Ben Russell, NOC, Saturday, 30 July 2012
When I last wrote for this blog the second day of sampling was ending, with things settling down after mobilisation. By the end of today (Saturday) some people will have taken their final samples, with the others rounding things off tomorrow. I was a last-minute replacement for this cruise, and having never been on one before did not know what to expect. The time has flown by, it has been an incredible experience, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of this cruise and experience this extraordinary part of the world.
During the cruise I have been measuring bacterial production at different water depths (blog post 04/06/12). This is outside my usual work as a radiochemist, and I have enjoyed being part of a different research department and working with new people. Each day we collect seawater samples from the morning CTD, and then immediately take them to the constant temperature lab, which preserves the water’s temperature and bacterial composition. At this stage I would like to thank Simon Wright for never reducing the temperature of this lab below 3 or 4 degrees, even when we were in the ice and the seawater temperature dropped below zero. It is remarkable how efficiently you work when the reward is moving to a lab that is at room temperature.
After the excitement of the polar bears seen on the ice, things have calmed down slightly on the wildlife front over the past few days, although this afternoon a pod of dolphins briefly followed the ship before drifting away. As we get closer to Iceland and prepare for demobilization, some of us are optimistic about retrieving radio signal in time for the final of the European football championship, which is of particular interest to the Italian and Spanish scientists on board. A few days back Mario and myself were subjected to the torture of constantly refreshing the BBC Sport text update during the penalty shoot out between England and Italy, with the intermittent internet connection providing as much tension as if we had been watching it live.
The social side of the end of cruise started last night with a very successful JCR pub quiz hosted by 3rd Engineer Mango McManus, with Paddy providing very well received ice creams at half time. The highlight of the night was the physical challenge, where one member of each team (along with an assistant) races to get into a survival suit. If you ever find yourself faced with a similar challenge, I recommend selecting the shortest person and the largest suit.
Elaine Mitchell, Scottish Marine Institute, Thursday, 8 June 2012.
The JCR is a large ship, but as already mentioned, on this trip space is at a premium. On previous trips I have been lucky enough to have a spot in the main laboratory within the ship itself. This time, however, I have the delights of being in a ‘container’!
These containers are exactly the kind you see being off loaded from ships and transported around by Lorries. Usually they contain all sorts of items including food and drink up or Ferrari’s (alas my container was not hiding a Ferrari for me – not even a toy one). It does however hold two ‘Flow-cytometers’, which are special machines designed to count small particles. They are more commonly used in hospitals to count red blood cells, but these two have a had new lease of life and I am using them to count bacteria and other small nanoplankton in the environmental and the experimental samples that are being collected. The machines belong to Mike Zubkov (NOC), his machines are far more sea worthy than mine. The mere thought of being strapped to a trolley and wheeled out onto a boat for six weeks sends my machine into a nervous breakdown, so I left it at home this time.
Although I think one of Mike’s machines feels the same way. After a bit of persuasion (and quite a few threats of being thrown overboard) it finally seems to have found its sea legs and is working well. This is a huge relief as these machines make light work of what can be a long and tedious process by other means. Samples take minutes not days to analyse, and the quicker we can see what is going on the better!
The containers are a very different experience for me; they have been fitted out with white plastic walls and ceiling, a sturdy floor and an electricity supply, with one window in the door. At the moment with the machines running it is an enclosed and hot space, but I know all too well that once we hit the Arctic any heat produced will be very welcome as the containers can get very cold (I have several sets of thermals just for this reason!) The machines on the other hand love being cold so hopefully we will balance each other out. There are six containers in all, each tied down on the back deck, ours is in the middle but even so being at the back of the ship means you feel every slight movement the ship makes so it is not a good place for those who get seasick. Of course if you talk to the deck hands they say it’s a dangerous place to be in a storm and will tell stories of containers being ripped off the
back of boats and thrown out to sea…great…
Life in a box is certainly interesting, lots of people pass by and a few venture in, mostly to remind you its dinnertime!