Day 22: Rowing on Rockall

Last night, the scientists aboard the RRS James Cook has the once-in-a-lifetime (probably) opportunity to see Rockall, as Captain Bill took us via the the Rock, on our way to the Hebridean Seamount. For those of you don't know (and many of the scientists are among you in the dark), Rockall has been referred to as "the most isolated small rock in the oceans of the world", the UK's furthest outlier. Unfortunately the British weather failed to surprise us, and all we saw was a slightly darker grey blob, amid the grey sea and sky.

Penny driving with Captain Bill
After all that excitement, it's time for todays blog, written by Geoff Cook, our resident American giant......

It’s just past 04:00 on the morning of June 9 and I recently finished getting a bit of exercise on the ship’s Concept II rowing machine, or ERG. For those of you who have never had the “pleasure” of experiencing this modern instrument of torture, you should know that it is world-renowned for inflicting severe pain in extremely short periods of time. After collecting and processing samples, and with more work to be done before getting some rest, I foolishly decided to blow-off steam by raising my heart rate. Being too tall to run on the ship’s treadmill without decapitating myself, I had no other option but to hop on the ERG.

Geoff helping Team CTD
One of the psychological benefits I derive from rowing is that it offers the ability to retreat into one’s mind, thereby escaping the pains inflicted by both the ERG and our fieldwork. As I bumped along, feeling each swell in the ocean roll beneath me, I began waxing nostalgic about my days as an undergraduate when I rowed competitively. The coordinated exertion between me and eight companions— I am including our coxswain in this headcount—was the result of a mutual understanding that we were all racing against time, the competition and, in many ways, ourselves. I soon found these memories helped me to recognize a few parallels about the type and degree of teamwork I have witnessed since joining the 2012 Changing Oceans Expedition.

An aspect of group-work that I have always found fascinating is the ability for multiple individuals, regardless of any pre-existing relationships, to focus their efforts towards achieving a common goal. When properly motivated and directed, the combined effort of 2, 4, 8, or even 54 people can transfer a remarkable amount of energy to meet the demands of remarkable challenges. Studying coral reef communities that live 1000 meters beneath the waterline in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean presents, in my humble opinion, a remarkable challenge.

All monetary expenses aside, these biological systems are too remote, too deep, and too complex for a single individual to achieve even a modest degree of understanding in a realistic time span. Developing an accurate and focused picture of how these communities will respond to the pending threats of global climate change can only be achieved by launching a multi-faceted, synergistic research program like the 2012 Changing Oceans Expedition. This requires enlisting the help of numerous individuals with a diverse array of expertise. In other words, many hands make light work.

The inherent limitations of studying life in the deep sea seem to be one of the mutual understandings that we (i.e., the crew of the RRS James Cook, the ROV team, and the international collection of scientists) all share. As a result, a common thread seems to have emerged that weaves cohesiveness through the patchwork of activities being conducted during this cruise. What I find most impressive is that this thread appears to have arisen organically (i.e., it was not demanded by anyone except, maybe, by ourselves).

In many ways, this mutual understanding extends beyond the confines of the RRS James Cook, reaching across oceans as well as political and cultural boundaries. Many people have contributed to the success of this research cruise and they all deserve thanks. So, my sincere thanks go out to the ship’s crew, the ROV team, my colleagues, and everyone else (Happy Birthday Love!) who has contributed their time, energy, and belief in this expedition. But letters of recognition and key deliverables can be ephemeral. Perhaps using the results of our inquiries to enact positive change is a more appropriate way to give back or, better yet, give forward. While establishing goals that aim to preserve environmental legacy for our future generations is laudable, actually achieving these goals may be the best thanks we can offer. Though I cannot be certain, I believe this is another thread that binds us all.