We’re now at the start of Week 6 and steadily working through cores that are coming up from ~3800 m water depth in the Dove Basin. We’re old pros at this point, which is to be expected after doing the same thing for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. That’s roughly 500 hours of work in a little over a month… on a ship… in the middle of the ocean… Umm, is it just me, or are the walls closing in?!
But on a more serious note, we’ve reached the point of the expedition appropriately named Week 6. Appropriately named, not just as a marker of time, but also as a marker of emotion. Week 6 means more than halfway done with the cruise, but not so close to Week 8 that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Week 6 is dutifully going about our work, but not without moments of weary monotony. Week 6 is calls to our loved ones with messages like, “It’s going so fast, I’ll see you soon,” but not soon enough to keep the homesickness at bay. The feeling of Week 6 is so prevalent on each expedition that our staff scientist, Trevor, gave a specially prepared presentation to help us recognize signs of stress and to find ways to combat them.
I am not writing about this to complain or to publicly declare my decision to leave science. In fact, this cruise has reaffirmed my love for Antarctic Paleoceanography, and I feel incredibly privileged to work with such a competent, intelligent, enthusiastic group of scientists, technicians, and crew. I am sharing this on Expedition Antarctica to highlight the human side of a scientific research cruise.
Since the beginning of graduate school, I have noticed that institutions and people outside of science tend to reduce scientists to talking heads. Even within science, I see our initial perceptions of each other mostly defined by the data we produce or the papers we write. I am guilty of this, too. But living and working on the JR over the past six weeks has emphasized the fact that we can’t separate the scientist from the person, both within ourselves and in others. We’re all dedicated researchers here to work and contribute to the understanding of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, but it’s impossible to be professional 24/7.
Running jokes about the best way to call scientists to the sampling table have developed into a friendly competition. Little rituals like sharing erva mate (a Brazilian tea) have become a daily mainstay. We sit outside watching icebergs float serenely by and chat about everything from science to hobbies to our families. Sunrises and sunsets become opportunities to stretch our legs, but also to reminisce about past fieldwork, ask after mutual friends, and scheme future expedition ideas. Friendships blossom to form the foundation of potential future collaborations.
My adviser likes to say that science doesn’t happen in a vacuum, meaning we can’t push the science forward without a healthy flow of ideas between individuals and working groups. In forming working relationships and fostering good communication, we move closer and closer to the goal of this cruise: understanding a changing Antarctica. Perhaps Week 6 is not a reminder of the things we have left behind, but rather a promise of the things to come.