The Kaleidoscope of Colors at Sea

July 25, 2023

Hannah Gerrish, 2nd Assistant Scientist

Not only the ocean itself is blue, also some of the things we pull out of it. Some of our Neuston tows have come out filled with brilliant big blue copepods like a bunch of little gems. Backlit here on the microscope, ready for a 100 count, they have a bit of that turquoise that the sea does too.

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This is Hannah Gerrish, I'm the 2nd Assistant Scientist here, and I'm thevlucky person who got July 25th for my blog day. On this trip of ours, July 25th holds a unique place. It is, in fact, a nonexistent day for us - the day we skipped when we first passed over the international dateline at 180 degrees E/W longitude, entered the Eastern hemisphere, and changed our time by 24 hours (from UTC+12 to UTC-12). Time for many of us feels very fluid while out at sea, sometimes speeding up and sometimes feeling extremely slow. We end up in our own bubble of watch rotations and meals and our days flow into one another almost seamlessly, each of us following our own schedules within the greater group one, trying to sleep, trying to be present, trying to find time for projects, some relaxing, and spending time with each of the interesting and wonderful people we continue to get closer and closer to. We've changed time zones a couple times now but this one is a bit of an extra reminder of time passing, our physical place on the globe, and how things shift and are transient.With that transience in mind I wanted to write a little bit today about colors. A lot of our days follow the same pattern, the things and people we look at are  constant enough that slight changes are more noticeable than at a lot of other times in our lives. One of the things I am hyper-attuned to while at sea are the constantly changing colors in the sea and the sky - always the same and yet always shifting. Today I'll start with the massive range and impressive depths of blues.Here in the middle of the Pacific on a sunny day the ocean is probably the purest blue I've ever encountered. As someone who is accustomed to the green-tinged and often silty glacial waters of the higher latitudes, this bright dark blue caught me off-guard when I first experienced it. When it's not too choppy, look down and the sun sends visible beams into this blue, which seems almost iridescent. The water is so clear that you can't really gauge how far down you're looking; you don't know what to look at, because it's all just there, deep, and bright, and beautiful. When we do deployments you realize that that indescribable depth to the color is in fact due to the depth of the water; anything that we put below the surface becomes a brilliant shade of turquoise. This turquoise isn't at all teal-y, nor is it aquamarine. It is genuinely the most pure blue turquoise I can think of, an unreal color that might look fake if you depicted it in a painting as how it actually appears. Now look up and out. It's still sunny but your perspective has changed. Now you see the surface waves, ripples of movement and color that are never still. We see our first hints of shadowed blue and within it just barely perceptible a ghost of purple. Farther out we reach the dark line of the horizon, also never quite perfect because if you stare hard enough you'll see the minute undulations of the persistent ocean swells breaking up even that apparently rigid constant.Here we meet the sky. At the horizon it is usually hidden in a low band of clouds, their bases out of reach below our line of sight, their tops billowing into evolving shapes over the light, almost hazy, low sky blue, like a light blue garden flower. Up the gradient we go into darker blue. A sky blue, not so different from a clear day at home, just brighter. The sun burns high here, and the light seems to come from all around, reflecting off the sea, off our deckhouses, off each other. The sky glows, we glow, and we squint, sometimes even through our sunglasses.But now let's dampen that light and bring the clouds over to us. They've built up and surrounded us with fantastical shapes and then cover the sky. We have a reprieve from the sun's attack and instantly everything changes. That imperceptible purple I mentioned now feels more tangible as the deep bright blue begins to feel as though inside it holds some lavender. The waves become a bit more steely and the chop has an element of grey. It's nothing compared to the dark grey curtain that approaches us now, however. Down out of the moody navy-grey bottom of a fast approaching cloud streaks the rain that forms a seemingly solid mass. As it comes near you can see that the line where the curtain meets the water has gone hazy, it has lightened, and then you can hear it coming, whooshing over you and enveloping you in white noise and water. Now you're in a painting. That surface haze softens the edges of everything and the stark saturated colors of tropical sun are reduced to gradients of blues and greys, of slates and steels. And then it's over. Contrast is back and now we can see all those blues at once. The squall is receding with its moody and menacing presence, the myriad kinds and shapes of clouds paint the sky once more. They are gradients upon gradients, reflecting the warm colors of the sun while retaining their cool blue-grey depths all upon that bright background sky. And the water, again, goes back to being tantalizing. It hints at its depths and invites you in. It sparkles and shimmers and dances with shades and hues and impossible things. You can notice all these things but describing them is a whole other matter. And what about representing them in art? Trying to paint them?This was just one, rather clunky attempt, at trying to describe one range of magical colors that is dominant from our little boat world in this big big ocean. At sunrise and sunset we get a brief new palette that brings us out to deck for sunrise and sunset appreciation time, extra special as the brief daylight moments when the sun is a joy rather than a struggle.Post-script: As a final and color-unrelated aside, a few hours before we made the time change official yesterday, we made the actual dateline crossing - and it wasn't just any dateline crossing. You may have noticed in the last blog post, by my fellow Dutchman Sil, that the latitude and longitude he recorded were rather special: all zeroes. What this means is that we crossed the dateline at the equator. This is a singular point on the globe and makes us all part of a very small group of people who can call themselves Golden Shellbacks. You probably remember the term shellback from previous posts - it's what you become once you have crossed the equator. Golden comes from the term for someone who has crossed the dateline, at any point - Golden Dragon. But only at this one specific point can you combine the qualifiers and become a Golden Shellback. Personally, it feels rather special to have had the chance to make this particular crossing, and with this really wonderful group of shipmates.

That bright blue ocean from my bunk on a sunny day

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  1. Nelique Brons July 31, 2023 at 22:02 - Reply

    What a treat to read the blogs from everybody and now one from you, Hannah. We’ve been on the look-out! We’ve gotten such a wonderful peek into what life on board is like for all of you. So many different and interesting aspects to learn about and contemplate.

    I love shades of blue in nature, as you know, and now I have a new perspective still. As always, the more we look/learn/pay attention/ observe, the more we realize there is so much more to learn and discover. I love the picture of the blue copepods. Amazing. At first I assumed it was a piece of art, and in a way it is.

    I wish you all “Fair Winds and Following Seas” and a happy last few days on board of the SSV Robert C. Seamans together. Goede vaart en tot gauw! Liefs, Mama

    P.S. Alles goed hier in AK en NL

  2. Maya Gabelberger August 6, 2023 at 18:25 - Reply

    I’m with Nelique – I LOVE blues and also your picture out the window is STUNNING! Thank you also for sharing the all zeros and the meaning of this and the “Golden Shellback” – wow! Wie cool ist das, bitte?! (German here, but I can read the NLish – sounds like Bavarian to me, LOL, ask Julius). And how strange to miss a day… really strange. I love where you are with this – “a bit of an extra reminder of time passing, our physical place on the globe, and how things shift and are transient.”

    I do want to say that your descriptions in words of colors are amazing “gradients of blues and greys, of slates and steels. And then it’s over. Contrast is back and now we can see all those blues at once. The squall is receding with its moody and menacing presence, the myriad kinds and shapes of clouds paint the sky once more. They are gradients upon gradients,” – you bring the emotions to the colors but also separate out the emotions from the colors so we can see/feel them. Thank you!!

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