We all got up at 02:30 to experience passing through the lock. It was big enough, barely, for the large ore barges that carry ore from Duluth to Chicago to fit through, so there was plenty of space for our smaller vessel. The gates closed and water was pumped in from the bottom, until the boat gained about 20 feet to level off with the water level of Lake Superior. The river is fairly narrow at this point, so we could wave to Canada who’s far shore was cast in yellow middle-of-the-night light. From here we continued our transit to our next station, the deepest point in Lake Superior. This was our most involved science station along the cruise track since all of us were interested in sampling here. We deployed the instruments for collecting water, filtering large volumes of water to analyze proteins in the water column, acoustic sampling equipment, and I tried to collect sediment samples. After three failed coring attempts we decided the bottom of the lake was too solid to sample, and I changed my plans to sample at a later station. We left station 4 at sundown to continue on our transit.
When I woke up the map of our transit, that was displayed on a few screens around the ship, was showing a possible detour to land in along the Keweenaw Waterway. The captain came down to inform us we were going to need to stop to get our sewage tank pumped. Apparently there was either a water leak, or the gauge for the sewage system was off, and we needed to offload sooner than Duluth. This detour allowed Andrew, one of the other trainees on board the boat, to get off a bit early since he was done with his sampling, and the detour location was only a few miles from his home. It also meant we got to swim from the shore in the Keweenaw Waterway. The surface temperature was about 15C (59F) and dropped to 4C (39F) in the top 2 meters. Needless to say, it took my breath away, but was quite refreshing! After saying goodbye to Andrew, we departed the Keweenaw Waterway and continued on to our next station. Once there, two of the other trainees took samples and we continued on our way to our final three stations.
The final day of sampling was a busy one. Our last three stations were a transect that covered three depths (250m, 150m and 90m), but were quite close together, only allowing about 30 min between stations for sample processing. I took my final cores at the first of these stations, and we also deployed the gear for water sampling and large volume pumps. We had off and on squalls with a bit of rain and wind, and it was really amazing to watch these storms move in and then past us. Our science was only delayed about 20 minutes for weather when there was lightening and it wasn’t safe to operate on the back deck. At lunch we celebrated Katy’s birthday with a delicious cake. It’s fair to say that the food on this research vessel, prepared by our steward Lisa, is the best food I’ve ever had on board a ship. The crew jokes about gaining the “Blue Heron 15,” (like the freshman 15) and now I know why! Every meal was amazingly creative, and prepared in a nook of a kitchen. Lisa is incredible, I hope to work on board the R/V Blue Heron again in part because of the delicious food. After wrapping up our last station we started steaming for port in Duluth. We made a quick stop to recover another scientist’s small mooring that was having battery issues, and then crossed under the aerial lift bridge into the harbor. There’s a waterfront trail along the lake that was filled with people waving to us as we arrived, which made us all feel like celebrities. After parking the boat on the dock, there was a frenzy of activity as the crew departed, and we were sad to see them go. They were a phenomenal group to work with, and with the commotion of the last three stations back to back we weren’t quite prepared to see them go. After a bit of science cleaning up and packing, we made our way into the downtown touristy area of Duluth to the Canal Park Brewing Company for a birthday pint.
I woke up early to continue packing and cleaning up my science. Arranged for shipping my samples, and started helping the others to pack up their gear. We took a break at about 14:00 to walk into town and made our way to the Great Lakes Aquarium, which is the first freshwater aquarium I remember ever going to. We were there at 15:00 for the river otter feeding which was quite adorable, and then made our way back to the boat. I said my goodbyes, for now, to the other trainees, and caught a taxi to the airport. My taxi driver told me all about his agate collection and was showing off a few of his favorites. The flight back was mostly smooth, with about an hour delay in Minneapolis. I struck up a conversation with a guy at a charging station in the airport who turned out to be a St Lawrence University alumnus (where Sam and I will be working in the fall), who used to be a motorcycle dealer in area of CT where my mom grew up, and who’s family donated the land for a state park close to Albany. So many crazy connections! Sam picked me from the the airport in Albany, and it was great to make it home to my own bed. Hopefully the land will stop rocking soon as I get my land-legs back! Overall I had a fantastic time on board the R/V Blue Heron. The crew was amazing, so generous and flexible. Doug, who organized this training program, was so helpful prior to, and on board, the boat. To top it all off, I met four remarkable scientists who I hope to continue collaborating with in the future. Science friends, if you have the opportunity to apply for this program I would highly recommend it. Please get in touch if you want more information.