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 eighteenth 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 11, 2009)—The lab breakdown is nearly complete, the boxes are packed, the cruise report nearly done. Almost there!

The weather has been so good that we have made unusually excellent time. Consequently, we have had to slow down the ship for the remainder of the transit, so that we arrive on schedule for docking. Know how it is when you arrive by airplane before schedule? You are all excited about being early, for once, and then you sit on the tarmac and cool your heels while the scheduled gate clears.

Same occurs here. Our port call is arranged ahead of time, and that is that. But this is okay—a slower ship in calm waters is a steady ship, and many of us are sleeping well, thanks to that. However, it does make it more difficult for those of us less skilled at table tennis to make excuses for our poor performances—a rolling ship is an easy explanation for the likes of me and many others....

In just a couple of hours, the captain will be giving tours of the bridge. I'm particularly keen on this, as navigation and instrumentation are one of my passions. I should note that this is the first time in seven research cruises that I have been given a guided tour of the ship by the professionals themselves. I am grateful to the captain and crew for this remarkable opportunity.

This evening we have our science coordination meeting, where we discuss priorities and plans for analyzing the samples back in our labs. There will be much to do; it is both exhausting and exhilarating to think about what needs to happen. But with this North Pond team I am confident that we will make rapid strides towards preparation for the ultimate drilling leg with the IODP (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program).

After our science meeting I would anticipate one last gathering of the science party and crew (those who can join us). We have become a close group of friends over the course of this cruise. When we first came on board many of us had never met, even among the science party, not to mention the ship crew. Two posters were prepared with names and positions for everyone; the posters have hung in the hanger, our main gathering place, for the past month.

At the start, the posters were incredibly valuable in helping us to learn names and faces. But now we are well acquainted, well enough that there has been a distinct evolution of this board, and we have all been... decorated—in rather amusing ways.

I include examples of the most recent evolution of our photos (above and left). I have a feeling, though, that by tomorrow this will change yet again.

Photos courtesy Katrina Edwards/USC