Monthly Archive for October, 2010

A Week Long Beat Down At Sea, All In The Name Of Science!

September 27th 2010

We just arrived in Barcelona after 7 very rough days at sea!  Lots and lots of rolling around, very little sleep, high seas and strong winds!  We have seen worse weather in the past, but normally it only last a day or two………..this lasted 7 days straight.  The constant beating by wind and seas also took its toll on the boat, satellite and radar went down, engine and generator problems as well as random things flying across the boat hitting people as they slept! Captain Charlie and the crew did a great job monitoring the weather (especially with no satellite for internet or communications).  Our course was plotted to avoid big weather systems moving through the Mediterranean.

Weather systems we tried to avoid, I stress the word tried!

John reading as we surf down waves


It was a rough sail and we are all happy to be back on land here in Spain.  Arriving back in Spain brings to an end the summer sampling season of the Mediterranean and Black Sea.  We have sailed over 7,200 miles since May and collected 60 samples from 6 countries.  The samples are some of the most interesting we have collected and come from a wide range of unique environments.   I have one more sample to pick up in France tomorrow (the weather was too rough to take Sorcerer II up there, so I am going by car and collecting the sample on our collaborator’s boat).  The crew is going to take some vacation and start preparing for the Atlantic crossing that will begin early November.

The summer route, over 7,200 miles

Rolling seas top view

Go To Greece!

September 20th 2010

We arrived in Crete today, bringing our Greek sampling leg to an end.  We were very lucky to be able to sail in Greek waters, this place is truly beautiful.    Not only did we get to see the natural beauty of Greece, but our hosts introduced us to the rich culture and extensive history of Greece.  Our hosts, The Captain (AKA Mr Panayotis Tsakos ) and his family have been good friends with Dr. Venter for years.   Being in the shipping business for decades, it isn’t surprising that they know the best places in Greek waters!   We learned a lot about their shipping business, Tsakos Group ,  as well as the Maria Tsakos Foundation .  The foundation is very interesting so please click on the link and read about it.  The Sorcerer II crew was given a once in a lifetime experience from the Tsakos family, one we will never forget and are very thankful for!

The Captain, Craig and Heather

Sub in Skiathos Island




Sunset in Santorini

Ios Island

Safety first Darwin!

Jeremy looking at dinner!

John on the Captain's wave runner

Poseidon's Temple

The Captain's Island

Beach BBQ

Crew in the Corinth Canal

Click here to read about the Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

Mykonos Island

Everyone should go visit Greece, it is amazing!

USA Science & Engineering Festival

What a great weekend! Thousands of people attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival.  There were exhibits and performances for everyone, every age and every interest!

Open for business!

The DiscoverGenomics! Mobile Lab was there – Pennsylvania Avenue with several other mobile labs from across the country. We were just down the street from the Capital.

Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue - the Capital!

Building upon our previous exhibits, people were exposed to how genomics is being used to better understand the microbial diversity of our world at the Institute.  In addition, we looked at how microbes can be “put to work” via microbial fuel cells – even to facilitate the treatments of waste water.  Fascinating!!

Greg Wanger describing what is under the microscopes.

We started with exploring the amazing microbial world of the Rockville Campus storm pond.  Greg Wanger was the master at the scopes.  We had beatiful cyanobacteria from the green slime edge not to mention all the spirochettes and rod-shaped bacterium swimming by – even a few daphnia, worms and other organisms made an appearance as well!

From there, we learned how we can study these microorganisms from the enviroment through creating mini-eco systems with the pond mud.  Its amazing that there are so many unknown bacteria.  What are they doing?

We put them to work in the mud fuel cell.  Here – we could actually measure their power.  How do bacteria transfer electrons? What type are the most effecient? These are some basic questions we can answer with genomics.   

 Finally, we really put the bacteria to work with the waste water.  You may recall, Orianna Brestchger posted “Waste-to-Electricity” in January.  She wrapped up the exhibit with models of the fuel cell and data.

Orianna Brestchger discussing her project.

We had several JCVI staff helping Greg and Orianna: Crystal Snowden, Monica Thomas, Darryl Bronson, Jason Miller, Marcus Jones, Elaine Fox, Bea Gallogly, Matt LaPointe and Jasmine Pollard. 

