February 28, 2014
Just as Fridays close out the workweek at home, this Friday brings to a close the fifth week of our cruise. In the past five weeks, we have been able to recover an incredible number of samples, filling coolers, crates, and racks with labeled bags, vials, and tubes. The massive number of samples taken is a reflection of the considerable amount of work that each of our team members has put into this cruise. Although our task seemed daunting at first, morale has remained high over the course of the cruise – due to both our excitement about the science and a whole range of morale-boosting activities on board.
With the organizational assistance of Marine Laboratory Technician Amy Westman, few events go uncelebrated on the ship. Under her watch, celebrations are held for any birthdays and holidays that occur during our time here. Along with providing decorations, Amy coordinates with cook Mike Bowen to ensure that delicious treats are ready for every occasion. We’ve had several birthdays, as well as a pink and red-themed Valentine’s Day celebration. A small celebration was also held for “Hump Day,” the midpoint of our 56-day cruise. In addition to celebrations, the creation of a cornhole competition bracket has been initiated, a welcome reprieve from the long working hours maintained while at sea. Each member of the science crew has been working 12-hour shifts for 31 days consecutively, so these small recreational activities relieve the pressures of collecting and processing samples.
Besides the numerous small celebrations, there are many other ways to blow off steam during our off hours. Because of the extended time away from the normal routines of home, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is equipped with gym and exercise facilities, and lounges with comfortable couches, limited wireless internet access and a large collection of books to choose from while on board. In the hours just preceding or following a shift change, shift mates can be found relaxing together or preparing for the busy day ahead.
While the amenities on board are excellent, the outside environment provides the biggest morale boosts of all. While stark, the views from the ship are often spectacular. We wind our way through areas where icebergs tower overhead, grind through thin ice floes, and are greeted by seals and penguins. The comic nature of the first penguin spotted doesn’t diminish, even after the 100th. These small occurrences keep smiles circulating around the labs, even when sampling is frustrating or the ice is blocking our path. Nearly every day brings a new and spectacular view.
In addition to the natural beauties that we have come to expect, Mother Nature will sometimes surprise us. On Wednesday, we had the special treat of experiencing the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights. Like the Northern Lights, the eerie glow of the Aurora Australis is produced through high-energy ions from the Sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. The shimmering, pale streaks of green light hanging in the night sky were met with much appreciation by science crewmembers, marine technicians, engineers and mates alike. Venus and the Milky Way were also clearly visible in Wednesday’s night sky, making the early morning hours truly awe inspiring. With the combined efforts of Amy, Mike and Mother Nature, we are finishing up our fifth week with high spirits indeed.