Seeking trace metals in seawater

by Emily Hill

Having never been to sea before, it was difficult to know what to expect aboard the RRS Discovery. I am however, pleasantly surprised! The ship is far more comfortable than I imagined, I wasn’t even expecting to get my own cabin! I had visions of falling out of a top bunk every night!

Although we had a bumpy few days, the seasickness soon subsided just in time to start doing some science! I’m taking seawater samples for trace metal analysis for my 4th year undergraduate project at SAMS. This involves sampling the seawater at 6 depths from 6 stations across the Ellett Line and then filtering them on board to get rid of the particulate matter, leaving behind the dissolved fraction of the seawater. I then acidify the samples and put them in the fridge. The samples will be analysed for trace metals when we get back to SAMS, using an ICPMS (Induction Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer). I can then hopefully use this, along with oxygen, salinity, temperature and nutrient data to initially identify the different water masses between Iceland and Scotland and characterise these water masses based on their trace metal concentrations. Ultimately I am hoping that I will be able to use all of this data to identify the Arctic component of these water masses by comparing it to previous datasets of trace metals in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding waters. As I’m working with trace metals it’s important that any risks of contamination are minimised, so I have my own little ‘clean’ lab which I am very happy in! (Pictures below)

As I only have 6 stations to sample, I’ve also been helping with the oxygen analysis which involves a titration known as the Winkler Titration. In my spare time I’ve been delving into the extensive book selection on board and cards have become an evening normality as well as Trivial Pursuit. If we do see the sun, (and we’ve seen a lot more sun than I expected) we’ve all been scurrying to the back deck to absorb some vitamin D. We’ve also been eagerly waiting to see some whales, today we got an amazing sighting of another pod of Pilot Whales playfully following the ship, and it was amazing! (Pictures below)

Obviously everyone back home is eager to know what I’ve been up to, so instead of baffling them with science it’s mainly been conversation about if the food is good, if the beds are comfortable and how the weather is. (For the record, the food is very good, I sleep like a log and the weather has been surprisingly good for the North Atlantic!)

I’m the youngest on board which is very strange, it makes me realise what a brilliant opportunity this is for any student, especially an undergraduate like myself. Not only do I get invaluable sea-going experience from this, learning a lot more about the practical side of marine science, but I’m actually collecting my own samples, I almost feel like a real scientist!

Photos by Emily Hill


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