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May 23 - Nearing home

Date: 23 May 2004

Noon Position: lat 31 57.1 N, long 31 08.3 W (849 nautical miles from Las Palmas)
Distance travelled since Immingham: 31091 nautical miles
Distance travelled since Stanley: 5967 nautical miles
Air temperature: 20.5°C
Sea temperature: 20.9°C

The JCR this Week.

This is the fifth week of AMT, the beginning of the last week of science and the JCR's 13th Antarctic season. This time next week we will be in the Western Approaches, heading for home.

The past week has been all about hard work, as the science demands have continued apace. Hectic days of SAPS, CTD stations, endless sampling and experiments have tried the scientists and the deck crew alike. This hasn't stopped a hardy few attending circuit training sessions and others working out in the gym.

Circuit training. Click to enlarge. A small hot room somewhere in the bowels of the ship. Click to enlarge.

The die-hard circuit trainers argue about who is doing press-ups next while Nick quietly works away in the gym.
Click to enlarge.

Inside the ship, the engineers have been testing, maintaining and fixing, in preparation for the summer refit period. The catering department are being as creative as they can be with end of the season stocks (the bread, in spite of this, just gets better- must be the weevils). The stewards meanwhile are cheerfully getting through their quota of carpet shampooing, on top of their usual duties in the cabins and the mess rooms. Even the doctor has been busy, with end of year medicals, vaccinations and stock re-ordering.

There has been an increasing sense of nearing home the deeper we go into the Northern Hemisphere. The view from the windows looks the same, there are no smells out here to remind us of home, and the water really doesn't go down the plughole a different way. But the sky at night is different- we lost sight of the Southern Cross in the middle of the week, and instead we now have the Plough, and It finally feels as if we are going home.

Science Bit In The Middle: AMT 14.

AMT scientists, in my limited experience, fall into two distinct categories. There are those whose entire day revolves around the wet and messy set-up on the aft deck poetically known as the incubators, and those that are free of this burden. For the "incubator folk" the mornings are a mad rush to get everything done and the samples in the incubators by dawn. The early hour makes it imperative everything is well prepared and organised prior to starting. Slopping around in cold sea-water at 4am is not much fun. It also requires a lot of teamwork as buckets and trays of samples are moved in and out of the labs. There is a solidarity among the incubator folk, born of this need for teamwork and the love of phytoplankton which are so carefully looked after. Niki, on seeing the sunrise over her precious samples one morning, was seen talking soothingly to them! If only we could get this care in the NHS!

The incubator theme park. Click to enlarge.

Alex and Mark are two of the incubator people. They work in the container lab, a tardis-like metal structure on the aft deck, peppered with signs saying "do not enter- radiation" and "danger of contamination". They spend long hours in this container, watch a lot of films on the computer and every now and then come out for a meal or a cup of tea. As Paul Hampton noted, every time Mark appears, he seems to have grown a bit more….! Alex tells us he is measuring carbon export but the evidence all points to the fact he is experimenting on growth, and quite frankly, it seems to be working!

The radioactive boys by Young Nam Kim. Click to enlarge.

Mark and Tim, when they were still only 5 foot 6, with Alex, proud designer of the grow your own scientist experiment.
Click to enlarge.

Tim's coccolithophore research is going to provide an exciting few days later in the week as we go into an area where these calcifying algae are currently blooming. They turn the water such a startling colour that the effect can be seen from space.

Sarah is one of the two people on the cruise who takes samples from the SAPS, or Stand Alone Pump System (the other being Sandy). There are four of these pumps, all of which are lowered to various depths in the water where they remain for several hours, pumping water through a large filter. This filter strains out the tiny life forms within the water, which are then used as the basis for Sarah's and Sandy's experiments.

What sort of a cheese is it? Click to enlarge.

Sarah taking out her SAPS filter. Click to enlarge.

Katie and Andy are the nutritionists of the group. Their work measures the nutrient levels in the water, the vital ingredients on which life can itself is based.

Katie. Click to enlarge. Andy at the CTD. Click to enlarge.

Katie changes lines on her machine while Andy takes samples from the CTD.
Click to enlarge.

