Cruising Big Blue ’17: I Need to Explore

InFORM undergrad research assisitant, Annaliese Meyer at her bench on the Laurier.

by Annaliese Meyer

One snowy, early morning in January of this year, I was sitting in a first-year Earth and Oceans Sciences class, clinging to my coffee cup for dear life. My professor, Dr. John Dower, then began saying something that completely dispelled any need for caffeine: he was describing the opportunities for undergraduates on research cruises. Wow, I thought, this is something I absolutely need to explore. I had never before considered that I might be able to go out to sea during my undergrad, but the possibility was suddenly real.

A couple turns of fate, several final exams and some months later, here I am preparing to embark upon the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier as it traverses the Northeast Pacific from Ogden Point to Dutch Harbour and then onto Barrow, Alaska. As part of the Fukushima InFORM project, I will be collecting 60 L surface seawater samples and processing them using a specialized resin that adheres to radiocesium. These columns will be analyzed for radiocesium content using a gamma ray spectrometer. My sampling will be following the efforts of Saskia, Laura, and Kathryn who performed this sampling in previous summers. This collection of samples will give us a better comprehension of the movement and distribution of radionuclides in the Pacific from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident.

Laurier track-01
The planned cruise aboard the Laurier.

The first time I saw the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier I was entirely unprepared for the sight. It was several months ago, and I had only recently found out that I would be participating in this cruise. Walking past Ogden Point where the ship was moored, I was entirely floored by the size and majesty of her. As I began my training, my excitement only grew.

Over the last two months, training has included familiarization with the operations of the class 100 clean lab at the University of Victoria campus, and extensive work with Sue Reynolds, filtering and processing the samples collected by citizen scientists up the west coast of Canada. These samples are processed in a similar manner to those I will be taking on the ship, and originate from many different communities, including Sandspit, Vancouver, and Victoria. Between muffled airlock battles (or at least, passionate debates) on who gets to wear the flowered Crocs in the clean room, and long hours spent reading papers and deciphering numerical models to the score from the Lord of the Rings, the time has passed rapidly.


Welcome aboard!

Tomorrow, I’ll get to take my first steps on board and set up my filtering apparatus in the lab. On July 3rd, we will set out for Dutch Harbour and arrive there in about four days. Upon arrival, we will pick up the rest of the scientific crew. The majority of my sampling will occur in the 4-day stretch between Ogden Point and Dutch Harbour, with a quarter of the samples taken in the Bering Sea as we trundle on to Barrow. I’ve spoken with Saskia to glean some insight on ship life from the perspective of an InFORM student scientist, and her anecdotes have bolstered my excitement even more. From everyone I have spoken to, the common themes in regards to ship life have been:

  • The food is fantastic.
  • You will probably get seasick. That’s alright, it happens to everyone… and Dramamine may be your best friend.

Most importantly:

  • Everyone on the ship is incredibly passionate, professional and welcoming.

Those notes, coupled with quite a taste for adventure, have left me incredibly eager to get on board and start this amazing journey. I will be sending updates as frequently as possible, but will lose communications a few days into the journey.

I have packed a laptop, a notebook, a camera, and an inordinate number of fleeces: I am entirely ready to set off.

Editors note: The Laurier departed on schedule and as of midday July 4th, is west of Tofino, Vancouver Island, steaming at just over 9 knots heading 292 WNW. Forecast is for 1-2 m seas and winds 15-25 knots for the coming 4 days. Sounds like a lovely cruise.

Annaliese Meyer is aboard the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier as part of InFORM’s annual summer oceanic monitoring program. The ship left Victoria, BC on July 3rd and arrived in Barrow on July 23rd. Read her other posts: Out of Sight of Land, Mostly Regarding Food, The Life Aquatic, Caffeine and Bittersweet Farewells


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