Navigating science at sea on RV Falkor in uncertain times

By SSSI Young Professionals Committee

15 September 2020

4 minute read

Nelson smiling at the camera on RV Falkor

The COVID-19 pandemic saw Nelson Kuna helping with scientific research on RV Falkor. Image: Dean Miller from Great Barrier Reef Legacy, courtesy of Schmidt Ocean Institute.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is tough. Some of us have pressed pause on seeing family and other loved ones. Others have had to let go of exciting travels plans. But a lot of us have seen a change in how we work.

This includes Nelson Kuna.

Earlier this year, Nelson joined the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) Research Vessel Falkor. His role was to provide science support for a series of seafloor mapping and ROV (remotely operated vehicle) surveys in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks. Nelson is a Hydrographic and Marine Geophysical Surveyor from CSIRO’s Geophysical Survey and Mapping (GSM) team and usually works onboard the Marine National Facility Research Vessel (RV) Investigator.

The opportunity arose from a sequence of unpredictable events and unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19 affecting the way we all live and work.

Climbing on board RV Falkor

RV Investigator returned from an eight-week voyage in the Southern Indian Ocean. The team studied the rifting and breakup of William’s Ridge on the Kerguelen Plateau and Broken Ridge, which are oceanic plateaus in the south-eastern Indian Ocean.

The voyage would also provide invaluable data for Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In the next berth over was another research vessel, SOI’s RV Falkor who had just completed a scientific cruise mapping and investigating the Ningaloo Canyons.

Nelson left RV Investigator and departed Western Australia to return to Brisbane and begin his relocation to Hobart, Tasmania. This was a requirement of his role with our GSM team. However, the situation with COVID-19 rapidly developed. And soon put an indefinite delay on those plans. Both the RV Investigator and RV Falkor expeditions were significantly disrupted, as were those of the entire world.

RV Investigator returned to its home port of Hobart to conduct maintenance testing and trials. RV Falkor sailed to Queensland to undertake opportunistic science with the science party onshore remotely overseeing the cruises.

Nelson was supposed to go back to Hobart after his research voyage with RV Investigator.

When one hatch closes, another opens

As is often the way with science at sea, challenge and opportunity were inextricably linked. With travel challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions, SOI contacted our GSM Team who just happened to have a member in Queensland.

With so many common goals, it became clear there were numerous benefits to both parties and the broader scientific community to collaborate. Nelson subsequently joined the RV Falkor in Cairns to assist the onboard marine technicians with the upcoming voyage mapping and investigating the seamounts, canyons and reefs of the coral sea.

Nelson has found the experience to work and live on another research vessel invaluable. He also hopes it will be the beginning of a strengthened relationship between the two organisations. And with further collaboration in the future. In particular, he has enjoyed seeing the differences and similarities between operations and life onboard both vessels. Additionally, he enjoyed making new connections and friendships and gaining exposure to different aspects of marine science.  Like the live streamed dives with SOI’s ROV SuBastian.

Nelson also enjoyed assisting with numerous collaborating organisations. These included Geoscience Australia, James Cook University, Sydney University and JAMSTEC (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology).

The Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) originally published this story on their website. You can read the original article