Part 8: Engineers are amazing

It’s been an exciting few days, with things on board being broken more often than not.

This didn’t just include the scientific equipment and winches used to lift them, but also the rear thrusters (or something equally important sounding and useful) for moving the ship. We were stuck in quite thick ice for a bit while that was being fixed, but then got into even thicker ice trying to reach the planned stations. I was loving life and the prospect of having to stay longer in the arctic just enjoying ourselves, but a few people seemed to get a little bit worried, and after we went a super long way round to get out the ice, I heard that we will not be adventuring that far in again. Cry.

To make these things even more fun, we were out of range of the one satellite that I’m using now to send this. Also, my laptop has broken, so I can’t send anymore nice photos until I hit it in the right place and it starts working again. This is particularly annoying because yesterday was a beautiful clear day, with a midnight sun, a freezing sea, and glistening pancake ice. There is an (I suspect mythical) IT guy on board, but I have only had one sighting of him this whole trip. He has never appeared at meals, or in the crew mess, so I can only assume he is a robot. I will keep trying.

Science wise, the bongo nets that I use are simple and so the one bit of kit that hasn’t broken. I’ve managed to do all my feeding experiments fine, except having to end one just a day earlier than planned. The winch for the CTD has been playing up, and there have been cable problems, but we’re up and running again now. The winch is kind of essential, as the CTD weighs about 800kg and has a great habit of bursting the lungs of people it careens into. At the moment, it’s the ARISE coring equipment that is broken (check out https://www.changing-arctic-ocean.ac.uk or https://ariseatsea.wordpress.com for more information about their work), but the engineers have fixed like 50 problems by now so I have full faith in them.

Part 7: POLAR BEAR

POLAR BEAR! This is a quick post to express my overwhelming excitement at seeing a POLAR BEAR! I can’t take credit for the fantastic pictures, they were taken by Flo Atherden as there was no time to run and get my camera when I was in the presence of a POLAR BEAR! I must say my survival instincts aren’t really functional – I had to fight the urge to go and play with it, as if it was a big white labrador. I can’t express how lucky I feel. Such an intelligent, regal animal.

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Part 6: Breaking the Ice

We just reached the Arctic ice! I know my evidence for this is is not that impressive given it is like 1km away and is possibly just a 1m squared bit, but it counts. Later today we’ll be properly iced I think, so I expect to see infinite polar bears and narwhals, for sure.

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Thought you’d maybe want a quick view of my daily science life aboard. I don’t want my copepods to warm up too much, so I work in the cold room. It’s 2°C in there, which is actually warmer than outside, but more stable. The sea surface around here is -0.65 °C but it gets a few degrees warmer as you go deeper because of the ocean circulation.

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UPDATE

WE ARE PROPERLY IN THE ICE NOW THIS IS SO EXCITING AND MILDLY WORRYING AT THE SAME TIME.

The ice is so AMAZING. It’s apparently soft at the moment but getting harder towards tonight, so I’ll take this chance to give my love to all my family and friends. This ship is not an ice breaker, it’s only ice strengthened. And at the moment every small iceberg we hit I am almost totally sure it’s broken through the hull and we’re going to die. So in my opinion, we’re not going to live through tonight’s sampling. So worth it though. Death in the name of science.

P.s. Had devastating news today that the hash browns they have for breakfast are not vegan, hash brown free life is a dull morning prospect.

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Part 5: Coping Without The Right Copepods

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The whales are hiding from me. Even when the fog lifts, there is only empty ocean as far as the eye can see. You can see why sailors used to think the open ocean was barren. That is, until you get nets in and actually have a look.

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Sampling began at 11pm last night, with a CTD followed by bongo nets. The CTD takes loads of measurements of the water as it is lowered and winched back in, including temperature, salinity, and an approximation of how much phytoplankton there is. There are also loads of bottles attached which we program to close at the depth we want, to collect water samples. The bongo nets are two nets joined together, with a mesh with 0.2mm gaps. Anything bigger than that gets collected and brought up for me. These two were the first of a chockablock sampling schedule, but only going to 200m depth. The later nets go much deeper, to 1000m, and the sediment cores go right to the bottom, about 3000m. I’m focusing on these shallow ones because I want the animals feeding in the sunlit zone. This means I’m on night shifts, but it doesn’t really matter, as the sun never goes down.

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Above: The bongo nets being lowered

Turns out, the waters here are SO productive. There were loads and loads of copepods, just frustratingly not many of the species I’m interested in! The ones in the buckets (see someone’s dead sample below) are a much larger species that only lay eggs in the deep water – not so useful for my egg laying experiments!

