Up until this morning, I had no idea what I wanted the topic of this post to be. But in my non-boat life, I’ve spent a lot of time working in labs, so as I sat on the floor of the wet lab today to pour a liter of seawater from a graduated cylinder into a bottle, I started thinking about how lab work at sea differs from that on land, in fun, frustrating, and comical ways.
So without further ado, here is my working, non-exhaustive list of some differences I’ve seen so far:
1: Cool deployments!
This is one of the biggest differences of lab work at sea for me: so much of it goes into gathering our own samples. This morning, we deployed a CTD carousel. The CTD senses conductivity, temperature, and depth as it goes into the water. The carousel around it has 12 bottles, which can be programmed to shut at particular depths, so we can collect seawater to analyze later. The carousel we deployed today went down to 150 meters. But a week ago, we sent a free CTD (just the CTD with no bottles attached) all the way down to 3000 meters. It took about an hour and a half just to lower it.
Luckily, we had the deployment Olympics to keep us busy (10 pushups or squats or whatever you choose for every 100 meters of depth – needless to say we were all sore the next day).
2: Pausing work at any given time to handle sails While we’re on watch, our group generally has about 5 people on deck and 4 in lab, but we’re all supposed to help keep the ship running. So we’re in the lab, doing whatever work needs to be done, but the rest of our watch might grab us to help move sails around if they need extra hands. Sometimes, this is an “as able” kind of request, like “we want to set this sail soon and come up to the quarterdeck when you’re at a stopping point”. Other times, it’s more immediate, like if a squall is coming in and we want to strike our sails quickly. But whatever it is, we need to be able to stow what we’re working on and get out there to help the deck crew keep the ship moving.
3: If it can slide, it will slide.
This, for me, is one of the biggest challenges of lab work at sea: everything moves! Including me! There have been a few times where I’ve been sitting at a microscope and my stool has just gone sliding across the room until I find something to grab onto (I’ve been getting better at this, but it’s still a work in progress). It also means always being mindful and keeping a hand on whatever I’m using if it’s not secured in a particular spot.
And that is why today, I found myself sitting crisscross apple sauce on the floor of the wet lab. It’s something I would never picture doing in a lab on land. Here, it just made sense. I was pouring a lot of liquid and I didn’t want to lose any of it, so I picked the most stable place to be: I sat down on the floor.
With 25ish days left of this trip, I’m sure I’ll have lots more to add to my list, but that’s all I’ve got for today!