At Sea: In the North Atlantic

 
 

It’s five days now since I arrived in Greenland and this is the first chance I’ve had to write anything. It’s been such a rush! But the unpacking has been done, the initial testing of our experiments was successful and we’re now on our way to the southern tip of Greenland.

We’re on board the R/V Knorr, an American vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. There’s more information about the ship here and you can see the (current) position of the ship in real time here.

All the scientists on the ship are part of the HiWINGS experiment. Scientists love coming up with acronyms for big experiments, and they spend far too long thinking them up. The silliest one I have ever seen was for the Sea sPray ANd Dynamics Experiment: SPANDEX. That produced a mental image of their ship-based work that I’d rather not have had. At least ours isn’t that bad. It stands for High Wind Gas Exchange experiment. Translated into everyday language, that just means that we’re studying how gases like carbon dioxide move in and out of the ocean when the wind blows really strongly. I’m here because we think that bubbles help that process along, but we’re not sure how much and when.

The problem with studying “high wind conditions” is that you have to go to places with high winds, and for us that means a bit of the north Atlantic where it sounds like the storms don’t ever stop. We’ll be just south of the tip of Greenland, sitting still and riding out the weather.

My part of the experiment is to find the bubbles. We have an 11 metre long yellow buoy, which floats with most of it below the waterline. There’s a picture below, taken in the dock when we were testing the ballast (which means checking that the buoy doesn’t sink). My bubble detectors are all the things strapped to it. It’s taken 10 months to build and prepare all that kit, and so it makes me pretty nervous that what we’re going to do with it is to chuck it over the side and watch it float off into an Atlantic storm. It’s got GPS and Iridium communication devices on the top, and the idea is that it will float for five days and then we’ll find it and get it back on board. And then do it all over again.

It’s nice to be back on board a ship. Even though I’ve not been on this one before, it’s a very familiar environment. You get used to the constant movement, and I like being rocked to sleep. Showers have a new level of unpredictability because you have to chase the flow of water around. There are hand rails everywhere for you to hold on to when the ship is rocking (which is going to be most of the time), and everything is strapped down. I’m tidier on a ship than I am almost anywhere else!

I’ll post something here when something interesting is going on, or when I have time to write about life on the ship. I’m slightly nervous about the conditions – usually ships run away from the worst weather so sitting still in the middle of it will be a new experience. But if the data is good, it will all be worth it.

Watch this space…

 
Sean Atkins