There were lines all day!

Second Leg of Greek Sampling

September 19th 2010

Greek Sample Site Map

After we picked up our samples in Maliakos Gulf and changed Greek collaborators we sailed overnight to Psara Island to collect sample #30 on the sample map.  Weather became an issue as we tried to collect samples site #26.  The winds were blowing over 30 knots and seas were building over 10 feet, in these conditions we can’t deploy the CTD and it is unsafe to work outside.  We ducked into Tinos Island and Ios Island to avoid weather as we made our way to Santorini.

Satellite Image of Aegean Sea

 Santorini is an amazing place. It is a volcanic Island that is the site of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which occurred some 3,600 years ago.  The caldera is filled with water from the Aegean Sea………as you sail in, you are looking up 1000 feet cliffs, then you realize you are really in the middle of an active volcano!


There were a couple samples we wanted to take in Santorini.  The first was a deep sample in the middle of the caldera (Greek Sample #24 on the sample map).  The second sample was in an area called Iron Bay .  Iron Bay is called Iron Bay……….you guessed it, because of all the iron in the water!  As you go into the bay the water turns a brownish orange color, the rocks on the shores are the same color.  Iron Bay is a thermal vent so you can see the bubbles coming up the water column, you can smell the sulfur and the water temperature goes from 24 -32 C (75-90F).  This is going to be a very interesting sample!

Entrance to Iron Bay

Shoreline of Iron Bay

3.0um from Iron Bay

 In Santorini we dropped off Dora and picked up our last Greek observer, Paraskevi Polymenakou (Voula) from The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research.  Voula would do the leg from Santorini to Crete.


The Start of Greek Sampling and Rough Sampling Conditions!

September 15th 2010

Aegean Sea Map

On September 10th we arrived in the northeastern Aegean Sea and docked in the city of Alexandroupolis.  We spent a few hours dealing with customs which was not normal for the Mediterranean countries.  Turns out that this area is well known for being an entry point for illegal immigrants from Bulgaria and Asia via Turkey.  Lucky for us we had our Greek observer Alexandra Meziti from the University of Thessaly.  Alexandra helped get all our paperwork in order and got us all checked in with the local custom officials.

Alexandra Meziti

Greek Sample Site Map

 So the next afternoon we took off to start our Greek sampling leg………and to be totally honest it couldn’t have started any worse!  We arrived to the sample site (#44 on the sample site map) at sunset, after we collected the samples the seas and winds picked up, plus a big lighting storm could be seen to the north of us and moving our way!  For the record you don’t want to be in the middle of the sea with a 130 foot mast in a lighting storm!  I was out sampling in high winds, rolling seas as we outran the lighting storm………all worked out and we didn’t get caught by the storm. 
We sailed overnight and collected our Thermaikos Gulf (Site # 34) and then headed to an island called Skiathos to anchor for the night.  The next morning we sailed to Maliakos Gulf (# 28 on sample map), unlike the previous two Greek samples the water was dead calm and no wind………it was nice and relaxing! For this sample our Greek collaborator Dr. Amalia Karagouni from the University of Athens was onboard.

Dr. Amalia Karagouni helping lower the CTD in Maliakos Gulf

Typical CTD Profile from The Aegean Sea

 After our samples were collected we dropped off Amalia and Alexandra and picked up Theodora Nikolakopoulou from the University of Athens (AKA Dora the explorer).  Dora would be our Greek observer for the next leg to Santorini.

Theodora Nikolakopoulou

Tourist in Turkey

September 11th 2010

Our time in Turkey was relatively short, but we saw and learned a lot in that time.  Our first stop was in Canakkale, it would have been an uneventful 1 night stop if it wasn’t for this…..Byron Hellespont Bicentenary Swim.  This yearly race allows you to swim the 3 miles from Europe to Asia across the Dardanelles.  I would like to say that it was a great day for a swim, but that would be a lie…….the winds were blowing between 20-30 knots , very choppy seas and a 4 knot current.  The 4 knot current was the biggest problem, it pushed a majority of the participants way past the finish line, including myself, Sarah, Tea and John (with a snorkel no less).  We made it to Asia, but about a quarter of a mile downstream of the finish line!

