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The half way point!

5 weeks have quickly passed us by and only another 5 lie ahead!  I was interested at this point to see what parts of the internship had really stood out for everyone so far.  These are the answers I got.

Izzy: The intern kayaking afternoon on the Elkhorn Slough and watching Becks walk straight into a screen door at Spencer’s house in Sonoma!

Bartolome: Seeing the Tuna Conservation and Research Center during our behind the scenes tour of the Monterey bay Aquarium, and WimbleBARI!!!

Katie L: The kayaking day and seeing a sunfish during our family trip to the Channel Islands.

Sara: The massive sunfish at the Tuna Conservation and Research Center, and getting my DNA to amplify!

Katie M: Ari Shapiro’s seminar on communicating science.

Dan: Getting to see how the massive jellyfish exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium really works on our behind the scenes tour.

Chris: The day on the R/V Zephyr.  It was an AUV dive (autonomous underwater vehicle) and I was able to watch the launch and talk to both the scientists and the engineers involved.

Becks: The day at sea on the R/V Point Lobos, watching the video the ROV was sending up from the depths then getting to drive it!  And the afternoon we came across a sea otter on the way back from a lunch time trip to the fruit market.  It was floating in the water right next to us cleaning itself and watching the world go by.  If it hadn’t eventually swam off I think I’d still be there.


Waking up on Sunday morning you could tell something was different, something was in the air.  An unusual hush had fallen over the fields surrounding Marina.  Doors and windows were closed.  The children didn’t play on the streets that day.  There was an uncomfortable tension and everyone knew it was just on the verge of breaking.  They waited….  and then, through the fog, figures were discerned.  Figures in spandex, headbands and trainers that were blindingly white.  The interns had arrived on the tennis court.  It was WimbleBARI!!!

That’s right, after a week of sleepless nights, secret practice sessions, hours pouring over the details of famous matches and a lot of effort from our coordinator Isobel ‘The Pink’ Yeo, it was finally time for the interns tennis tournament.

As all veterans of WimbleBARI know, there is nothing more important than the costumes, and this was a particulary good year.  We were treated to the aesthetic delights of Team Pink, Team Purple (Spandex a go-go) and Team Monochrome, not to mention ‘The Trash Man’!

Team Pink

Team Purple (including the crippled Sara's wheelchair pusher)

Heartwarming sportmanship between Team Monochrome, The Trashman and Tony

Even the sun decided to join in!  We had two heated group stages and already the crowds had been shocked more than they could handle.  A number of ‘first timers’ turned out to be nothing but sharks, running away with the points and smashing the balls down the outside line.  Calls for Hawkeye fell on deaf ears, the umpires word was final (and, as the umpire depended on who was left with the scoring clip board, the final decisions were unnervingly fickle…)

Many games were played, many tears were bitterly shed; we were down to the semi finals…  Then, in an unprecedented twist to the story, a new team walked into the court.  It was as we feared, none other than Katie ‘The Smasher’ Lodes and her formidable husband Andy.  The legends were true!  No one dared speak as they placed themselves straight into the semi-finals.  The remaining two pairs, Chris and Sandeep, and Becks and Bart, quaked in their tennis shoes.  The other players hid on the sidelines and thanked their luck for missing that final shot, little had they realised at the time that it had bought them safety!

A nervous crowd

The first semi began, a terrifying battle to the end!  Chris astounded everyone with his sheer nerve in the face of the Lodes partnership.  Sandeep perfected his ball-dodging technique beautifully.  But the battle did not last, Chris and Sandeep were thrown out of the tournament and the Lodes’ roared in triumph – only one more partnership stood between them and the Championship!

Semi-final 1

Becks (who had really much preferred being a ball girl) and The Hustler (also known as Bart) were next to face The Smasher.  Understandably, a terrible fear had been borne in their hearts after watching the last game.  Becks and Bart fell to the Lodes partnership quickly, and all too soon (especially for the umpire, who had to be alerted to the fact that it was Championship Point) it was over….

Celebrations!  It was time to pop the cheap cava like they do on tv!!!  Then down to the field to have a BBQ and relax in the waning sunlight.

