The Effort Before Science
Planning a scientific cruise, we scientists have high expectations of how the month ahead should be. Little time margin is included for possible fails, and sometimes, a small technical problem can mean that half of the day is lost, and work shifts postponed or even extended.
During the first e-IMPACT oceanographic expedition on board R/V Sarmiento de Gamboa, my first one, filtering water depended on the Niskin rosette. Even though a few bottles came up opened every now and then, all went well, and we were able to filter an enormous amount of seawater through filters of less than 50 mm in diameter, frozen for further analyses in the laboratory.
This time, however, I have been given a different task on board: managing oceanographic equipment such as sediment traps and the underwater visual profiler, while making sure the setup of everything our group is doing on board is working efficiently. Now I can have a close look at the maneuvers performed by the tribulation crew and the Marine Technical Unit, and man, it is a tough job.
These men are problem-solving experts. The cable gets stuck in the winch, and they will climb up to disentangle it so that we can drop an instrument to 1000 m depth. A couple of us need to launch a sediment trap before sunrise, and they will show the mastery of knots, mounting the structure and connecting it altogether.
The crew from Sarmiento de Gamboa deploying the sediment traps
The crew from Sarmiento de Gamboa deploying the rossette sampler
They are physically and mentally forceful, relentless, unstoppable even, giving the first impression that little space is left to emotions. However, these men are true human beings. They like to exchange smiles and ask you how the day has been, sharing their virtues, too. I personally found them to be like family relatives, capable of observation and great comprehension.
One moment in particular left me speechless the other day. I was supposed to guard watch the metaproteomic filtration station, and since the filtration volume is very high, it takes time. The drawback from the number of workhours done started to surface, the mental concentration reached its limit, and the Sun was just right to take a few breaths outside. I lied on the bench with my feet up, closed my eyes and started breathing slowly. Two men approached silently and began to talk with a meditation voice “inhale, exhale, diastolic, systolic, calm down, replenish the body and mind,” and went away. Even though they needed to work and were walking back and forth, they left me space and time.
Without them, we would have no data and our knowledge would not be anywhere near the science known today.
The crew from Sarmiento de Gamboa recovering the sediment traps