Behind the Scenes

Author: Denis Volkov

We are completing our cruise. Soon we will reach the 18oN latitude in the Arabian Sea, do our last 124th CTD cast, and then head directly to Goa. If you have been following us throughout this journey across the western Indian Ocean from South Africa to India, by now you have learned how oceanographers strive to get data from the depth of the ocean. But this post is about those, who have stayed behind the scenes so far, but who have worked very hard to make our research cruise possible.

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NOAA Research Vessel “Ronald H. Brown” in the harbor of Victoria, Seychelles

As the chief scientist of the I07N expedition, and on behalf of all scientists onboard, I would like to thank the crew of the NOAA Ship “Ronald H. Brown” for their professionalism and dedication, for paying close attention to safety and the needs of the science team, and for trying to quickly resolve problems that inevitably emerge during any oceanographic cruise.

Many thanks to NOAA Corps officers for safely driving the ship across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. I very much enjoyed our daily briefings and collaboration throughout the cruise.

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From left to right: CDR. Daniel Simon, Denis Volkov (Chief Scientist of I07N), Lt. Brian Elliot (Operations Officer), CAPT. Kurt Zegowitz (Commanding Officer), Ens. Michael Fuller, and CDR. James McEntee (Medical Officer).

To start a CTD cast, officers on the bridge need to navigate the ship to the required location and try to keep the ship at that location. They need to account for winds, currents, and waves, and make sure that the cable with instruments in the water does not go under the ship’s hull, which may lead to the loss of the entire (and very costly!) instrument package.

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View from the bridge: the winch house peeking out from the ship’s superstructure in the back, the winch boom with the cable going down while the CTD is in the water.

Many thanks to survey technicians onboard the Brown and the deck personnel.

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Survey tech Josh Gunter ready to deploy a drifter

Of course, it is difficult to underestimate the hard work of winch operators. The winch operators have to spend hours, long boring hours, no matter day or night, staying vigilant and following the instructions of a CTD watch stander: “Winch down”, “Winch up”, “Winch stand-by”, “Winch stop”, “Winch up” and so forth… (you can read an earlier blog post by Yash Meghare about this).

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House Hauerland in the winch house

Special thanks to the galley personnel. To cook for 60 people onboard and then wash dishes is a very hard job, especially on a moving ship no matter what the sea state is. We are all grateful for delicious dishes that made the time spent in the galley as one of the most enjoyable part of the cruise (scales do not work at sea, do they? 🙂 )

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Cooks Emir Porter and Orcino Tan during lunch preparation

And then there are very important others. Perhaps, you would not see some of them very often, because they are on duty somewhere downstairs in the engine room, but it is largely thanks to them that the ship successfully crossed the entire Indian Ocean. If there is a technical problem that hinders science operations, it’s again them who will come and fix everything. For example, we had an air circulation issue in one of the laboratories that was causing warmer temperatures in one corner where temperature sensitive equipment was placed. Guess what? A little bit of imagination – the chief engineer’s know-how – the air flow was directed to the right place and everything was back to normal again! 🙂

Thank you all! Your hard work is very much appreciated.

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Port of Seychelles: A Break from Operations

Author: Chuck Kleinwort

Life aboard a GO-SHIP cruise can be pretty hectic.  When CTD operations are in progress, work is being done on a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week schedule.  Samples are drawn and analyzed as fast as they can be processed.  In a little over three weeks, sixty-four CTD casts have been performed and around 1500 samples have been drawn by the scientists working onboard.  This busy schedule leaves little time for rest and relaxation, as the data we are collecting is very important and every sample drawn provides one more snapshot of evidence to the current state of the Indian Ocean.  Luckily for us, there was an opportunity provided by NOAA to visit the Seychelles Islands in the mid-point of our sampling operations.  This stop provides a welcome reprieve from the rigors of the constant sampling scheme and gives both scientists and crew a chance to experience the natural majesty of the region.

The Seychelles Islands are a chain of rocky islands northeast of Madagascar.  They were colonized in the 1700s by French nationals, and a plantation lifestyle similar to the Caribbean Islands was instituted.  Goods such as cinnamon and chilies were grown in the tropical environment initially but shifted to less labor-intensive crops like coconuts later on.  In the early 1800s, the British took control over the island and it remained a colony until its’ independence in 1976.  This time of year is the tail end of the local monsoon season.  It is common during this period for northwest winds to bring large amounts of precipitation to the islands.

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View of the eastern shore of the island Mahe from the summit of Morne Blanc, a local hiking trail.
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View from the botanical gardens in Victoria.
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Scientist Andrew Whitley feeding a giant tortoise. The animals are native to the region and can grow up to 250 kg (over 500 pounds) and have been proven to live longer than 170 years.
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Enjoying the tropical beaches of the island.

 

Life on the Ronald H. Brown as a First-time Field Scientist

Author: Jenna Lee

I first started doing undergraduate research in the Martiny Lab a few months ago, with Cathy as my graduate student advisor. The plan was for her to train me on particulate organic matter (POM) nutrient analysis so that I could continue to run tests when she left in the winter for the I07N research cruise. I never expected to end up on the cruise myself, but by some stroke of luck (lucky for me at least), the cruise was delayed until April and a space on board the Ronald H. Brown opened up.

The ship was scheduled to leave port from South Africa on April 23rd, but I wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the cruise until the last week of March. The few weeks leading up to departure were hectic for me to say the least. I had to book an international flight, get vaccines, and buy everything I’d need for the next couple months. On top of that, I had never been on a boat for more than a day until now! I didn’t even know if I would get seasick or not (I definitely did the first few days). It was all worth it in the end, though, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be out at sea right now.

Sunset

For me, the hardest thing to adjust to was my schedule. Cathy and I each take 12 hour POM sampling shifts, and mine is from midnight to noon. It took a few days for me to get used to going to sleep at 2pm and waking up at 10pm, but now I love my shift. It’s peaceful late at night, the stars are absolutely gorgeous, and the time difference from California makes it perfect to use the on-board wifi to talk to friends and family back at home. And whenever I have trouble waking up, I make myself a delicious budget mocha (a cup of the world’s strongest coffee mixed with a packet of instant hot chocolate). Between hourly samples, there’s plenty of time to relax watch a sunrise, catch up on some reading, or work on schoolwork. I’m technically still enrolled in a research thesis course, so I have plenty of reading and writing to do.

It’s great how nice everyone is, too! I’m pretty shy, but the crew and scientists alike really made me feel like family. People have set up a ping-pong table and hammock in the main lab, my saved meals have cute drawings on them, and there are bingo and movie nights.

Talking to all these amazing, supportive, established scientists and other students on board has been inspiring. I can’t wait to continue my education and pursue a career in oceanography. Hopefully I’ll continue to have opportunities like this one!