US, the area’s 3,100 mile width comes into focus. These claims are all in the exploration phase. Image: Deep Sea Mining Watch

Elsewhere in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone and around the world, the rest of the deep sea mining fleet grinds, sucks and sifts valuable minerals from the ocean floor using technology developed for offshore oil extraction. As the cost of techniques used to drill for deep ocean oil went down and the price of minerals like cobalt went up, deep sea mining went from a hair-brained scheme to a profitable venture.

Harvester DG
DeepGreen’s rendering of a polymetallic nodule harvester. Notably, this illustration doesn’t depict the sediment that would likely be sucked up along with the nodules. Image: DeepGreen

Three miles underwater, the hose connects to something that looks like a cross between a bulldozer and a vacuum that Canada-based deep sea mining company DeepGreen calls a “harvester.” The harvester’s tank treads stamp the millennia-old mud with corrugated symmetry. In these nearly motionless waters, the tracks will remain clear as the day they were made for hundreds of years.

Rattail fishes, large red shrimp, and cusk eels whip their tails and flee across the abyssal plain in advance of the harvester’s billowing plume. The nozzles rip into the seafloor with powerful suction—hoovering nodule-laden slurry back up to the ship.

Casper
In 2016 NOAA’s exploration ship Okeanos Explorer discovered this new species of octopus 13,120 feet down near Hawaii. The little octopus was quickly nick-named Casper by its newly adoring public. Similar octopuses lay their eggs on the polymetallic nodules that are the subject of deep sea mining exploration. Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

A ghostly white octopus, belonging to a species discovered in 2016 and nick-named Casper, protects a clutch of eggs laid directly onto one of the metal nodules. Its pale, limp body, adapted to the crushing water-pressure, disappears into the maw of the harvester along with its brood of 30 eggs. In the near freezing temperatures of the deep sea the eggs might have taken as long as four years to hatch. A sea sponge with a skeleton made of glass splinters as it lifts out of the mud along with the crustaceans and worms taking shelter in its fiber-optic limbs.

Life is slow and precarious 16,000 feet down, built on the predictability of a harsh environment that scarcely changes. This is not a forest that will grow back—the nodules, if they regenerate, will take tens of millions of years. The erasure of this undersea landscape is all but permanent.

Back at the surface, species not yet described by science compress beneath a mound of ancient mud and metal. Since the 1970’s, nine out of every ten species encountered in the Clarion-Clipperton deep sea mining zone had never been seen before. Once the polymetallic nodules are plucked from the morass, the mud will be dumped back into the sea.

An invisible industry starts to take off

Right now in 2018, there are dozens of vessels prospecting in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone—taking cores and mapping mineral resources. “The problem with deep sea mining is that people either think it’s science fiction or it’s not happening in their backyard,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine biologist from the University of California Santa Barbara.

DSMW Map
The online tool Deep Sea Mining Watch tracks deep sea mining activity on the high seas. Each orange ship icon represents a vessel currently prospecting for nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton zone. The black line shows GP15’s path. Image: Deep Sea Mining Watch

McCauley helped create an online tool called Deep Sea Mining Watch that uses algorithms and public GPS data to track deep sea mining ships around the world. The resulting map makes the invisible rise of this new industry into something tangible.

The details of mining more than 6,000 feet beneath the waves can vary depending on what is being mined and where, but the preceding vision of the not-so-distant future is eminently possible. “This is like nothing we have done in the oceans before,” said McCauley. “There are question marks around all facets of this activity and yet it seems like we’re going to do it.”

The idea to mine the deep seas has been around for half a century, but a combination of economics and technology finally tipped the scales toward potential profits in the last decade. Beginning in 2001, a United Nations body called the International Seabed Authority has issued mining permits to a mix of 26 countries, state-owned organizations and private corporations. If all the required permits sail through unimpeded, mining could begin as soon as 2022.

CCZ parcels
Solid colored blocks show license areas for deep sea mining exploration in the CCZ. The red line on the left side of the map shows GP15’s path, with circles representing stations where we will stop and sample ocean chemistry. The green squares are Areas of Particular Environmental Interest. These APEI’s will be protected from mining activity in an effort to minimize its environmental impacts. Image: International Seabed Authority

GP15’s path cuts through the western edge of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an area of keen interest to deep sea mining outfits. It spans 3,100 miles across the Pacific Ocean, ranges from 12,000 to 18,000 feet deep and is rich in polymetallic nodules. Seventeen of the world’s 26 active contracts for deep sea mining exploration are within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. These contracts cover 386,000 square miles of seafloor, an area larger than the states of California, Oregon and Washington combined.

