Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tanzanian Science

The Zanzibar Project is an effort to give American Students experience in a foreign scientific environment while bringing modern oceanographic techniques to East Africa. We work with researchers at Tanzania's Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS), based in Stone Town, Zanzibar, just off the ferry dock. Most of the science here concerns the coral and fisheries ecology, but they have made room for our physical based project.

As a project, we hope to observe and model the currents between the island and the mainland, a majority of which is due to tidal motions which are comparably easy to understand. The project has therefore redefined it's goals to analyze nonlinear tidal motions which are created as a result of the large tidal swings in variable topography as well as currents not directly influenced by tides.

Javier, Mucaco, and Connor preparing the Current Meters

This Thursday, we will be conducting our first cruise, a half-day out to Chumbe Island to test all of our instruments and techniques, as well as deploy current meters to measure the predicted nonlinear tidal motions around the island. Chumbe Island is a marine reserve, and the snorkeling is expected to be excellent. This is exciting for me, as my main focus, interestingly enough, is on the biology portion of this project.

The sewage from Stone Town is let out of a pipe just offshore. While it is treated, this still poses a threat to the biology of the region (e.g. I won't swim near town). We hope to add a tracer to our model with the hopes of understanding the dispersion of this sewage. To provide an in situ comparison, we will be measuring biological quantities with hopes of creating an environmental gradient of the affected area.

Ali in the machine shop at IMS

Snapshots of sewage dispersion will be found using chlorophyll and suspended solid measurements, using a small boat on three separate days. We hope an average of sewage dispersion will be given by coral health found with photographic techniques. I have spent much of my time here so far constructing a frame which will ensure consistency between pictures. For example, I spent the morning yesterday snorkeling north of town as we determined the correct height to capture a 1x1m sample area with a photograph. We then enjoyed the bar with sand beneath our feet.

Somethings Interesting:

-While the project has its basis in how toxic the water is, we are looking for proxies outside of the dangerous zones (i.e. coral gets sick before humans do). I do not expect to be in contact with water any dirtier than San Diego after a rain.

-Yesterday, a fisherman accidentally drowned a dolphin in his net and brought it to IMS for measurements, dissection, etc. The dolphin was three years old and very healthy looking, except for being dead. According to the institution's dolphin graduate student, bycatch claims about 80-90 dolphins per year in Tanzania. 2006 was a bad year, with ~1000 dolphin strandings; there was no connection made to anthropogenic or other causes.

-To help with this project, I made an investment in an underwater housing for my camera. Once I get comfortable with it, you can expect pictures from snorkeling, diving, and eventually surfing. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It has been a Year

I wrote my last post before starting graduate school, and I write this one after completing my first year.

I took 12 classes, sampled vegetarianism, earned an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, surfed more times than I can count, completed the written portion of my departmental, and traveled to Zanzibar. Zanzibar happened only recently, arriving Friday after 34 hours of planes and layovers.
My plane across the Atlantic

Four planes brought me here, the last one a puddle-jumper across the channel. I was dropped at the Institute of Marine Sciences, the national, no-frills research institution. They focus mainly on coral and fisheries ecology, tourism and fishing being the two main marine facets of  the Zanzibar Economy.

I am part of a research endeavour through Theiss Research, with another graduate student, two undergrads, and a single professor making up our field team. I am excited for the science we will be completing, though I will get into the various projects we hope to accomplish in future posts.

This is my first time on the African Continent and the furthest east I have ever been (west of the international date line). I  am staying in Stone Town, working in IMS near the docks. This place is a Labyrinth. The "roads" are only wide enough for motorcycles and bicyclists, who scream through with an audible warning. I spend free time getting lost and finding my way back. Already, I have chosen my breakfast and dinner stalls I will remain faithful to throughout my stay.

My Plane across the Zanzibar Channel

We spent Saturday fixing our ADCP mount for our first cruise on Thursday. The boat is a handmade tourist vessel, and we're excited to visit the pristine marine reserve on this first outing. Following this small amount of work, I took my first dip in the Indian Ocean. It was pretty warm, there was a beautiful sunset, and we found some tiny jellyfish we knew of only through their stingers.

The trip has been a success so far.

Somethings Interesting

-Last night at dinner, my backpack was unzipped and searched while I was ordering; it was crowded and I was careless. The thief found nothing except my Zanzibar guidebook and current pleasure read (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and left both. I got lucky. This was a wakeup call; I need to be more aware of the
opportunities I offer.

-Though I will certainly miss all my friends and family, I am looking forward to the lack of connection to the outside world. This has been a stressful year, and I spent much of it in front of the computer screen. My time spent here will be a great chance to relax and think.

-Our concrete apartment faces directly North for the previous owners to bow towards Mecca while they pray. We actually have line-of-sight with the Islamic prayer speakers; these go off multiple times daily, the earliest at 520 (though I have been told this will change as the prayer schedule is aligned with the moon). We have mosquito nets in our rooms, a sea breeze because we're so high, running water, and electricity. Luxurious to say the least.

-The electricity in town went out for about 4 hours yesterday. I just read my book and didn't panic.