Two weeks at sea is all some oceanographers get to do all of their fieldwork for the year. Two weeks, give or take a grace day, including whatever Mother Nature has to throw at the ship. Granted, it’s work 24 hours a day, likely running several experiments at a time. But compared to some brands of science, two weeks is barely enough to say you know what system you’re working in, let alone describe ecological processes at work. To me, someone who employs anthropological methods just as often as ecological ones, anything less than a year doesn’t count as fieldwork. I’m not judging; it’s just a difference in philosophy and feasibility. After participating in one of these two week cruises, I am no less in awe that our understanding of the ocean comes from such a philosophy. Achieving solid results requires such a carefully orchestrated dance in order to work, I’m shocked that we got as much out of the cruise as we did.
At this point we’re running on autopilot a bit. As one of the Georgia students pointed out earlier today, we’ve become incredibly efficient at the protocols, just in time to start heading home tomorrow.
People have also had time to start analyzing their data from the first round of experiments. Interestingly, the phytoplankton community has changed significantly in our little patch of ocean over just the short time we’ve been here. Brian commented “I always assume, incorrectly, that the system will be static throughout the cruise. But it’s not, it’s surprisingly dynamic every year”.
My day began with a balancing contest on the stern deck – who could stand on one foot the longest? It was an official welcoming to the world of those with sea legs. The rest of the day blended in with yesterday, when we ran our second diel experiment – nothing new there from the science end.
We pulled up our incubation/grazing experiment to look at the effect of grazers. We had dropped 96 bottles, each a different manipulated community, overboard. Turns out something got hungry and took a bite of the net bag that was holding the bottles underwater. We’d like to think shark, but that’s entirely our imaginations run wild. We spent the entirety of the day after lunch filling up large plastic carboys with water from the Sargasso – a prized medium for phytoplankton researchers. The water out here, though a classic mix of sea elements is very “clean”, meaning it has extremely low levels of organic matter, trace metals, or really any nutrients at all. It’s what makes the waters out here such a beautiful blue and is the reason we haven’t seen much life outside of the phytoplankton in our tubes the entire trip.
A stormy beginning makes for a busy end. We spent the day prepping for a couple of experiments that will happen tomorrow while we’re all awake for the second round of the diel experiment. We sent a go-flow, typically used to collect data on trace minerals in the water, overboard to gracefully collect and filter seawater to be used for growth medium in an incubation experiment. It’s hard to think about treating seawater nicely, but apparently the go-flow apparatus is designed to not split any cells upon entry or exit. This ensures that the phytoplankton we’re trying to grow and measure will have the most realistic experience in their little containers as possible tomorrow.
We’d all been staring at the weather forecast in disbelief for the last couple of days. We had plenty of warning it was coming, but even in the midst of a storm, I don’t believe it’s happening. Why? Because it’s sunny out. However, there are gale force winds outside causing 12-14 foot swells and rocking the boat every which way.
After 6 long hours processing the phytoplankton profile from last night’s CTD, we decided to stay on this station for the remainder of our trip. The profile showed a distinct (and stable) maximum of phytoplankton. Interestingly, this maximum isn’t at the top as you might expect for sun-loving organisms.
This morning just after breakfast we arrived at station 1 after 24 hours of strait steaming. In past years, station 1 hasn’t had what it takes to be the place of study, but we decided to check it out anyways.
I have absolutely no reason to be at sea. I don’t do oceanographic research, don’t work in any way, shape, or form with phytoplankton, and I barely have the time to set up my own research trips let alone take two weeks to help on someone else’s. Yet here I am, my first day aboard the R/V Cape Hatteras on a cruise to the Sargasso to study phytoplankton energetics.
Next week our own Bluegrass Blue Crab will be embarking on her first research cruise – out to the Sargasso Sea. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of advice that I send out to my colleagues for their first voyage. So here is some advice for your first trip to sea.
Everyone gets seasick. It’s not the intensity of the sea but the amplitude of the waves. Everyone has their own frequency that sets them off. The only shame in seasickness is not getting it over the side.
Bring ginger – freeze dried or candied, it’ll quell your stomach long enough to get the anti-seasick meds down.
Always bring your own stash of coffee (and don’t let anyone know you have it).
Sock puppets are hilarious at 3:30 AM after a 36 hour shift.
Sock puppets are less funny if you use the same pair of socks you’ve been wearing for 2 weeks straight.
Sock puppets are only hilarious once.
Bring a few packs of cigarettes, most of the crew will smoke and some will run out, having cigs for them to bum builds good will.
Visit the bridge, but don’t hang out up there too much, the captain finds that annoying.
Don’t ever let the science team see you not working. If you’re done work, help out with other projects, if you need down time for yourself, take it somewhere inconspicuous.
Bring a funny hat. I mean really funny. Like NASCAR Viagra car funny.
Actually, bring something with a Hodag on it. Hodags are hilarious.
Convince everyone that Hodags are real.
Become surly when people deny the existence of the Hodag.
Where there’s fresh produce available, eat it.
Don’t ever get caught sunbathing.
If you can cook something really good and unique (like an erotic cake) and you have the time, offer to help out in the galley.
Don’t fight the PPE, it’s not worth it and you’ll eventually lose.
Safety goggles are a huge pain in the ass. If you know you’re going to be required to wear them, buy some ahead of time that fit well and you don’t mind wearing.
Ditto for steel toed boots.
Always look good.
Don’t fall overboard.
If you do fall overboard, look good doing it.
If you bring up live animals, some of the science team (often if it’s their first time at sea or processing samples) are going to be visibly upset when they have to kill the critters. The first time animals come up, the entire crew is going to want to see them. Don’t create a huge scene during sample processing, let everyone see the critters first and wait for things to calm down before you start slashing.
Little army men or plastic farm animals make for great shenanigans.
No matter how rough the sea is, you may not sit down to pee.
Don’t forget to drop off postcards at the mail buoy.
Keep to the code.
~Southern Fried Scientist