Outside the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, hydrothermal vents and undersea mountains may be mined with heavy equipment for grinding and pulverizing their valuable crusts. Minerals that could be harvested from these other two sources include cobalt, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, platinum and gold.

Deep sea mining owes some of its current appeal to environmental and humanitarian issues with existing supply chains for metals like cobalt. More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but along with the silvery metal comes a litany of human rights violations, including child labor. This allows deep sea mining companies to position their future product as a more ethical alternative.

The lesser of two evils?

It is inarguable that the deep sea mining workforce is likely to be better treated and better compensated than those working the Congolese mines. Deep sea mining’s second contention—that it is also more environmentally friendly than mining on land—is more tenuous.

“I don’t think there are any easy answers here, but, environmentally speaking, there is no good that comes out of sea bed mining,” said Jeff Drazen, a deep sea biologist from the University of Hawaii. “All the consequences are negative.” Drazen is one of the few scientists to explore the abyssal plain ecosystem of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone with remotely operated vehicles and cameras.

Cnidarian sp
Relicanthus sp.—a new species seen at 13,120 feet in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone that lives on sponge stalks attached to nodules. Image: Craig Smith and Diva Amon, ABYSSLINE Project

“Half of the species we have observed appear to rely on the nodules, even mobile animals seem to prefer them, said Drazen. “The nodules are precisely what make this habitat unique.”

The consequences of mining for polymetallic nodules are extreme at the local scale. A denuded seafloor and miasma of smothering sediment would follow anywhere the harvesters went. Mining at sea could also generate noise pollution harmful to whales and dolphins. But farther reaching impacts are also cause for concern.

“Toxic metals like cadmium and mercury are in these deep sea sediments,” said Drazen. “If you release them into the middle of the water column they could easily get into our ocean food supply.”

The scientists of GP15 also wonder what dumping thousands of years of accumulated mud would do to ocean chemistry. “All of the deep sea mining exploration areas in the Clarion-Clipperton zone overlap with one of the biggest oxygen deficient zones in the ocean,” said GP15 Co-chief Scientist Phoebe Lam of University of California, Santa Cruz. “If these sediments got dumped between 300 and 3000 feet, the low oxygen environment could potentially accelerate the release of heavy metals.”

nodule mining setup
A potential set up for extracting polymetallic nodules from the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. This illustration depicts multiple harvesters operating simultaneously with waste discharge taking place at depth. Image: Agarwal et al., 2012

The severity of this problem will come down to whether most companies pipe their leftover mud all the way back down to the sea floor or if they kiss it goodbye just deep enough to remain out of sight. Dumping in the ocean’s middle depths would provide a more direct line from the mud’s toxic contents to larger fish eaten by people. Drazen would like to see a requirement that ships discharge their leavings back at the sea floor where they came from.

A significant unknown is whether excavating and redepositing thousands of years of nutrients, toxins and stored carbon might impact the ocean’s miraculous ability to absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate climate change. The dynamics involved are complex, but the oceans are interconnected and the effects of tinkering with age old repositories are unlikely to remain isolated.

Setting a baseline

If mining does begin as soon as 2022, monitoring its impacts will be the next challenge. This is where GP15 comes in. “We have the expertise to measure everything the biologists think might be toxic,” said GP15’s Lam. This GEOTRACES expedition will establish a baseline for the area’s ocean chemistry before any mining takes place. If the 17 mining parcels in the Clarion-Clipperton all come to fruition, this baseline can help regulators monitor any future shifts in ocean chemistry.

pumps
The scientists of GP15 deploy instruments that will collect water and particles from the currently undisturbed deep sea. Image: Alex Fox

“An important part of characterizing this ecosystem is understanding its chemistry,” said Drazen. “Deep sea mining has the potential to change that chemistry, so having GEOTRACES go through this area is invaluable.”

To their credit, the budding deep sea mining industry seems interested in the opinions of the scientific community. This makes it an even more important time for GP15 to be collecting these data.

“This is a really good time to be involved and to contribute our expertise,” said Lam. “The timing of our cruise is perfect.”

For McCauley and Drazen, the key to ensuring this new industry pays heed to their warnings is increasing the public’s awareness of the endeavor and its risks. “If someone was strip mining in your neighborhood you would notice and care about it,” said McCauley. “But most people in Hawaii or California have no idea this is happening.”

To make good on this rare opportunity to scrutinize an industry’s impact before it takes off, public interests need to take their seat at the table alongside the mining companies currently dominating the conversation.

Otherwise, the logic for mining the deep seas runs like this: The technology of the future, from supercomputers to renewable energy hinges on the ability to store and distribute electricity. The metals needed to power that future are found in the deep sea. Where better to obtain them than far from the existing dirty, corrupt supply chains on land?

