Julia, NASA, and GNATS

My name is Julia Maine, I’m majoring in Earth and Oceanographic Sciences at Bowdoin College and I will be a senior next year. This summer I’m working with Dr. Barney Balch at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science.  Barney is an expert in coccolithophores and ocean optics.  One of his research efforts is the 17-year long (almost as old as me!) Gulf of Maine North Atlantic Time Series (GNATS). Since 1998, Barney and his lab have collected hydrographic, biological, optical, and chemical data along a transect across the Gulf of Maine. The data from GNATS is used to calibrate remote sensing instruments (ie. Satellites and ROVs) and to validate optical proxies.
GNATS is an extremely important, successful, and long-lived time series partly because of the clever way in which the cruises are conducted.  During the summer months, the Balch lab is able to piggyback on ferry trips from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The Balch lab has also built a mobile lab by outfitting a shipping container with instruments, monitors, and plumbing and sticking it on the back of a truck.  The mobile lab, along with the daily ferry schedule, allows the lab to pick a cruise date at the drop of a hat when the skies are clear.  I can also personally attest that the Nova Star is far more comfortable than a classic research vessel.
During the second week of my internship, Dave Drapeau, one of Barney’s Research Associates, announced that the weather was looking good, and the next thing I knew we were driving down to the ferry terminal in Portland.  There were five of us on this cruise: Bruce Bowler, Amy Wyeth, Jason Hopkins, and me. Bruce Bowler, Barney’s other Research Associate—who has gone on about 120 of the 170 GNATS cruises—and Dave were our GNATS experts.  It was Amy Wyeth’s, the Lab’s new technician, second cruise, and Jason Hopkins’, a postdoc, first cruise on the Nova Star, and then there was me, the newbie.
We boarded the Nova Star at about 6 PM and immediately began set-up on Car Deck 5.  Dave drove the truck right up into the bow and one of the crewmembers opened a secret hatch to the mooring deck.  A cool blast of salty air, that would continue to chill us for the next 24 hours, washed over us.  The sun set over the stern of the ship, lighting up the sky in warm sherbet colors, and reminding us why we bother with cruises like these.
bigelow sea
I spent my first full night at sea, and woke up at 5 AM to start doing some science!  We finished setting up before breakfast, and watched Yarmouth waking up over coffee and homefries on Deck 9. We disembarked in Yarmouth, went through customs, and hopped back on for the busy ride home.
We collected data from nine stations on the route back to Portland.  Amy was on the flow cam; Jason and I filtered samples for analyses back a Bigelow; Bruce monitored the sensors and collected samples; and Dave ran around doing everything else.  There were several stations we barely finished before reaching the next one.  I was scrambling, trying not to screw up, and I think I succeeded.  We arrived in Portland around 6:30 PM loaded with data and samples, ready to crunch the numbers and see what was happening out there beneath the sparkly surface. 
bigelow nasa
I’ve used GNATS data in school, so it was an exciting opportunity to see where the data actually comes from and to experience, at least briefly, what it’s like to do science at sea!
Julia, NASA, and GNATS