As an ocean biogeochemical modeller my work consists of sitting most of my day behind a computer screen (or two) working on Fortran, Matlab, R (the list is endless...) code to try and create a model that will use maths to help us understand what happens in the real world. But how can we try and simulate what we have never seen before? 

Most modellers never get an opportunity to go out onto the ocean and observe the natural environment that they try to represent. So when the opportunity presented itself to me I jumped on it! In May 2019 I hopped on board the research vessel M.S. Merian for 30 days to help take water samples for the MSM83 cruise that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands up to the Irish shelf and across to Saint John’s, Canada. Our team had the task to setup, lower, retrieve and take water samples with a CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) rosette. The rosette also had an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) attached to it, which took ocean current measurements as it was lowered and raised in the water column.

There were experts on the vessel that also took water samples to test the CFC (ChloroFluoroCarbon) content at different depths to try and determine the age of the water. There was even a postdoc that took argon samples to help test the age of the water. 

Even though taking care of the CTD work was our main task we also got an opportunity to help out with retrieving and deploying mooring systems (making sure that 3 kms of rope goes on and off the drums properly is an important task). Moorings are long ropes with a big anchor at the bottom and floats positioned strategically all along the float with measuring instruments attached at different depths. Moorings are usually deployed for a year to try and get a time series of data (temperature, salinity or current measurements) for that point. It helps to paint a picture or what is happening at that location and what happens and changes over time, which is data that can be used to validate models.

Getting the experience of working on a research vessel and working with an amazing team is priceless. One can’t imagine the scale of the ocean until you are sitting in the middle of the Atlantic with nothing else in sight besides sky, waves and water. It leaves you with a feeling of awe at the power and secrets that it holds that are yet to be discovered. It provides the fuel and the inspiration to resume working on modelling to continue understanding the natural environment. 

By Inge Deschepper, 05/09/2019