Keeping up morale

After more than two months away, we’re finally on our way home! COVID has meant that this cruise has been unusual in many ways, and the trip home is no different. A research cruise will usually only have a few days’ worth of transit between the end of science operations and docking at the pier. By contrast, we have two full weeks of travel on board the Revelle before we get to Honolulu. And since we also had twelve days of transit at the beginning, before we started science, we have had pretty much one full-length research cruise of transit!

A picture of a gorgeous sunset over the ocean. The sky, while cloudy, is blue and yellow, and the clouds are lit up a pink-orange color.
Gorgeous sunsets like this one — signatures of the tropical ocean — always draw a crowd on the Revelle.

As always, the crew is hard at work keeping the ship running smoothly and making sure everyone is safe on board. But for the scientists, we’re getting a bit of a break from the round-the-clock schedules we’ve been on for the past month or so. It’s quite nice to see everyone hanging out at mealtimes again!

There are endless ways we’re keeping ourselves occupied en route, some more fun than others. We’ve got tons of packing to do — all of our scientific equipment has to go back in its boxes, all of our samples have to be stashed away, and somehow we have to corral two months’ worth of spreading out across the ship. There’s the thrilling job of digitizing the hundreds of log sheets we’ve kept throughout the cruise. Ben, one of the undergrads on board, has been hard at work trying to catch up on the classwork he’s missed while on the cruise. And we’re all collaborating on a final cruise report, which documents the science that we did, the methods we used, and why we made the decisions that we did. Cruise reports are an invaluable resource when scientists are getting ready to write papers years after the fact.

At the back of a ship, three people are reclining in red Adirondack chairs. All three appear to be sleeping.
(From back to front) Florida State undergraduate Lauren Hearn, WHOI grad student Julia Middleton, and Scripps research technician Charlie Brooks take a well-earned break to bask in the tropical sun.

But with all that packing and organizing to do, we’re still finding plenty of time to relax and enjoy each other’s company — without masks this time! In addition to the many, many games we have on board, we’ve been taking advantage of the nice weather with as much time outside as possible. There’s a stack of plastic Adirondack chairs out on deck and every afternoon there are at least half a dozen scientists and crew members relaxing with books or music or just staring out at the waves.

A photo of the back deck of a ship. There are two large blue containers strapped down. A man in a bucket hat and sunglasses is sitting in one of the containers.
After setting up the makeshift hot tubs, Bigelow’s Dave Drapeau takes the inaugural dip.

In the evenings, when there are nice sunsets, you can always find at least a dozen people lined up on the port side of the ship watching the sky change colors. Now that our experiments are done, Dave has turned the big incubation tanks into miniature hot tubs. They’re a little chilly at the moment, which feels very nice in the heat of the day. And you definitely can’t beat the view!

Another favorite pastime, now that the weather is super warm, is to lay out on the deck and look at the stars. With no sources of light pollution anywhere nearby, we can see the Milky Way perfectly. A few times last week, the sky was clear enough that we could stand out on the back deck and watch the International Space Station fly overhead. The International Space Station orbits at an altitude of nearly 250 miles — meaning that when we saw it, it was the closest we’d been to other humans for over a month. Pretty amazing to think about!

The sky at twilight is different shades of blue with yellow, wispy clouds. Near the center of the image is a bright white dot — the international space station.
When the International Space Station (bright dot near the center of the image) passed overhead last week, they were the closest humans to us!

Giuliana Viglione is a journalist and science communicator who has joined Senior Research Scientist Barney Balch’s research cruise to study the impact of coccolithophores in the Southern Ocean. On board the ship, she’ll be helping the team carry out experiments, document the research cruise, and conduct educational outreach with students across the country. She can be reached at

Keeping up morale
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