Cruising from the Canary Islands to the Mouth of the Amazon River

This is no ordinary  cruise!

Emily Waggoner, MCB PhD studentEmily Waggoner, PhD student in The Duhamel Lab is packing her bags to go on a research cruise. This cruise will require very little in terms of personal items, as she is headed first to Germany to quarantine for two weeks with the research team, then on to The Canary Islands to board the research vessel where she will spend eight weeks aboard the R/V Meteor for a research cruise named M174. Most of the space in her bags will be occupied by the tools she will need for her research, not sunscreen and her ereader! “We shipped the bulk of the equipment out on pallets in January, but of course we find last minute items to include, so my luggage has quickly transformed to having falcon tubes, pipette tips and other consumables nuzzled between my clothes” Waggoner told me as she was doing final preparations for this field expedition.

When Waggoner started her BS in Environmental Studies at USC in 2014 her research experience focused on marine mammals and coastal biogeochemistry, but she was antsy to see what life in the open ocean looked like, which led her to apply for STEMSeas. Waggoner took part in STEMSeas in April 2018, an NSF-funded program that takes students on research vessels for free. Waggoner’s STEMSeas experience was a non-research leg, where the vessel is moving from one port to the next. She boarded the ship in Rhode Island with a small group of people, including Dr. Solange Duhamel. The team spent a week on the vessel and arrived in Barbados. That week long experience was the catalyst to apply for a research cruise advertised through STEMSeas, which Waggoner went on her last semester at USC. She met Dr. Solange Duhamel again during her last semester at USC and was hooked on oceanography! She spent one month as an employee on the research cruise, which cruised around the Gulf of Mexico. Duhamel was on this cruise as well and Waggoner quickly magnetized towards her research. A month at sea allowed them to connect and get to know each other.

When Waggoner returned to USC to finish her semester, Duhamel invited her to apply for a position as a research technician at Columbia University, where Duhamel was an Associate Research Professor. Waggoner graduated from USC in December of 2018 and moved to New York in January and began her work as a research technician in The Duhamel Lab at Columbia. Shortly after she started at Colombia, Duhamel let Waggoner know she was considering a position at the University of Arizona. Duhamel accepted, and Waggoner moved to Tucson in September 2019, as the Duhamel Lab Manager and Research Technician. “Moving to Tucson, I knew that I loved working in a lab and being at sea, but I wanted to better understand the administrative and lab management aspects to pursuing research in academia. Spending a year in more of a lab managerial role was the perfect transition to show me that I was on the right path, affirming my next step of pursuing a PhD.”

Waggoner launched her PhD program the fall of 2020 and after the COVID-19 pandemic had swept across the world.[W(4]  “At the time that I accepted the PhD offer from MCB, the seriousness of COVID was just setting in. I knew that my first year would definitely not be a typical one, but reflecting on the decision now, I’m thankful that I had security and in a time of complete craziness, I could focus on learning.”

The Duhamel Lab for Marine Microbiology & Biogeochemistry studies aquatic microorganisms in the ocean, as well as in lakes, rivers, & wetlands. “We're interested in better understanding microbial community abundance, diversity, and how they adapt to different environments” notes Dr. Duhamel about her lab. “My research focuses on an essential nutrient for phytoplankton (and life on Earth!): phosphorus. In the ocean, sometimes and in some places, phosphorus is in limited supply. I'm interested in understanding the phytoplankton that live in this environment.” Waggoner explained.

What is a Research Cruise?

Research expeditions, also known as research cruises, are expeditions on research vessels that are specially equipped with tools and technology to conduct research in the ocean.  Research cruises are typically funded by science grants secured by the chief scientist who will be on the cruise. The Chief Scientist plans the logistics and makes the science decisions. There are also co-PIs in the research group, as well as a mix of Post Docs and PhD students and the vessel crew, depending on the size of the vessel and the funding. Chief Scientists and other researchers typically have cruises planned out for a year or two.

What is this cruise about?

Dr. Duhamel had a cruise lined up for September 2020 which was cancelled because of the pandemic. Waggoner was then offered a position on this cruise, funded under an NSF grant to Dr. Duhamel. This cruise’s Chief Scientist is Dr. Maren Voss, PhD, Professor of Marine Biogeochemistry at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemuende (IOW) in Germany with a total science party of 30 scientists and researchers. The trip is schedule to last two months, going from the Canary Islands, off Africa, to Brazil and up to Germany. Waggoner’s time on the cruise will be spent collecting samples from the ocean; “I have a suite of measurements that I’ll take during the cruise. In reality? We often joke that we’re filtering the ocean, because that will be what consumes most of my time. The fun begins back in the lab when I can process the samples.”

Check back for updates from Waggoner from her research cruise!


Michele Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Mar 18, 2021