Coffee and conversation after dinner.
A view of a cabin.
G.O. Sars back deck loaded with sampling equipment.
Date:June 16, 2004
Author: John Horne (University of Washington) and Filipe Porteiro (University of the Azores)
Ever wondered what it is like to be on a research survey cruise? We thought we would give you a glimpse of everyday life as a scientist on board the G. O. Sars Mar-Eco cruise 2004.
Most everyone works in 6 hour shifts either from 6 to 12 or 12 to 6. That means you work, or ‘stand a watch’ as it is called, twice a day: 6 hours on, 6 hours off. This schedule initially causes some confusion. Meal times are adapted to watches. When you eat depends on your watch. You have an half hour just before or after your watch to eat. Depending on your shift and your sampling interests you can eat 1 to 4 meals a day. That includes the now famous coffee and cake break at 3 pm ship time. Coffee time in the afternoon is followed by a daily meeting to hear announcements and the latest scientific results.
We identify ship time for a reason as multiple time zones are used on the vessel. First, the ship operates on Norwegian time (Universal Time Coordinate + 2 hours with daylight savings time); all samples are recorded using UTC time; local sun time has changed as we have steamed west and is now UTC - 1. Then there is every person’s original time zone that they use at home. The extreme case, Dr. Richard Young from Hawaii, is UTC – 10 hours! The difference between ship time and local time also means that the sun rises at about 7 am ship time and sets at 1 am. So we have sun at midnight but not midnight sun.
Three different sampling strategies are used throughout the cruise. Starting literally from the top of the ship, a group of three scientists count and record seabird and marine mammal observations along the vessel path. Acoustic measurements have been continuously recorded and interpreted five scientists since we left the Norwegian continental shelf. When we arrive at any one of 19, pre-determined sampling stations, also known as ‘Super Stations’, a sequence of samples are conducted by the remaining 19 scientists using: three or up to five types of nets, a system to measure vertical water properties such as temperature and salinity, and a vertical camera system called the Underwater Video Profiler. Each net is designed to catch different types and sizes of animals ranging from large fish and squid to tiny shrimps and other invertebrates. Once the nets are landed on deck, the catch is processed in the fish laboratory that is located on a deck level with the sea surface. We spend up to 20 hours sampling at each station. Depending on the catch, it can take an additional 12 hours to identify, count, measure, and weigh all of the specimens. Most animals are frozen or preserved for the Bergen Museum using a variety of liquids such as formalin or ethanol.
So, what do you do in your 6 hours ‘spare’ time? The first priority is usually sleep. The amount of sleep you get is typically inversely proportional to the amount of work you have to do. Taxonomic or gear specialists often get up for every sample. This may cause a slight blurring of your sense of day and date as you will sleep and get up in the light twice a day. You can always say “Good morning” to anyone you meet at any time and be correct. People read, exercise in the gymnasium, listen to music, watch a movie, take photographs, send email, knit, do laundry, or even sit, chat, and enjoy the view. People on board miss watching the European football championships, family and friends, and all the usual home activities.
For those who are used to going on research cruises, this one is a little unique. This brand new ship is very quiet and you often don’t know what gear is in the water because you can’t hear the winches. The fact that you can’t hear the winches is not because of engine noise. There is no engine noise. We also have constant, reliable internet connection for email and web research. Internet ports are available in every room for personal laptops. There is an artist and film crew aboard interpreting, recording, and reporting our findings to the world. As part of our public outreach activities, pairs of scientists report scientific findings and other aspects of the cruise for the Mar-Eco website each day. The multidisciplinary, international scientific crew is constantly integrating current results from their area of interest to improve the understanding of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge ecosystem.