Virus implicated in sea-star wasting disease

A great day for Team Aquatic Virus (aka the Hewson Lab), Ian’s paper is out in PNAS. The disease has been seen in sea-star populations along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska and we have strong evidence to suggest that a densovirus is the culprit. Check out the following links for more information.

Study finds virus likely cause of sea star wasting

Ochre Star affected by sea-star wasting disease (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Oregon State University, Elizabeth Cherny-Chipman)


Website revamp

I have been taking a course this semester called “The Practice of Teaching in Higher Education” with Dr. David Way. It has been a wonderful experience and I would recommend it for any of my peers at Cornell University who are interested in teaching.  As part of the course we have constructed professional portfolios and so this website will now serve as a hybrid of both my research and teaching. For access to the teaching documents please contact me.

Viruses of the Deep Ocean

Check out a blog post about my viral work on this research expedition which has been posted on the WHOI official blog Deep DOM blog.

We are over halfway through our trip, in both distance and time at sea.  Research is going well and morale is much higher since we crossed the equator.  There are 19 new Shellbacks aboard the R/V Knorr now!

About a week and a half ago we reached our easternmost point of the trip.  Because we have kept the ship on Uruguayan time the sun was rising at about 4:15AM.  As we transit West now, the ship is following sunsets and our evening tracks follow moonlit highways.

Furthest_East_sunriseEasternmost sunrise

We are now approaching our Amazon River Plume stations and I’m looking forward to setting up a few more collaborative experiments and continuing my viral work at sea.

10 Days at Sea

The first ten days seem to have lasted three weeks and also flown by.  Science is 24/7 onboard the R/V Knorr.  We spent three days at our first mega station, in which I filtered about 260L of water to collect samples for analyzing viral abundance and diversity. I also processed an additional 20L of water to run a set of experiments for the Biological Oceanography course at Cornell.  Since the mega station we have covered two small and one intermediate station and we’re now steaming on to the next station. I think my personal water budget is up to ~350L, so much science!


Filtering for viruses

Student Exp

Class experiment set up

In addition to our own work, each scientist is responsible for a rotating watch schedule.  When on watch we assist others with their work and help deploy and retrieve any scientific equipment that goes overboard for sampling. My first five days were on the 0000-0800 watch which meant I got to help retrieve McLane pumps for the one of the other research groups and also got to see beautiful moonscapes and sunrises.  I’ve transitioned to the 1600-0000 watch and got to assist with my first CTD retrieval yesterday.  The CTD is attached to a wire with a rosette of niskin sampling bottles.  This wire gets lowered to depths the science team wants, this trip is focused on deep water and our deepest cast so far has been 5300+ meters. Once the depth we want is reached we can close the niskin bottles and capture water at that depth.  The rosette is then slowly brought from depth to the surface, capturing water at different depths along the way.  When the rosette reaches the surface we bring it on deck and then collect our individual samples from the big niskin bottles.



Besides science I’ve had a bit of time to take my ukulele or book out on deck and enjoy the sun for a bit.  The science and boat crews are extremely pleasant and I’ve really been enjoying chatting and scheming about experiments to run and how the ship works. Last Sunday I treated myself to a Kinder Joy egg for Easter (obtained back in Montevideo), the ship did a nice brunch and one of the faculty on the ship brought egg chocolate malt balls.  By far the best Easter treat were the Pilot Whales which tracked along with our boat for a while we were recovering some of the particle traps.  See the official DeepDOM blog for a video by Colleen Durkin and Ben Van Mooy.


Kinder Joy: airplane!

Besides whales, we’ve seen a few different albatross (Wandering and Yellow-Nosed), a dark petrel (probably Great-Winged), and the tons of the Great Shearwaters. In plankton tows we’ve seen lots of really cool blue copepods and assorted zooplankton, ctenophores and tons of phytoplankton.  As we move north it’s getting warmer and warmer, and we’re still only at latitude 28S. Onward!


Wandering AlbatrossGreat Shearwater (upper), Yellow-nosed Albatross (lower) from Colleen Durkin

Underway from Uruguay!

We left port this morning, so long Uruguay!  The port of Montevideo We had a bit of a delay waiting for a large container ship (600ft) to get pulled out with tugboats ahead of us.  Then it was our turn.  It’s fun to watch the tug boat and trust that even though it looks like you’re about to hit another ship, they’ve got it under control.  On our amble out of port we got some lovely last views of the Montevideo skyline, including the striking telecommunications building. We also passed a livestock boat, a shipyard graveyard and many of the shipping container dinosaurs that dot the docks edges.  The port of Uruguay seems to be hopping.  We followed out a large shipping container but also passed at least 50 more anchored for miles near the shipping lane and out to sea.

One of the senior scientists on the boat knew about a German boat that was sunk just outside the shipping lane.  All of the science crew crowded onto the sky deck (just above the bridge) to watch the scene and spot the remains of the ship.  Just a few buoys out we sighted it, and with binoculars we could make out part of a smoke stack and other rusted and barnacle-covered bits of this old wreckage.

An Uruguayan pilot was aboard our ship while we clearer port and getting him off the ship was quite the show.  A small vessel drove up to our starboard side and the pilot waited on our deck.  Once the small boat was close enough he just stepped over the side onto a tall platform and climbed down to safety.  He was wearing a nice suit and cap, no life vest (we don’t need no stinking life vest!). Very impressive, even if it seemed wildly unsafe.

We’ve been underway for about 9 hours now and so far so good.  We’ll reach our first test station tomorrow, let the science begin! Port


Puerto de Montevideo (Telecommunications Building in the background)




Waiting for the container ship to get on its way GraveyardShip

Ship graveyard

ShippingLaneBusy Shipping Lane

WWIIWreckageWWII German Boat Wreckage

PilotHopPilot gets off the RV Knorr




Bienvenido a Montevideo

After an overnight journey from Miami to Montevideo, with fabulous American Airline flight attendant Paco, I arrived in Montevideo.  Getting through customs was painless except for a brief headache from the perfume and cologne as everyone is routed through the duty free store before getting to the baggage claim.  The taxi ride took me along the coast with contrasting run-down areas and beautiful European looking high-rises.  As we arrived at the hotel it began to rain, which led to damp roaming around town to find lunch and a bit of sightseeing. Ian and I found the Mercado del Puerto which has lots of fruit stands as well as sit-down food courts.  We had steak and desserts, a far cry from the food courts in any airport or mall I’ve been to before.  Despite the rain we did a bit more wandering, stopped in a cultural museum (MAPI)that curiously only contained exhibits about indigenous peoples from other parts of South and Central America. Carrying on we found the central plaza with an impressive statue of Artigas, the father of Uruguyan nationhood.  A quiet afternoon was nice and then dinner at the hotel.  The R/V Knorr should make port tonight in Montevideo and many of the other scientists will arrive Thrusday.  My major adventure tomorrow will be finding liquid nitrogen.  I’ll post some pictures soon!