First time at sea for an ocean modelling student

by Felicity Williams

It is the end of the night shift and we have arrived back in the sea ice off Greenland. Our progress forwards slows right down as our Bridge team carefully manoeuvres us through the ice towards our next sampling station, with a slight ship-wide jolt as we nudge up against a block or two. Fog hangs in the air, and flat chunks of ice, blue layers shining with colour against the white and the grey of the fog, slip past, rising and falling in the slight swell that has picked up overnight.

This ship really is a 24 hour operation, and we operate our sampling routine (or variations on it as not all teams sample at every stations) non-stop for the duration of the cruise. Scientists collect and process samples that might not survive a long journey back to an ordinary land-laboratory, and as we are working around the clock, our samples get processed in days or weeks rather than the months it might take back on land with ordinary working hours.

I am a University of Southampton PhD student based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. I am primarily a computer modeller, but Penny and my PhD supervisors encouraged me to join this cruise to gain practical experience and understanding of how real world observations (i.e. collecting the data) are made. This is my first cruise, and I had very little idea what spending 7 weeks on a working ship would be like.

There is plenty that could be daunting about being on a cruise like this. Being away from family and loved ones with limited opportunities for phone calls and emails, looking out across 360 degrees of ocean and realising just how remote you are, working strange hours, eating dinner for breakfast, sharing a room with people you have never met before, and simply standing on a surface that won’t keep still whilst looking into your treat drawer at the ever dwindling supply of Haribo – once gone, not to be replaced for quite some time…

For me, these are all balanced against the amazing opportunity this cruise is. I get to see and take part in some really relevant science, to meet a whole bunch of people working on different things that I would not get to meet in an ordinary working day, and who are all as inspired by the ocean as I am. And finally I get to see and experience amazing environments like the sea ice off Greenland. I think every second is worth it.

Images: Views of ice and Greenland (all by Felicity Williams).

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