How do you tell a story?
Beyond the structure of the who, what, where, when and why.
I woke up early on this last day together with the NASA-NAAMES team wanting to soak in every last moment knowing that this story is nearing its end.
How lucky am I to have a job that lets me parachute into people’s lives. Journalists don’t stay very long, usually, we stay long enough to soak in relevant information to share. We meet people on their greatest adventures, the best day of their lives and, unfortunately, on their worst days too. The common thread in all of this is that those times often make people uniquely real, open and vulnerable to others.
So, how do I tell this story? One where I stayed a bit longer, where my “characters” are now family and I broke the number one rule of journalism-don’t become part of the story. But I am starting to believe that sometimes rules need to be broken.
Then truth is I knew before I stepped on this ship that I would never be able to tell this story, well enough, to truly bring it home-hopefully just enough.
The science, the amazing work at the hands of curious and fantastically diverse people, will take shape through words. What will not be as easy to explain—is the profound experience we shared together.
The story lives in the small gestures and larger conversations that were part of everyday life here; the smiles and laughter that became the ambient noise you looked forward to during early mornings and late nights. The gift was in the collaboration that thirty days at sea brought out in people who will use that to paint a better picture for the rest of us to understand our oceans. The bond was built in the shared struggles from walking to figuring out how to make our jobs work in constant motion. The crew who call this ship home and welcome eager strangers ,thirsty to use their resources, with open arms…that’s where it is.
The greatest author, of course, will be the sea, with her secrets and incredible world that she allowed us to safely navigate while putting on one heck of a breathtaking show.
This story lives in the shared connection of a journey that can really only be fully understood by the fifty or so people who were here living it together. Tomorrow we will part ways with the memories of what was, knowing there are a few dozen people out there that live in us--that have become a chapter in our life story. So, we take a few moments to take in, to be thankful, before we turn the page.
Thanks to the whole NAAMES team for inviting me into their world and most especially to Mike Behrenfeld for reminding me that passion fuels possibility and anything can be, the magic that can be found if we take the time to discover what we cannot easily see and that the universe is asking us all to share in each other’s journeys.
Photo: Lee Harrington
Respect the ocean; she is always teaching you something. This is one of the few, if not the only, guarantees out here. I woke up well before sunrise this morning so that I could selfishly have a moment alone with the sea. If not just to say thank you but soak in the gratitude for what has surrounded us over the course of the last month. The emotional shift in the waves and weather are reflective of the human experience. The ocean teaches you to appreciate the moment fully-moments are fleeting-they come and go. What remains is the feeling that there is so much left to learn about our world, ourselves and each other.
This poem by one the scientists onboard, Nicholas Huynh, sums this up perfectly.
Shifting Seas, Shifting Science
The ocean is wildly emotional,
often shifting within short periods of time.
Those emotions easily permeate into the psyche,
but they come and go.
A cloudless afternoon with gentle seas brings a soothing warmth,
an invitation for an embrace.
But the next morning brings howling winds that bites at my bones.
Following is a sea foaming at its waves, angrily lashing out,
driving me to seek some semblance of safety inside the ship.
In that moment, I realize that what appears to be a large steel vessel
is actually a small thimble in a vast desert expanse.
I, those around me, and those at the helm,
are all subject to the passing moods of the ocean.
All that we can do is roll with it.
This can be challenging when the ground moves beneath us,
constantly nudging us off balance,
changing the trajectory of where we were planning on going,
on what we had planned on doing.
Now hear this.
Wise not to become too attached to plans when voyaging the high seas.
When storms brew confused currents,
best to change course before getting caught.
Though forced to retreat to waters once visited,
this tack from intention may seem less than ideal,
but new opportunities are presented.
Signatures of change can be diagnosed:
some things grew better,
some things survived,
some things were eaten.
things were infected,
some things escaped detection.
We'll uncover who, how, and why.
The ocean is immense.
What's happening here might be similar to what's happening there,
or maybe what will take place later,
or maybe what has already taken place.
It's hard to really know.
To piece the puzzle,
we collect hundreds of liters of water,
filter it, fix it, freeze it,
Again, again, and again.
This is the tedious effort that drives great strokes of progress,
as long as the ocean allows.
No matter how the ocean feels,
It's always humbling
to see it,
to be in and on it,
to explore it,
to wonder about it.
To pay heed to its emotions is to respect it.
Only then do opportunities arise to learn from it.