“I’m not sure I’ve made up my mind about whether deep sea mining is better than other exploitative mineral extraction methods,” remarked Lam. “It might be a false dichotomy, but it’s hard to choose a deep sea fish over a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

To this end, McCauley and others are engaging international battery alliances about how to improve the existing battery supply chain. The appeal of deep sea mining appears to boil down to being the lesser of two evils. But, before we ransack the deep, it is imperative to interrogate the question of whether two evils are the world’s only choices.

To learn more about other issues impacting the deep sea visit the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative.

Note: The author reached out to a DeepGreen employee for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.  

GP15 blog posts written by Alex Fox unless otherwise stated.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Images from Leg 1 – Seattle, WA to Hilo, HI – Part 3

The following galleries depict the scientists of GP15 collecting and analyzing samples from the Pacific Ocean. Please refer to the GEOTRACES Glossary for definitions and explanations of the sampling systems and spaces on board the R/V Roger Revelle. Photography by Alex Fox.

The GEOTRACES trace metal clean CTD Rosette.

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The fish.

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The non-trace metal CTD Rosette.

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Pumps.

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Lab life.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Images from Leg 1 – Seattle, WA to Hilo, HI – Part 2

Life and work aboard the Research Vessel Roger Revelle. Photography by Alex Fox.

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The bridge of the Roger Revelle.
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The ship’s stores hold all the food for 59 people for more than a month.
on deck
Waves rise up above the bow of the Roger Revelle.
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An avian stowaway took up residence in the Revelle’s bow for several days.
dr buck
Clifton Buck of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography with his equipment for sampling air and rainwater on GP15.
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Research technician Keith Shadle of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on deck.
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Science on a 24-hour schedule sometimes requires a costume change to liven things up. Here a unicorn (Colette Kelly) and a dragon (Jennifer Kenyon) prepare to collect samples in the wee hours of the morning.
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Naps are essential in the world of GP15, where sleep schedules are secondary to the schedule of the ship’s scientific equipment. Here, Kyle McQuiggan finds a flat spot on deck.
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The optimal temperature for the Roger Revelle’s computers is on the chilly side. The computer lab stayed quite cool regardless of the conditions outside.
the argo life chose me
Left to right: Paul Henderson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Phoebe Lam of University of California, Santa Cruz and Colette Kelly of Stanford University carry an ARGO float. Close to 4000 of these autonomous floats record oceanographic data throughout the world’s oceans.
letting go of argo
Colette Kelly of Stanford University sends an ARGO float on its way. Close to 4000 of these autonomous floats record oceanographic data throughout the world’s oceans.
this tire
This tire softens any impacts while reeling in delicate scientific equipment.
not a cloud not a boat
The tip of Hawaii, the first land GP15 had encountered in more than 30 days at sea.
joseph can see the future
The landward rail attracts a crowd.
yang crushing it per usual
The science party for leg 1 of GP15 assembles for a group photo just minutes from rescuing port in Hilo.
everybody
All 37 members of GP15’s science party stand together before arriving in Hilo, Hawaii.
everybody context
All 37 members of GP15’s science party stand together before arriving in Hilo, Hawaii.
port of hilo
The port of Hilo emerges from the fog of more than 30 days on the Pacific.

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Images from Leg 1 – Seattle, WA to Hilo, HI – Part 1

The sky and the sea seem endless in the open ocean. All photography by Alex Fox.

albatross
An albatross swoops above the Pacific.
fishing gear
A wayward piece of fishing gear floats along in an expanse of blue.
fluffs
Clouds getting some color from the sunset.
gabi and sean looking out
There are no shortage of vistas while at sea.
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Whitecaps as far as the eye can sea from the bridge of the R/V Roger Revelle.
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The R/V Roger Revelle’s winch arm lets out cable as the Pacific undulates beneath.
soft ocean
The ocean takes on a bewildering variety of textures and colors over the course of a month.
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Blue.
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Sea and sky.
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The sun sets as the R/V Roger Revelle makes its way to our next station.
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The surface of the Pacific taking on a metallic coating as the scientists of GP15 search for iron, cobalt and manganese (to name a few).
silky trash
A piece of plastic pollution, perhaps a milk crate, floats by.
sunset rays
Sunset or sunrise?
throwing bows
A partial rainbow at sea.
thrusted
The engines of the R/V Roger Revelle can churn the ocean in some delightful ways.
Velella Bucket
A fellow sailor. This is a velella, a small jellyfish that travels the surface of the ocean using its transparent sail to catch the wind.
Velella Murline1
Captain David Murline holds a velella up to the horizon before releasing it back to the sea.

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GEOTRACES GP15 is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.