One of the things I like about my PhD is that it has fieldwork opportunities built into it. There are three research cruises that I’ll be a part of, the first of which I leave for tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it, though a bit daunted at how much work I’m going to have to do. The cruise will focus on the UK and the North Sea, so I will set sail from Liverpool and go out and around Ireland, down through the English Channel, along the European coastline to the Bay of Norway, across the North Sea to the top of Scotland, and then back down to Liverpool. I’m hoping to see some exciting things, find interesting marine animals, and gain a LOT of experience.
The boat I’m travelling on is called the RRS Discovery, which is in fact the third in a line of ships called Discovery. The very first RRS Discovery was the ship that took Captain Scott on his ill-fated expedition to find the South Pole. It’s of course worth noting that the Discovery made it all the way to Antarctica from the UK in one piece, survived to take part in another 2 research expeditions after that, and was not responsible for Scott’s demise. Eventually she was retired and replaced by a second Discovery in the 1930s, and now resides in Dundee where she was made. The Discovery was an important piece of history because it was the first ship to be built specifically for the purpose of scientific research, and therefore to hold the title RRS (Royal Research Ship). It fills me with awe and great honour to know that this ship is the grandmother of the one I will be on for the next 5 weeks.
The new Discovery (which is actually being decommissioned shortly and replaced with an even newer Discovery in 2013) is 90m long, 3000 tonnes, made of metal and equipped with the most up-to-date navigation and scientific equipment. I found a video on the internet of another research vessel, the RRS James Cook (which I will be going on for my polar adventures), in Drake’s Passage in Antarctica. Despite being this enormous hunk of modern technology, it still gets tossed around like a toy.
Watching this makes me appreciate all the more how brave those original explorers and scientists must have been, to have gone through these same waters in their smaller wooden boats. They could have been smashed into splinters at any moment, there would have been no completely waterproof areas, everything would always be wet. And what about equipment? There were no radars, no radios, even the technology that goes into a lightweight, warm fleece is taken for granted now. But it is they who pushed the boundaries and forged a path for modern oceanography and marine biology. I am extremely excited to be taking part in this cruise, and very honoured to be part of a different generation unravelling the answers of different questions about the uncertainties this century will bring. I will let you know how it goes when I return on 11th July.