Cruising the Pacific 2016: Prep & Pre-cruise Impressions

by Saskia Kowallik

Less than half a year ago, I had absolutely no idea I would be spending three weeks at sea this summer. Now, it is only a few days before I will be aboard the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier collecting surface sea water samples and processing them as part of the Fukushima InFORM project. In doing so, I am continuing the work of two other undergraduates who have been part of the monitoring efforts – Laura and Kathryn.

I will be on the ship for the first leg of its journey until the third week of July, across the Northeast Pacific, to Dutch Harbour, and then continuing up through the Bering and Chukchi Seas before disembarking in Barrow, Alaska. On the way, I will be taking 60 L surface sea water samples and filtering them through resin columns that serve to remove cesium from the water. These columns will then be shipped to the laboratory for radionuclide analysis with a gamma spectrometer, and the results will help with the understanding of the distribution of radionuclides from Fukushima.

Leading up to the research cruise, I have been working with Sue Reynolds, who processes the coastal science citizen samples, and becoming familiar with the systems used to process them.

Despite interacting with the project in this way, the reality of what I will be doing and where I will be for most of July did not really hit me until I had the chance to see the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, less than two weeks before departure.  I was also given a mini-tour of the ship, which really helped me imagine what life on board will be like! When I went back two days before we set sail, to set up the equipment in the lab on board, I got thrown right into “ship life”: apparently we had poor timing, and were on the ship just as the crew had begun an emergency drill. The end result of this was me – clearly clueless, compared to the seasoned crew – struggling with an immersion suit on the deck. Luckily, the crew was very kind about my getting in the way!

Needless to say, I am looking forward to the opportunity to experience life on the ship and to witnessing 24-hour daylight for the first time as we head up North, into the Arctic Circle. Hopefully, I will see a polar bear and some whales or other wildlife. I’ve been told being part of a research cruise is hard work, and especially challenging when the seas get rough, but also incredibly wonderful and beautiful.  From my brief experience meeting the crew, I can also say the people are very kind and work incredibly well as a team. At the end of the day, I am sure it will be an unforgettable experience!

Other posts from Cruising the Pacific 2016: Mid-Cruise, Reflection


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