Well done Katie and Andy, and a special thanks to our two excellent ball girls, Sophie and Margie!

Our impressive ball girls

Project updates and cookie breaks!!

Every Monday at 2:15 pm, one of the researchers at MBARI gives a presentation about their project.  These project updates are a great way for everyone here to stay up to date about what other work is going on.  It can also give you ideas about your own work, or you may be able to suggest a solution to another group’s problems.  Basically it keeps up good communication within the institute, and for the interns it’s a great way for us to see all the different things that can be done under one scientific roof!

Last Monday we heard from Izzy’s mentor David Clague, who talked to us about submarine volcanism (= volcanoes deep under the water!).  As well as telling us about some of his research group’s current work, David showed us some amazing videos of underwater eruptions.

You should have a look at the research group’s webpage!

After the presentation comes the cookie break.  Although this may sound like a way for us to take 30 minutes off work and eat lots of sugary snacks I can assure you it’s a very important part of the week!  It gives everyone a chance to chat in a relaxed atmosphere and the interns can talk to people they wouldn’t normally get the chance to see in their average work day.  The cookie break was geology-themed this week as Melissa Meiner Johnson baked up “sediment core” and “MB-System GUI” cakes, and “methane hydrate” lemonade!

Methane hydrate lemonade

Sediment core cake

An important part of the MBARI working week!

Where there's cake, there are interns...

Behind the scenes at Monterey Bay Aquarium

After already visiting the aquarium twice we’ve all had the chance for a good look round the exhibits.  The sea otters are my favourite, I could watch them all day!  Others would maybe choose the huge outer bay tank or the seahorses.  Although it’s generally agreed that nothing is more fun that flashing our MBARI cards at the front desk and waltzing on in for free!  (A perk of the job!)

Last week we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium.  We spent around two hours exploring what goes on behind the intriguing ‘Staff Only’ signs, and it was definitely one of the high points of the internship so far.

Another of my favourite exhibits is the kelp forest.  These huge plants are at home in the waters off California and play a number of extremely important roles.  For instance, they are a main food source for sea urchins and without these urchins, otters have nothing to eat!  The size of these forests also act to protect coastal areas from storms.  So next time you see a piece of seaweed on the beach just remember how these plants are critical for both sea otters and humans!

The kelp forest viewed from the aquarium

The kelp forest exhibit from above

As you can see in the picture above, there is a lot of equipment around the top of the kelp forest exhibit.  A constant spray of salt water comes from around the sides to make sure that any kelp leaves above the water are kept moist.  There is also a wave generator at the end – this is used to give an authentic movement to the exhibit but is also important for the kelp’s health as it provides fresh water to the leaves and helps with gas exchange.  Some of the equipment is also used to manage the pH of water as very acidic or alkaline conditions would be harmful for these giant plants.

Next stop was the huge open water tank.  The window for this exhibit is one of the largest in the world and through it you can watch blue and yellowfin tuna, pelagic rays, a hammerhead shark, a Galapagos shark, barracudas, dolphinfish and a massive school of Pacific sardines.  We were lucky enough to arrive at feeding time so we witnessed a frenzy of activity in the water!

Some of the fish are fed individually and have learnt to come to the side of the tank to receive food.  This is why, when we walked up to see the tank from above, the hammerhead was swimming around at our feet!

The outer bay tank

... and from above!

We also had the chance to see some of the animals that are not currently on display, like these green turtles…

Next to the aquarium is the Hopkins Marine Station Tuna Research and Conservation Center.  There were a lot of tunas here, and we saw one that was in a respirometer.  This machine measures the amount of oxygen being used by the animal, and from this the metabolic rate can be calculated (basically how much energy the animal uses).  They also had a sunfish in one of the tanks.  These are strange looking fish as their body seems to finish after the dorsal and anal fins so they can look like they’ve been chopped in half!

A pretty chilled out sunfish

Like the hammerhead, this guy also thought we had some food for him so we got a good look up close!

Overall, another great day and another brilliant experience to take home with us!

