Ben Russell, NOC Southampton, Monday 4th June, 2012
On the second sampling day of this cruise, I have the opportunity of reporting on how things are progressing. For those of you looking for some hard science, you may be disappointed. I am a second year PhD student with absolutely no ocean/marine/research cruise/water-based experience at all, so instead follows the opinions of a complete novice.
The first few days have redefined the term organised chaos. On the surface it may look random and a bit crazy, but in reality it is a busy cruise with everyone on board working extremely hard in an attempt to produce some world-class data. I have been pretty inspired by the people I am surrounded by, as well as by the James Clark Ross itself. The equipment on board and the people who operate it are really impressive.
For some today brought the luxury of a relatively late 7am start for the first CTD of the day. A large group huddled round the instrument, clutching at their beakers and bottles, eager to collect their samples and get on with the day’s work. I am working with the group that measures the production rate in bacteria. Seawater samples are collected from different depths and exposed to radioactive amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and from this it is possible to measure how quickly cells are growing. The radioactivity aspect means data can be gathered while we are on the ship. It also means we have to take great care when handling samples, and collect all our waste for proper disposal back at Southampton. We are confined to a rather Spartan lab isolated from the main work areas and working outside of my comfort zone has been a big challenge, but is one I am enjoying so far.
To preserve the seawater temperature and bacterial composition as much as possible, samples must be analysed within 30 minutes of collection, and initial work is carried out in the controlled temperature lab at around 50C. I dare not complain about these conditions; instead I look at it as an initiation into the sort of conditions we will experience later on.
Following a couple of days of glorious weather, things have started to turn a little rougher. Many people have told me that what we have experienced so far is nothing, and yet already I am swaying round the corridors like someone stumbling home after being kicked out of the pub. The rougher seas bring other new experiences, namely laboratories where everything constantly moves unless it is securely fastened in place. Whenever I have left a lab in the past it has always been with relative confidence that the equipment will not change position overnight.
As I write this we are trundling along nicely towards Iceland, and have just passed between the Orjneys and Shetlands to leave the North Sea and enter the Atlantic. It has been a steep learning curve, but it is a very exciting and unique experience to be a part of a research cruise. Despite being so busy everyone is also very friendly and approachable, which from my amateur position is greatly appreciated.