Mark Moore , NOC Southampton, Thurday, 21 June 2012.
Happy mid-summer day to those in the Northern latitudes! Of course, for us, up in the Arctic (around 79°N, 11°E this morning) it isn’t the longest day, but just the day when the sun remains furthest from the horizon at ‘midnight’.
For me, getting used to 24 hour daylight this trip just adds one more oddity, alongside the many other aspects of being at sea which are outside normal everyday experiences. Indeed, time spent at sea can take on unusual qualities. In addition to the different time zones and daylight lengths we are passing though, many of the people on the ship, officers, crew and scientists, work different shift patterns, so you never really know whether the next person you pass in a corridor in the accommodation could be just getting up, or on their way to bed. I have also been thinking that the number of times I change my shoes daily would probably be considered strange behaviour to most people (up to around 20 if you were wondering…). I have at least three (3) different sets of foot-ware for different areas of the ship and the changes between these areas soon build up during a typical day.
My scientific role is associated with the experiments we are performing to try and assess whether a range of chemical and biological processes might be sensitive to changes in the carbonate chemistry of seawater that are accompanying the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
With any experiment involving the incubation of marine micro-organisms for any length of time, you have to worry about changes in environment you are subjecting them to. One aspect of this is the potential to expose them to levels of trace chemicals beyond those they typically encounter in their natural environment. In particular, the amount of the element iron is very low in many areas of the surface oceans, such that any increases in this nutrient are known to influence microbial processes in many regions. Although we don’t currently know much about the role of iron in these Arctic waters, the third and final cruise of the three associated with our project is in the Southern Ocean, where trace metals are certainly important. So while it is obviously always ‘good practice’ to work as cleanly as possible when performing experimental work on natural microbes, in this case it is also good practice for our next cruise, where we will certainly have to work under what we call ‘trace-metal clean’ conditions in the Southern Ocean.
Consequently, like Chris, who’s blog post you can read from a couple of days ago, much of the work we do on board takes place in a dedicated containerised laboratory. However, whereas Chris and Alex work in a container to prevent any potential for contamination of other areas from their isotopes, we work in a container which is kept as clean as possible to prevent the rest of the ship from contaminating our samples. Procedures in the container include the constant filtering of incoming air to remove any particles and dedicated clothing, including clean plastic shoes, when working inside.
In addition to the plastic shoes I wear in the clean container, I have an old pair of trainers which sees me through those parts of the day spent in the interior of the ship, a better pair of shoes for dinner in the mess, and the steel toe-capped safety boots. So, I get to see my socks more times than normal during any typical day at sea!