Field Day Fun: a day in the life

 

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I woke up in darkness- something I’m not used to even though I’m a busy college student. I then proceeded to tip-toe around my apartment, trying not to wake anyone up, grabbing the essentials for a day out on the water – hat, sunglasses, layers, water, sunscreen, layers, food, layers. I packed up, ate breakfast, and by 6:30am the three of us who were able to go were on the road, only making one short stop to grab ice for the samples we would collect later. There wasn’t much talking on the drive- instead we watched as the sun rose slowly, illuminating the busy streets bringing the world into color. Luckily, we were on the other side of traffic, and a short 45 minutes later we arrived at the Southern California Marine Institute.

Here, we met up with Kristen and started getting ready to load the boat. A little later, Armand and Parker, who both work for The Bay Foundation, showed up. With all 6 of us, it was looking like a tight squeeze on the boat- we expertly organized the equipment and stored our bags so they wouldn’t get wet. As we left the harbor, we passed small fishing boats and huge cargo ships. Sea lions popped their heads above water to observe us and even swam behind us for a short while.When we rounded the lighthouse and began to pick up speed, the importance of all the layers I brought became apparent. Not only was it windy, but as we continued north toward our site in Palos Verdes, we were engulfed by fog.

Our first stop was at a location outside of the kelp forest. This is known as our ‘control site.’ The data we collect here will be compared to our data from the kelp forest, so we can evaluate if there are significant differences between the two. Navigating the rolling waves, Armand placed the boat in the perfect position while Parker lowered the anchor. Once we were settled we began the work! First, the CTD (this measures conductivity, temperature, and depth)  was set up and lowered into the water. Kristen lowered it at a steady rate until it reached the seafloor, and then pulled it back up to the boat. Then, we lowered the Niskin bottle to collect water samples. This was done at 4 different depths. We were careful to also be accurately recording the time of each sample. Once the Niskin bottle was brought back up to the surface, we separated the water into three different bottles. One for pH, one for alkalinity, and one for chlorophyll. We also took a small sample to take back to UCLA to analyze phytoplankton. Repeat for each of the 4 depths.

The most time consuming part of the process came next- for each bottle of water reserved for chlorophyll, we took 100ml and filtered it. The filter was then folded up and stored to be taken back to the lab. We did this three times for each depth. We poured exact amounts of water from one container to another, filtered, and folded the filters all as our small boat was being rocked by waves. As Kelli, our project manager, put it, “It’s like trying to fold mini crepes.”

After we did this once at our control site, we moved to our kelp forest location. Then, on the hour, for about 5 hours, we repeated the process above. It’s safe to say this was a huge learning process for the three of us from the team that were there- after watching Kristen, Parker, and Armand go through it once, we jumped right in ready to help. The 6 of us worked seamlessly as a team, with only the occasional slip up, which always led to laughter as someone got splashed by spilled water. And once, in the middle of sampling, a dolphin lazily swam by about 10 feet away.

Throughout the day, the sun tried to break through the fog, but was mostly unsuccessful. Finally around 4pm, the fog cleared and we were greeted with sunshine.

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When we were finished sampling in the kelp forest, we pulled up the anchor and headed back to our control point to measure at that location. This time, we did not drop anchor, but instead did the sampling while Armand kept the boat in the proper location. And then we were finished! Back to the port we went, as the sunlight shone on the land, giving us beautiful views of the coast.

Once we were docked, we unloaded the boat, washed everything down, and headed back to UCLA, where we met up with our adviser, Rob Tripati, to drop off our water samples. We will get in the lab to analyze those after our spring break. By the time we all got home to our separate apartments it was close to 8pm- and I at least still had homework left to do!
Thoughts on the day: It was such a phenomenal learning experience (and very fun)! We were very impressed with the hard work that is required of scientists to collect data. 

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