Dry on the water, wet in the lab

The Greenpeace boat Esperanza left on Sunday afternoon and with it also several really nice people. Many of the crew members on board are volunteers from all over the world that often quit their job or take a long absence leave in order to come on board for several months and take part of something bigger than themselves. They invited us for a farewell party that included spontaneous blues jamming and improvised singing by everyone present about ocean acidification. Their help in the experiment is indisputable and it would have been very difficult to do such a large scale study in this remote location without their logistic support. We will see them again in July for when they come to pick up our instruments once the experiment is finished. Most of our samples need to be stored constantly at very low temperatures and occupy a lot of space. Therefore they cannot be transported by air and their distribution to the different institutes in Europe for analysis is difficult. In addition most of the equipment we brought here arrived in heavy chunky boxes.

As far as the mesocosm experiment goes, we are all very happy that it is finally on its way. We already have several days’ worth of samples and CO2 enrichment has been performed and more will be added soon. Sampling also takes less time now as everyone knows the job and each person on the boat knows what his task is once we attach ourselves to the mesocosms. The initial water volume requirements of people have also changed and this allows a bit more flexibility in regards to the sampling shifts that take place in the morning and afternoon.

The weather has also improved. The surrounding ice melts in an incredible speed and we can see it disappearing in front of our eyes on a daily bases. The wind has also stopped, allowing to the fjords water to become crystal clear, completely flat, making it look like a lake made up by mercury.  These conditions off course mean that we only get a few splashes of cold water from the engine of the zodiac and get slightly wet from lowering the integrated depth samplers into the mesocosms. To my surprise this is not the case in the big “filtration factory” where I am working most of the time once we return from the fjord. When filtering water through different pumps and complicated ramified tubing systems it is almost impossible to prevent leakage. Sometimes due to the pressure of the pumped water some of the tubes give up and water sprays everywhere. As a result you end up with wet socks until you have finished your filtration and have time to return to your room to change. Having said that we hardly had any such incidents today and generally speaking the pumps have been behaving extremely well recently.

Finally something astonishing happened the other night. On my way to my room a little after midnight someone said that there were whales just outside the harbour. I quickly ran to the harbour and was able to spot between 10 and 15 white whales only 50 metres away. They were calmly swimming on the surface for several minutes and then they suddenly disappeared. I waited 10 more minutes to see if they surface again and then decided to retire for some sleep. On the way back just when I was approaching my hut I took one last glimpse towards the not so distant shore. I saw the whales again swimming at the surface, this time between our mesocosms. I guess they too were interested in ocean acidification. Personally speaking if someone is to promise me such an encounter every night I will be happy to wear wet socks from now and till the end of the experiment.

Jozef.

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