6: Science Party

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East Pacific Rise

Organizing cruises basically presents one challenge after another over a period of months, and in the case of this cruise, years due to scheduling changes, as I tried to explain in my first dispatch without sounding too whiny. One of the biggest concerns, and an area over which I have the least control, is the unpredictable dynamic of how the people in the science party relate to each other and face the challenges that arise. The members of my science party are paying for their own travel to spend 3.5 weeks onboard the R/V ATLANTIS, leaving their friends, family, day jobs, personal space, and even things as basic to everyday life as radio, just to try to see if we can collect animals (or rocks) in which they might be interested. They all, of course, expressed interest in having their own Alvin dive, but let's face it, one day in the sub is poor consolation for nearly a month spent unhappy and/or uncomfortable. As a Chief Scientist-to-be I realized that I had no way to be certain that this group of people would function as a cohesive, cooperative team that would work effectively together. Although I know full well that an incredible number of things can go wrong (let's not forget the closure of the Panama Canal), the personal dynamics created by mixing eighteen human beings in a small space are the biggest single unknown variable.

It turns out that I got lucky. My science party has that special cooperative cohesiveness that you can't orchestrate, or predetermine, but that you can only wish to be part of. They make this cruise special. When biological samples have been dealt with for the day, my biologists garner forces and drag a net behind the ship, effectively using the unique opportunity that physically being in the middle of the ocean provides to see what animals live here. They are then simply giddy with the delight of looking at the catch and talking to each other about what's there. The video report we sent the other day about the building of the plankton net and its successful first deployment records the joy of biological discovery.

What's really great for me is that at those all too frequent times when I need to go do something a Chief Scientist has to do, like write tomorrow's dive plan, or give the Bridge launch coordinates in decimal minutes of latitude and longitude, whoever is there at the moment will insist that I go do what I need to do, because they will take care of whatever else needs to be done. I must on occasion look about as exhausted as I usually feel, because sometimes they will just take over when there isn't anything pressing to do, just so I can relax.

I've taken to saying "we" a lot, because doing so emphasizes the collaborative nature of at-sea research. Discovering the Stauromedusae vent field at the first are was a result of: having picked the general dive area based on earthquake acoustic records from 2001 and a remote survey our Marine Techs did during my December 2002 cruise; maps made by Jim and Z; discussions during a science meeting; adjusting the launch target as suggested by Karen; keen observations by Jim, Todd, Stephane and Beth during our two dives there; images from the towed camera, which was operated by a team overnight while I slept; and let's face it, plain good luck. The plankton collections resulted from a net Peter built and operated with the help and guidance of the deck crew of the ATLANTIS, and the scientists who helped pull it in and identified and photographed those tiny animals. Although use of "we" emphasizes the collaborative nature of our work, in the last week I've spent more time standing around with a clipboard than actually doing the science I've looked forward to since I wrote the proposal. When I talk about accomplishments, and blurt out "we", I try to correct myself to credit the people who really did the work. You know what members of my science party say? Those smiling people with whom I am sharing this cruise (who right now, seven minutes after midnight are pulling in the plankton net) tell me that I should just keep saying "we".

During the expedition you may email us questions about our research cruise (expeditions@fieldmuseum.org). Selected emails will be answered on video and the video answers to these questions will be posted periodically on the expeditions@fieldmuseum website.