Bitter-sweet Bon Voyage

6 July 2018
Seeing an aerial photo of the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier and reading a blurb about an undergraduate studying chemical oceanography on the university’s homepage was the tipping point that helped me decide to attend UVic for my post-secondary education.
Like most students in grade 12, I had very few ideas of what I actually wanted to do with my life and career, but seeing what the possibilities were inspired me and I promptly enrolled in the Earth and Ocean Science program. Becoming that undergraduate who has the privilege to do scientific research on a cruise seemed like an unrealistic dream – unachievable for an average student like myself. But lo and behold, a little over three and a half years later, I somehow fooled the people in charge to let me participate!
After two months of working on the InFORM project in the lab, the cruise idea seems a bit more normal to me, but I am lucky to be constantly reminded of how much of a privilege this voyage is. Friends and coworkers all have similar humbling reactions when I mention what my summer job is and what part of the world I get to explore – “Wow, that is so cool! Take me with you??” My dad marveled at how I might be the only person in our family who will have crossed the Arctic Circle (before I reminded him that his own father is from Finland). My mom declared that I might be the coolest person she knows because I get to sail with the coast guard. (Sorry to my sister Marina. If you’re reading this, it’s official – I’m cooler than you. Mom said so!!)
Everyone in the EOS department has been so incredibly helpful in preparing me for my trip, especially Dr. Jay Cullen, Sue Velazquez, and Annaliese Meyer. They’ve helped me understand the procedures, both in our UVic lab, with the citizen science samples, and in providing insights to what my life will look like on the ship. From lab techniques to prevent samples from leaking, to the best seasickness meds to have on-hand, to preparing to eat my body weight in decadent fresh-baked pastries; I feel quite ready for what is to come.
Getting ready for departure!

I have stepped foot on the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier three times in the past few weeks. First, to set up the lab equipment with Jay. Second to give my mom and stepdad a tour of where I will be working and living for the next three weeks. Last, to bring my personal belongings to my room. It is a lot more spacious than I was expecting. I found out I will only have a roommate for about half of the time (I thought I would be sharing a room the whole time), and it has a little porthole (I had pictured I would be getting one of the interior, lightless rooms)! So overall, I’m already pleasantly surprised by the experience.

After we set sail tonight at 18:30, we will be having a full tour of the ship and a safety briefing. This will be followed by our first meal as a team. Then we get to work.
The route of the annual CCGS Laurier trip from Victoria, BC to Barrow, AK.

My project involves collecting seawater from what is called the loop sampler. This water runs through the ship  and gives us an accurate representation of the ocean conditions. The seawater is run through a resin which binds to the radiocesium in the water that is left over from the meltdowns of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants in 2011. Once all of the cesium is bound to the resin, I will send the resin to Dr. John Smith‘s lab at DFO’s Bedford Institute of Oceanography where they use gamma spectroscopy to determine how much cesium is at each sample location. These data will become part of the timeseries from the previous undergrads who have taken the same NE Pacific/Arctic cruise to see how the amounts of cesium have changed through time.

Well, all of my lab equipment is set up on board, I have a seasickness-halting medicated patch behind my ear, and I’m about to walk back to the Laurier‘s temporary resting place at Ogden Point where my feet will soon leave solid ground for the last time. I truly wasn’t sure if I would see this day, but here it is, and I’m ready (as I’ll ever be) to set sail!
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