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Setting the Stage

Emily Y.'s avatar

Scientific Research

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Setting the Stage
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Life At Sea

Stepping onto a research vessel is different than boarding any other boat or ship. The staterooms are small and efficient, and there is a lot of space committed for work and research. Some research vessels are very large and have a lot of sophisticated equipment in order to collect the data that scientists need. In the case of our friends at the University of California, Irvine, the research vessel is their temporary office, home, and laboratory on the Indian Ocean. We’re continuing to learning about the work they are doing in collaboration with other institutions while at sea.

The RV Roger Revelle is a ship that is operated through the University of California, San Diego. The ship was built in 1996 and is 273 feet long, which is about the length of six school buses parked end-to-end. The ship can carry 59 people; 22 crew members are responsible for operating the vessel, and up to 37 people may be involved with science and science support. The main deck of the ship has work and office spaces, chemistry labs, a computer lab, and and a large deck for deploying scientific instruments.

Nathan checked in with us a few days after the ship left the port of Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia:

So far the waters are rough. The high seas combined with the high ship velocity of ~12 knots (about 13 mph, that’s fast for a ship) has made several people seasick. Many people have now awaken to the reality of the rough life at sea. As huge waves smash the hull (or sides) of the ship, they sound like giant logs crashing into the boat. It is extremely loud! Imagine someone slamming a door as hard as they can. The waves are about five times louder than that. It’s startling to say the least. One lead scientist asked, “Why did I come on this cruise!?” while trying to acclimate to the rolling ship. I also asked myself the same question- but the answer is the same as it has always been: I want to learn about the oceans. Exploration and discovery through ocean science drives my curiosity to far reaches of the world.

It sounds like the seas have been rough in transit, so far. One reason why scientists like Nathan are traveling in these tough conditions is because we know very little about the Indian Ocean. It’s relatively under-studied, and it’s not as easy to access as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which border the United States. Even though the travel is tough, it’s worth the effort: the Indian Ocean supports a variety of systems, including ecological systems like coral reefs and open ocean habitats, and human systems that influence the livelihoods of millions of people.

Nathan’s group from the University of California, Irvine, includes four scientists. They are studying how nutrients in the ocean influence where algae grow, and how the algae function in the ocean. Their work will involve collecting water samples, analyzing nutrients, and taking a closer look at the algae. Other groups of scientists on the ship will be studying how the atmosphere and ocean interact with one another. Studying the tropical Indian Ocean may uncover clues about the role that the ocean plays in taking up carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change.

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