Hello from the Drake Passage! I’m Rebecca Varney, a PhD candidate in the Kocot lab working on chitons, molluscs with amazing iron-clad teeth. I hope you’ve had a chance to get to know some of our science team and their goals in earlier posts. I want to introduce you to the other people helping to make our scientific dreams a reality. (In my case, helping to dredge up some nice, velvety, clean mud).
I had no idea how many other employees were necessary to our scientific mission, but after prepping the boat for Antarctica, it is easy to see the vital role that each one fills. We have two other teams on board: ECO, and ASC. The ECO crew runs the ship itself: the captain, mates, officers, and able-bodied seamen. The captain and mates allow us to visit the bridge and take in the views from somewhere warm, and they all have many stories of other voyages that have helped pass the transit time. A crew member is always cleaning or fixing, and you can tell that the work is done with pride and affection toward the Palmer herself. I can see why; we have all grown to love this ship.
The ASC team is divided into Marine Laboratory Technicians, Marine Technicians, Information Technology Technicians, Electrical Technicians, and a Marine Project Coordinator to oversee it all. Our two Marine Laboratory Technicians (MLTs) are Diane and Jess. They oversee laboratory supplies, operations, and safety. Some of the science crew got to help them painstakingly count out supplies for each scientific mission (378 Whirl-Paks?!), and we all developed a lot of respect for the organization behind our functional lab spaces (look at all that gear!). Diane and Jess also keep us safe as we handle dangerous chemicals on a moving vessel, help us learn the intricacies of getting our samples safely home, and provide necessary enthusiasm and humor (especially from our “boat grandma” Diane).
Our Marine Technicians (MTs) are Matt, Rich, Gavin, and Colin. They bring all the scientific gear onto the boat (via crane), ensure it is in working order (sometimes a big task!) and will be overseeing the deployment and retrieval of our epibenthic sled, Blake trawl, plankton net, CTD, and yo-yo cam. They also very scientifically tossed some gear off the boat into the ocean, deploying GPS-tracked “drifters” to measure ocean currents (we gave Colin an 8/10 for style). When they aren’t aboard a ship like the Palmer, the MTs fill their time with inspiring exploits. Matt, for example, helps run a non-profit called OceansWide, providing dive/safety training to youth with the goal of empowering students and helping them find productive career paths. Check it out here!
Our Electrical Technicians (ETs), Alex and Sheldon, have been re-wiring equipment since before we got onto the boat. Sheldon has disassembled the GPS a number of times (it was accidentally teleporting us to Africa for a week). Meanwhile, Alex has a ‘yo-yo cam’ in about 50 pieces on his workstation, alongside “switchy mitch”, the yo-yo tester. I am floored by the sheer number of pieces of equipment that these techs know how to fix; it seems a lifetime of work just to learn to build one of them! The ETs’ troubleshooting is vital, and we appreciate them both. Though in complete honesty, I remain wary of Alex due to nerf-gun attacks and a propensity to blast Toto’s “Africa” every time the GPS jumped…
Our IT staff, Matt P. and Andy, coordinate an intricate ballet of sensors that send information upstairs and do all the programming to keep the ship’s data available to all us scientists. They also portion out the satellite internet, which is how this blog is being posted. A parade of scientists came to both of them early on, desperate for advice on minimizing our devices’ background wifi connectivity. We are lucky to have our daily 750 Mb, but it goes fast! Matt P. also helped us run the ship’s on-board 3-D printer for the very important purpose of making Halloween cookie cutters!
Last but certainly not least, our Marine Project Coordinator (MPC) Cindy is simultaneously warm and authoritative. If you pass her office, you may see her casually knitting a delicate shawl while she presses the MTs for precise information about the equipment loading process. I’m convinced that if a fruit fly landed on the bow of the boat, Cindy would know it was here, know its name, and know when it was scheduled to fly off. We have already benefitted a lot from her experience, and I know we will continue to grow more thankful for her firm grasp of all the inner workings of this expedition.
We are fortunate to be surrounded by generous, kind people who are all so invested in helping our science happen. I learn more from ECO & ASC staff every day as they tolerate my endless questions about the ship, the equipment, and the process. Whatever cool invertebrates we get to meet on this voyage will be in large part thanks to them.