Hello dear readers, this blog post is a two-parter! Read in whatever order you like.
Part 1: Visiting Scientist Spotlight≈ Matйo Lйger-Pigout, phD researcher from the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, Marseille, France.
As you probably already know, here on SEA trips we do a lot of science. Our science goals and research in many ways determine our cruise track and our schedule; for example, if we suddenly sail through a huge sargassum raft or windrow, we might purposefully slow down or turn in order to collect as many goodies as we can. Every student has their own or a group oceanographic research project that they work on over the course of the entire semester. But on this trip, we also have another scientist with us working on his own project (well, actually 5 projects)≈Mateo!
Mateo inspecting his sargassum haul from the dip net. See blogs from March 1-3 for more dip net pics!
The journey that led Mateo to be on board with us on this trip began several years ago when our chief scientist Jeff and another SEA colleague were connected with Tierry Thibault of the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.
Thanks to a collaborative conference between Texas A & M and the French consulate to discuss the increase in sargassum around the Atlantic, the two parties who had been separately studying sargassum were able to connect and thus begin a research partnership. Grant funding was jointly acquired to send a researcher from MIO to go on an SEA trip, but then, covid. Finally in 2022, we were able to have a visiting scientist come on board, and Mateo was chosen from his lab team to be the one to come with us!
Mateo began his PhD program this past October, and is part of a larger research group in his lab that is studying the inundation of sargassum on the shores of the tropical North Atlantic since 2011 from an interdisciplinary perspective. There are three main objectives, split into four project areas. The first project has a physical and biochemical focus, using computer models and satellite data to know where sargassum goes and grows.
The second comes from a chemistry and taxonomy angle, thus being focused on differentiating sargassum species. The third project, Mateo’s, has a microbiology and genetics focus≈what is the microbiome of bacteria on sargassum, and what is its impact on the sargassum itself? The fourth project is studying the impacts of nutrients on sargassum from river inputs around the Atlantic versus oceanic upwellings. Mateo, being the sole representative from his lab, therefore has to collect data and sargassum samples for all of the projects, even if it isn’t for his own!
Mateo in the science lab preserving sargassum to take back to his university
While we normally do science stations twice a day, on the days when we are in a location where Mateo also wants to sample, he will begin science earlier in the morning for dip netting and water collection. One challenge that we have come across in our voyage is related to research clearances. Although we can sail through basically any country’s waters we might come across in the Caribbean, we cannot do scientific sampling unless we have been given a research permit for their exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. On top of that, Mateo also needs research clearances, and can only sample where both the ship and he have been permitted. A perfect example of science determining where we go and when!
This trip has been a unique experience for Mateo, as he has never been sailing on a tall ship before or done field work quite like this. He has his near coastal motor boat license back in France, but has only ever sailed on small boats or been windsurfing before now. His hometown is Clermont-Ferrand in central France, but his university home is in Marseille, where he has been for 5 years now. When on land, Mateo enjoys doing triathlons and playing handball, so it has been difficult not being able to play sports and be as active while on the ship (we all get a bit restless!).
Lastly, some highs and lows of the trip: Mateo said that one of the biggest challenges of this trip has been language. Although he has been concerned about wanting to bring back quality samples to his lab, communicating and speaking with others on board has been the biggest hurdle. Mateo wanted to give a shout out and thanks to Will, Sil, Antione, and Gabriella for talking to him in French, and to Jeff and Captain Becca for working with him to balance trip goals and being understanding! Also, he has two main highlights from the trip so far.
One was seeing a raft of sargassum for the first time (!!!), which felt important for his research. The second (which was a highlight for many of us) was when we were all watching a spectacular sunset and someone yelled ⌠dolphins! A pod of dolphins came dashing over to the ship, to play in our bow waves, causing much whooping, hollering, laughing, and nearly tears. As Mateo put it, it was *chef’s kiss*.
Part 2: Some thoughts about time
On the ship, our days are very structured, ruled by the watch schedule. When you’re on watch, you are the watch that is awake, active, and responsible for the safety of the ship for those 6 hours. When you’re off watch, you get 12 hours to eat, sleep, shower, read, socialize, and get other projects done. While the 6-12 schedule may seem that you get more rest than work, depending on the day it may feel like more work than rest!
Our week is three days: day 1, Monday if you will, is morning watch from 0700-1300. 12 hours off. Then on day 2 it’s dawn watch 0100-0700, time off, then evening watch 1900-0100. This part is the toughest, because you have two watches in one day. Day 3 starts with Sunday morning≈no breakfast wake up, you can sleep in at least until watch meeting, and you can enjoy your coffee slowly. This is the day with watch meeting before lunch, then afternoon watch which ends at 1900. Afterwards you go down for dinner and get the whole night off≈thus, this is local apparent Friday! In this routine, you start to think in watches rather than days, and the 3 day cycle feels like a week.
Science team (Jenna, Emily, and Katherine) after completing our second phosphates processing run.
Some tasks that you might do on land at any time of day have specific times on the ship. For instance, there are always two seatings for meals here, and snacks come out of the galley at certain times. Chores happen only after the second seating of breakfast, and you can’t shower after 2100. Class is only ever at 1430, but you might be working on your science report for the day at 0300.
Here are some other things that have particular timing on the ship, that you might not do on land: you need to finish the boat check before the top of the hour so you can relieve the lookout; chlorophyll-a needs to cook for 10-12 hours before we can put the cuvettes in the fluorometer; we time how long we see light attenuating spheroids falling through the water; and we note how long the hydrowire has been on for science deployments.
Time is especially hard to grasp when our surroundings are so often the same, yet different. The ocean and sky are always there, but in varying moods. The chart says we are near Cuba and Mexico, but we haven’t seen land for several days. Time stretches and compresses in incomprehensible ways on the ship, and sometimes I feel like an astrophysicist or Buddhist monk trying to contemplate the how and why. Regardless of how time passes for us and how much time we have here, we can all agree that in the end: it was never nearly enough time.
Jenna Lilly, 2nd assistant scientist, currently on B watch
P.S. Hello family! I love you all very much and look forward to seeing you in April. Hi to Meaghan if you are still following the blog, can’t wait to see you! ? <3