Falkor: Beginning a Research Career

For new comers to science, it is important that they begin their journey in some particular way. Some may embark on land based science or even pure laboratory work. I have started with something way out of my comfort zone… a research cruise. If you had of told me this time last year that I would be embarking on ship-based science I probably would have laughed and told you that would never happen. But here I am today, on Falkor doing science with Pete Strutton and the science crew from SCRIPPS and SOI.
I was very fortunate to be offered this opportunity by Pete, who at the time had been a supervisor for a mini research assignment in my undergrad unit looking at Marine ecology. He asked if I was graduating at the end of the year and whether an experience at sea is something that I would be interested in to gain some experience doing science in these crazy, unpredictable conditions.
CTD coming up

The CTD with water samples coming up after a 30 hour profile. SOI/Randall Lee

Ample downtime

So far my on-board experience has been wonderful and will certainly be an opportunity which I will never forget. I have met so many interesting people from both the science party and the ship crew. When science is on hold – whether it’s due to foul weather or waiting for the 30 hour CTD deployment – there is always someone around to have a chat, play a game, or watch the odd movie with. I have also learnt that it is possible to survive seasickness, even when it has set in for a few days.

My original expectations of ship-based research consisted of limited down time with insane sleep deprivation, yet the actual experience is totally different. I have been able to get enough sleep to function enough to perform accurate science and there has been a lot more down time than I had expected, which is most likely due to the horrible weather that we have had.

Sam with vegemite

Sam Kelly taking a break to talk science over a Vegemite sandwich. SOI/Danielle Mitchell

Krill caught in the screen Randall Lee is using to look for ocean plastics. SOI/Danielle Mitchell

Picking a research project

This trip has certainly been a learning experience, especially in terms of broadening my interest for investigating biological productivity. Biological productivity is the amount of biomass created in an ecosystem. It’s affected by both phytoplankton photosynthesis (primary productivity) and the zooplankton that feed on them (consumption). This is one aspect that I am hoping to conduct some research myself with a possible focus on zooplankton and their feeding rates over a day/night cycle. I have done some pilot studies looking at zooplankton feeding in the Spring time in Storm Bay, Tasmania and would really like to do a larger scale study in the same area to not only perfect my scientific skills but also broaden my knowledge on zooplankton and their influence on daily biological productivity. I have a strong interest in the lower levels of the food chain because without those tiny creatures many of the bigger charismatic creatures would not exist, and it is likely that humans would struggle to exist without these basis organisms. I think it’s important to study and understand these organisms so that we know their contribution to the ocean and their potential reactions to different climatic events as well as their response to human induced changes.

Pete analyzing chlorophyll fluorescence of phytoplankton in surface water.

Science and ship crew discussing options for deploying research equipment.

– Danielle Mitchell, Falkor

The Tasman Tidal Dissipation Experiment//Supported by the National Science Foundation