Cruising the Pacific 2016: Reflection

by Saskia Kowallik

It’s been roughly a week since I have been back on land, and I have (almost) completely adjusted back to the swing of things at home. Unfortunately, some technical difficulties prevented me from sending updates while I was at sea. That, and things got quite busy after we stopped in Dutch Harbour! Having taken and processed 33 of 39 samples in the Pacific, there were only six samples for me to take in the Bering Sea for the InFORM project. That being said, Tadpole challenges were kicked into high gear, and with the Distributed Biological Observatory scientists on board, stations and transects (groups of stations done consecutively, often in a line) began in earnest. I have been sworn to secrecy on the happenings of the Arctic Circle crossing, so although interesting stories did in fact come of that, I am unable to share them.

Looking back on the journey, three main things stand out to me among all the amazing memories and experiences. It was wonderful to be a part of a few different projects while aboard the Laurier, since it allowed for me to gain experiences in a variety of oceanography techniques. As I am still an undergrad, the opportunity to “sample” from different areas and techniques in oceanography was a welcome one, and may help me in my decision of what to pursue for graduate schooling.

Also, the unique sense of family one can only get from suffering through minimal hours of sleep in the company of others meant I was able to get to know some fantastic people, who I hope to stay in touch with for years to come. Since stations happened at GPS locations in the ocean, we could arrive at any given hour. Three in the afternoon or three in the morning? Who knows, both are fair game! Often, there were only a couple of hours between stations: there is nothing like running on one or two hours of intermittent sleep for a few days. It made for some amusing 3am giggles and bonding as we crowded around the rosette to sample. Despite there being so many of us, and despite the lack of sleep that would normally leave people grumpy, somehow everyone made it work and had fun doing it!

Lastly, the landscape and wildlife I was fortunate enough to see will be in my memories forever. Not only did we get the chance to explore Dutch Harbor and go for a stunning hike among the lush green hills and many bald eagles there, we also ended up sailing through sea ice this year. Since there had been none on this leg of the journey in 2015, it was an unexpected surprise. Sailing through sea ice was a unique experience: the ship would ride up on top of an ice floe, and began keeling over to one side before shaking a little bit as it crashed through the ice. Although we did not see any polar bears, the ice floes were a fantastic place for walruses to spend their time, either alone or huddled together with many others. The marine mammal observer on board noted she must have seen about six thousand walruses on this trip! Puffins were also very abundant when we were near land higher north, and they were hilarious to watch in flight, since they appear to lack the aerodynamic grace of other birds. I heard them be referred to as “flying footballs” on more than one occasion, and the description is very apt. For disembarking the ship, we were helicoptered into Barrow, which was an entirely new experience for me and a perfect ending to an incredible three weeks.

Being at sea was, all in all, a wonderful experience that has proven very difficult to summarize in a way that is representative of how much it meant to me. There were many activities – such as daily bingo, movie nights, and cribbage tournaments – to keep everyone occupied during any breaks we did have from science. The food was beyond amazing, thanks to the excellent cooks on board, and the sleeping areas were surprisingly spacious and comfortable. Most importantly, I could not have chosen a better group of people, both crew and scientists, to spend weeks with on an 83m long icebreaker.

Related: Pre-Cruise, Mid-Cruise

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