November 28, 2017

Rookies at Sea

Posted by larryohanlon

By Peta Vine (Macquarie University), Sam Wines (Deakin University), Ajinkya Koleshwar (University of Western Australia), Rhiannan Mundana (University of Tasmania)


Have you ever been on a field trip to the middle of the Southern Ocean? Well, we – Peta Vine, Sam Wines, Ajinkya Koleshwar and Rhiannan Mundana – have done exactly that by participating in the CAPSTAN Program. CAPSTAN (Collaborative Australian Postgraduate Sea Training Alliance Network) is a program for early-career marine science students to get hands-on and practical sea-training onboard the RV Investigator. This is far from an everyday trip and the following are some of our realisations of this fact.

Your authors (Left to Right): Sam, Rhiannan, Ajinkya and Peta

Night Shift
As I write this, it is 1900 hundred hours, oh wait that’s in UTC time, which a lot of the ships clocks are. This actually translates to the ungodly hour of 0400 or 4 am local time. I am currently on night shift in the operations room, going backward and forwards in the same area, mapping the ocean floor. Life on the ship is definitely not 9 to 5. Most of the ship’s staff are either on a 2 till 2, or a 12 till 12 shift. As student participants in this program, we are keen to experience as much as we can. We have also realised that ships don’t waste any time, having to be efficient to minimize cost. If we turn up at a station to deploy equipment at 3 am, that is when we will be deploying, regardless of whether students are awake. Therefore, all of the students have been sleeping where we can i.e. middle of the day, on couches, desk chairs, wherever possible. I have even ended up falling asleep with headphones on and music blaring, waking up 6 hours later with music still going. Despite being a bit weary-eyed however, this work is all voluntary and we all love it! – Sam Wines

Is that the sunrise or sunset? I can’t remember.

Chief Scientist Day
Yesterday we, the students, were tasked with the responsibility of the ‘Chief Scientists’ aboard the ship in proposing a science plan for the following day based on the training provided. The opportunity to be part of the dynamic planning involved in proposing a multi-disciplinary scientific strategy was an enriching experience. Four student groups were responsible for presenting their project plans to the entire science-crew. To arrive at a mutually rounded plan based on the inputs from each group, a delegate was nominated to work with the team of scientists to implement the strategy to enhance the overall training objectives. The experience was highly interactive and invaluable, in being able to understand the thought process involved in the dynamic nature of marine planning. The amount of effort required in planning and pin-pointing locations of interest to retrieve samples in a marine environment was astounding to witness.  The experience in planning and the scientific training has surpassed our expectations on the voyage, to assist in our future as a successful marine scientist.  – Ajinkya Koleshwar

Our chief scientists look on, as a core is unloaded.

Bathymetry Mapping
One of the main aims of the voyage, alongside sea-training for the students, was to map as much previously-uncharted ocean floor bathymetry as possible. As only about 5% of the seafloor is currently mapped, it is vital for every research team to take the opportunity to contribute a little piece to the very large puzzle – our expedition was no exception! The ship is equipped with multibeam sonar, sub-bottom profiling and bio-acoustic technology. The two multi-beam sonar systems: a high frequency system and a low frequency system. The ships position above sea-level, determines which system is used. A higher frequency has more ‘pings’ returning per second, and therefore relates to a smaller footprint and is thus employed for shallower water. In contrast, the higher frequency is employed for deeper waters due to the larger footprint provided. The multi-beam sonar uses sound pulses to receive two-way acoustic sound signals. The time it takes a ping to hit the seafloor and return to the ship, coupled with an accurate knowledge of the speed of sound in the water, can then be used to determine depth. It was great for us, as students, to watch how bathymetry data is collected and processed, and learn how to ‘kill’ some dots! – Rhiannan Mundana

Even other planets have been fully mapped, yet we have barely scratched the surface of understanding the wonders of our own ocean. Photo:

ARGO Floats
Today we deployed the first of four Argo floats, which will join the other 3,700 plus floating sensors currently traversing the world’s oceans. The Argo program is an alliance between 26 countries, who share the ambition of profiling the world’s oceans with these floats, over the long-term. This information will contribute to climate and ocean research, helping us to understand the properties of the waters that both control the weather and sustain so much life, including the fisheries we all rely on. As students, we are sharing the unique opportunity of releasing these floats which will gather information from the depths (down to 2000m) and from afar (over 1000s of kilometres), from the moment we release them overboard. Whenever we see evidence of the floats in the years to come, we will know that we played a part, if only minor, in this wide-reaching and vital research. – Peta Vine

We all agree that the CAPSTAN program has surpassed our expectations, as it would be hard to find a field site as remote as the Southern Ocean!

Want to learn more about the CAPSTAN program? Check out our student blogsDirector’s blog, official website.