Eighteen days we have been on the R/V Sikuliaq - four more days to go 'til we get back to Nome. So far we have completed 17 bottom trawls and 15 midwater trawls. I am on the fish team, investigating the number and distribution of fish and invertebrates during our 21-day ASGARD cruise.
What do we do on board a research vessel during a regular day?
The feeling of morning and night is rather blurry as we have light nonstop, but darkening the room at night helps in getting a rhythm. We close the curtains around our beds to keep our roommates from glancing upon our snoring selves during ‘night time’. The day begins and 7:15 am to 8:30 am is the time to fuel up our energy resources after a night's rest and get ready for a new day. Whenever we reach a process station, other groups on the ship take over and get excited for a new day, new samples, and new discoveries. Before our trawls we collect multiple CTD’s, vertical and Bongo net tows for the zooplankton group, multicores for the sediment group, and at the end of the station it’s time for us! If no one else is in need of assistance it is time for reading, writing or data entry in the morning after breakfast until….
10 am gym time! If we're not on station and if no one else is in need of assistance, Lorena, Caitlin and myself try to keep fit and ready to lift these trawls by working out for a little bit in the gym on board the ship. After working out for an hour, it’s time for a shower and refueling during lunch, which offers a great plethora of meals every day, getting us ready to deploy our gear.
During our “waiting time” we usually assist other groups in their processing, however, to be ready to be submerged into the watery goodness surrounding us, things do need to be prepared shortly before the deployment. Temperature depth recorders (TDR’s) activated to record data, Simrad charged (which reports to us when the trawl reaches the bottom and leaves it), buckets brought out to collect what we get in the nets, and labels written.
Trawl time! The Isaac Kidd Midwater trawl – IKMT - is deployed first, and is designed to catch larval fish in the water column. After getting it back on board, we take out the cod end, which holds the sample collected during the trawl, bring it into the lab, take pictures of the catch, and take out all fish for measurements for the fish group (Lorena and Caitlin). The Plumb staff beam trawl – PSBT – is then deployed, which is designed to catch critters on the seafloor from fish to small worms. Bringing that trawl up is always an exciting time for our group. When it reaches the surface of the water, we first look at whether it is muddy or not. If it played a little too much in the mud, we need to rinse it before we can start the identification of all the critters that we caught. Once on deck, it is like unwrapping presents on Christmas – untying the end of the net and letting everything flop out, not knowing what is coming! After a first peek into the bucket, the nets are secured and everything is brought inside. Pictures are taken, notes taken, and usually the catch attracts a great number of not only scientists, but also crew members. Oftentimes we all then sort the critters we caught into different groups on different trays – commonly associated with gentle shouts of “do we have a crab tray yet?”. Once everything is sorted into their bigger groups, the identification part begins. I myself do the identification of the invertebrates, meaning I look at all the critters we caught and do my best to identify them to species level, write down how many we collected, weigh them, and release them back into their watery home. Some are luckier than others, because if we don’t know what an organism is, we preserve it to take it home for later identification by a specialist.
Sometime during that process, after or before, depending on the day, it is dinner time! Our amazing cooks Gavin and Matt surprise us every night with new courses that will never disappoint our palate. The evenings vary, dependent on the station and workload we have that day, but they usually go from finishing work, reading, watching movies, or playing cribbage to plainly snoozing off while being rocked to sleep in our dens.
While mostly it sounds like a routine day, a day on a research vessel is full of excitement and new discoveries. The schedule is very dependent on how long it takes us to finish a station and steam to the next one. However, a big treat while on a boat is seeing sea ice, mammals or just enjoying the smell of salt in the air and a 360° view of the ocean. Mostly though, one of the most valuable parts of research cruises is appreciating having the opportunity to work with such great minds for an extended period of time – both crew and scientists!
This cruise has been an amazing adventure and I have learned so much in the last two weeks. Thank you to everyone on the boat for making this a great time!