Andy Hind has arguably the busiest job of them all. Due to equipment failure, he has had to come on AMT 14 empty handed in terms of analysers. He is therefore collecting water to take home and analyse in the lab back in Norwich. In the meantime, he is helper to everyone, and spends his days either assisting or entertaining in the labs. His sleep patterns mirror no-ones, he simply gets up when he is needed and sleeps when he can, and smiles throughout!

Watch out for low-flying elephants. Click to enlarge.

Andy, clearly worried something might fall on his head! Click to enlarge.

Karabi is also from UEA. She is the one and only atmospheric chemist on board, her remit to catch rain and measure atmospheric ammonium. The first week of the cruise was spent learning how to recognise a rain shower and how not to get blown away when setting equipment up on the Monkey Island in the fearsome Falkland Island winds. She can be seen at all hours of the day and night, immaculately dressed and elegant even in the small hours, checking on rain gauges and collectors.

Karabi in the lab. Click to enlarge.

Karabi in the lab. Click to enlarge.

The Life of a Ship's Doctor

Wanted: one ship's doctor. Must be skilled in sleeping, welding, baking and jellyfish classification. The only medical skill required is the ability to syringe ears. Computer literacy is highly desirable although we realise this is as likely as flying pigs.

The small medical department is fully equipped for any situation- surgery, anaesthesia, X-rays, dentistry, physiotherapy and any conceivable emergency. Although it is the smallest department on the ship it will keep its one worker frantically busy for as much as 10 minutes a day. The rest of the time he/ she may occupy him/ herself helping out with science, hindering the chefs in the galley or nagging in general about sunscreen, diets and smoking.

X-raying Tom's hand. Click to enlarge.

Performing an X-ray on a painful finger- using the classic inter-roll moment-of-stability technique! Click to enlarge.

On occasions the doctor may be called on to make a " house call". At the smaller bases such as Signy and Bird Island, there is no resident doctor. They rely on radio advice from the ships and the doctor at King Edward Point as well as the occasional ships doctor's visit. Paying a call to a scientist at Bird Island will involve an early morning boat trip in the freezing cold, weaving between the icebergs in spectacular Bird Sound. Arriving in Jordan Cove is always an experience as the sea literally seethes with wildlife- fur seals, penguins, albatros and ducks. On arrival that morning, as on every visit to BI, visitors are met on the jetty and taken up to the base. The base staff don't like to miss a single moment of any visit from their friends, nor do they want to waste an opportunity to learn a bit more medicine, so consultations usually take place in the base's main room, in front of an audience of scientists and ships crew, all tucking into tea and cake around the big table.

Commuting, BAS style. Click to enlarge.

The strangest commute to work: paying a house call at Bird Island! Click to enlarge.

Well known for their expertise in sleeping, doctors may be asked to carry out studies into the sleeping patterns of the marine watch keepers. The bridge officers keep watch for two four-hour shifts a day, in addition to at least another four hours of work in between. The ABs only keep watch for their two shifts, but they have the added difficulty of changing watches every week. Over the course of several months away, this punishing regime and the enforced disruption to "normal" sleep patterns becomes very tiring.

Sleep is monitored by small watch-like devices which measure light and activity. This information can be used to calculate when a person went to bed, how long it took them to fall asleep, how often they woke up and for how long, thus building up a picture of their sleeping pattern. Many on board will be roped in to help. There is little research into sleep quality and fatigue at sea, and we are certainly the first to study it within the 24 hour daylight.

Dave wearing his actiwatch- yippee. Click to enlarge. Actogram. Click to enlarge.

An actiwatch, modelled by 2nd Officer Dave King and the outcome of 2 week's monitoring. Click to enlarge.

Back to the doctor's REAL job on board.... scone-maker, woodworker, wig supplier and ear syringer to the masses.

Jim models the valve seat cutter coffin. Click to enlarge. What do you think Simon?? Click to enlarge.

The Valve Seat Cutter box and Doug's "unique" grinding tray, results of one of the best days' work this year! Click to enlarge.

A final thought ...

Another beauttiful sunset. Click to enlarge.

Yet another incredible sunset photograph by Young Nam Kim. Click to enlarge.

Many thanks once again to Young Nam Kim for his photos and to the catering team for another fantastic BBQ (Goobs #2).

Next week....... the English Channel and an end to science....