Wait — what was that?
One of my favorite things about science research is that scientists accept that there will be errors. Sometimes things will not go as you plan. While you might have great luck one day, everything might go wrong the next day. Life at sea is similar in that way – while you have some sense of what you will be up against, you have to be flexible for the challenges that may arise. As I reach the halfway point of my trip, I wanted to highlight a few of those challenges as most of my entries have been all about the successes.
XBT Fail As I mentioned earlier, XBTs are a pretty routine part of the day on the Oscar Dyson. On a given day, we might conduct an XBT every one to two hours. In addition to being regular they are also pretty easy. Basically, you drop a torpedo shaped sensor into the water and record data until it reaches the bottom. Sounds straight-forward right? As long as you know where the bottom is. On my second day, I was tasked with throwing the XBT and cut off the sensor before it reached the bottom. (I didn’t realize that the computer would tell me when it reached the bottom. As some of my students would say “Swine.”) While I was teased for my error, this apparently is a common mistake and the fix is easy enough – throw another one.
Talk of Whales I keep missing the orca sightings. Either I am too far from a window or without binoculars when I am told there is a sighting or I am only told hours later. The challenge of course is that cetacean sightings are brief by nature. These air-breathing mammals only need to come up to the surface once every 10 to 20 minutes. If you are not in the right place at the right time, you will miss it. It doesn’t help that there have been several occasions where it has been too foggy to see any whales that weren’t next to the ship. I could mope about my lack of visible evidence, but I instead recognize that I cannot plan a whale sighting and need to be patient if I hope to see them.
A Tree of Hope One afternoon, while stalking the mammal observers on the bridge, we got word on the radio that they had spotted something about a half mile ahead and the mammal observers requested that we slow down to check it out. Everyone on the bridge hustled into action – scanning the horizon with the binoculars and trying to identify what object could be floating on the surface and covered with Murres. As you probably guessed from the title of this section, it was only a tree. We all had a good laugh at ourselves and remembering that there is humor in failure was an experience worth having.
Searching for Fish Just like whales, you can’t force the pollock to stop by at the appointed time. Although I might be ready to fish, there may not be fish in our area of the Bering Sea. On the days when we spent 12 hours waiting for fish, I have to remind myself that the point of the survey is that there are places with no fish. If there were fish everywhere, we wouldn’t need to conduct a survey. As a teacher, I am used to constantly being pulled in several directions at once and it has been a challenge to build up my reserve of patience and to capitalize on my quiet time to get as much as I can out of this experience.
Time Delay Even though there is a great deal of down time, I am finding it hard to make sure I get enough sleep each night. Waking up for the 0400 shift is challenging because I find it hard to convince myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour. My body does not seem to understand that even if the sun is breaking through the clouds for the first time at 8 pm, it is time to go to sleep or that when the alarm rings at 3:30 and it is pitch black outside, it is time to wake up. Even though this is challenging for me, I recognize that the 0400-1600 shift is a preferred shift because I am able to keep my eating schedule on track. Scientists and crew who work an overnight shift eat meals out of order and have to prepare food to heat up later. Time Delay Part 2 You also may have noticed that sometimes the dates and times listed on the posts do not correspond to when they were actually posted. Although the Eastern Bering Sea is behind most of the US time zone wise, we are not THAT far behind. It usually takes me a little time to write up what I have done and get it ready for posting. Also, we don’t always have Internet (as we are in the middle of the ocean). Even as I am posting this, things are changing. Who knows what will be next…
And now for your questions…What else would you like to know about our research, my activities or life on board? Post a question in the comments and I will try to answer in an upcoming post.