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 seventh blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."
SOMEWHERE IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC (April 3, 2009)—This expedition I haven't been counting down the days as I have usually done in the past. I just come to work, do what needs to be done, and go on to the next day. But it's obvious—from e-mail reminders, from people's moods, from my own mood—that "Hump Day" approaches. That day—in this case April 6—is the halfway point for the expedition.
We are 2,390 kilometers (1,485 miles) from the nearest land, Hawaii, at our current site, and I think the next two sites take us even farther away. The expedition will end with an eight-day transit back to Honolulu. I had a friend look this up for me—astronauts orbit at about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Earth, so in many ways we are way farther away from land than they are. We are in nearly five-kilometer (three-mile) water depth, and the beauty and majesty of the ocean are our daily surroundings. That's all the good news.
What does the approach of Hump Day feel like? Like being very far away. We're not in the excitement of starting the expedition. We are not in the excitement of finishing and returning to see family and friends and dry land. Even as we find great stuff at our third site—a five-centimeter- (two-inch-) long piece of limestone containing basalt cobbles with chilled margins and some glassy texture; a six-centimeter- (2.4-inch-) long piece of basalt—we still struggle with all the new science systems and computing infrastructure out here, and each day seems to feature some steps forward, some back, not always adding up to visible progress.
The living/working environment is way more comfortable than on the pre-retrofit JR. But, until you've lived here, it's hard to really picture what living here is like. I compare it to spending your working days in a factory or in a low-rent rehab facility. Things are serviceable. There is an effort to make things pleasant, and the stewards and catering crew really go out of their way to make the environment comfortable. Even so, it's hard to find a truly quiet place. The decks are steel. Sea states have been mild, but the ship really does have some constant motion—you have to adjust for this in walking, in opening and closing the heavy doors, in all daily activities. Although the ship is 500 feet (150 meters) long, the amount of space devoted to the living quarters and the labs is a fraction of that. I travel the same routes, through the same relatively small spaces each day. The chem lab is way more spacious than it was, but still passing by someone else often means a tight squeeze.
So, Hump Day. Tempers grow short. Patience grows thinner. Home seems far away, and I can't decide if the truly modern communication environment makes them seem easier or harder than the old days of truly limited contact.
So, yesterday I created (that is, made up) a fake U.S. holiday called Wear a Fake Tattoo Day. I had bought a number of fake tattoos in Honolulu, remembering them as cheap shipboard entertainment that doesn't take much room or weight to pack. I convinced almost everyone to put them on, and I think I convinced a number of people that there really was a holiday in the U.S. devoted to this. I do think most of them thought, "Well, maybe in California?" So much of what you learn, see and hear at sea on a research vessel seems incredible that there is a long maritime tradition of making up stories—Why not a holiday? One person thought to document the outcome of the day, and there should be pictures or maybe a video of lots of the tattoos. All this from me, someone without any real tattoos or piercings!
Photos of Peggy Delaney courtesy Peggy/IODP