What a day!: Oceanographers working around the clock for the love of science – Paulina Pinedo

Left: McLane pump. Right: filter before and after pumping ~200 liters of seawater at 45 meters depth.

It is midnight. Sunday has just begun and I find myself, once more, very busy aboard a research cruise in the middle of the Pacific. The name of my home for the next ten days on the seas is the Kilo Moana. Whenever I tell my family and friends that I’m going on a research cruise, they picture me sitting by a pool on a sunny day sipping a tropical cocktail from a glass with a little umbrella. Not so on the Kilo-Moana! Real-life here is quite the opposite –  it means very long hours of intense physical and metal activity and abbreviated showers and meals.

About seventy percent of our beautiful watery world is covered by the oceans, yet much about them remains a mystery. We have tried for centuries to unravel the enigmas of the marine realm, but ocean exploration is difficult: The ocean is a challenging environment in which to operate. Research expeditions are expensive and funding is a constant struggle. Hence, we scientists need to make the most out of our time at sea. This expedition is not the exception and aboard the Kilo Moana we are taking advantage of the entirety of our days. Our research plans are very ambitious: collect samples for a large number of analyses and deploy more than 9 different instruments multiple times during our 10-day expedition. We need to accommodate the needs of the 21 scientists on board, so we are on a 24/7 working schedule.

Sunday is a typical example of our round-the clock, crazy-busy, work-days:  Our operations start at midnight with the zooplankton team deploying their nets (read Rebecca Asch’s post to learn more about the fascinating creatures they collect!). This requires 3 marine technicians and 3 scientists. Meanwhile, another team prepares a CTD (read Eric Orenstein’s post to learn about this and other pieces of equipment) –  it has to be in water by 2AM. All seems to be OK when, UH-OH, a problem with the CTD’s electronics is detected! Malfunctions of instruments at sea are frequent and we need to work under pressure to troubleshoot them without disturbing our tight schedule.  Finally, after a few very stressful minutes, the CTD is ready for its first cast of the day! An hour later, it emerges triumphantly from the water carrying water samples from different depths. A swarm of scientists rushes to deck to collect their samples. They only have 35 minutes to get their water and prepare the CTD for its second trip to the deep ocean. After the second CTD cast, the ship steams a few miles away from our sampling station to empty the grey water tanks. Since this activity takes between 1 to 1.5 hours from our precious research time, it’s a good opportunity for us to eat, take a short nap and organize our thoughts.

Back at our sampling stations, my colleagues work on four different pieces of equipment that are scheduled to be deployed back to back as the day’s operations continue.

In a research cruise there is always something that has to be done, but every once in a while we take a break to admire the beauty and vastness of the ocean –  a breathtaking sunset, or with a little luck, some playful marine animals like whales and dolphins.

It’s dinner time! But first, it’s time to deploy one of my favorite instruments, the McLane pumps. These pumps are submersible, so they allow researchers to filter large volumes of seawater in-situ. Essentially, they are like vacuum cleaners. The pumps are lowered to the ocean and spend several hours “vacuuming” the waters, collecting marine particles at specific depths. At the end of the deployment, scientists collect the biomass accumulated on the filters. Check out the picture of the McLane pumps and filters before and after deployment!

It is midnight again.  Operations are still going but it is time for me to go to bed. But first, a quick visit to the galley: I wonder if there are any donuts left…