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Feb. 2004, Vol. 29 No. 1
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Students find science smooth sailing

For 23 intensive hours in October 2003, 16 University of Hawai'i at Manoa students had a hands-on look at life as a marine scientist aboard UHís newest research vessel, Kilo Moana.

photos by Eric De Carlo and Chris Measures

The students were accompanied by three faculty advisors with significant seagoing experience—oceanography professors Chris Measures and Eric De Carlo and postdoctoral researcher Karen Selph. This is Measures’ account of the cruise.

Cruise participants in lifejackets gathered for the mandatory abandon-ship drill

Cruise participants muster for the mandatory abandon-ship drill.

Immediately after leaving Honolulu harbor, the global environmental sciences students met Captain Gray Drury, mustered for a Coast Guard-mandated safety drill on emergency procedures and divided into four teams, each led by a graduate student or faculty member.

At Station 1, half a mile off Puu O'o along the Wai'anae coast, Team 1, headed by De Carlo, helped Selph deploy a fine mesh net for sampling the upper oceanís plant and animal life. After being towed for about 20 minutes at 1–2 knots, the net was brought aboard and the contents taken into the laboratory so organisms could be identified under the microscopes.

Student scientists prepare a water sample for tests

Student scientists Zach Eisenberg and Andrea Rivera prepare a water sample for tests to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen.

UH Manoa's new, state-of-the-art, twin-hull research ship Kilo Moana

The student cruise used Manoa's new, state-of-the-art, twin-hull research vessel Kilo Moana.

Students at sunset

A concentrated itinerary provided a spectacular sunset for Marissa Daniels and Heather Kikkawa, along with a hands-on look at an oceanographer's life.

Student crew members with core sample piston

Proud members of the ship’s technical support group, from left, Gabe Foreman, Steve Poulos and Dave Gravatt, display the first piston core sample of the ocean bottom to be collected from Kilo Moana.

Team 4, headed by GES senior Maxime Grande, sprang into action, helping handle the tag lines as a deep-sea water sampling system was lowered over the side. As the system descended, the packageís sensors relayed data on temperature and salinity of the water column back to the ship.

Working from the shipboard computer system, students helped me close the sampling bottles remotely as the assembly reached assigned depths on the way back up. Once the sample bottles were back on board, students carefully collected water samples and preserved them under the watchful eye of De Carlo.

While Team 2 took their water samples into the lab to determine the amount of oxygen and salt in each, the shipboard technical support group attempted the first ever piston coring from Kilo Moana. The piston core collects sediments from the bottom of the ocean. After some slight modifications to the triggering mechanism, a sediment core was collected and brought back onto the ship.

Eager students whisked samples of the sediment to the lab, where they were sieved into different size fractions and studied under microscopes. Others sealed the ends of the core in its plastic liner for return to shore. It will be used to help understand the history of underwater sediment landslides that occur along this part of O'ahu.

After an excellent dinner in the shipís mess and a spectacularly colorful sunset, two of the four teams were sent "off watch" while the others continued the lab and deck work. As the ship sailed toward our deepwater offshore station, students watched Kilo Moana’s multibeam seismic imaging system paint a three-dimensional picture of the ocean floor.

Arriving at Station 2, Team 1 deployed the water sampling system once again. With a depth of 2,700 meters to plumb, it was 1 a.m. before the system reached the bottom—time for the night watch to wake up and come on duty, relieving the other teams so they could sleep. The new team took over triggering the closing mechanism on the water bottles as the sampling package was brought back to the surface.

Once that was recovered, it was time for another net tow. The night haul was quite different, sampling animals that migrate into the upper waters only during the night.

An impromptu, real-time feeding experiment occurred when a curious student added one of the small fish caught in the net to a dish containing a jelly predator. The fish was swallowed whole, under the microscope, for all to see.

By 3 a.m., the net tow was completed, and the ship headed back to port. Work continued, however, as the night watch team processed samples. By dawn, the ship approached the sea buoy outside the harbor, ready to return to its berth at Snug Harbor. Although the hour was early and the night had been long, all the students were up to watch the arrival. They helped offload equipment onto the dock so the ship could prepare for its next research cruise.

We heard one student say she wanted to live onboard the ship. Others asked to repeat the experience next year. No wonder—this cruise engaged bright young undergraduates from Japan to France as well as communities around Hawai'i in the challenges of scientific research on a world class research vessel.