The actual finish line of the swim race. The white town in the top right corner is where we started!

We were also lucky enough to be in Istanbul for some of the FIBA World Basketball Championship. The crew got tickets and went to watch the USA play Tunisia.  The USA won that game and all the rest to win the gold a few weeks later.

USA vs. Tunisia

We also had a private tour guide for one day in Istanbul.  One day isn’t enough time to see everything in Istanbul, but we did as much as we could, including a tour of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.  I highly recommend you click the links for the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, as well as these;Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.  Of all the cities I have traveled to in the world, Istanbul was the one with the most extensive history, I learned a lot!  I suggest you read up on it from the above links and go check it out!  My only travel advice while in Istanbul, watch out ………..the cab drivers will try to rip you off! And the city is full of street cats!

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia as we sailed by

Blue Mosque

Everyone with Blue Mosque in the background

Basilica Cistern information

Inside the Basilica Cistern

City street in Istanbul

Turkish sub in the Black Sea

Air show as we sailed into Istanbul

Turkish Transect

September 10th 2010

Tonight we arrived in the Greek town of Alexandroupolis, which is located in northeast Aegean Sea. In the last 3 days we have collected 10 samples from 5 sites; it has been a long couple days!  In the last blog I talked about the 2 sample sites in the Black Sea, since then we have collected samples on the north entrance of the Bosphorus (in the Black Sea), the South entrance of the Bosphorus (in the Sea of Marmara) and in the Dardanelles

This transect is very important because you have huge amounts of water moving back and forth from the Black Sea and Aegean Sea.  There are also big salinity gradients, not only in the surface waters from each body of water, but also in the water column due to the movement of water from each area.  The salinity of the Sea of Marmara is slightly greater than that of the Black Sea but only about two-thirds that of most oceans.  However, the water is much more saline as you go down the water column in the Sea of Marmara; it is actually similar to that of the Mediterranean Sea.  This high-density saline water, like that of the Black Sea itself, does not migrate to the surface.

CTD profile of the Sea of Marmara, notice the salinity change

Our Turkish observer, Merve Karakus

Back To Sampling In The Black Sea and Rough Rough Weather

September 9th 2010

Hello everyone!  I know it has been a long time since the last post from Sorcerer II.  Let me take the time to explain………… early August we sailed to Greece.  As I have mentioned in the past we have permits with each country to collect samples, these permits have certain time windows and other country specific stipulations.  Once stipulation on the Greek permit was that for each Greek sample collected we must have a Greek collaborator onboard Sorcerer II. 

One of the biggest problems when scheduling sampling on a sailboat is the weather……….and trust me weather is going to be a topic on many upcoming blogs.  So there we were, certain dates we could legally sample during, dealing with the most intense weather systems in Sorcerer II history, and scheduling local observers to be onboard (the month of August is much like the states, lots of people taking vacation at the end of the summer, so getting someone on the boat at the right time was a big challenge).  We decided to make our way up the Aegean Sea through the Sea of Marmara and into the Black Sea.  With most weather systems blowing from the north this would put us in a great position to do an intense month of sampling back down to Crete.  The problem was actually getting up the Aegean Sea; we had many days where we had to stay on anchor in sheltered bays due to 30-40 knot head winds.

Map of the upcoming sampling transect

During the month of scheduling and positioning of Sorcerer II we took the time to let crew take personal time off the boat, do some PR about the expedition with major Greek news media and Dr. Venter was able to give lectures in Athens, Greece and Sofia, Bulgaria.  I can’t lie; we also sailed around some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, more on this on my “tourist” blog coming up about Greece.

Satellite Imagery of Aegean and Black Sea

On Sept 7th Sorcerer II left the dock from Nessebar Bulgaria on what was planned to be a 2 week sampling transect from the Black Sea, through the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara into the Aegean Sea down to Crete.  We collected 6 samples from 3 Black Sea sites, including the deep anoxic zone.

CTD Profile of the Anoxic Black Sea

Nessebar Bulgaria