K Axis Day 15: In the thick of it

It’s fair to say that we’ve been thrown well and truly into the deep end during our first few days on marine science. I have never participated in a marine science voyage before and it has been quite a learning experience. My first shifts were stressful and tense as we all cut our teeth on our first CTD casts and pushed our way through the exhaustion that comes from trying to shift your body clock from days to nights. The first CTDs came in quick succession and between them and the productivity experiments I am running (which take 5hrs to complete), there was barely time to breathe.

We’re 4 days in now and things have quietened down a little so that we only have one CTD cast per shift (or thereabouts). This is in part due to the MIDOC trawl, used by the fish group, which takes around 4hrs to complete. Basically it is like a trawl net but at the end it has not one, but 6 ends. Each of these ends are opened at specific depths as the net ascends from 1000m depth. So 1000-800m uses one end, which then shuts off and opens another end for 800-600m, and so forth. This allows them to get fish (and other sea creature) samples from each specific depth range so they know exactly where they came from. It’s a pretty nifty piece of equipment and the first one they ran last night went very well. They have just brought in their third trawl in 24hrs so I imagine the team is now pretty exhausted and have been very grateful for the extra help offered by those who aren’t busy to sort through the contents.

The work that has been done so far has not been without its complications. The scientists operating the TMR (trace metal rosette, a special CTD for trace metal work) have had many headaches with malfunctioning equipment and the UVP underwater imaging system on the normal CTD has also been having problems. Fortunately, we have a team of Science Technical Support (STS for short) who are here to deal with whatever comes up. They’ve built anti-vibration platforms for our instruments and tinkered with electronics and all kinds of other stuff, depending on the need. So all is not necessarily lost for those projects.

After these past 24hrs it appears that all the projects are now up and running and we’re all easing into our new shifts and workloads. Unlike the rest of Australia, we don’t get a day off for Australia Day. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But it has been decided that for 4hrs (between 10am – 2pm, during the 12pm shift change over) we’ll halt operations and only do acoustic work so everyone gets a short break. Right now its the best we can do and really, every little bit helps.

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