Boat-borne Science

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LLO Marine Technician Ready for Action Worldwide

Marine Technician Jason Agnich tows the Blue Heron on Lake Superior.

Jason Agnich is the marine technician on the Blue Heron research vessel, which is operated by UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory. He maintains and positions scientific equipment for research projects on Lake Superior and other Great Lakes, but when Lake Superior ices up, Agnich is often called to ports around the world.

Agnich retrieves sediment core samples from Lake Superior on the Blue Heron  
Retrieving Lake Superior sediment samples  

Throughout the years, most of the Blue Heron’s users have been UMD faculty. This has usually been a benefit to Agnich. “Generally, there’s a great rapport between scientists and crew,” he said. The Blue Heron is different from other research vessels in that it’s smaller, so there is more interaction between the crew and the scientists aboard. “This makes it easier to do my job as a liaison between them; some larger boats have crews of thirty to forty, which makes it hard to manage."

No matter what vessel he is working on, his job is to make data gathering run smoothly. “Scientists come aboard, and there are things they want to accomplish and certain ways they want equipment placed,” he said. “There is a wide variety of purposes for each piece of equipment, so I work with the science crew to meet their needs.”

Sensors, in a variety of shapes and sizes, enter the water to determine things like water temperature, nutrients, carbon, and oxygen. Core boring drilling machines take core samples from below the lake floor, and sediment traps catch samples from the water at different depths.


As a research vessel based out of Duluth, the Blue Heron usually docks for the winter as ice forms across the lake. While the boat may be quietly locked ashore, its technician is called by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) to continue his work on other vessels throughout the world.

“UNOLS maintains a network of marine technicians working at the university level,” Agnich said. “The regional coordinator usually calls me up pretty quickly when there are ships looking for a technician in the winter.” Staying available gives Agnich opportunities to travel far and wide in the pursuit of scientific research.

Agnich encountered rough weather in the sea off of Bermuda  
Rough weather near Bermuda  


“Since I began working with LLO, I’ve been lots of places,” Agnich said. “I’ve been to Lake Malawi in Africa multiple times and will return later this spring.” He has also visited other exciting locales, including the South Pacific, and Bermuda. He has conducted research on more than a half-dozen vessels in many places, with researchers from universities and scholarly institutes such as the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Columbia University.

Agnich's return to Lake Malawi will be a busy one. “This upcoming voyage will be a bit of a whirlwind tour, with us departing the day after our flight lands, but we are often able to explore a bit before or after our voyage," he said. "On past trips to Lake Malawi, we took a wildlife tour and did some other local activities.”

While exploring distant shores may seem romantic, it is sometimes not all it is cracked up to be. Sometimes, it can be downright monotonous. “During that voyage to the South Pacific, we were out at sea for forty-five days,” Agnich said. “After twenty-something days at sea, we were excited just to see another boat.”

Despite the long stints at sea, Agnich enjoys his work. “It’s really nice,” he said. “Even if it is, sometimes, nothing but days of unloading equipment and looking at water and sky.”

UMD Those who can Duluth

Written by Zach Lunderberg. February, 2015.

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