Interviews: Marine Geologist Rob Otto
Rob, with Josh Curtice (left) and Steve Volpe, works on the wax corer.
Why is this cruise important to you?
|Rob the Thinker waiting for a rock dredge to be recovered.
I grew up in Connecticut, five to ten minutes
from Long Island Sound. Exploring the ocean has always been a theme
for me and I stuck to it. I had some oceanography classes in high
school and one of my favorite activities was walking along the beach
to see what we could find. Oceanography has different aspects to it:
geology, biology and chemistry. At Colgate I got into geology as a
way to study oceanography and its been great.
Its good to be on the ocean and see how scientists collect lava from
the seafloor. As an undergraduate I did lab work on the rocks that
a German ship had collected near the Galápagos. Another student
and I traveled to Germany to collect the rocks my advisor Karen Harpp
had identified on the cruise as being the most representative pieces.
When I saw the rocks they were sealed up in plastic bags and I didnt
have a good picture of what it took to collect them. We crushed the
rocks and identified the best pieces under a microscope and then brought
the rocks back to Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where we analyzed
the samples. So Im doing this whole experience backward with the
fieldwork last. This cruise brings me full circle in understanding
the analysis of Galápagos submarine lava flows.
What have you learned about fieldwork on this
Ive found working the 12-4 shift is one of
the best. The scientists and crew are a tight group. Its nice to
work with Sean and Butch because even at 3:30 in the morning they
are very professional and great fun. On this shift, Ive learned that
theres a lot to picking out sample locations and mapping volcanism
in the Galápagos. We use the multibeam and the MR1 and the
towed camera to find out more about the volcanic seafloor features
and then dredge in places where we think we have a good chance of
getting rocks. My interest is in oceanography so its nice to be on
the water on board a ship doing fieldwork rather than in the lab where
youre not always seeing the bigger picture.
to empty a full rock dredge.
What do you see is the larger picture?
I took time before the cruise to tour the islands
and see the types of animals that live here. It gave me a sense of
what Darwin saw when he came to the Galápagos. You look at
the islands and you see dark, black rock and think it might not be
much to live on. But in fact, lots of animals are here and have been
sheltered from the mainland so they now have a completely different
diversity than what you would find in Ecuador. I also went on a SCUBA
diving excursion off the coast of Floreana and saw a submerged volcano.
Over time the currents have eroded the cone turning it into a jagged
ring of spires called Devils Crown. It was a strange experience.
The other volcanoes Ive seen I had to climb up - Mt. St. Helens in
Washington and El Teide in the Canary Islands. Devils Crown is a
remnant volcano and it was a weird way to explore geology by looking
at it from the inside out and swimming around the outcrop in a SCUBA
What are you looking to do when you get back
For now Im going to hold off on graduate
school and see if I can do something for a couple of years in oceanography.
Im looking for jobs on the East Coast studying either coastal geology
or deep-sea exploration. My ideal job would mix geology, biology
and photography - basically marine exploration. I enjoy working
in the field. My professor tells me I'm observant and pick out things
that don't seem to fit.
What was it like growing up so close to the
The first time I started
swimming I was about four years old and I caught pneumonia so I
was scared of the water for about a year afterwards. Then I tried
swimming again and loved it. I havent gotten out of the water since.
Every summer day I would have an adventure on the beach looking
for things. I have two older brothers, Eric and Halsey, and we all
have our own different interests. Eric is in politics in Washington,
D.C., and Halsey is an accountant. As a kid, I was the weird one
on the beach flipping over rocks and looking for animals.
a Pollywog, Bam Bam (Rob) measures the length of the ship with
a squid, with help from Big Red Petro (Denny Geist) and Party
Boy (Jeremy Haney).
Now that youre a shellback what did you think
of the ceremony?
It was fun. My dad was
in the Navy and he said before I left to get a lot of sleep because
as a Pollywog, I was toast. I had heard about crossing ceremonies
from other people at Colgate, but I think a lot of it is built up
beforehand so youre expecting a big deal. I did have a little hesitation
about going through it. Now that Im shellback, I think the ceremony
is a good way to get people together and a great way to end the