A day in the life of… Spencer

By Spencer Matteson

Internship Project: Free Ocean CO2 Experiment Environmental Chassis

Internship Mentor: Chad Kecy (Instrumentation Development Engineer)

Description of Project: I am building a custom printed circuit board that will monitor humidity, temperature, pressure, and the presence of H2O within the electronics enclosure as well as the direction of the FOCE flume.

Technical Detail: I am using a PIC24 microprocessor to control the data flow out of twenty sensors that monitor the various conditions mentioned above.  Many are analog devices so it was necessary that I convert the analog signal to a digital string using an analog-to-digital converter that output over the SPI bus on the microprocessor.  This allowed for the integration of multiple sensors while using relatively few I/O pins on the microprocessor.  When I could, I used sensors that output directly to the SPI bus.

The PCB that I am designing then samples the data from the sensors and transmits it on another SPI bus to the main CPU board designed by my mentor Chad Kecy.  This is where any intensive processing is handled and data is redirected to various storage devices or alerts.  The two boards communicate through a backplane that also supplies power and the digital location of the board.  It also provides slots for up to eight daughter boards; my environmental sensor board would be one of these boards.

The Average Day of This MBARI Intern: The day usually starts out with a few cups of coffee and some break room chat with some of the engineers/scientists who are also in the coffee room.  Next I check my email to determine if there is anything important that I take care of or exciting plans that I can look forward to.  Once the email check is complete, I continue on to check my to do list which tells me what I was working on when I left the previous work day or what I should do now.  Then comes the actual work with designing, checking and reading schematics and datasheets.

Lunch usually rolls around at 12:30.  A few of the interns usually meet up in the Benthos Commons to eat and chat about what we have been working on.  After lunch I usually return to work until 3 when seminars are held or when there aren’t seminars, another coffee break.  Then more work until 5:30 or 6pm which is when I get to go home.

The world's greastest vanpool!

Why Engineering: I became interested in engineering in a roundabout way.  I was always interested in archaeology and anthropology because of TV shows and movies when I was a kid.  Films like Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider made those fields seem thrilling.  I was also very interested in the idea of lost civilizations that could be uncovered through research based science.  Things like Atlantis and the Mu were always catching my interest.  So I decided that I would try to become an archeologist but unfortunately, archeology and anthropology is painfully tedious and boring.  I also had very little desire to write papers every week in college not to mention that all the reading killed any sort of social life I had.

I had always been good at sciences like chemistry and physics as well as math and at some point in time one of my teachers suggested that I might use my talent in these fields to pursue my interests in exploration.  Because of this, I began college as an electrical engineer with my main interest in robotics.  Unfortunately, I dislike programming about as much as essays so robotics which requires copious amounts of programming took a back seat and analog and digital hardware design became my interest.  I completed my undergraduate career by designing and building a sensor platform that monitored environmental conditions on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.  That confirmed my interest in instrumentation and while MBARI is more interested in exploring the natural occurrences in the ocean, it satisfies my desire to explore the unknown.

A day in the life of… Rebecca

I’m going to quickly set the scene of how I managed to bag myself a place at MBARI for the summer by explaining a little about my background in marine biology.  Then I’ll try to give you a 24 hour insight into my life as a summer intern.

Your narrator

I grew up in a small town about 40 minutes north of Belfast, Northern Ireland.  During the summers, my Dad would take my brother and I to our family’s cottage in Donegal.  It had no electricity or running water; we relied on candles, fires and a natural well in the back garden.  But it had woods, stone beaches, the sea and a small rowing boat that my grandfather had built – basically, it was paradise for two children.  We grew up by the sea shore and most of my time was spent exploring the tidal zone (which unfortunately has now left my parents with countless pictures of me caked in mud that they like to bring out to embarrass me with!).  So I suppose I grew up as a marine biologist before I really understood what that was.


