Life onboard our polar expedition

Much has happened in our 8 day transit from New Zealand to Antarctica. We learned about each other’s science and how we will work together in the coming weeks, hearing talks and taking tours. We crossed the Antarctic Circle and the Prime Meridian, and celebrated co-chief scientist Rob McKay’s birthday with a surprise party. Meals have been good, the gym frequented, sleep cherished. And during the transit we settled into life aboard ship.

The ship operates 24 hours a day, with almost everyone onboard working 12 hour shifts, either midnight to noon or noon to midnight. We started adjusting to these shifts a few days ago. The first day was a bit jarring, and I tried to document the struggle with 12 photos in 12 hours. I must admit I only made it to hour 6 before crashing (the rest were taken the following shift). Usually there is a “night shift” and a “day shift”, but we’re close to 24 hours of daylight in the Ross Sea, so it’s not perfectly descriptive. “Sunset” and “sunrise” shifts don’t really work either…name suggestions accepted.

Hour 1: fuel up on coffee on the bridge deck.
Hour 2: watch a movie (Everest, and later Fried Green Tomatoes).
Hour 3: the conference room view.
Hour 4: visit Agnès in her office with Imogen.
Hour 5: breakfast (but our midday meal) is served! Isabela with the pose.
Hour 6: try to stay awake by walking a wobbly treadmill.
Hour 7: the sedimentology night shift pulls out legacy cores to practice and see what types of sediment are to come.
Hour 8: the bridge as we pass behind the Nathaniel B. Palmer, our escort through the ice.
Hour 9: the view from just outside the outreach office of our fearless ice leader.
Hour 10: interviewing Imogen Browne on the core deck.
Hour 11: Rob’s birthday party in the conference room, on the same day we crossed the Antarctic circle.
Hour 12: glorious sleep.

This week we got to sit down briefly with each of the science party teams. It can be confusing who is in which team because there is a little overlap with roles, but generally the teams include: physical properties; downhole measurements; stratigraphic correlation; lithostratigraphy, or core description; paleomagnetism; biostratigraphy and (micro)paleontology; and geochemistry and microbiology.

The teams work together to understand the cores in many different ways – how dense are the cores, did they come from a continent or from biological material, what colors are they, are they made up of sand or silt or mud or clay, how are they magnetized, and what tiny organisms – or remains of organisms – exist in them.

Then there are the chief scientists – Rob & Laura – who take a step back from the action in the labs and make sure the whole scientific operation is running smoothly.

Of course none of it would be possible without the work of the crew and technical staff. The technical team work alongside scientists in the labs and have crucial experience with how things work on the ship. They’re the ones to carry the cores onto the catwalk when they first come up and provide lab support throughout the whole analysis process.

The cooking staff keep everyone well fed, the stewards do an amazing job of cleaning the cabins and returning clean laundry as if by magic, and the drill team do the work on the drill floor of bringing the core up. Most of the crew is Filipino and many of them have worked on the JOIDES Resolution for multiple years.

Each science team is broken into day and night shifts so we can maximize ship time. We see each other at crossover times, just before noon and just before midnight. During crossover the scientists share their findings so far and pass on duties to the next shift. Their portraits are below. I made an attempt to show them in the general order of when they’ll be working on the cores.

The physical properties night shift team – Imogen, Francois, and Brian. They are the scientists who get to have a first look at the cores. They measure things like density, radioactivity, and the velocity through the cores. They also get to be the heavy lifters because they carry the cores before the cores are cut in half – those things are heavy! They’ll be the buffest by the end of the cruise.
The downhole logging team (minus one) – Jenny and Brian. Downhole logging tools are used to determine physical, chemical, and structural properties of the formation penetrated by a borehole. Data are rapidly collected, continuous with depth, and, most importantly, are measured in situ.
The physical properties day shift team – I seem to keep missing Sookwan during his shift, so I’ve borrowed portraits of him taken by Oscar (on the left) and Justin (photo on the right). (Sorry Sookwan, I owe you a proper portrait at your lab station!) Sookwan also gets a first look at the cores when they come up and measures their physical properties with Brian, Imogen, and Francois.
The stratigraphic correlation team – Gary, Denise, and Tim. Gary is also the superintendent of science and analytical services on this cruise; Denise is also the expedition project manager; and Tim is also in the paleomagnetism team. This team makes sure that “gaps” in successive cores line up well so that we can get a complete stratigraphic section at any given site.
The core description night team – Jan, Shiv, Isabela, Jeanine, and Molly. The core description team looks at things like color of the cores, what type of sediment is in the cores (clay, silt, sand, etc), and tries to interpret where and when the cores could be from – glacial, interglacial, etc. They take photos of the cores and prepare smear slides to look at under the microscope.
The core description day team – (Ross the penguin), Saki, Sunghan, Amelia, and Benjamin. They work alongside the core description night shift.
The paleomagnetism team – Saiko and Tim. Believe it or not, the compass did not always point north; sometimes our earth’s poles were reversed and the compass pointed south. This team runs the cores through a machine to see how the sediment in that core was magnetized, and so make a better guess of what time period it comes from.
The micropaleontology team – Mark, David, Wenshen, Oliver, Peppe, Oscar, and Francesca. They age the cores by looking under the microscope at fossils of tiny organisms like diatoms and dinoflagellates, looking for their appearance disappearance.
A smaller segment of the micropaleontology team – Oliver and Francesca look more specifically at dinoflagellates (more specifically dinoflagellates cysts, but we’ll get to that in another post) in the chemistry lab.
The geochemistry team – Zhifang, Juliane, Tina, Osamu, and Justin. They study the chemistry of the cores and the gas that comes off the sediments.

While in transit we celebrated our first birthday on board – co-chief scientist’s Rob McKay’s. It also happened to be the same day we crossed the Antarctic Circle.

Co-chief scientist Rob McKay’s birthday celebration. Photo by Juliane.


The birthday treats. Photo by Saki Ishino.

There are many great photographers onboard. People share their photos on a shared intranet on the ship. Seeing their photos helps opposite shifts catch up on what happened while they were sleeping. Every week, Bill Crawford, the imaging specialist, selects “the best of the best” photos from the previous week. We’ll post those best of the best on the JR Facebook page, but below are a few portraits – of Saki, Benjamin, and Mark – from onboard scientist Justin Dodd, and the last photo of Dodd himself.

Other downtime activities including making gnocchi in the galley.

Laura and Francesca, two of our resident Italians, gave a lesson in gnocchi making in the ship’s galley. Photo by Rosa Hughes-Currie.

Now that we’ve reached our first drill site, there’s a little less down time. We’re all excited to be getting our first cores on deck. Check back here for more updates!

Kim Kenny
Kim Kenny is a videographer with a background in biology and journalism. Her goal is to communicate science effectively and creatively.
More articles by: Kim Kenny

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