Happy Tuesday! So, we are just shy of 72 hours from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, home for me and closer to home for most of the science team onboard. Transit has been slower than expected thanks to the North-Atlantic never needing a rest. There are so many small details, that add up to the whole about life at sea, that are not easily translated. What is impossible to convey is the feeling off being tossed around by the waves. You can't imagine how mighty they are, how small you are, until you feel the push and pull below your feet. You are as light as air one second and heavy as a rock the next. Seeing the waves rise far above the ship, as if they will swallow us up, eating while cups full of liquid fall on your lap, losing power in the shower, racing to get one leg in your pants before the next tilt of the ship sends you flying to the floor, sitting at your desk and ending up on your back across the room. Without a doubt, these are days on the ship that are the most frustrating, enjoyable, frightening and just indescribable; these are the days that lead to some of the funniest stories...when it is over!
One of my favorite parts of sitting on a beach is the wonder that you find there. Perhaps, you know what I am talking about. The unconfined excitement of the littlest of ones--mom struggling to put on that last bit of suntan lotion as they gaze eagerly at the ocean—and the treasures that they will find. You can almost feel their eager energy as they pull away to explore. Within minutes, you see them in there with their colorful buckets or tiny fishing nets--just looking to catch something, anything. Then comes the squeal of excitement, “fish” mom, look, “fish.”
The curiosity of a child. The amazement in what we can sometimes perceive as common place as the years take hold of us. Out here—that juvenile curiosity and thirst to understand is fueled by a base of study to know even more. The idea that the answers are known and we can stop looking doesn’t exist.
Here is the grown-up version of that kid on the beach with his/her fishing net and some examples of the fascinating ocean life that we catch in our buckets of exploration.
Video Courtesy: Peter Gaube Labs
...it’s what we are here to study. Well, more so, the amazing world that lives in the water that is mostly too tiny to see with the unaided eye.
Phytoplankton comes from the Greek words phyton meaning “plant” and planktos meaning “wanderer” or “drifter” So, there is no coincidence we are drifting out here, in the North Atlantic, with so many amazing wanderers who seek to understand what they cannot easily see.
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton are responsible for much of the oxygen present in the Earth’s atmosphere and half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth.
And when you put them under a microscope—they are beautiful—stunning, really!
They play a huge role in sustaining the aquatic food web which, in some ways, helps sustain our role on this planet.
Thank you to Stephen Bennet for the beautiful virtual images he created to help us bring this fascinating world to life and to Ben Knowles, who’s excitement and commitment to his craft is contagious. I could listen to this man talk about plankton and the community they exist in--all day.
I can't believe in just one week we will be off the shores of Cape Cod! In case you don't know my team and I are out here to film a long-format piece on the bloom, discovery and what motivates people to do this work, that has been a major priority for us. So, I apologize the blog hasn't been updated as frequently as I would like. The internet is limited. However, we think we have found a solution so look for a few different videos over the next few days.
In the meantime, a look inside one of several science vans we have here on the ship. The labs are a space of scientific measurement and pure gems in engineering a work space at sea.
...but not before the North Atlantic put on a spectacular show. Words will never fully convey the feeling of standing on the deck of this ship, a vessel that has brought home so many secrets of the sea, as the waves dance to 25 feet-the mist painting vivid rainbows that surround you. This brings out the childhood smile on Christmas morning...in adults.
A quick look at yesterday...
Things break, fall apart or sometimes just don’t work out the way we planned.
The NAAMES project has set a course for field study in the North Atlantic four times over the past few years. A place that is notorious for impressive storms and fluctuating degrees of unpredictability. The captain told me yesterday that this time of year can make it an, “especially special place,” with an emphasis on special. So far, the team has been incredibly lucky. Thanks to an impressive amount of planning, ingenuity and the ability for everyone to create and embrace a new path when the one they were on was no longer an option.
The airplane, that has been so crucial in helping us to gather measurements of the aerosols surrounding the vessel, has run into a mechanical issue that has taken it out of the mix.
Weather has now forced us off our course to Greenland and back south. The waves were expected to be thirty plus coupled with intense winds—so plan B.
So where does Plan C come in?
Well, today we learned that our CTD, the instrument we use to collect our deep-water samples, has an issue that can’t be fixed at sea. That means that part of this trip is over.
There was a moment of disappointment, a moment. But before I could even ask the question the room was full of chatter about how to make this work with the little less than two weeks we still have onboard. Nicholas Huynh, one of the scientists looked at me and said, “well, it is just part of field work.”
AND this is what I love about this journey and the people that are on it. There isn’t much time for self-pity or dwelling in what has gone wrong. The focus turns immediately to what we can do to make the best of what we have in front of us. This is why I decided to take a month out of my life to capture and share this story. The first time was about the adventure, this time it is about the people and the human spirit of curiosity and the positive nature that is contagious on this ship.
Nick Huynh and Ben Knowles absorbing the news that the CTD will no longer be able to be used on NAAMES 4.