The Hesperides, docked at Princes Wharf in Auckland
Three weeks ago, I had the honour of checking out the Hesperides, one of the Spanish ships making a circumnavigation and studying the effects of climate change on the oceans, as well as exploring the biodiversity of the deep. The Hesperides is a Spanish naval ship that is being used as a research vessel on the Malaspina 2010 Expedition, which set sail from Spain in December of 2010 and is set to return in July this year.
It was very exciting to be aboard a research vessel of that size; being able to speak to the various scientists and students (yes!!! STUDENTS!!!) that were working aboard the ship, find out what they were working on, and learn a bit more about what life would be like while working on a research expedition like Malaspina 2010 (please note this site is in Spanish, but the Wikipedia article on the expedition is here). The well-respected Carlos Duarte is the lead scientist on this expedition, which is set to hit Honolulu any day now.
We were allowed to take photos, examine some of the results of the various samples collected, ask questions, snoop around labs… oh it was heaven, my friends, seriously. I was positively green with envy of the masters and PhD students that were lucky enough to be part of this expedition. Below are some of the photos I took:
A scientist explains the research equipment used in monitoring and mapping the oceans.
Our tour consisted of various scientists and student scientists taking us through the major labs, explaining what the equipment was for, how they were using it, and what they were doing with the results. As expected on any boat, everything was crammed into any spare space one could find. People who prefer to live their lives without clutter would not do well in an environment like this!
The Roseta. All hail the Roseta.
One of the tenets of research on which the expedition is focusing is water quality and content, to observe the interweaving relationships of carbon sequestration in oceans (leading to higher acidity levels), temperature change, pollutant contents, nutrient content, eutrophication and biodiversity. The Roseta, or Rosette, pictured above, is a large contraption that basically is a multi-chambered series of tubes* arranged in a circle. The ends of the tubes have a quick-release trap door, so when the Rosette descends through the water column, each tube shuts at a certain depth, to collect samples of water and any microfauna/flora that are present at that depth. The Rosette descends to collect 24 samples from the water column, from the surface down to 4,000 metres. The samples are tested for salinity, acidity, nutrient content, any species that are picked up are collected, and thousands of samples have been gathered.
Sieves on the aft deck
During the navigation, these sieve nets are dropped behind the ship, trawling for organisms in the open oceans. The sieve nets collect any species or detritus larger than 200μm (1/5th of a millimetre).
One of the labs in the lower decks
This is pretty much what my room looks like, I could so easily work in this environs.
Instructions for decanting zooplankton
The above instructions basically describe how to sieve zooplankton according to their relative size and preserve them on petri dishes.
Now everyone knows I’m a total sucker for SCIENCE!!! And so, I was practically drooling all over the decks, but more than just having the opportunity to see a research vessel like this, knowing what’s happening at the front lines of discovery when it comes to the open ocean (of which we know so little) is really exciting. The research being done on the Malaspina 2010 expedition is invaluable, and the lack of pretension among the scientists – chemists, biologists, etymologists, environmentalists, atmospheric scientists, and all the others I’m forgetting – has helped to foster an open, cohesive learning environment for the students aboard. It also helps that they are approaching the research they’re doing from a more holistic position than has been done in the past. Knowing that the collective efforts of so many different people are gearing towards a common goal, and actually being able to see that cohesion exist in the way everyone interacted with each other, was refreshing, inspiring and just…
I SO wish I was on that ship.
*The Roseta ≠ The Internet.