What’s life like on an RV Investigator voyage?

By Madi Rosevear

27 May 2016

Following on from the success of her first blog, Madi Rosevear of the University of Tasmania tells us about some of the challenges of the current voyage and provides a few personal tips for life at sea.

Iceberg in the ocean

Iceberg ahoy! Image Nic Pittman.

At 11am (local time) on Thursday, Investigator was declared all fast at berth in Wellington, New Zealand, ending Leg 1 of a busy research voyage. Here’s a snapshot of what we got up to while at sea.

Early on in the voyage, we explored the realm of icebergs. Unfortunately this coincided with a lot of fog so all we saw for the first few days were yellow ‘blips’ on the radar. At night (a considerable part of a 24 hour period at high latitudes), the ship often made slower progress as Captain Mike wanted to be alert for ‘growlers’, icebergs too small to detect on radar but still big enough to puncture the hull.

The icebergs made steaming south a bit fraught but boy are they impressive! After the fog cleared we saw a couple close up in the light of day. It can be hard to get a sense of scale in the ocean but the second one seemed pretty big from where we sat! We went up to the bridge to look at it and take photographs, and were stoked to have a little flock of (pure white!) snow petrels fly past while we were up there.

Our game plan then changed a little. We were on course to arrive at our southernmost station in the dead of night but the Captain wanted to SEE the sea ice before we put any instruments in the water. The new plan saw us complete a more northern station first, making use of the time we would otherwise have spent waiting for the light. We then skipped the station on our line heading back north to make up lost time.

Training is a big part of these voyages and my cabin mate Taha (Tay-uh) and I received some intensive Dissolved Oxygen (DO) sampling training during our time on board. We were on opposite shifts, which meant we never actually slept in the cabin at the same time, as we had responsibilities for collecting samples from CTDs that surfaced during different shifts. The CTD on board has 36 Niskin bottles, which for us means 37 samples to collect after each cast (one bottle is repeated at random) and very cold hands by the end. The seawater was sub zero at some of the southern stations and the whole process took a couple of hours!

To complement our training, a ship-board seminar series was also run at sea. Highlights included talks from our Chief Scientist, Bernadette Sloyan, about GO-SHIP and the motivation behind the current voyage, and sea level rise guru, John Church, talking broadly about importance of hydrographic surveys in understanding the ocean’s role in the earth’s energy balance. Both these talks really got me excited about what we’re doing out here and put the oceans in perspective with regard to the greater climate system.

My main motivation for participating on this voyage was to spend some time at sea and learn about the equipment and methods we use to monitor the ocean. I also wanted to learn from a diverse bunch of scientists that I may not have otherwise encountered. In terms of why I wanted to be here, the actual science was almost secondary. That’s now changed thanks, in part, to those seminars. I can’t wait to start collecting data and comparing it to previous voyages on the P15S line, some of which hasn’t been surveyed since the 1996 American voyage on Discoverer!

Bring a nice shirt!

Having been at sea for the best part of four weeks, I thought I’d finish by sharing some of my tips for living on a ship, plus additions from other, more seasoned sailors:

  1. Never leave your bathroom cabinet open and the toilet lid up at the same time or you might find the ship decides to eject the contents of one into the other (this happened but luckily my toothbrush was not involved).
  2. Everyone knits! Well…a lot of people knit. It’s great to have something to do when you’re a touch too queasy to read books or look at monitors. ‘A lot of people’ now includes me and, as a result of the growing society of knitters on board, has led Chief Scientist (and prolific knitter) Bernadette to wander around exclaiming “Isn’t this GREAT?! We’re teaching these young people REAL LIFE SKILLS”.
  3. One of the most perilous parts of the ship is probably your shower. In rough weather, do not enter it without fully waking up (Matt, Hydrographer).
  4. Be prepared for a lot of things to break. That’s why there’s lots of people on board who know how to fix stuff (I’m in awe of them).
  5. Sometimes, science needs hair dryers. On this occasion, they were used to melt frozen spigots (valves) on Niskin bottles so we could collect our samples!
  6. Bring a really nice shirt for hard times. There’s nothing like a really nice shirt to cheer you up (Bernadette, Chief Scientist).

If you want an idea of what life at sea is like for researchers on board Investigator, check out this cool video from the volcanic voyage of Investigator early in 2016. Thanks to Pete Harmsen for putting it together!

Want to find out more about the Investigator? You can check out the video below, and visit our website.