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Oct 19 - Science on board

Sunday 19th October 2008

Position report at 13:00 GMT
Latitude: 14 09.1 N
Longitude: 34 24.4 W
Bearing: 252 &Deg;T, 560 Nm from Santo Antao, VERDES
Cruise Number: Voyage 18.1 STCM Calibration
Distance Traveled: 196
Total Distance Traveled: 3585
Steam Time: 17.97
Total Steam Time: 315.55
Average Speed: 10.9
Total Average Speed: 11.4
Wind: Direction ESE, Force 5
Sea State: Slight
Air Temp: 27.5 °C Sea Temp: 26.6 °C
Pressure: 1014.9 Tendency: Rising

I promised to write about the scientists this week; my intention had been to try explaining the science that goes on on-board, however, as was pointed out to me, if people want to know about BAS science, they go to the research pages - people reading the web-diaries apparently want to know about everyday life. So that's all you're going to get: the everyday (but fascinating!) life of a ship's scientist.

Scientists on deck
Scientists on deck

This rare breed of scientist chooses to begin each day at 4am (I sincerely hope, dear reader, that you appreciate my getting out of bed at an un-Godly hour one day this week all in the name of accurate journalism!). Dressed in a boiler suit (pajamas underneath as I had every intention of returning to bed as soon as my work was done) and fur-lined hard hat (for which I have been teased relentlessly - the fur is a little warm for the tropics, but I'll be laughing when we get to the Antarctic!), I went down to the deck to see what these scientists really get up to. Expecting the deck to be teeming with scientific activity, I was a little disappointed to see only one or two scientists about. I wondered had they been exaggerating (as, I believe, scientists have a tendency to do) their start time? I am assured that they were all in one of the labs preparing for the retrieval of samples. On the deck, the ship's crew were busy launching various collecting/measuring instruments into the sea.

Deck work
Deck work

CTD array being deployed
CTD array being deployed

It is only once the apparatus returns from the deep sea onto the deck, (circa 5am!) that the swarms of scientists appear, armed with little bottles to take their share of the collected sea water.

Scientists at work
Scientists at work

The scientists then disappear back into their hiding places to play with the water samples.

In the laboratory
In the laboratory

In the laboratory
In the laboratory

In the laboratory
In the laboratory

At this point it was time for me to return to bed, after all, I have a duty to remain on top-form, what good is a tired doctor? I do sympathize with the scientists and crew who are getting up so early each day, and I implore them not to have any accidents or illnesses until at least 9am!

Now I should hate to mis-represent these world-class scientists and lead you to believe that they are very serious, square types. Indeed they are hard-working, and are fascinated by data which most of us don't appreciate nor understand, but they do like to have a laugh and be silly at times too: Take for example, the deep (5150m sampling station). On the day before this extra-long stop (positioned right in the centre of the North Atlantic), there was a palpable buzz amongst the scientists. As the day wore on I realized that the reason for all the excitement was more to do with the traditional production of decorated miniature polystyrene cups than it was to do with sample collection. By attaching (in a sock) a polystyrene cup to the equipment to be submerged, the cup becomes subjected to such high pressure at these great depths, that it returns to the surface having been miniaturized. Whilst, of course, I would ordinarily not partake in such silliness, I thought it necessary (for your sake, reader) to illustrate the technique, hence the web-diary cup:

Cup before
Cup before

Cup after
Cup after

At the end of a long and busy day, the scientists unwind (the rest of us do our best to assist this process) with a barbecue and discussion about the day's findings.

Barbecue on deck
Barbecue on deck

Finally (just to make you smile), I'll tell you about couple of my antics this week: Mike, the lovely Comms Officer, asked me to help by keeping an eye on him and communicating via walkie talkie as he climbed the mast to repair a light. I keep making a hash of radio communications by forgetting to press the button before I speak, turning off the volume etc. Whilst Mike was dangling precariously from the top of the mast, he had evidently tried to say something to me, but I didn't receive (I suspect that on this occasion, it was he who was at fault for the failure in message transmission, but I maturely accept the blame). So when he sent the next message, by now sounding a little hot under the collar, I was baffled by the message. I was supposed to go and flick a switch but, not having received the message telling me to do so, was instead just sitting in the window staring at him through binoculars. Consequently Mike thought I was just messing about, leaving him stranded at the top of the mast! It all got quite confusing.. then amusing. By the time he got down, he was certainly in need of something to calm his nerves - as was I!

Mike changing the lamp on the foremast
Mike changing the lamp on the foremast

Oh - and just before that event, I had again caused much hilarity: The crew occasionally use arm signals to inform officers on the bridge of things happening outside. I had not realized this, so when one of the crew started gesticulating to one of the officers standing behind me on the bridge, I assumed he was just being silly, so did the same and then waved back. All rather embarrassing really - and another one, no doubt, to be added to the ever-growing list of charges against me for the "crossing the line ceremony" which is due to take place this coming week - I'll let you know how that goes if I survive to write next week's web-diary.