Hello everyone! I am Kat, a lab hand during this voyage and a senior at the US Coast Guard Academy. I get to be a part of this program as a part of my summer training experience (shout out Chris Nolan) which typically lasts for 11 weeks. I spent 5 weeks earlier this summer on a buoy tender in Michigan and in total will spend 6 weeks on the Robert C. Seamans completing an academic internship. It has certainly been a unique experience for me to be on a boat, but have to pick out my own clothes every day instead of a uniform and to be able to wear my hair down instead of my typical bun. So, even though I am about the same age as some of the students, I am technically considered a crew member and an "other," which means I am not part of the rotating watch schedule. Don't worry, I still stay plenty busy!
Patrick, the assistant engineer, helping to deploy the Profiling Pump.
My morning starts with some time as part of the deck watch. During these times, I get to learn from the mates and all of their experience on vessels as well as help out with helming and look out. It has been interesting to see how similar the structure of the deck watches are to what I have seen and learned from the Coast Guard. Military or not, to travel by water you need to stay structured to stay safe. Then, it is time for me to help Graham, our visiting researcher. I help him take measurements for ocean optics. It has been really cool to learn from him because it is a field I knew nothing about before helping him out!
Then it's time for the morning deployment, during which I collect samples for the research I am completing. I am using an instrument called a profiling pump, which was actually designed and donated to SEA by an SEA alumni! The instrument has seven different filter housings and is connected to a computer program. Through the software, I (with the help of Graham and a few others such as Patrick and Corinna) can communicate with the pump and tell it to open one of the valves and filter at a depth. Then, you can close the valve, lower the pump deeper, open a different valve, and start a new sample. Different sized filters can also be placed into the filter housings.
Essentially what I am examining is a vertical profile of microplastics using a coarser filter and a finer filter to see how the quantity and properties of microplastics are changing with depth. I hope to take some samples back to school with me so I can analyze them further as part of my senior research project with my group mates!
Then I get to have some time for a lunch, a small break, and afternoon class. Then I am back to the lab to help with processing all the data we collected earlier in the morning. As we get progressively further and further into the gyre, we are spending more and more time counting plastics. Today we counted 775 from our neuston tow!
After dinner, my day winds down with some journaling and making sure the profiling pump is all charged and ready to go for tomorrow, although tonight had the special addition of going out to the head rig to help furl the JT! Then I head to the main salon or to "sunset appreciation club" to talk to some of the other crew members or students who are still awake.
Although I consider myself an introvert and typically have to really push myself to get to know others, I already value the people I have gotten to know here so much. I normally live my life focused on school and what will come next for me. But recently I have been in awe that, despite the fact that we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it still brought so many of us from so far away, or even really close by without realizing it, closer together.
Kat Gower, Lab Hand, United States Coast Guard Academy