35 Sunsets Later: Closing thoughts

After 35 days at sea (replaying the following video 35 times will give you a rough idea), we thought we would ask each member of the scientific team what their experience was like, rather than write a one-sided view of an individual’s experience.

From the cruise members who were awake enough to answer after finishing a month of  12-hour shifts aboard a rocking ship, we got a wide variety of responses to the questions asked below:

What motivated you to join the cruise? 

“I felt it was important for bacteria to be represented in an ecosystem assessment, which is what this cruise had developed into. It was really focussed on the chemistry and physical oceanography, and with the addition of biologists, my role is to make sure bacteria are represented in that assessment, because they are the interface between the chemistry of the ocean and other organisms. So it’s nice to be there at the beginning, not after the fact, after they’ve assessed upper trophic levels and done the water so I can go ‘what comes in between?’”-Linda Rhodes

“My team had data from before, from where we work in the Baltic and the Atlantic Oceans, and it’s nice to be able to compare that to Pacific data. It’s also nice to once in awhile work in a different area. You get to be fed up with your own system, in the end.” –Jonna Engström-Öst

“[On a cruise like this], I feel like you’re a part of something bigger. Like we’re each doing our own little portion of science that’s going to combine into a bigger, awesome picture. It feels cool to be a part of that.” –Erin Cuyler

What is your best cruise memory?

Clearly, I did not win this round. Photo Credit: Melissa Ward

“Given the patchy internet and round the clock time we spend together, it felt a bit like a very intense summer camp (the meals in the mess hall, movie night, late night candy binges, etc). Bingo night (Thursdays at 19:30), was always a welcomed break. But on our third weekly bingo night, the seas were quite rough. Of course, Bingo must go on, so about 10 of us sat down to play. It turned into quite a long set of bingo games, because if someone didn’t win quick enough, the ship would take a dive, and the pennies on everyone’s game boards would go flying off if you didn’t catch them in time.” –Melissa Ward

Just the privilege of being out on the ocean, and being able to see all the critters, from the tiny ones to the big ones, and just breathing the air, and the peace of being out here.” –Linda Rhodes

On the first leg of the cruise, the stations were a lot further apart, and so we had a little more free time. Emma had Bananagrams, so we played Bananagrams a lot. I remember we played on the Ping Pong table–there were like six of us all around. It was just really exciting, and then we realized that the surface of the Ping Pong table was actually rubbing off on the letters, so they all had this little film of black paint on them.” –Katie Douglas

NOAA Ship Ronald Brown entering the mouth of the Columbia River. Photo Credit: Meghan Shea
NOAA Ship Ronald Brown entering the mouth of the Columbia River. Photo Credit: Meghan Shea

“The stations at the Columbia River blew me away. I’m an open-ocean oceanographer and I have very stark opinions about how the ocean chemistry should be, and those stations shattered my mind. The low salinity, the organic gunk, our sensors were going crazy. It was a mess. But a fun mess, and I loved it. I gained a lot of respect for coastal oceanographers.” –Brendan Carter

A whale, dolphin, and small flock of birds share the early morning ocean. Photo credit: Olivier Glippa
A whale, dolphin, and small flock of birds share the early morning ocean. Photo credit: Olivier Glippa

“The nature bonanza. That involved no less than half a dozen whales, two pods of pacific white-sided dolphins, and a couple seals rubbing their bellies.” –Remy Okazaki

“Remy and Kevin’s dance off–that was a highlight for me. They had a dance off in the middle of the night.” –Anna McLaskey

“The sense of shared purpose that I experienced every day on the cruise.  Getting to work with so many scientists, as well as the ship’s officers and crew, each bringing different skills and perspectives to bear on a common research interest was both rewarding and fun!” –Simone Alin

“Well, partly everything we saw in the sea, and in our samples, but also all the people have been so nice and kind. It’s amazing that this is such a nice bunch of people. It’s been really great”-Jonna Engström-Öst

Is there anything that  you wish you had done while aboard, but didn’t do?

