Editor's Note: University of Southern California geobiologist Katrina Edwards is taking part in a three-week drilling project at the Atlantic's North Pond—a sediment-filled valley on the ocean floor—designed to locate and study what she calls the “intraterrestrials”: the myriad microbial life-forms living inside Earth's crust. This is her seventeenth blog post. To track her research ship's current position, click here. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in North Pond."

STEAMING TOWARD DAKAR, SENEGAL (March 9, 2009)—Yet another birthday among our science party today! We toasted Nina Knab, a postdoctoral researcher in my group, at midnight last night before turning in for the day. When you do seagoing research, it is inevitable that you will be at sea [during] some "event"—birthdays, holidays, elections, etcetera. This leads to inevitable storytelling among shipmates about "that Thanksgiving when..." or "that birthday when...." Ah, life at sea.

There is an amazing rustle of excitement in the air about the data collected thus far on this cruise—nobody thought we'd be able to make the type of interpretations of the North Pond system that are beginning to emerge—thanks to our hardworking chemical team and some apparent luck in where we happened to core. The evidence for fluid-flow is in the bag—not that we are surprised to see fluid-flow, but it is surprising and amazing to start to understand the whole picture, that great circulatory system that chills the crust of the ocean. The only thing I could want more is to have our microbiology data already collected and analyzed. Patience and time....

Yesterday we had the opportunity to participate in the ship's engine room tour. We got to see where most of the major ship systems are and learned about the basic functioning of this great ship—I have a far better appreciation for her than before! We also got to hear firsthand stories and see photos of the Merian in the ice, which I particularly enjoyed. She is not technically an icebreaker, but she has many of the common features necessary to be an icebreaker, like a sturdy haul structure, for example.

Another really amazing aspect of this ship is that it is designed to be an environmentally "clean" ship. I have never been on a clean ship before and I was really excited to hear how successfully they have implemented clean systems—it is a testament to what can be done with foresight and planning.

"What is 'clean'?" you might ask. Well, there is far too much to go into here, but I will provide a few examples: The really surprising one to me is the fact that the ship has a wastewater treatment plant right on board. They do not dump any waste products or garbage from this ship—period. They do very little burning of waste either, which is common practice for dealing with almost all dry waste on ships I've been on. They recycle sewage water for use in the clean water septic system. They make and store all of their fresh, clean water here on board. The Merian's carbon emissions are remarkably low for this class of vessel. And on and on…. Pretty amazing—something I hope that we can implement in new ships in the U.S. sometime soon!

Photo of the service counter of the Merian's mess hall, courtesy Katrina Edwards/USC