After school I began a Marine and Freshwater Honours degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.  I was then accepted onto the Masters program which runs between the 3rd and 4th years of the normal degree.  During this time I worked at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Norway, completing a project and writing it up as a Masters thesis.  This marked the beginning of my work on the deep sea – on the mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) at around 2500 m to be specific.  I was trying to find out the age of 7 species of grenadier as part of the Census of Marine Life project MAR-ECO.  These are one of the most common families of deep sea fish and are often referred to as the ‘cod of the deep’.  Grenadiers are bony fish (as opposed to cartilaginous fish like sharks or rays) and each one has a number of small bones in the ear.  I took these bones and cut very thin sections from the centre.  When these were looked at under a microscope I could see ring patterns, like the rings you see in tree trunks, which could be used to count the age of the fish.  This type of work has been done extensively for shallow fish, especially commercial species, but many of the species I looked at had never been aged before.  We were able to get new information on how old these fish get and what range of ages are found on the MAR.  I’m currently writing this up and hope to submit it as my first scientific article over the summer.

Norway was a beautiful place to live for a year, we had huge snow falls in Winter….

….. and blazing sunshine in the summer…..

Before returning to Glasgow I had the chance to go to sea for 6 weeks.  I joined a group of scientists working on the ECOMAR project and was able to try my hand at many different types of practical biology and oceanography.  I spent one great afternoon watching around 30 dolphins racing in front of the ship, although other times were certainly less glamorous.  Being woken up at 5 am to help bring a trawl in, then spending the next 15 hours on my feet processing the catch is one example!  But I loved every minute of it and hope to get away on another cruise sometime soon.

Bringing in a deep sea trawl

Pilot whales!

I returned to Glasgow and began my final year at university last October.  It was difficult being an undergraduate again after having worked for a year but I think the experience made my final year a lot easier.  I came across the internship advertisement by chance one evening over Christmas – its definitely a good idea to keep your eye out for this type of thing.

So, what am I doing here all summer?  My project is based on images taken by MBARI’s Benthic Rover.  One of the many tasks the Rover can perform is taking photographs of the seafloor.  I’m using software developed at MBARI to annotate all the plants and animals that appear in these images.  There’s quite a lot of life going on at 900 m so I have a lot to look for!  The computer logs everything I annotate so when I’m finished (no idea when that will be!!) I’ll have a huge dataset of the community in the area.  I can then run statistics to analyse this information, comparing it to previous years, looking for any differences in the number or type of things that are down there.  I should also be able to compare the results with environmental conditions (such as temperate, currents etc) to see what effect these have on the animal community.

A typical day for me usually begins after drinking too much coffee in my room whilst getting ready, then annoying all the other interns in the vanpool as I bounce off the walls.  We get picked up at 8 am so most people are still waking up!  Into work, up to my computer, more coffee, have a chat with Jake who is the lab research technician about our adventures the previous evening (adventures of falling asleep in front of the tv mostly…) and checking my emails.

Working hard annotating images

The majority of the day is spent sitting in front of my computer using the MBARI software to annotate images of the deep sea.  A great side of this is that I get to have my music on all day!  Then, depending on what day of the week it is, I have other activities to break up the time.  On Mondays we usually have a project update from one of the researchers.  This is a great way to keep everyone here up to date with what the other groups are doing.  After the update is the Monday cookie break!  A chance for all the staff and students to mingle over sugary snacks.  I also have an intern meeting, seminar and my own project meeting with my mentors to attend every week.  Sometimes we get a little fresh air at lunch time by walking down to the post office to check our mail box or shopping at the fruit and veg market.  Home time is 6 pm and by the time we’ve driven back to Marina and cooked dinner there isn’t a lot of energy left.  We are usually to be found piled up on a  sofa, watching a film and falling asleep.  All ready for another day…..

4th July Weekend

We’re back!  It was a great holiday, we managed to pack a lot into 5 days.  The first two were spent exploring San Francisco (‘The City’ or ‘Frisco’ depending on where you come from).  We walked around Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Lombard Street, Chinatown and Golden Gate Bridge.  We learnt that San Fransciso is an extremely hilly city and not best tackled in flip flops, that it isn’t always cloudy so sunscreen is a good idea, that the buses get very busy over the 4th and city-livers think it’s funny to pretend they are going to give you a lift and then drive away, and that it’s very easy to spend all of your first pay check on absolutely nothing in a big city.

