Editor's Note: Peggy Delaney is sailing on a newly refurbished research vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, that left Honolulu on March 10 with an international group of researchers on board. The ship, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, conducts scientific investigations beneath the seafloor by drilling the ocean floor and retrieving long “cores” of mud for testing and data collection. This is her thirteenth blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."
SOMEWHERE IN THE MID-PACIFIC (April 29, 2009)—We are underway toward Hawaii now, with the JOIDES Resolution averaging at least 11 knots. I just stepped outside for a few minutes of my 3 A.M. break, and I got to thinking about the night sky, the science of the expedition, and life at home.
On an expedition like this one, we spend most of our time on-station—the drill string hanging from the vessel, coring sediments from below the seafloor. While on-station the ship is held stationary relative to the drill hole by the dynamic positioning system, controlling the twelve thrusters arrayed around the ship. The platform is generally most stable at that point. Because we are in operations 24 hours around the clock, the vessel is lit up. The rig floor and derrick are brightly lit, as is everywhere outside. The lights draw squid, often, and make it easy for us to see the marine life in the water at night.
When we are underway, as we are now, the thruster pods are raised, and the ship is moving along through the water—way slower than a car would typically go, but fast for us. We have one light on the derrick and the ship's running lights, but the outside areas are generally dark. When I step outside now, I take a small flashlight to get me to where I want to stand. I then let my eyes dark adapt. We have generally had some clouds each day and night, and some rain. But even with clouds, there are some stars visible. Each time, I am astonished to realize how many there are—and many more as I keep looking and as my eyes adjust to the darkness. The shape and form of the ship become clear to me again, even in the dark, and so the faces and forms of any colleagues who have joined me outside. What a majestic view of the night sky at sea, when we are the only artificial source of light!
This made me think about the science of our expedition. We have described and sampled the last core of the last hole of the last site (U1336B for those keeping score). We are finishing our last write-ups, and we are collaborating on the best summary figures and text we can come up with to convey the value and excitement of what we have found. It is so much like looking at the night sky when I step outside—first thinking that it's all cloudy and not clear at all. Then, as I relax into it and wait, finding that I can see a few stars—Oh, and I can start to link what we geochemists at the different sites have found into a bigger picture. I wait longer outside and I relax more, and I can see even more stars and even the cloudy areas become more distinctly defined as clouds, each distinct and moving. So with the science. As we reach across fatigue and the pangs of homesickness that can be so strong on the return, and the feelings of loss accompanying the end of this expedition, we can find greater and greater meaning in the science of what we have done, and try to capture that in great figures and clear and concise accompanying text.
The sense of loss of the end of the expedition is coupled with the joy and struggle associated with returning home. We all long for it. Many of us face huge changes that have occurred while we were here—illnesses, deaths, children's accomplishments, the need to find a new place to live—with all the mundane elements of life, as well, that have proceeded without us: car repairs and household bills and calls to the bank and all the myriad bits of normal life we have been at a remove from. We have shared much with our shipboard colleagues, making friendships that will endure and some that will not. We have found new reservoirs inside ourselves and in our colleagues, often now like siblings. We leave this behind. These human stories are not captured in the scientific outcomes we produce, but they are a part of our expedition and this very special time.
Captain Alex Simpson instructs safety drill participants on how to operate a life boat ans start the engine, courtesy IODP