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>Seas: < 1-2 feet
>Winds 11 knots
>Temp -1.1 C ; w/ wind chill –11 C
>Location: Latitude 63 degrees 03.14’ S; Longitude 60 degrees 31.97 W

Above, One of the crew members aboard the LM Gould, Jamee, has worked in commercial fishing in Alaska and snow removal at the South Pole.
Click on each image for larger view.

9 December 2004

What life is like on a research cruise?

It is nothing like life on a Carnival cruise. To help you understand "the way it is," let me describe for you my typical day. I wake up at 6 a.m. and gingerly make my way down from the top bunk and pray that I don’t break anything or myself. By 6:30 I am in the lab (I live one deck above the main deck). Until 7:45 I work on my own material (larval forms of sea stars and ribbon worms) before going to breakfast. Dr. Balser manages to make it to breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and is ready for our shift from 8 a.m.-noon for the funded project.

We collect either a benthic sample or a plankton tow or (alas) both. Benthic samples require at least three hours to process and plankton samples require about two. You’ll no doubt note a timing problem when the two are combined and we have to pass off unfinished work to the 12-4 group that follows us. In like fashion we have also inherited the work of the previous crew (4-8). Most days we are "fully deployed" for our shift. Although preparing samples for future identification and molecular analyses is tense work, we have the opportunity to see organisms found nowhere else in the world. We have seen sea stars with 20 or more arms, worms that are 3 inches thick and meters in length, and sea spiders that are bigger than a small mouse. Every sample brings the anticipation of discovery — fuel for the curiosity that pulled (and continues to pull) humans into this land of frozen blue ice and jagged rocky mountains.

Lunch for us is between 12-12:30—and the food is good! Balancing a plate and cup can be challenging when the seas are rough, but we’ve quickly grown accustomed to eating with our elbows on either side of our plate and one hand on our cup. After lunch, we have the afternoon "off" until 8 p.m. For us (Dr. Balser and me), this time is devoted to our own work. For me, this means at least three hours at a microscope looking at invertebrate larval forms, performing experiments on their physiological properties, or preparing them for future morphological examination back at Illinois Wesleyan. Dr. Balser is preserving, photographing, or observing adult or larval forms of the three species of pterobranchs that she has collected on this cruise. We do take breaks every now and then. For example, today we went for a walk around the "02 deck" — first clockwise and then counterclockwise. Our view was a panorama of icebergs, elegant cape petrels, and ocean for as far as the eye could see. We know that there are islands just beyond the fog, but the expanse of water gives the feeling that no land exists on this planet.

Dinner is between 5:30–6:30 p.m. and as during other meals, we have a chance to get to know our fellow researchers and the ship’s crew. Everyone has a story or two. One crew member, Jamee, with whom we often work on the back deck was once a commercial fisherperson in Alaska. For the past several years she has worked on the LM Gould and the other polar ship, the Palmer, as a marine tech. She started working in Antarctica as a snow removal person at the South Pole station. Following the meal, we normally wander down to the lab to complete any unfinished works before our shift begins at 8 p.m. The evening shift are generally less hectic that the morning activities. We’ll complete one benthic sample or plankton tow, and we are often done by 10 p.m. There always seems to be something undone and we rarely head for our cabin before midnight. Each day ends as the inverse of the beginning as I gingerly make my way up to the top bunk. Dr. Balser has the bottom bunk. The ease of entry is compromised by the low "ceiling" — but, as we all know, she has a hard head. We are lulled to sleep by the to and fro movement and the not-so-gentle vibration of the engine and the scream of the bow thrusters. The noise becomes our background noise, and we barely notice it until we anchor and engines are turned off — then the quiet seems almost foreign.


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