Lombard Street

Interns are easily amused...


The Golden Gate Bridge

On 4th July we took the ferry across the bay to get to Sonoma.  Spencer lives in this area so we piled into his house and were absolutely spoiled by his parents – thanks again Ron and Susan!!  We went to see the fireworks, went for a wine tasting at Chateau St. Jean, visited cheese factories, made s’mores and spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool.

Chateau St. Jean winery

A short break

We are disappearing for a few days over the 4th July weekend so there will be a short break from blogging.  Some of the interns who live nearby will be celebrating with friends and family, while the rest of us are heading north.  Two days in San Francisco followed by two days in Sonoma!!  We’ll all be back on Tuesday for a very short 4th week of the internship.  There will be more details about just what each of us get up to in an average day at MBARI when we get back.  Have a good weekend!

Big Sur

Another weekend, another chance to wheedle the car owners to drive us somewhere new.  We live in seaside at the California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) student campus.  Like Moss Landing, it’s near the coast which means that instead of the brilliant Californian sunshine we all expected, pretty much everyday is a different level of fogginess.  This is probably a good thing as it keeps us all away from the beach when we should be working, but at the weekends everyone is very keen to drive a little south or a little inland and catch some sun!

Last weekend we went north to Santa Cruz so on Sunday we filled two cars with picnic food and headed down the famous Highway 1 to see Big Sur.  It was too foggy on the drive down to realise the coastline that was passing by us so we headed straight for Pfeiffer State Park.  This stretches from the coast to nearby 3000 foot ridges.  We got the chance to see Redwoods and the 80 foot Pfeiffer waterfall.

Californian Redwoods

Cooling off at the Pfeiffer waterfall

Although we luckily missed out on the mountain lions!

We had our lunch, some of us went swimming in the water while others preferred to relax in the sun and stay warm!  The fog had cleared for the journey back and we finally saw what we had missed on the way down – the Big Sur coastline.  Words and pictures can’t really describe it, try and get there some day.

Seeing as the fog had cleared and, although it was now late in the afternoon, the sun was still shining, we decided to make a final stop at Carmel beach.  Paddling, frisbee and relaxing in the setting sun.  My paddling went a bit extreme though…..

Carmel beach

Extreme paddling!

All topped off with fish and chips on Fisherman’s Wharf back in Monterey left a very sleepy pack of interns happily crashing into bed before the start of our third week at MBARI.


Last Monday, Hana, Katie, Sandeep and I had the chance to go kayaking with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s W.A.T.C.H. teen summer program (Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats).  It was great getting to meet high school teenagers in the area and chat to them about what they’re getting up to with the Aquarium this summer.

Interns go kayaking!

The trip was on Moss Landing’s Elkhorn Slough, which is the second largest area of tidal salt marsh in California besides San Francisco bay.  This is a coastal area between the land and the ocean which is flooded by daily salt water tides.  This means the salinity levels are constantly changing and only plants and animals that have evolved to withstand this type of habitat are found here.  Salt marshes are usually extremely productive areas as the plant life dies, decomposes and becomes a rich source of food for bacteria and larger animals.  The Elkhorn Slough supports hundreds of species of plants and animals, including around 340 species of birds.

One of the commonest birds we saw was the brown pelican – a great story of conservation success!  In the 1970s these birds were severely threatened by the use of the pesticide DDT.  This chemical caused may wetland birds to produce eggs with very thin shells and population numbers dropped as a consequence of low egg survival.  This pesticide was banned in 1972 and the brown pelican is now off the US endangered species list.  They were looking quite happy when we paddled past!

We were also surrounded by sea otters.  As soon as we left the shore we came across a raft of around 20 in the water, then for the rest of the morning there was often an individual or two who would pop up nearby to see what we were up to.

Sea otters in the slough

And, very importantly, none of the interns fell in!!

After kayaking, everyone went back to MBARI for lunch and the four interns gave the group a chat about how each of us got into our subjects and what we hoped to do in the future.  Altogether a great day, thanks again MBA for taking us along!

At the end of next week all the whole intern group is going out kayaking, so there may be some pictures of people falling in to come!


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