The Ocean Veritas is fortunate to have NOAA scientist Ian Hartwell aboard as chief scientist. With a background in fisheries and marine biology, and specific expertise in environmental toxicology, Hartwell is uniquely qualified for this position. As he puts it, “contaminant impacts on biological systems is what I do.”
What does the chief scientist do and why is it important to have a chief scientist aboard?
I understand how the contaminants impact the biota and I’ve been out on enough cruises and enough different kinds of sampling endeavors, so I know how to organize the work and the team, improvise when things go wrong—which they invariably do—and keep them going. That’s what the chief scientist does; he keeps things going.
The Ocean Veritas is tasked with collecting sediment samples. Why is this important?
By analyzing sediment samples we can assess the magnitude and extent of oil contamination that may be present on the sea floor. We will be conducting a systematic survey of offshore transects, radiating out from the well head to various locations on shore that were heavily oiled. We’ll track the path of the oil to the shore to see how much of it may have sunk on the way. We’ll also be looking at other areas including convergent zones, burn areas, and aerial dispersant application areas, which may have caused the oil to settle to the bottom.
Working on a research vessel, there is grease and dirt all around you. How do you ensure that outside contaminants don’t get mixed in with your sample?
You’ll always see us out on the deck with gloves on. That’s not to protect us. It’s to protect the samples from us.
How do you take a sediment sample?
Before we get to each station, we prep all of our gear. We have to know where all of our sample jars, chemicals, and gloves are. We have to have our data sheets, jar labels, and location data ready. Then we put the gear over, and we wait. In the shallow areas, we don’t wait very long, but in the deep areas, where we let out 1200 meters of cable, it takes half an hour to go to the bottom and half an hour to come back up. The sample only takes a second. It hits the bottom, goes in, and is done.
Then when the apparatus comes back up you’ve got this little beehive of people around the sampler, doing things with it. We extrude the samples at specific water depths and then get them in the containers as quickly as possible and preserve them with a variety of preservation methods. Some will be frozen, some will have chemical preservatives, and some will just be refrigerated. A sample also goes to the chemists and they go off in their lab and start doing their analysis on it.
It sounds like you stay really busy. So, when does the chief scientist sleep?
Well, yeah, I don’t sleep much. I’m there for the end of the previous shift and I’m there at the beginning of the next shift as well, so I stay pretty busy.