Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Respite

While most of our time at sea is spent working, sleeping, or eating (see “Battle of the Bulge” post from a few days ago), there can be significant free time when stations are spaced far apart. That is the case now as we are on a six-hour steam west. Some people are catching up on work, be it calculations, sample processing, or instrument maintenance. Others are napping or watching TV (currently showing a bizarre foods show via satellite...sauerkraut pie anyone? ).

But this is also a time to enjoy the sea and sky. Today the weather is nearly perfect: warm and sunny with little breeze and there are low puffy clouds in the sky. We are far enough away from the coast that the water is blue, as one classically thinks of the sea. But along this coast one also finds brown water, laden with suspended sediments from the river. And, between the brown and the blue, there is green water, colored by the microscopic plants that thrive on the nutrients from the river, but which need to wait for the brown sediments to settle out and allow life-giving light to penetrate the water. It is the plant productivity of these green waters that provides organic matter (i.e., “food”) to bottom waters on the shelf, thereby increasing respiration and driving the oxygen depletion that is problem here during the spring and summer.

One thing that is in short supply aboard ship is silence, or even quiet. The ship is essentially a big diesel power plant, so it is noisy most everywhere. On the Pelican, you can find relative quiet on the bridge as well as outside on the bow or forward areas of the fo’c’sle or 01 deck (the deck above the main deck). The only time I’ve come across silence at sea was accidentally. Several of us were on a zodiac in the North Atlantic south of Greenland. We had headed away from our noisy research ship in order to collect uncontaminated water samples when the outboard motor on the zodiac quit. Suddenly we were silent, rolling on five-foot ocean swell. We were not actually in any danger, so this was a rare and sublime chance to enjoy the sea estranged from human sound.

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