“About four times now I’ve announced that I’m going to watch a movie. But even when I’m done with my own work, I’ve felt this weird obligation to do other work. So I keep walking up and staring at the TV wistfully, and then going on to do other work. Mark my words, though, after the last station I am going to watch a movie.” –Brendan Carter

Well, I just did my laundry, and I’ve been wishing to do that for a while” –Kevin Johnson

Go up on to the crow’s nest? I would love to go up there. I thought about asking, but they probably wouldn’t let me.” –Erin Cuyler

Anna McLaskey empties a vertical net full of salps. Photo Credit: Meghan Shea
Anna McLaskey empties a vertical net full of salps. Photo Credit: Meghan Shea

“I definitely wish I had gotten more samples, but I probably would have said that no matter how many samples I got.” –Anna McLaskey

“I wish that I had had time to walk around to everybody to see what they were studying, like peer through the microscope and really learn what they were studying” –Cathy Cosca

Was this expedition unique, or different to others you’ve been on?

“We brought chemists and physicists and biologists together, to explore together what the environmental changes were, and how they related to the ecosystems. And what we found was that because of the nature of the environmental changes over the past year or two, we were seeing much more significant changes in the biology and chemistry than I had anticipated.” –Richard Feely

“This one is coastal, so there’s a large shift in the workflow. I’m used to very steady returns of samples, no long transits. It also means the samples are much more variable. It’s also the first time I’ve been in an estuarine environment. And I’ve never been on a cruise with so many biologists. It’s great, I’m learning so much and seeing so many cool critters.” –Brendan Carter

“I have never been on cruises with chemical and physical oceanographers, it’s always been more biology-oriented, so this is good for me, when we’re standing around Niskin bottles, talking to chemists to understand their perspective, because it’s not one I would have gotten just by reading papers or guessing why they care about what they care about.” –Linda Rhodes

Why do you feel these cruises are important to broader society?

“I feel like climate change is going to be one of the greatest challenges of our generation. And the first steps to any actions that we take to either respond to or predict climate change are to understand the current system and to understand how that’s evolving. There have been ongoing programs since the 90’s working to understand the chemistry of our oceans. But to my knowledge, this is one of the best, most detailed efforts to monitor changes in coastal chemistry as opposed to ocean chemistry, which is difficult because coastal chemistry is way more dynamic.  So I think going forward, the projects that this cruise is producing are going to be hugely important for understanding the effects of climate change.” –Brendan Carter

“We are presently conducting the biggest experiment in human history on our global atmosphere, ocean, and terrestrial ecosystems.  Without the sorts of integrated environmental and ecological observations in the ocean that we are making on this cruise, we will not really know what effects human activities are having on marine ecosystems.  We critically need this in situ information to effectively understand what is changing and why, to validate models and improve future predictions, and to understand how the sensitivity of various organisms we’ve learned about from experiments translates to ecosystem-level impacts.” –Simone Alin

“Remote technologies are wonderful for being able to cover large areas and being able to provide a lot of coverage, but you do have to be on-location in order to validate what you think those remote technologies are observing, and I think humans observe things that are not necessarily inferred if you’re sitting at a keyboard in Kansas or some other place, managing a satellite or something. So the ability of a human mind to observe and integrate and infer–it’s really important to have that on the water periodically.” –Linda Rhodes

Particularly on this cruise that we repeat every couple of years, it’s important to document what’s happening now and look back and see how things have changed over time; getting a good-quality time series is very important, to know what’s going on today, and also for leaving behind a record for scientists to come. I take a lot of satisfaction in being the data person, documenting quality data and metadata in ways that it can be used in the future.” –Cathy Cosca

“It increases awareness. I think we have an incredible lack of awareness about the kinds of problems we face in the future. It’s not really lack of awareness, it’s a denial. The more we can put the message out there that this is real, and we have to deal with it, or our children will not be very happy with us.” –Bill Nilsson

We hope you’ve both enjoyed and learned from our 35 sunsets as much as we have. Tune in when we ship out again in a few years!


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