While I have spent a lot of time on the ocean – working on boats, doing research, and just playing – this is by far the largest ship I’ve worked on, and the research that is being done in this environment far outweighs in sheer size the work that I’ve done in the past. During my time at the Five Finger Lighthouse my crew ran a boat small enough to be carried up the intertidal and onto shore as needed. The ship that I’m sailing on today can break through ice thicker than the R/V Noble Steed was long. To stand next to the R/V Araon as she basks proudly in the center of the frozen Ross Sea…? Well, it gives one a new sense of maritime dimension.
However, no matter how many metaphors I write, examples I give, or how many sentences I write, there is no good way to express just how vast this part of the world is (remember it took weeks to get here). Just when I thought I was beginning to understand the immensity of my situation I was privileged enough to go on a helicopter ride with Senior Pilot Ricky Park. The view of the Araon from above made this daunting ship look like a toy compared to the Antarctic landscape, and that was from just a few thousand feet.
The oceanographic work we are conducting is accordingly scaled up. We are deploying moorings a half a kilometer long, recovering instruments from 1000 m down (that’s 3300 feet!), and we are collecting sea water with a rosette larger than the ship elevator (not to mention that the ship has an elevator). Our instruments have been soaking, listening, for a year now. We are hoping to get them back. The data these instruments collect is from an environment even less hospitable than the one I see out my porthole windows. But that pictures will be painted best with sound, not pictures, and for that we’ll have to wait.
Your Antarctic Correspondent,