I have been waiting for this special time of my life, a time during which I am walking around in a limited space without touching the land. Three weeks in, I am starting to get a great grip of the dynamics created on board of the Sarmiento de Gamboa, an oceanographic cruise that is currently travelling through the southern part of the Canary Islands, in search of eddies.
I believe I have already presented what an eddy is, but for the sake of recalling, I am going to recap in short. Oceanic eddies are circular movements of water masses, that can be cyclonic or anticyclonic. In the Northern hemisphere, the Coriolis force in a cyclonic eddy diverges the water masses outwards from the eddy center, creating a high-pressure point in the same, thus giving place to an upwelling process. The cold and nutrient rich seawater moves vertically from the depths towards the surface, providing “food” for phytoplanktonic communities that blossom, photosynthesize, and represent an energy input for the zooplanktonic communities.
In an anticyclonic eddy, on the other hand, the Coriolis force in the Northern hemisphere converges water masses inwards to the center, evoking a downwelling process, where warm seawater, rich in organic matter, is transported from the surface to the depths. Explaining my friends where I’d gone, their first reaction was concern because they thought we would be sampling in the middle of enormous vortexes, possibly with an octopus tentacle coming out to eat the entire boat. But no, eddies are no such thing.
On our way, we have encountered three intense ones, two of them were cyclonic and one anticyclonic. The principal investigator named them Garajonay, Nublo y Anaga, respectively. So, for one month, we’ve been navigating forwards and backwards in the Canary waters, south from Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Gomera, and collecting samples to analyze back in the various laboratories.
The sea was our friend and enemy at the same time. And what stroke me the most was the number of decisions that were to be taken at the last minute, which required some intense flexibility in terms of maneuvering the ship, thinking efficiency and safety. I was also very curious in observing how well the scientists, us, and the tribulation were getting along. Conversations were direct, clean, and honest, work seemed effortless, and we became experts in reading each other flawlessly. Intense days brought up compassion and silence, while the days balanced between work and rest, that were not so many, appeared to be light and uplifting, with many smiles and chit-chats.
Sometimes, we could see a few sailors trying to catch squids in the evening and at night; after finishing our shifts, we would join them to exchange a few laughs. Then a few of us would have sunrise vistas with a coffee mug in our hands, quietly moving around, preparing things for upcoming rosette, and making a smiling eye contact with the people passing by. Sunsets, on the other hand, would be an after-dinner reunion, accompanied by chattering background sounds and wind.
As for my embarkment, I came with no expectations, thinking and feeling entirely neutral about the adventure. Day by day, I was surprised how easy it was to comfortably navigate through just any kind of challenge, either good or bad. Frankly, I liked the research more onboard than on land because we were purely focused on the project. Even though demanding at times, I managed to befriend the journey. This experience also allowed me to think about my future, which up to that point was quite uncertain, divided between “Should I go for a self-sufficient system runaway, or should I go for an achieving route?” And at last, I have decided to dedicate some more time to scientific research. Hopefully it will be a soft ride.
In case you are curious and want to know more, you can read more HERE. Photos captured by Javier Aristegui.