Monthly Archive for June, 2009

In the News

We docked in the Volvo Ocean Race Village for a week. It was very exciting to be so close to all of the activities surrounding the race. Over the week Dr. Venter and Karolina and I were interviewed by many local and national TV, radio stations and newspapers. Here are some links to a few of the news stories: Story on Xconomy; Story on

Dr. Venter was also part of a half-day symposium moderated by his good friend Dr. Norrby and attended by the King of Sweden. After the lectures were over the King of Sweden boarded Sorcerer II to tour the vessel and get an in-depth look at our sampling procedures and to better understand the science we do.

The week in Stockholm went by quickly as it was filled with lots of activities from the press interviews to tours for some of the Volvo sailing crews and some men from the Swedish Navy, to celebrating Midsummer with traditional Swedish food and fun. It was very exciting for all of us, and the positive public exposure the expedition received is great for the ongoing scientific research being performed on Sorcerer II.

The Volvo Ocean Race

We arrived in Sandhamn at 10 p.m. on June 15th.  It was perfect timing because the Volvo Ocean Race boats were arriving around 11 p.m. The Volvo Ocean Race, formally known as the Whitbread “Around the World Race,” began in Alicante on October 11th 2008 and ends in St. Petersburg on June 25th 2009. Sorcerer II was docked in a perfect location to watch the boats come into the finish line.  I was not very familiar with the Volvo Ocean Race, but now I know these people are true sailors and adventure seekers (I might also add a bit crazy as you sort of have to be in order to do such a race!).

On June 17th  Dr. Venter and Dr. Norrby were offered the opportunity to sail on the PUMA boat named Il Mostro and skippered by Ken Read for the Sandhamn to Stockholm race.  Sorcerer II along with hundreds of other boats watched the start of the race and then for the next three hours followed the boats into Stockholm.

It was really exciting to motor sail into Stockholm in the midst of all the celebration around the race. Karolina was also really excited to be back in her home city and have the opportunity to show off her city (more on that later). The crew docked the boat at the Volvo Race Village, and we attended a special reception for the race boats at the Royal Place of Stockholm.  The King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf spoke and welcomed the teams to Stockholm, and afterwards Dr. Venter, Dr. Norrby and members of the crew met with the King and crew members from the race boats.  The reception was followed by a delicious dinner organized by Dr. Norrby at an inn that dates from the 1700’s.  Today also happened to be my birthday, and it will be remembered for many reasons!

Heading to the Mother Land — Sweden

After transiting through the Kiel Canal, the waterway that links the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, and welcoming Dr. Venter in a rainy Copenhagen, we embarked for Sweden, my home and one of the main destinations of our 2009 expedition. It was a proud and special moment for me when first mate, John, hoisted the Swedish courtesy flag.

Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperating and was putting a damper on the excitement. My friends and family in Stockholm tell me it has been the worst June weather in 50 years! When we were about to collect our first sample in the Baltic in winds up to 30 knots, rain and cold, Jeff Hoffman felt the need to pull out his thermal underwear that he uses in Antarctica. For some reason he didn’t seem overjoyed when I screamed through the wind “Welcome to the Baltic!” In fact the rest of the crew appeared very skeptical and were probably wondering what they had gotten themselves into for the summer.

With Dr. Venter at the helm, and in spite of the weather, we made our way north along the Swedish coast and after a brief overnight stop in the island of Öland, we reached our first Swedish sampling site. Because of the cold weather I didn’t expect to find much of my beloved cyanobacteria, but the CTD cast revealed a chlorophyll max around 15 meters and just by looking at the 3.0 µm filters we could see the spiky colonies of Aphanizomenon sp., one of the common bloom-forming cyanobacteria in the Baltic Sea. We also saw some of the toxic dinoflagellates Dinophysis, and it will certainly be interesting to see what kind of smaller bacteria and viruses that are associated with these phytoplankton communities are also present.

After sampling we headed for Visby on the island of Gotland for the night. Visby is a well preserved medieval city and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site. We did not have much time for sightseeing, but the crew did enjoy a short walk in the historical center before a good night’s sleep.

We took off early this morning and are now sailing in good wind, heading for Sandhamn in the outer part of Stockholm archipelago. In two days I’ll be home!

Bundle with filaments of the cyanobacterium Aphanizomenon sp.

Bundle with filaments of the cyanobacterium Aphanizomenon sp.

Sampling in Helgoland — A warm German welcome for the Sorcerer II

After a little more than two weeks in Plymouth, UK the Sorcerer II set sail on June 3rd. We were sad to say goodbye to our new friends at PLM, but we were grateful for their hospitality, friendship and scientific collaboration. We’re looking forward to coming back through Plymouth in the fall.

We motor sailed in calm weather but with all the other boat traffic in the English Channel we were on constant watch. On June 6th we arrived on Helgoland, an island about 70 kilometers from the mainland. While Germany has many islands on its coast this is the only high seas island and it is a beautiful land with red sandstone rock. Scientists from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, the Biologische Anstalt Helgoland, the Jacobs University Bremen and the Max Planck Institute for Marine Biology joined the Sorcerer II crew to sample another long term research site called the Helgoland Roads Long Term Ecological Research Site  or ‘Kabeltonne.’ The sampling site Kabeltonne is located just outside the main harbor of Helgoland located in the southeastern corner of the North Sea.

