A Day in the Life Aboard the Armstrong

We have now been aboard the ship for well over a week, and are settling into our routines. Thanks to a few reader requests, this post will be about a day in the life aboard the Armstrong!

Life aboard a research vessel is quite different than life on shore. For instance, most people aboard the ship do not sleep regular hours. For the crew members especially, someone needs to be awake at all times to do things like navigate the ship, make sure that everything is running smoothly and keep us safe. In the case of our group, since we are a team of three, Emma and I have separate watch schedules. Her watch is midnight-noon, and mine is noon-midnight. Neither of us are usually awake for those full 12 hours, but it means that Emma is responsible for the 6:30 am sampling, and I am responsible for the 6:30pm sampling. Additionally, she is responsible for morning tasks, like sample processing, and I am responsible for afternoon tasks.  

The day starts with breakfast from 7:15-8:15. The food on the ship has been excellent, and there are always fresh berries at breakfast which has been a highlight for me. After breakfast, we finish processing samples from the day before, if there are any. We also make sure to check the plan for the day which the chief scientist writes and posts, daily. After looking these over, Emma and I talk with Hilary about our plan for the day. If we are not processing samples in the morning, we work on things like blog posts, data entry, and cleaning lab materials.
A photo of five women sitting, eating a meal. There is a porthole in the background. One woman is talking while the four others listen.
Amy Bower, me, Alison Macdonald, Heather Furey, and Emma (from left to right) eating lunch in the mess hall. Photo by Hilary Palevsky.   
Lunch happens from 11:15-12:15. During this meal, we often chat with folks from other teams about their projects and what they have planned for the day. After lunch, I take underway water samples. The Armstrong continuously pumps sea water from the surface through the boat. Three times a day: 6:30 am (Emma), 12:30 pm (me), and 6:30pm (me), we collect oxygen, chlorophyll, and nutrient samples from the surface sea water. After collecting the samples, the chlorophyll must be immediately filtered. The water is pumped across a filter, and after all the water has gone through, the filter is folded up for later analysis. Usually the filter is tinted green, indicating we have collected lots of phytoplankton!

After lunch, we are often preparing for a CTD cast happening in the late afternoon. Over the past 4 days, CTD casts have become an important part of our day. A CTD is an instrument that measures salinity, temperature, and depth. Attached to this instrument is a set of bottles, each of which captures water at a particular depth. When we perform a CTD, we send the CTD instrument, along with the bottles, down to a particular depth. So far we have sent the CTD all the way to 2,600 meters! Then, on the way up, the bottles close and capture water from the depths we request. To prepare for the cast, we label all our collection bottles, and gather all the supplies we need to take samples. We also gear up in waterproof clothing and boots, so that we don’t get our clothing wet from the sea water. Sometimes waves will come over the side of the boat while sampling if the seas are high enough, and in this case we are particularly happy to have waterproof gear.

Photo of a large oceanographic instrument and a woman inspecting the tubing attached to the instrument. The instrument is a bit taller than a human and contains 24 gray bottles. The woman has a tube attached to a bottle.
Me with the CTD. I am sampling oxygen, and before sampling I check the tubing to make sure there are no bubbles. Photo by Hilary Palevsky.  
A photo of a woman holding a tube upside down while water flows out of the tube and into a bottle. She is standing next to part of the instrument described in the previous photo. The ocean is in the background.
After checking there aren't any bubbles in the tubing, I rinse the bottle many times before filling it with water. Photo by Hilary Palevsky.   

Along with our team, two other scientists also collect water on the CTD casts. We spend time coordinating with them about the sampling procedure before each cast. The amount of time it takes to sample from the CTD depends on how many samples we are collecting. Recently, sampling has taken between 1 and 2 hours after the CTD comes out of the water. During or after sampling, we eat dinner. After sampling from the CTD, I stay up and process the chlorophyll samples, as these need to be filtered as soon after collection as possible. If it gets too late, I will save some sample processing for Emma in the morning!

In our free time, Emma, Henry (our lab mate), and I often do crosswords. So far we have completed 5 crosswords and we are definitely improving. Other folks play cards in the mess hall, and I’ve been reading as well. Internet is limited aboard the ship, so we don’t spend much time online. We also spend time watching other groups deploy moorings and gliders. An important part of this cruise is learning about the cool instruments that other OOI groups have engineered. We’ve been lucky enough to get tours of moorings and gliders, and learn about the instruments on them and how they work.

Everyday aboard the ship is different, and because the sea is our work environment, plans change quickly depending on weather. Until next time… Lucy  


  1. Your CTD process sounds similar to the sampling I did while employed as a technician with the Mountain Cloud Chemistry Project. The work was at one of the project's east coast mountaintop sites on Mt. Moosilaukee in New Hampshire. When rain or fog was pending, I would climb the 40 foot tower and pour bottles of distilled water down the collection apparatus to flush out contaminants. Then, with the funnel open and the mesh canister connected to a blower, we would wait. When enough rain or fog water came down the tubes we would set up bottles and collect 30ml, or so. It would be sealed, labeled, and refrigerated for later analysis with an ion chromatograph, or such. The science was to determine if specific rain events carried pollutants across state/international borders (they do -and some chemicals are able to be traced to very specific industries or factories). That was in the day (late 80's)when acid rain was the thing that everyone was denying (Oh, no...those acidified, dead lakes are natural!). EPA funding was shaky for this...don't know what that Dartmouth professor ended up doing, years later...)
    -Littleton, Mass.


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