On Dec 20th the R/V Thompson reached port in Papeete, Tahiti after successfully completing a 57 day, 36 station research cruise. The first day in port was spent offloading our gear and samples into metal shipping containers; a sense of finality and accomplishment was felt by all as we sealed the containers and watched them leave the dock for their long journey back to the states. After an end-of-cruise gathering on the island, science party and crew slowly dispersed, most racing home to be back in time for Christmas.
I came across a quote earlier this year that really stuck with me, from a retired surgeon who now lives and works at a camp in Antarctica,
“There are no casualties, no car wrecks, and no bullets here. We are living on our own, facing elements, and everyone behaves in the proper way. We tell our families we come for the money. But really, we come to escape.” (Benjamin Novikov, quoted in Untamed Antarctica, National Geographic Sept. 2013)
After leaving the tropical paradise of Tahiti I am thrust back into society through means of the airport. It’s Christmas day but instead of cheer and friendly greetings, I’m surrounded by noses buried in Ipads and cell phones; the guy sitting across from me is throwing candy wrappers into the isle, just as you would toss peanut shells onto the floor of a bar.
Beauty can be defined in many ways but more than once in the past two months I have found myself thinking that this sunset, this clear night with thousands of stars, or this stream of bioluminescence trailing the ship – this is what real beauty is. How else could you define it? Sometimes there is just too much clutter in everyday life to appreciate the important things and I feel lucky to be able to take these trips every year, to go away to places where simplicity makes beauty easier to see.
I’m on my way home now to spend time with family and friends after a wonderful two months at sea. The process of funding and planning this work took years and it all came down to the last two months (no pressure right?). The cruise was hard – all of my focus during the past 57 days has been my work. There was no clocking out so bumps in the road took a more personal toll, but that only made the good days that much sweeter.
Our dataset will continue to grow beyond the 3,500 samples Gretchen and I analyzed at sea. We will look at mercury in aerosols and particles, sift through data to identify trends, and compare our findings with other ocean basins. In the coming year we will bring our findings to conferences and scientific journals with a goal to progress the understanding of mercury in the ocean to help identify problems and solutions.
I would like to thank you all for reading my blog over the past few months and I hope that you will continue to search for outlets that feed your curiosity in science and nature. Be sure to sign up for email updates to receive notice of future hginthesea blogs. My official holiday gift to you is a video of dolphins swimming near the bow of the ship, it’s from day 1 at sea but I haven’t had enough bandwidth to upload until now (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvnLptexVc&feature=youtu.be). Enjoy!
Christmas eve dinner in Papeete, Tahiti.