Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas and a Start to Science

Saturday (12/24/16) was a busy day, leaving the dock behind and just starting to find some sea legs. Yesterday (12/25/16) marked a somewhat surreal Christmas day. By 0600 we had already traveled some 130 miles. Those who were awake began to greet each other with "Merry Christmas", but there were few decorations or any other reminders of the day. By mid-morning a small cadre of scientists was at work crafting some homemade snowflakes, and some lights and something that loosely resembled a Christmas tree were dredged from the bottom of a box somewhere. A warm feeling continued to grow throughout the day unlike any that I've previously experienced at sea. Since we were still transiting to our first sampling location, there was enough free time to appreciate the moment. The cooks prepared a special holiday feast, complemented by a never-ending playlist of Christmas songs in the mess room.

The holiday festivities were coincident with the normal parts of starting a cruise. There were several sessions where the resident marine technicians reviewed safety procedures on the ship. We rehearsed donning our survival suits (generally known as "Gumby suits" by the cognoscente), practiced getting in the lifeboats, and had an extended discussion concerning the disposal of waste material in the Antarctic. There was now the general realization that we were really at sea and this newfound life was going to be with us for a while. Normal routines have been altered: there is no need to carry a wallet, and cellphones aren't very useful, at least for communication. Our Internet connection is neither fast nor reliable, so we don't get a large volume of information from the rest of the world. Laptops, now mostly used for data analysis and writing, can be left on a table for hours with no worries, as there are no security issues here.

Tomorrow (12/27) will mark the real beginning of the scientific work being carried out on the cruise. We will arrive at the first station at about 0500, at the northern side of Drake Passage, where a CTD cast will occur, the biology will be sampled, and the first SOCCOM float will be deployed. Today, we had plans for a short test cast with the CTD, just to verify that the electrical connections were secure and the sample bottles were operational. However, this morning the ship is surfing the waves, being pushed by a wind of nearly 50 knots, and the captain has prohibited us from working on deck until the wind subsides. The weather forecast is favorable, and it appears that the situation will improve by the evening. If we have to wait that long, we might abandon the test cast altogether and just keep moving on to the site of Station 1.

The growing synergy among the scientists and technical staff on the Palmer is palpable. There will likely come a time when we'll all be exhausted, but for now there is no shortage of energy and camaraderie.

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