One way to get into trouble on Canadian icebreakers is failing to honor old traditions that date back to the Royal British Navy. It starts with breakfast. There are two places to eat: a cafeteria for the crew next to the kitchen and a dining room for officers and scientists one deck above. The six square tables seat the same people during each meal according to rank.
The captain sits at the head table with the chief engineer and the chief scientists. The first and second officers and engineers have their table while specialists such as the nurse, electronics technician, ice observer and logistics officer have theirs, and so on. Formal attire is required, which during Sunday lunch includes a jacket or dress. All meals are served by two stewards who also set tables and explain the proper use of all the silver. This is quite distinct from more egalitarian German or Swedish or American icebreakers where people mix and mingle during meal times.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner structure the day on all ships. Day and night are defined by them because the sun is always up, and time zones are arbitrary. Furthermore, sleep is dictated by the work schedule as both ship and science operate 24 hours each day. Someone always sleeps.
My favorite time to work is between midnight and breakfast when the ship is quiet, and most of the hustle and bustle of helicopters, Zodiacs, planning, meetings, organizing is over. Work usually means lowering an electronic sensor package over the side while the ship stops.
As soon as the package is back on deck with new data on how temperature and salinity varies with depth, the ship moves to the next station to again take another such profile and so on. It only requires four people to do this: the officer navigating the ship, who is assisted by a helmsman to do the steering, and me the scientist, with a helping hand.
Time passes really fast and the rhythm of stopping and going every 45 minutes or so is very soothing to me. There is time to roam the galley for coffee and snacks, there is time to visit the navigator on the bridge in person, there is time to get into deep philosophical or scientific discussion, there is even time to process and interpret the new data. By the time breakfast comes,
I share the night’s events with the next shift that just got out of bed while I turn in.
Learn more at Prof. Muenchow’s Icy Seas Blog — icyseas.org
What’s it like to do research in the Arctic? What ‘s it like to be on a ship for 4 to 6 weeks off Greenland? How do you work and sleep with 24 hours of daylight? Oceanographer Andreas Muenchow gives us a glimpse into his world.
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