Wake up. The science party is divided into three shifts to keep a 24 hr watch. One runs from 6 am to 2 pm, one from 2 pm to 10 pm, and one from 10 pm to 6 am the next morning. My watch is the afternoon/evening one, so we were the only ones that didn’t have to change our sleep schedules at all. Still, I’ll take the excuse for a lie-in! We do often miss breakfast (0715-0815), but given how well we are fed on this cruise, that’s probably for the best.
The first thing I do in the morning is poke my head into the computer lab. This is where the people on watch spend their time, monitoring the instruments that are constantly recording seafloor topography and (when we have just pushed one overboard) the position of the OBS that we just deployed. Most importantly, it has a whiteboard with the approximate time of the next deployment. Now, due to complete coincidence, my shift (self-described as “Team Scurvy”) has fared poorly in actually getting to do any deployments – it takes about 4 hours to do a deployment (of which about 10 minutes is lowering the instrument into the ocean, with the rest of the time spent monitoring to locate it once it reaches the seafloor), and about 4-10 hours to steam between sites, so it is very easy for an 8 hour shift to miss out on a deployment completely. By the time we got our second deployment, the other teams were on about their seventh. So although almost all of our 30 instruments have now been deployed, it is still exciting for my team to deploy one ourselves. This morning, the deployment was scheduled for 16:00 – yes! Even better, it was my turn to be directly involved in lowering it over the side. Already, today was set to be a good day.
The second thing I do in the morning is go stand out on the bow and soak up some sunshine. As an English person, the novelty of good weather never wears off. I may also be the only person left on board still excited by flying fish. I make sure to see at least one per day. Granted, normally this is not remotely difficult– but when it’s very wavy, sometimes I have to watch the sea for maybe half an hour. It’s a tough life! Today it was very calm, so I could even see the tiny ones jumping without having to wonder if they were just water droplets splashing.
Next, I spent an hour or so knitting and reading. Being overly paranoid that there would be nothing to do on board, I brought about 6 books I’ve been meaning to read for years and a knitting project that has been in progress for even longer. It’s amazing what you can get done when internet access is limited!
Lunch time! We had a really tasty chicken and cashew curry. Then back out on deck for another quick half hour lounging in the sun.
Thomas, one of the crew (who is actually one of the original crew members of the R/V Kilo Moana), is heavily involved with Kung Fu and Tai Chi on Hawaii. He’s paid to teach classes on land; at sea, he offers them free to anyone who wants three times a week. We are being taught Chi Gong (aka Qigong), which are Daoist exercises pre-dating even Tai Chi. They are less complex than Tai Chi moves, only focusing on one thing at once. But they are all about getting your fluids flowing and your joints loose, perfect for the otherwise-sedentary ship life. A big part of the exercise is finding your balance and being mindful of how you are standing, which becomes much harder to bluff when the floor has a roll of 10°!
Our shift starts. The deployment has been moved forward to 15:35, so we don’t have long to wait. We normally go down on deck an hour early to help set up the last few things on the instrument and move it out into position right at the back of the ship beneath the A-frame. Everything goes very smoothly, so we had time to do an XBT (eXpendable BathyThermograph) before we got “on site”. It being my lucky day, I get to do it. The XBT is a small probe that gets dropped overboard to measure the temperature of the water column. It drops about 750 m with a known sinking rate, sending back the data along a very thin copper wire that spools out for what feels like an impossibly long time. When it finally unwinds to its full length, the wire snaps, and the probe sinks into the deep. We use this temperature profile to calculate the sound speed in the water (accounting for salinity, which we obtain from a big database). It’s very important to get the sound speed correct, as we use sound waves to map the seafloor topography. This is interesting information in and of itself, but is particularly important before a deployment as we need to check that we are not about to drop the instrument off the edge of a submarine cliff!
The deployment went really well, thanks for asking.
Back in the computer lab while we waited for the instrument to sink to the seafloor. This typically takes 1.5-2 hours. I spend the time doing some processing of the multibeam (seafloor topography, or bathymetry) data. Especially where there is rough bathymetry, or perhaps just a lot of turbulence in the water, you can get back quite a few false returns. While a lot of this is picked up automatically by the software and thrown out, it is useful to have a person look over the data and tag any of the remaining data that looks artificial. Now, people who are used to doing this can process data at maybe 3x the speed it gets collected. We are not so well-practiced (nor so well disciplined!) so we are falling quite far behind the data collection itself. But I try to do a few hours of processing a day. There are actually a number of really interesting things we’ve seen in the bathymetry so far, so it’s important to try and clean it up as much as possible so we can see how robust the patterns and features are that we have noticed as we’re passing.
Dinner is corned beef and cabbage. Then back out on deck to watch the sunset. The sun doesn’t actually set until about 7 pm, but I deliberately assume it’s going to set earlier than that so I have an excuse to stay out on deck and watch for longer. We have a very official Beautiful Sunset Index (BSI), and I gave it an 8 (one of the highest scores of the trip so far – though the others tell me that this was an exaggeration and I must have been in too good a mood after having the double excitement of XBT and deployment). I always stay out at least until you can see Venus (the planet) and Sirius (the star), but tonight we ended up chatting until we could see a couple of constellations.
Back in the computer lab for the end of the shift. I got in a few hours of actual work on my own research. Supposedly, sea deployments are much better for productivity than land deployments because there is a lot of down time when you can get work done. But as you can see, my schedule had been absolutely packed up until this point!
The Night Watch comes in to relieve us. I immediately go to bed, as everyone who has to be up in the middle of the night keeps telling us about the wonderful constellations at 4 am. Well, after hearing for the umpteenth time about how beautiful the Swan looks flying up the Milky Way, I was determined to see it for myself. (I had actually gotten up two or three times before in the last week at 4 am, but it had been overcast every time. AllI could see was the ethereal green bioluminescence in the waves crashing around the ship… barely even worth getting out of bed for!)
I wake up well before my alarm was set to go off out of sheer excitement. But when I go outside… Might as well still be in a city! The moon is only a couple of days away from full, and it is incredibly bright – very few of the stars show up at all. On the plus side, it’s incredibly easy to find your way around on deck when you’re under its massive spotlight. It’s still very pretty to see the big beam of moonlight shining bright along the top of the ocean. It is almost painfully bright to look directly at the Moon through binoculars, but I persevere, somehow.
Sometime around 5 am, the moon starts to set, and some of the others appear on deck. Zach, who has been on shift from midnight to noon since before the deployments started, has become an expert on the constellations. He says he now knows about 40 of them – and he takes me on a tour of the night sky. As we are so close to the Equator, apparently we can see all of the stars visible from Earth at some point during the night. So there’s a lot to be shown! The Swan (and the Eagle, and the Dolphin) is lovely, and there’s one that looks quite like a flamingo that I’m pretty fond of.
By the end of showing me the constellations, Zach notes smugly that over the course of the trip we’ve seen all but one of the Zodiac constellations (Aries, which definitely looks boring in the star charts anyway) and all but one of the planets (Uranus – although Neptune was pretty dodgy too).
Shift change for everyone else, but I stay up on deck and watch as the sunrise very slowly develops. It doesn’t actually rise until almost 7 am, by which time quite a crowd has gathered again. We rate the sunrise (on the completely independent Beautiful Sunrise Index) as a 6.5.
For breakfast, I have a cheese omelette, pancakes, and a big bowl of fresh fruit. Perhaps it is worth getting up for breakfast after all!
Back to bed for a much-needed nap.
— Emily Hopper