Sunday, May 31, 2009

Still alive...

Turns out that life on a science vessel in the middle of the South
Pacific is both 1) incredibly, jaw-droppingly busy and 2) without
satisfactory internet. Thus I've not had much time in the last few
weeks to blog here. Fortunately this, rather than some horrible
accident involving a winch, explains the absence.

The good thing about the delay is that I can report exciting
scientific progress, because we've had two weeks to fix all the crap
that went wrong at the beginning. We seem to have demonstrated a
fascinating new sulfur metabolic pathway in two of our three study
organisms, and have just replicated that experiement to confirm
results. ISMASH (the underwater blender) definitely had some problems
out of the box, but the day before yesterday (it could have been two
days, hard to keep track) we had our first successful in-situ snail
homogenization. What a relief. The snails and mussels seem happy in
their 3000-psi stainless steel aquaria, at least when we don't
accidentally flush them with phosphoric acid or turn off their oxygen.

In other news, by which I mean things that happened in the dozen or so
cumulative hours that I've been out here and NOT sleeping or working,
I've seen squid, an eel-fish, mahi-mahi, a baby humpback whale
(fifteen feet away, off the port fantail), and an incredible lightning
storm. Of note, all of these cool things seem to happen at night, so I
have no decent pictures for you.

In general, I'm actually really enjoying life at sea. (Please remind
me of this when I'm still here a month from now.) The food started out
great and is still holding on to a solid 'satisfactory,' the work is
exciting, people are nice, and diving with Jason (the ROV) is

For your edification, I've attached a picture from the Mariner vent
site. You can see a big smoker chimney and some vent effluent coming
in from the left side. On the right is Jason's starboard manipulator,
and at the bottom is part of the 'basket' of scientific apparatus.
ISMASH is the round thing at the bottom, dead center.

That's all for now -- more soon!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Halfway there...

Having a muffin in Auckland, enjoying a rainy day. Nothing like a NZ muffin and a flat white, I say.

It's a bit weird to be back in Auckland after a year and a half, sitting in the same couch in the same coffee shop, and to just be crashing for a few hours between flights. 

Remarkably, the traveling has been coming along mostly sans hitches (knock on wood). Only got a couple raised eyebrows from the various crazy scientific implements we're passing through security, and the lovely folks at Air New Zealand not only checked our bags early for us, but comped us the excess baggage charge. From there it was on to a quick shower in the airport, a stress-free bus ride into the city, and an incredible breakfast at one of the impossibly hip cafes in the uni district. Butter here is indescribably delicious. 

God, I love New Zealand. 

Off now to enjoy a museum or art gallery or some other rain-amenable activity, then back to the airport for Redeye #2, and hopefully... Samoa!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

...aaaand, we're back!

Blogging again. That must mean something interesting is happening!

In less than 72 hours, I will be off to study snails at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. That's right, your taxpayer dollars are buying me a plane ticket to a tropical paradise, where I will spend two months on a boat with the express purpose of learning more about something that's so remote from your daily existence that you need a multimillion-dollar vehicle just to see it. 

Actually, it's not really that bad. The very remoteness of these critters is what makes them so interesting – they're some of the only living things that grow without energy from the sun, and they do it so efficiently that they suck up CO2 faster than any other known organism. Plus I'll be spending half the time in a refrigerated shipping container, so you can forget about beach towels and piƱa coladas... 

Updates here may be periodic depending on satellite reception, but check back now and then to see what happens. More news soon!