A pivotal summer

September 14, 2021

I’ve had quite a summer these past few months that I believe to be pivotal in my future career as well as my personal life. I thought I’d share and write a blog about it!

June

The summer started off with more of a personal achievement- successfully completing my first Ironman 70.3 triathlon. Cambridge, Maryland is home to the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman (in June) and Ironman Maryland (in September). Athletes from around the world travel to Cambridge to participate in these races. It didn’t take long for me to catch the triathlon bug after volunteering for Ironman Maryland 2018 and joining a local triathlon club. I had signed up and started training for Eagleman 2020 but it unfortunately got cancelled due to COVID. Starting March 2021, I started training again and completed the race by swimming 1.2 miles in the Choptank River, biking 56 miles through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and running 13.1 through the waterfront town of Cambridge. I must have enjoyed it because I’m already signed up to do it again next year. We’ll see if I can ever muster up the courage to an Ironman 140.6….

July

Earlier in the Spring, I got accepted to participate in the NASA sponsored Calibration and Validation for Ocean Color Remote Sensing course, otherwise known as the Ocean Optics class. This is an intensive, four-week, graduate level course in optical oceanography that has been offered every other year since 1985. The course aims to train the next generation of oceanographers who use optics to study the oceans; many of today’s oceanography leaders are graduates of this course.

This year, the course took place at Bowdoin College’s Schiller Coastal Studies Center in Orr’s Island, Maine. In mid-July, I packed up my things, drove to Maine for the first time, and spent the next four weeks immersed in all things ocean optics. I joined 17 other graduate students and post-docs from across the country who were interested in ocean optics or remote sensing in some way. We would start every day with lectures, followed by labs in the afternoon. The lectures from the various instructors were extremely valuable; I learned new topics and also noticed that things I’ve read and previously learned about started to come together and make a little more sense, which was a cool feeling. The labs in the afternoon provided us hands-on experience operating and deploying optical sensor technology and making measurements that can be used to validate remotely sensed ocean color measurements and derived products. We usually spent our evenings analyzing the data we collected that day and collaborating on a presentation that we would give the next morning. The schedule of the course with PDFs and videos of the lectures can be found here.

The course was a combination of hard work and tons of fun. I will certainly look back fondly on this course when I think of my PhD years. The friendships I made with the other students in this course excite me as I am sure we will stay in touch and support one another for the remainder of our careers. After taking this course, I am more confident to pave a path forward with my specific research interests.

August

At the end of August, I got the opportunity to conduct research at sea onboard Duke University’s R/V Shearwater which is based at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, where I completed my Master’s degree in 2018. The cruise was led by Dr. Ivan Savelyev, Physical Oceanographer at the U.S. Naval Research Lab who is interested in ocean frontal dynamics. A few members of the Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing (MaRRS) Lab who were helping to collect data invited me to come aboard. MaRRS Lab PhD candidate Patrick Gray used this cruise as a shakedown for a graduate student led cruise a couple weeks later which focused on fine-scale community composition and ecosystem structuring across the Gulf Stream front. Patrick and I had just taken the Ocean Optics course together (see above) and thought this was a good opportunity to apply what we had just learned and collect data that will enhance collaborative research.

The cruise took place at the Gulf Stream 35 miles offshore of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. Ivan was interested in collecting submesoscale (1-10km) features of the Gulf stream front to better understand what makes a front unstable, or break down. A front can be defined as a place where two bodies of water with drastically different physical properties meet. Fronts can be associated with the formation of eddies, coastal upwelling, river discharges into coastal zones of the ocean, and more. They are an integral part of oceanic dynamics and play an important role in the transfer of energy, biological productivity, fisheries, weather, and climate. Submesoscale features of fronts are difficult to measure, but their effects can have broad implications on oceanic ecosystems.

We repeatedly crossed the Gulf Stream front in 10-20 km long transects and collected various frontal events. An instrument called a tow-yo measured vertical profiles of temperature, salinity, and turbulence dissipation rate as it was raised up and down through the water column while simultaneously being pulled horizontally by the ship. An acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) attached to the side of the ship measured currents across the front. Frontal processes can be seen in airborne imagery if they twist and stretch blooms of phytoplankton (e.g. marine algae). We released a nonharmful fluorescent dye in the water and conducted drone flights to observe how the water masses on either side of the front were interacting.

Patrick and I collected optical data through an inline flow through system to observe changes in optical properties across the front. We also collected continuous measurements of the scattering layer using an EK80 echo sounder, hyperspectral reflectance measurements off the bow of the ship, and took water samples to measure chlorophyll concentration. This data will be used to validate multispectral and thermal imagery collected during drone flights.

September

And to wrap up an already pivotal summer, I spent Labor Day weekend at the beach where I answered an important question and became a fiance! All in all it was a productive, career enriching, and exciting summer and put me in a good spot to spend the next 1 1/2 years finishing up my dissertation.