With my first gig as Chief Scientist behind me, I now have the time to weigh in on our cruise, the scientific successes and failures, the importance of teamwork, and the balance between hard work and fun.
I just gave a final science talk that reviewed the scientific objectives of our cruise, and linked these objectives to the material we collected. It was really nice to see the mix of science party and technical support staff in my audience and to have to explain why what we did was important to our broader understanding of Antarctica’s climate history. Although we always dwell on what we were not able to do/collect (water column samples, sediments from basins to the south of Palmer Station), this cruise was extremely successful.
We were able to collect sediment records that will allow us to understand the retreat history of the ice stream that occupied Hugo Island Trough and the Palmer Deep until ~13.2 ka and possibly identify the mechanisms driving that retreat (the top candidates at the moment are glacial eustatic sea level rise and changes in ocean heat flux). We were also able to retrieve the sedimentary record from the last 100 years at Palmer Deep, which we can link to both the instrumental record and to our down-core Holocene (13 ka to 100 years) record. It is rare that we can do that with a sediment core archive. Mostly, paleoclimatologists rely on ice core records for such reconstructions.
We were also able to sample these fresh sediment cores for new molecular proxies that require special shipboard processing techniques and limit our ability to use archived materials (hooray for more ship time). Finally, we were able to characterize the grounding line of the Gerlache Strait ice stream using imagery collected during our yo-yo camera transect. Yes, that is just what it sounds like: we lower a camera to the bottom of the ocean and bounce it up and down along the bottom while the ship drifts slowly along a chosen course. Lots of people are spending a lot of time and money trying to understand Antarctica’s past and present grounding lines, because they are important to the stability of ice sheet/ice shelf systems. Characterizing paleo-grounding lines is a fairly cheap and easy way of obtaining a lot of really great data that will improve our understanding of cryosphere behavior.
Anyway, what struck me as I looked out on my audience is how often we forget (back in the lab) the blood, sweat and tears of so many people who made these cores possible, from the ship’s captain and mates to the winch operators to the marine technicians. Without these people, science doesn’t happen. What I also realized from talking to the technical staff (people I consider my teammates and friends) is that they very rarely get to see the data that emerges from their efforts. As scientists, we should want to talk about our science to everyone who will listen. Part of building a team is getting people invested in the work that they are doing. Otherwise, why bother?
As we steam towards the Straits of Magellan, I have a confession to make: I am not sure that I like being Chief Scientist. What I love about being on the ship and doing science is the doing science bit: collecting and sampling sediment cores, working long hours, the camaraderie that develops in the labs, shift work interspersed with time off for doing other non-cruise related things (e.g. blogging, working out, reading, catching up on other work, taking pictures, playing games, and watching movies/TV shows). While I did all of these things on transits, I learned pretty quickly that as Chief Scientist there is not a lot of time for relaxing. You always have to have about ten alternative plans up your sleeve, so that if you are thwarted by ice, lose a piece of equipment, run out of time, etc. you are always able to move seamlessly to Plans B, C, D… Z.
Essentially, on this cruise I was paid to think, not to do. This part of the job is really stressful. Luckily I had some great wing-people to help me on this cruise: Amy Leventer, a professor at Colgate University and an excellent Chief Scientist, and our Marine Projects Coordinator, Eric Hutt. Both Amy and Eric were always available to bounce ideas off of and to help me with the trickiest part of the Chief Scientist’s job: estimating the time it will take for each planned operation. For those of you who know me well, or who have been unlucky enough to live with me, you know that I tend to plan way more than is physically possible in a 24-hour period. The trouble is, when left to my own devices, I can usually accomplish my harebrained schemes (late night painting and 50 batch cookie projects not withstanding). However, I knew that this cruise would only be a success if I could build a team around me, and not exhaust everyone in the first 24 hours.
We had a really great team on LMG13-11 that worked together well; this was why our cruise was so successful. It helped that many of the scientists, technicians, and crew had worked together for years, but we had plenty of new people on this cruise too. In a few days, I will miss them a lot and will be glad to see many of them again in a few months when we depart for our next cruise to Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, with Amy as Chief Scientist. While I did not get into the labs as much as I had wanted to—I was warned of this before we even left the dock—I was able to relax periodically during our long days of science. When the decisions are made, the ship is on station, and the devices deployed, there is a brief interlude of fun while the device descends through the water column.
During those times, aft control, where the winch operators work, is the place to be. The Chief Scientist (or watch chief) is there directing the winch operators and making decisions on descent speed, the depth at which the device is stopped above the sea floor so that wire angle is reduced, the speed that the core then descends into the sea floor, and how much wire to let out after the tension drops and the device is on the bottom. Gradually, the marine techs and sometimes the electronics techs filter in and the fun begins.
I always try to bring chocolate to aft control. Everyone appreciates it, and it’s like our little treat during the calm before the storm (retrieving the core/camera/other device). Usually the conversation turns to something totally inappropriate and chaos ensues, but I really think this time sets the tone for the cruise. This is where stories are told, confessions are made, and we all get to know each other. For me, this used to happen in the lab. On this cruise, most of the fun happened during my brief interludes in aft control and during transits, when we spent a lot of time playing games (Settlers of Catan, Apples to Apples, the Secret game), watching TV/movies, and hanging out drinking coffee.
So tomorrow we get into port at around 1300, after picking up the pilot at 0500 at the eastern pilot station at the entrance to the Straits. Once we clear customs, we have to organize our cargo on this ship and move most of it to the RVIB N.B. Palmer, the ship we will call home from January 24 to March 17, when this blog returns.