Sorcerer II in Helgoland.

Sorcerer II in Helgoland.

Dr. Frank Oliver Glöckner, Head of the Microbial Genomics Group at Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology was quoted in a press release regarding the collaboration with the Sorcerer II crew, “Sequence data from the Sorcerer II will complement and improve our own MIMAS data. I asked Frank to contribute to our blog so what follows below is his and his team’s account of their experience to have the Sorcerer II come to Helgoland.

Sunday afternoon the Sorcerer II crew toured the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research facilities and aquarium.  The tour was led by Dr.  Karen Wiltshire, director of Biologische Anstalt Helgoland & Wadden Sea Station Sylt, and was followed by a tasty BBQ hosted by researchers Sonja Oberbeckmann and Katherina Schoo.  It was a wonderful day and our hosts in Helgoland were superb. A heartfelt “thank you” from the entire Sorcerer II crew.

From our collaborators in Germany:

Helgoland Ahoy.  The Sorcerer II has reached the first German harbor.

Already some weeks ago rumors came up that the Sorcerer II might have a sampling stopover in Helgoland, a rocky island in the middle of the North Sea. E-mails were flying back and forth to get the permits and organize the stay. June 2nd we got the message that the crew has left Plymouth and is now heading for Helgoland. We were excited – the Sorcerer II will really come to Helgoland and even stay two nights in the harbor! Those not living on Helgoland quickly organized their travel.

From the other side of the island you could see the large mast of the Sorcerer II. We could not wait to get in contact with the crew and what a warm welcome! Like a swarm of grasshoppers we entered the ship for a visit. All of us wanted to have a look how this beautiful yacht looks from inside. How do the sampling devices look like? How do you store and ship the filters? Many questions arose and got answered patiently by the crew. Action came up when we were allowed to join the sampling of the Helgoland Roads Long Term Ecological Research Site named ‘Kabeltonne’. In former times a buoy was anchored at this site to hold a cable connecting the main island with the Dune, a sandy smaller island populated mainly by seals and tourists in the summer months. The ‘Kabeltonne’ itself has been removed many years ago and is now standing as a reminder of former times in front of the Biological Station Helgoland (BAH) as part of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Nevertheless, since nearly 50 years samples are taken at this station to monitor food web interactions and the influence of climate change and the diversity of microbial communities in the North Sea.

Sampling with the Sorcerer II at the station ‘Kabeltonne’ goes quickly, the real work with all the filtrations and finally sequencing and data analysis comes later explains Jeff, the lead scientist on board. The sequence data from the Sorcerer II will complement and improve our data of the recently started MIMAS (Microbial Interactions in MArine Systems) project. The MIMAS project generates and integrates diversity, metagenomic, metatranscriptomic and metaproteomic data with contextual data like temperature and nutrient concentrations. It’s exciting – with the Sorcerer II data we are now able to compare the North Sea with marine habitats on a global scale. The day finishes with a barbecue at the BAH including traditional Helgoland food and some duty-free drinks. At the end it’s like we say good bye to good friends. The Sorcerer II has to leave for the Baltic and finally to pick up J. Craig Venter in Stockholm. Nevertheless, we hope that we do not need magic to convince the crew to have another stopover on their way back in August when they finally go to the Mediterranean for the winter.

We all wish you a good trip and happy sampling:

Sonja Oberbeckmann, Uwe Nettelmann, Alexandra Kraberg, Katherina Schoo, Gunnar Gerdts, Karen Wiltshire (all AWI), Manfred Schlösser (Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology Bremen), Christine Klockow, Renzo Kottmann and Frank Oliver Glöckner (all MPI-Bremen and Jacobs University Bremen)

Cornish Pasties and Jellyfish at the MBA

On Monday we were invited to the Marine Biology Association (MBA) and the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) for lunch and a more extensive tour of the laboratories and SAHFOS. This was an excellent opportunity for crew members who missed the first tour. A beautiful table was set for us in the dining room, with a spectacular view overlooking the water.  We were treated to delicious local delicacies such as Cornish Pasty, yummy!

After lunch we were able to view the aquariums downstairs.  John Rundle, an MBA associate with more than 35 years of experience breeding aquatic animals, showed us some of the organisms they breed.  We saw different types of jellyfish, a very feisty octopus, and beautiful cuttlefish and dogfish. The team was excited to get up close to some of the ocean’s larger organisms.

Jellyfish at the MBA aquarium. Photo: Karen McNish

Jellyfish at the MBA aquarium. Photo: Karen McNish

At SAHFOS, Dr. Chris Reid, the former director, led a more detailed tour and shared more details of their impressive work. Marine Technician Roger Barnard, who was doing maintenance on one of the instruments as we “invaded” his workshop, showed us the fine silk mesh that captures the plankton along with the mechanisms of the system. The plankton recorders used today basically look and work the same way as the original prototype designed by Sir Alister Hardy himself in the 1920s.

As a final stop on our tour we had a look at the microscopes where samples are analyzed and where Senior Research Fellow Dr. Alistair Lindley was working on identifying organisms. Dr. Lindley explained the interesting changes in plankton distribution that they have observed over the years due to changing currents and warming waters.

The team left the MBA and SAHFOS, sated with excellent food, wonderful hospitality, and incredibly interesting research.