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So I spent all night in the cold store picking out tiny copepods from the net samples. I halved my experiment because of the lack of the species I wanted, but still got some useful samples. I also accidentally supplemented my diet with copepods; my concentration face unintentionally includes me sticking my tongue out, and the jumpy ones don’t hesitate. Following this oily nighttime snack, I had a breakfast of garlic breaded mushrooms and roast potatoes – meal timings don’t really fit with my shifts. Nevertheless, I’m loving the feeding situation. The chef is great, and the crew say that it’s okay that I’m an awkward vegan ‘because we like you’. They even made me falafel and coriander hummus the other day. So tasty.

 

Part 6 – welcome to my cold tin home

 

Part 3: Sea Sick?

So yesterday I learnt what being at sea is actually like. I don’t think many of the crew were bothered, but we were rocking around all over the place. It’s especially fun when nothing stays where you put it and you can play a game of human pinball through the corridors, having no control of the room you end up in.
The shakedown station was delayed for this reason; sampling in 6m waves is not the easiest. Instead, I focused on my plan for sampling.
However great our research is, we can’t really prove anything about the physical world. The problem lies in us being human. If you think about how easy it is to trick the human brain, or how much of an effect your previous experiences have on how you see the world now, it makes sense to be skeptical. That said, we can have confidence in the beliefs we have, if these beliefs are based on reason and repeated observation – science.
To test whether what we believe is right, we would have to try every single possible occurance and make sure the believed process happened in every one. Long, right? So the way we do it is to find just one example of where a belief doesn’t occur. Instead of trying to find if every vegan is starving by looking at them all globally, just look for one that isn’t (me – great, we can no longer believe that ALL vegans are starving).
So, we know that the changing climate is changing the proportions of different plankton species in the Arctic and the timing of their occurrence in the year. Copepods eat some of these plankton, so could be affected by these changes. To look into this, I’m going to look across different areas where we know there are different plankton populations. I’ll look for any differences in the amount the copepods eat, the amount of eggs they lay, and whether these eggs hatch. Some of the areas I’m looking at will have lots of food for the copepods, and some will have little. The quality of the food will differ too – some is more nutritious than others. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see what they’re eating.
I think I’m now finally getting used to the rocking ship, although the gym confused me. Rowing and running whilst swaying is  disconcerting for my poor brain, too many movements in too many directions. It has calmed down a bit now though, and will probably get calmer when we’re further north. Added I haven’t really felt sea sick so far, super proud of my inner ears!
Current status:
Meals skipped:0
Times cheated on vegan diet:0
Times tempted by desserts:infinite and constant temptation.

Part 4 – where are the whales?

Part 2: Not Mushroom For More Risotto

I’m surrounded by blue! I’ve contacted the whales through the language of willpower to let them know I’m about. But I think they’ll wait until after our stop by Aberdeen to visit us. I’m still doing regular checks for them just in case: it’s a good excuse to get out of the labs and go up to ‘monkey island’ on top of the ship.

In the labs, we’ve been using all our newly gained knotting skills to lash everything tightly to the benches so they are not mercy to the sea. Equipment is mounted on heavy boards by drilling in hooks, then wrapping them in rope. I know full well that I’ll regret my somewhat abstract wrapping technique and I know everything is going to be hard to detach at the end.

By now, with all the unpacking of heavy boxes and manual labour, I’m sure you’re assuming my strength is fading. I must be coming to the end of the energy reserves I boarded the ship with. Yet, low and behold, I have been fed! And the food has been unlimited, tasty, and, wait for it, vegan! Obviously, the starters and desserts have been avoided mostly, but the purser picked up on this and now brings me a fruit platter. I almost wanted to be able to go on about how difficult this experience is, but it’s like magic. You sit in the saloon, name the food you want from the three options, and it appears in front of you just like in Hogwarts.

I have eaten so much at every meal, enjoying stuffed peppers, mushroom risotto, vegan burritos and more. Chances of starvation are currently very small. Chances of obesity, exponentially increasing.

If you want to check our progress, check out this link, which uploads a photo every 15 minutes:

https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/images/webcams/rrs-james-clark-ross-webcam/.

We have fiveish more days before we reach our sampling area, but we are going to do a shakedown (practice) station on the 12th. We’re just stopping near Aberdeen to allow a boat transfer of engineers. So, we have plenty of time to get set up, enjoy the sun, and look out for the whales. I’ve heard the weather tomorrow is not going to be nearly as calm though… we’ll see.

Part 3 – Sea sick?