It’s a tradition aboard oceanographic research vessels to send styrofoam down to the depths of the ocean (and then bring them back up, of course!). On Tuesday, after many days of decorating, we sent a bag of Styrofoam cups down to 2,500 meters. For some of us, this was a first in decorating cups and sending them down to the bottom of the ocean. For others who have been aboard tens of cruises, it was not very exciting to make another cup. The majority of the cruise members partook in the artistic activity of decorating a cup, and the designs ranged from chubby birds to gliders to pride flags. Some common designs were the surface mooring, the CTD, the OOI logo, and the Neil Armstrong. A few ramen cups were also sent down. Along with the design, it is customary to write the latitude, longitude, and depth on the cup.
Smiling woman holds two cups with drawings on them. She holds the cups up just below her head.
Me holding 2 of my 6 cups. On the left cup is a Northern Fulmar, the seabird that is very common out here! On the right, I drew the surface mooring, and the glider. 
After decorating the cups, we put them in a mesh laundry bag, and attached them to the CTD. We heard some horror stories about the cup bag breaking, so we secured it well with zip ties and electrical tape. The CTD went down to 2,500 meters and its return was much anticipated. 
Two women hold a bag full of styfofoam cups. Behind them is the CTD, a gray, oceanographic instrument that has many bottles, each of which close at different depths in the ocean. Behind the instrument is the ocean.
Emma and I holding the bag of cups before attaching it to the CTD. 
A gray instrument with bottles is lifted onto the deck of the boat by a crane. Attached to the instrument is a bag full of styrofoam bottles.
The CTD returning with our shrunken cups attached!

Upon return, Emma and I were shocked at how very tiny the cups became! The cups shrink when they go down to 2,500 meters because the huge amount of pressure at that depth (250 times the atmospheric pressure that we and the cups experience at the surface) forces the air out of the styrofoam. The interesting part is that we started with two different kinds of cups: ones that were originally very small, and large Styrofoam cups. Once they returned, we noticed that the large cups had shrunk more than the small ones! Henry informed us that the amount of shrinking depends a lot on the brand of Styrofoam.
Three people attend to the bag of bottles attached to the gray instrument. One of them cuts the bag off the CTD, while the other two watch.
Emma, Henry and I cutting tape and zip ties to remove the cup bag from the CTD. 
A few of the cups had shrunk into each other, so to separate them apart, we soaked them in hot water, and patiently pried them apart. Many of the cups deform and shrink in funny ways, so we also used the hot water to reshape a few.

On the left, many shruken styrofoam cups sit on top of one another. On the right, the original full size cup sits to show the scale of difference.
On the left are the shrunken cups and on the right is a cup that depicts the original size of the cups. 

The majority of the shrunken cups sit stacked on one another, with a computer in the background.
A collection of some of the cups after they have shrunken. 
It was a lot of fun!



  1. I love my cup, Lucy. Thanks for bringing this little gift from the sea back to Littleton, Mass. We love you!


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