Almost a month at sea. It’s not the first time. I have been at sea several times in these years but every time is special and unique. It is unique for the research we conduct, for the people we meet, the seas we cross, and the infinite things we still learn from each other at the most odd hours of the night. Yes, night! Nights are a big thing in plankton research. Collection, sampling and setting up of the experiments need to be done all before sunrise to prevent alteration in phytoplankton florescence as response to sunlight. The lab starts getting crowed at 1.00 AM when the first biological cast goes down to collect our precious tiny planktonic friends. I run upstairs to the galley for a quick cup of coffee and, maybe, a super fast PJ. Others are already in the galley enjoying the dinner that was put aside for them by our excellent cooks. I say good morning, we look at each other, we laugh. I run downstairs to the lab, the CTD is on deck. My colleagues and I gather all our bottles and containers and go out to collect the water to start measurements and experiments. All the water manipulations are done under dim light and since we crossed the 48°N, at very low temperature (11°C) to avoid plankton a temperature shock. We freeze but at least our creatures are happy! We start the music, bottles are filling up, a dance move contagiously run thru the lab as a remedy to the cold, we all move (some more then others) and chat and discuss each other’s ideas, methods, or sleeping troubles. Time to incubate the bottles. We call the bridge: “Hi, this is Françoise, Gayantonia, Sean and I are going to the back deck incubators, I’ll call you when we are back”. We are at sea after all, the ship is moving fast, the waves are splashing the deck, the wind is blowing and you sure want someone to know that you are out there!
We meticulously place the bottles in the incubators based on six selected light levels that plankton communities experience in the water column. We tie up the bottles, and strap down the incubators. All wet and cold we go back to the lab, the initial analysis needs to be run, no time to stop. After a couple of hours, when cold, lack of sleep and hunger start to build up, Ben shows up with a plate full of muffins or pieces of apple cake or some other delicacies the cooks decided to prepare for us “night watchers”. We all stop for 5 minutes, we enjoy our second breakfast, and if the morning is clear I go out to experience some of the most amazing sunrise I have ever witness. Then, full of beauty and new energy, I go back in to finish up, just in time for the third (and real) breakfast!
It only 8 AM, the day is still long ahead of us, measurements, analysis, cleaning. It’s 12 PM, I remember I signed up to help launching one of the atmospheric balloons that collect data on wind speed, humidity and temperature. I run to the second deck, the launch is perfect, the balloon rises up in the sky but wait…did we prepare the 180 tubes for chlorophyll?!?!?!?
Written by Gayantonia Franze