What we get up to at sea – a day aboard the RRS James Cook

In the previous blog, I highlighted all the great facilities the RRS James Cook has to offer because I think research expeditions and field work are some of the best aspects of science! And when you love doing this type of work it certainly is rewarding but it’s not an easy task. So I thought I’d take you through what a typical science day looks like. Although I would add that the nature of this work means that the theme of a typical day is: expect the unexpected!

First of all shifts are usually 12h on 12h off so you may have a 4am to 4pm shift or you could be assigned a night owl shift from 4pm to 4am.

Here’s what a 4am one can look like:

• 3:45 – wake up (which when lacking a porthole feels like waking up on a dark winter day)
• 4:00 – in the deck lab for the shift start (via the coffee room is often necessary!)
• 4:00 – 7:00 – This depends on your team onboard:
For everyone: Sampling from the CTD if happens to come on board
Physics team: data monitoring and analysis (data will be processed so that it is available to the public before we even get back to shore!)
Chemistry team: Oxygen and nutrient analysis which involves continuous titration of water samples
• CFC team: on the clock processing of water samples to extract CFCs and SF6. They are constantly running samples due to a slight back log that occurred earlier on in the cruise because of their misbehaving analysis machine (which i ought to mention is named Barbarella)
• 7:20 – 7:50 – Breakfast in the canteen (or dinner for the night owls). A research ship is one of the only places where you can be eating your bowl of shredded wheats next to someone enjoying their Friday night fish and ships!
• 7:50 – 11:30 – And the buzzing continues. Slight changes of schedule on this particular expedition will come from the deployment of Argo floats, safety drills or hopefully if we’re lucky some dolphins or whales passing by. In which case all science stops!
• 11:30 – 12:00 – LUNCH!!!
• 12:00 – 14:00 – Science, Science, Science
. 14:00 – 14: 30 – The perks of working in the middle of the Atlantic is that your coffee break is spent staring at the never ending great big blue. Which if you ask me makes it all extremely worthwhile! Labs are often jamming to a different person’s playlist every day, and you discover some rather odd music tastes. You get an open ocean sunrise and sunset pretty much every day often followed by the #greenflashornogreenflash debate. I’ll believe it when I see one… And finally, you get to experience something which is very rare for most of us nowadays: no continuous phone internet.
• 14:30 – 16: 00 –
 Yep, you guessed it! Some more science at sea. CTDs are coming up and down (to 5000m deep and beyond!). Water is being filtered, salinity is being measured and nutrients are extracted. All this data is capturing what the ocean was like precisely during this period so it is important we get it right was there are no second chances!
• 16:00 – Shift finished! This is when you can start to wind down and you can see my previous blog for more details on what’s available aboard to wind down.
20:00 – 21:00 – Get ready for a well-deserved sleep before it all starts again! I think this ship holds my personal record for the time between which my head hits the pillow and deep sleep. Although some nights I watch and episode of Fawlty Towers before falling asleep.

That’s briefly how a day is structured. The shifts are of course different for various crew members on board (engineers, cooks, officers etc…)

All in all, it is a fantastic but tough experience and I am still enjoying every second of it!

For some fun videos have a look at the twitter account @JC159_24s

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