Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Indigo V expedition: a prototype for citizen oceanography. Drs Federico Lauro (UNSW) and Martin Ostrowski (Macquarie U)

Tonight (Weds 26th June. 6pm): Joint Academic Microbiology Seminars. The Australian Museum. Sydney

Tonight Federico and I will present the concept, science and experience of the first leg of the IndigoV expedition.

While there is an abundant excess of water in the Oceans, marine scientists encounter numerous difficulties in obtaining samples for research. This is particularly true for blue waters of the Southern Hemisphere because research voyages are expensive (> $100,000 per day) and there is fierce competition amongst scientists for ship time.

The IndigoV is a privately owned 18m sailing yacht that has been converted into a state-of-the-art, wind propelled, floating laboratory. The IndigoV expedition is a proof-of-concept to show that new, readily available, and relatively cheap technology provides almost anyone with the opportunity to undertake scientifically rigorous oceanographic sampling.

"We plan to raise awareness as to both the importance and the accessibility of ocean sampling, encouraging ships/ yachts of opportunity to get equipped and sample as they go. Every day there are thousands of manned vessels of opportunity that cruise the ocean and we hope one day to turn them into in situ marine microbe monitoring platforms!"

Tonight we'll discuss some of the highs and lows of the first Leg which departed Cape Town, South Africa, and sailed through high seas and foul weather in the Southern Indian Ocean to Mauritius. Despite gale force winds (~50 knots) and huge waves (11m) our 18m yacht successfully navigated to to out destination and proved that we could get science done along the way!

This is also an opportunity to thank the many people that have helped make the first leg a success, including crew, and generous shore supporters that were incredibly helpful:

Steve the electrical engineer;
Ed Rybicki, Dr Maya Pfaff and Prof. Maryna van der Venter and for Liquid Nitrogen;
Linda for an amazing brai at the Port Elizabeth Power Boat club;
Roy Finkelstein for the best fibreglass coolboxes in the Southern Hemisphere;
to name but a few...

Hope to see you at the Australian Museum tonight. If you can't make it check out the progress of the IndigoV expedition at <> or listen to the latest radio interview


The IndigoV tied up alongside Squid 'chokka' boast waiting for spares in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Expert marking assistance

This week I am hiding at home and marking exams for my unit Molecular Biology and Genomics. As you can see in the photo I am receiving some expert assistance.

Lyra says this stack of exams passes, the others are not comfortable enough

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Lost at sea: sailing log part 3

The second week of the expedition was only marginally easier than the first. Following the rough weather of the first week, we have been motor-sailing towards Mauritius with some beautiful sunny skies as the wind has not been fully with us and we had some time to make up. We saw the biggest pod of blue whales I have ever seen (actually the only pod I have ever seen) and it adopted Indigo as a new member of the clan coming alongside at less than 50 meters. A little scary but beautiful. Of course every single camera on board had flat batteries...
We succeeded to do some great sampling, while trying to avoid poking the whales. We only just stopped sampling before entering  the french territorial waters of ‘La Reunion’. We had some tough night waiting for breeze or wishing the breeze would abate! But we made quick progress towards Mauritius and soon have seen our first coconut floating in the water.

The Indian Ocean was not going to let us go without one last challenge. On our last night at sea, we battled through 25 knots of breeze and 5 meters swells and had to slow down to avoid getting airborne. Moreover being back close to civilization has its downfalls: we had to dodge ships all night long...
So, as much as we would have liked to be sipping martinis in Port Louis, we had still a few miles to cover. And then the predicted wind just didn’t show up in time and we were just about out of fuel.

We finally made it to Mauritius on the 12th June, shaken but not stirred. The first leg of the expedition is done and everybody has a full head of memories that will pass on for generations to come... (or at least a few months).

A next load of fresh sailing scientist will descend onto Mauritius in a few weeks time, so keep coming back for further updates or go and see the dedicated blog (IndigoV).


In full sampling mode


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Sailing log part 2

That has been a hard first week on the boat!
We started out of Port Elizabeth with some decent weather, calm seas and sunshine. There are plenty of cargo ships heading in and out in roughly the same direction as us so we need to keep a constant eye on the radar. Our automated information system tracks when one is near, gives us info about name, size and what it is carrying and warns us if we are going to collide, that's always handy!
We started sampling as soon as we hit the international waters and all went smoothly for a while. That is until the weather front which was supposed to pass quickly over us changed its mind...

We got hit by some very nasty weather and had to heave to for more than 30h. That means stop everything, keep your head low and wait for it to pass, while still keeping an eye for those big ships!
The boat was completely shut with occasional big waves breaking across the deck.

Luckily the weather has now become more clement and the stomachs have settled. It is amazing how the boat has transformed from survival, to science mode. We have taken some great samples and continuing to do so. The run to Mauritius should be straight forward now and the forecast is set to absolutely gorgeous with favourable winds! What more could a bunch of green sailors need!!


Maybe a bit dramatic, but that's how it felt!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Not sailing through the Indian Ocean

Well it's not as romantic as sailing through the Indian Ocean on a yacht, but I am also overseas this week. I flew into California yesterday, and I am currently at SRI International in Silicon Valley to attend the annual Steering Committee meeting for the EcoCyc and PortEco projects. I have been a collaborator on the EcoCyc project since 1996, and later this year we will have to write our NIH grant renewal, so hopefully we can get good feedback from our Steering Committee.

There was some excitement last week when I dug through a cupboard and dusted off my passport, and suddenly realised that my passport had expired in February. After much swearing and panic, the Australian passport office proved to be unbelievably helpful and efficient, and turned round a new passport in less than 24 hours.

Helps to have one of these