It’s a balmy evening on the R/V Thompson as the full moon rises over a glassy Pacific. Several people join me on the back deck to marvel at the view but moments later they are gone. They are back to the cramped labs or oversized computer monitors that crowd every working space on board. I have quickly realized that an oceanographic cruise is a 24/7 experience, unlike anything I have ever experienced as a scientist. With this group, the excitement never seems to wane and, at any given moment, including the wee hours of the morning, people are completely engaged with the OOI endeavor. Last night, over a dozen people huddled around the monitors as the ROV ROPOS gently placed Evan Solomon’s prototype continuous fluid flow meters on the ocean floor. Moments later, an animated discussion arose as to nature of the white mat that spread over this part of Hydrate Ridge. Kendra Daly was elated when ROPOS scooped up a sample, which looked a lot like an old dish towel. Kendra stayed up until 2:30 AM waiting for the sample to return to the surface so she could get a first look at what turned out to be filamentous bacteria plus phytodetritus (i.e., the marine scientist’s term for what forest ecologists would call leaf litter). All the while, the senior scientists are reworking the dive schedule, poring over data, revising papers, and mentoring the students who are equally engaged with the research on board.
Over the past year, it was suggested, in a respectful sort of way, that a Dean whose college included a world-class oceanography school needed an “at sea” experience to understand oceanography. I’m glad I listened to their advice! I thank the OOI group and the Thompson crew for providing me with a new understanding of why oceanographers relish the chance to go to sea and how this collective endeavor pushes the envelop of discovery and learning.