At Sea: In the North Atlantic Day 43


I’m fidgeting. My list of things to do isn’t quite demanding enough to keep me from noticing, even though today is full of endless fiddly tasks. Fidget. Cup of tea. Start another data backup. Fill in customs form. Walk out on deck. FIDGET.

This lunchtime we finally left our last sampling station and we are now steaming back to Woods Hole in Massachusetts, where we’ll dock on Thursday morning. The buoy (officially called Bob, now) came out of the water for the last time on Sunday and all of the bubble experiments are already packed away. I couldn’t get started on the packing quickly enough. I feel as though I’m about to burst. Being able to walk on land again is tantalizingly close, and the ship’s status screen is helpful enough to tell me exactly how close: 31.08 hours, 208 nautical miles to go. But even if we arrive early, we won’t be able to come into port early, so we might have to sit just off the coast until the morning tide. 8:30am on Thursday morning is when the fidgeting will stop.

It’s almost two weeks since I last wrote anything here, and the gap is because it’s been a bit of a slog, blurred by repetition and sleep-deprivation and a creeping weariness that feels like an excuse until you remember that five weeks is quite a long time to spend in a glorified tin can. We had two really good buoy deployments after the big storm, when everything worked and we got good data. But after that big storm, the next weather events seemed a bit like coming across a purring domestic cat on a sofa just after an unexpected encounter with an angry lion. We had a trip into calmer water to fix the power supply to the foremast, and after that we popped out of the Gulf of St Lawrence to the south and found water that was 20°C. There were a couple of days when it was actually sunny and warm on deck. It felt wrong, but it was fantastic from a scientific point of view. One of the things I’m really keen to explore more is how water temperature makes a difference to bubble formation, so hopefully we’ll have enough data to look at that.

I’m not quite ready to look back on it all objectively yet, but I know that we’ve done a really good job out here. There is a great team of scientists on this ship, and we’ve seen a really good cross-section of all the autumnal moods of the north Atlantic. That was exactly the aim – we won’t get another opportunity like this in the near future, and so it was really important to make the most of this one. We hadn’t even dared hope for winds as high as those in the St Jude storm, and we’ll be learning things from that dataset for years. Now we get a bit of a break, and then the task will be to sort through the mountain of data and work out what it has to tell us. A single complete copy of my bubble dataset takes up 16 terabytes of storage space, which terrifies me! But we can make good use of it, and I’m excited about getting started. Well, I will be excited, after I’ve had some proper sleep, been swimming and seen some trees.

202 nautical miles to go.


Sean Atkins