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Sophia N. Wassermann

PhD student in Marine Science at the National University of Ireland, Galway & Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar. Interested in computational approaches to issues at the intersection of fisheries and climate change. Currently modelling mackerel collective behaviour. MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation (with Distinction) from Trinity College Dublin; B.A. in Environmental Studies from Vassar College.

Research Cruisin': My First Trip with the Irish Marine Institute

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds”

-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I just got back from a research trip on the RV Celtic Voyager. I can’t wait to go back.

Boarding the Voyager

Playing it cool on Instagram as I headed to the ship on the first day.

The survey was the result of an application for ship time orchestrated by Ryan McGeady, a PhD student and Cullen Fellow at NUI Galway and the Marine Institute. The scientific team for the start of the survey (including NUIG PhD student & Cullen Fellow Catherine Jordan, Leigh Barnwall, and Darragh Furey) had an average age of 26! You can read all about our adventures on the Marine Institute’s Scientists@Sea blog.

Since the science is covered in detail in those blog posts, I thought I’d focus more on my personal experience on this blog and share a few of my pictures. Since it was my time on the Marine Institute’s vessels, I was nervous before the trip. I was worried about being suitably prepared, whether or not I’d be any good at the work, that I’d be incapacitated by seasickness, that I wouldn’t like the food…. the list goes on and on.

But, I shouldn’t have worried. I should have remembered that I love boats. I love being on the water, finding out how equipment works, and being part of a team. My nerves subsided when I woke up to us steaming out of Galway in the morning. Though, the couple of pints with the team the night before might have helped.

Galway from sea

Looking back as we steam out of Galway into the bay.

The first couple of days were a bit of a rollercoaster. After getting a solid day of sampling, we had to head back to Galway to dodge inclement weather. Then, we headed back out the next morning, but had to shelter in Galway Bay to avoid more bad weather. By the time we finally began sampling regularly, at least we were old hands at being on the ship. I was on the late shift, from 4PM to 4AM. I usually woke up just in time for lunch, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world, as the food was great, if a little more….Irish than I’m used to. Lots of Tayto crisps and cups of tea, especially late at night!

As a member of the scientific team, my duties were to deploy the research equipment, with enormous help from the deck crew. I mostly worked with the CTD, an oceanographic instrument that collects data on the properties of the water column as it’s lowered down to the bottom. We also collected physical water samples from different depths to run further tests on the bacterial and plankton content. I also used a hyperspectral radiometer, a fancy name for a light meter, to look at the light spectrum down to 40 meters. The CTD was more fun to deploy because we controlled the winch from the drylab, as we looked at the readouts and deployed the sample bottles on a computer.

CTD winch control

Working the CTD. I'm still surprised they trusted me!

The rest of the trip went smoothly, and fortunately our weather was incredible for the passage from the sampling stations around the Aran Islands to those in the Irish Sea.

Because of the good weather and flat seas, we had some wonderful sightings. Off in the distance, we saw a basking shark and a waterspout that might have been a minke whale! Later on, common dolphins came to play by the ship, and of course we had ample time to birdwatch and admire the beautiful coast.

Despite losing multiple days to weather, we completed all of the stations Ryan had originally planned on. I lost a little bit of time to do my own research, but it was a successful cruise and an excellent learning experience for me and all of the scientific crew.

Before I inundate you with photos of some of the cool stuff we saw along the way, I’d just like to encourage you to embrace any adventure in your path. While you might be nervous to embark on, for example, a ship affectionately known as the “vomit comet”, it can lead to some fantastic memories and future opportunities. :)

Helicopter rescue

While we were sheltering from bad weather, the Irish Coast Guard stopped by to run some drills!

Common dolphin

We were visited by common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) during our passage from the Aran Islands to the Irish Sea.

Irish shore

The weather was stunning for the passage, giving us great views of the Irish coastline.

Cute cephalopod

We pulled up all kinds of cool things in our plankton nets, including a couple of these little cephalopods! We think it's a small Atlantic bobtail squid (Sepiola atlantica), also known as a little cuttlefish.

the Poolbeg Stacks

Landmark Poolbeg Stacks as we headed in to Dublin Port at the end of the survey. I lived Ringsend, so it was extra special.