When Doing Science at Sea, Prepare to Adapt
By Bridgit Boulahanis
My first official day as Sentry coordinator started with a 6 a.m. gathering on deck to watch the R/V Atlantis slide away from our dock at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Clutching my thermos of coffee, I stumbled onto the main deck to find Chief Scientist Adam Skarke looking alert enough to suggest he’d been up for hours.
“Everyone,” he called to the gathered crew of young scientists, “our departure is being delayed due to fog. We are now scheduled to leave port at 10:30 a.m.” The deck was smothered by mist, rendering it impossible for us to even successfully wave goodbye to the on-shore team who had gathered to see us off.
Adam’s announcement is met with a fair amount of concern from most of the scientists on board. We are an eager bunch, with a full schedule of data collection booked 24 hours a day once we arrive at our first science station. Skarke is in training too, but as chief scientist, he understands the need to keep his team inspired. After assuring us that most of our sampling plans should not be significantly hindered, he reminded us of what will likely be our motto in the coming days: “Science at sea requires constant adaptation.”
Adam’s words rang particularly true—later in the morning, I sat with him and the Sentry engineers reevaluating the dive we planned for the night. We would be arriving on station only two hours later than scheduled, but that still meant we would need to make cuts in our mapping plan, according to Carl Kaiser (Sentry expedition leader) and Zac Berkowtiz (Sentry expedition leader-in-training), from their command center in the Hydrolab. Together we discussed options: We could make a smaller map, we could allow larger gaps in our high resolution photos of the seafloor, or we could change the shape of our survey altogether. In the end, we decided to keep our large map and high-resolution data, but we will have to take photos over a smaller region of seafloor.
Hours later, after leaving a finally sunny Woods Hole port and conducting several safety drills, the scientists on board were once again busily planning missions and creating data collection spreadsheets. We gathered in the ship’s library and shared our mission plans for the coming days, and then at 9:50 p.m., we completed our first launch of Sentry. Barring any new “opportunities for adaptation,” she will return to the surface at 6 a.m. on Day 2 with the data we requested. For now, we have to keep our fingers crossed and wait.
Bridgit Boulahanis is a marine geophysics graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research utilizes multichannel seismic reflection and refraction studies as well as multibeam mapping data to explore Mid-Ocean Ridge dynamics, submarine volcanic eruptions, and how oceanic crustal accretion changes through time. Read more about the training cruise in her first post.