State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


A Day in the Life at Sea

people sitting at tables
3AM is a popular time for a coffee break in the galley of the R/V JOIDES Resolution. Photo: Jenny Middleton/LDEO

By Jennifer Middleton

Two months at sea, collecting drill cores in the stormiest ocean on the planet, can feel both extremely epic and fairly routine. Ideally, when the weather behaves, each day is spent doing the same thing as the day before — recovering, cataloguing, and studying exciting new climate records from the bottom of the ocean. So, what is it actually like on a daily basis to work on the JOIDES Resolution in the winter Southern Ocean?

As a member of the science party night shift, a regular day in my life on Expedition 383 usually goes like this:

23:15 – Time to wake up! My bunkmate and I are on opposite shifts, so I have the cabin completely to myself while she’s on duty. This is good news for both of us as I regularly snooze the alarm many times before actually getting up.

23:35 – Breakfast. The galley has prepared eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, pancakes, as well as a complete dinner meal for those about to end their shift. Toast, cereal, and fruit are also available, for those of us who are still half asleep.

23:45 – Stratigraphic correlator cross-over meeting. Christina Ravelo, the day shift stratigraphic correlator, updates me on the day’s progress, including how far we’ve drilled since noon, which drilling gaps to watch out for, our current splice and site report status, and possible strategies for the next 12 hours.

00:00 – My shift officially begins. See our earlier post for the ins and outs of wiggle wrangling on the JR. Generally, work continues for the next 12 hours, with a few interruptions…

01:00 – Day shift friends visit. In quieter moments, my friends on the day shift come by to chat before they go to bed. Otherwise we won’t see each other until morning!

03:00 – Coffee break. Between cores on deck, the whole night shift descends back to the galley to enjoy a caffeine boost and fresh baked goods. The tables are so packed you’d hardly know it was 3AM!

06:00 – Lunch. The exact timing of lunch varies to ensure we don’t miss any new cores on deck. A few members of the science team and tech crew work 6 to 6 shifts, so new faces start to appear in the core lab around this time.

09:00 – Coffee break II. Technically there’s a second coffee break at this time, yet somehow we always seem to be too busy to enjoy it at this time. Fear not, though, because additional caffeine can always be acquired by slipping up to the bridge deck espresso machine (but you have to bring your own beans!).

10:30 – Sunrise! May/June/July is the darkest time of year in the central south Pacific and we on the JR operate on the time zone of our departure port (Punta Arenas) throughout the expedition. As a result, the timing of sunrise varies from ~10AM to ~1PM. After working 10+ hours in the dark, the first crack of daylight over the ocean is always appreciated.

11:30 – Second stratigraphic correlator cross-over meeting. Now it’s my turn to update Christina on what’s happened during the night. In the relatively shallow waters of our Chilean Margin sites (~3000 feet deep), we might have collected as many as 16 cores (over 400 feet of sediment!) since our last shift change.

11:45 – Science team cross-over meeting. Now the entire science team meets for a broader discussion about exciting discoveries, recent findings, and post-cruise research plans. Our co-chief scientists also take this time to update everyone on the drilling schedule and any ominous weather forecasts.

12:30 – Dinner. With the night shift officially off-duty, we can enjoy a hearty meal without worrying about rushing back to work.

13:00 – Marvel at the ocean. You can often catch members of the night shift bundled up outside on the deck at this time, soaking in precious daylight before they head to bed. Between the clouds, the winds, and the waves, the seascape looks different every single day. On our luckiest days we’re treated to beautiful Southern Ocean rainbows or even a whale!

rainbow over ocean
Rainbows over the Pacific Southern Ocean are not an unusual site for members of IODP Expedition 383. Photo: Elisa Malinverno/University of Milano-Biococca

14:00 – Public outreach. Communicating our research to the public is one of the most important parts of being a scientist. The International Ocean Discovery Program supports this endeavor by setting up live video broadcasts between the JR and audiences on shore like you. I really enjoy helping with these live ship tours and answering questions about our work as part of this outreach. Check out this sign up page if you’d like to set up a broadcast with future IODP expeditions!

Winckler and Proctor speaking to screen
Co-chief scientist Gisela Winckler (LDEO) and outreach officer Sian Proctor (South Mountain Community College) explain the science goals of Expedition 383 and show off the R/V JOIDES Resolution during a live video broadcast to audiences on shore. Photo: Jenny Middleton/LDEO

15:00 – Gym. Though I rarely work out inside at home, I enjoy the chance to socialize and stretch my legs a bit on one of the treadmills or stationary bikes down in the JR gym. Sometimes we must exercise with caution, though, because it’s hard to run straight when the ship is rocking in high seas!

15:45 – Bedtime. Before crawling into my bunk, I secure the loose items in my cabin to prevent them from rolling around (and making a lot of noise) in case the weather changes and the ship motion picks up in the night. Then it’s finally time to sleep before starting all over again tomorrow.

Though the days can be long and tiring, it’s totally worth it to be able to obtain new information about the role of the Southern Ocean in global climate variations of the past — and future!

Jennifer Middleton is a Lamont Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Follow her on Twitter.  

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments