The Meaning of “Mega”

by srosengard

At sea, it helps when life has some semblance of a pattern. There are many types of routines on board: work shifts, snacks, and even poker matches. For many scientists here, routines are dictated by the pattern of sampling stations. The most distinct pattern for me is the mega-station day, which occurs every other day. It is an event named as such for being a conglomerate of all the non-CTD deployments. Because so many different groups participate in these events, they have become regularly synchronized collection frenzies for the much of the science crew.

Matt, the resident technician

This picture belies the general fast-paced, fatigue-inspiring work of the mega-station. Ironically, it is the Resident Technician who is rarely so stationary.

There are 5 main ocean deployments in one mega-station. Usually, the first on queue is Helen’s snowcatcher, which takes a quick dip to a specific depth before returning. Following Helen are Ben, Sara and Angel, who collect bottles of seawater to measure trace metals. Next are the lengthy pump casts, which Phoebe, Dan and I send down to about 800 meters. Our thorium deployment follows quickly after; it uses the 12 Niskin bottles from the CTD rosette to retrieve seawater for thorium analysis.

If it is sunny enough, an additional optics cast happens too. Barney Balch, the chief scientist here on Revelle, leads this operation. During the cast, he submerges an Ocean Color Profiler to measure light hitting the instrument from below (deeper) and from above (shallower). Because the Calcite Belt, our expedition’s theme, has a unique appearance in water, these optics casts help us understand whether calcite-producing organisms might be living in the water.

For many of us, mega-stations make for the most tiring and eventful days. But, there are important reasons to combine these sampling efforts. First and foremost, as we are a proper research cruise, each science group is interested in a central theme, the Calcite Belt, from a different but complementary angle (e.g., thorium or trace metals). By analyzing the same seawater through mega-stations, we might be able to tell a bigger, more collective story of the Southern Ocean, as well.

Phoebe on deck

More commonly, a mega-station looks like this. This is Phoebe being very attentive from the main deck during a pump cast. She is looking up toward the winch deck from which the deployment wire descends.

I suspect that a secondary reason is the camaraderie. When you have to wake up at 3:00 a.m. because the ship arrived ahead of schedule, at least everyone else is pretty exhausted, too. Moreover, each deployment is a team effort. My role in the pump cast is to lower them into the water using a winch, while on the main deck, Phoebe, Dan and our gracious helpers (usually Jason and Patrick) attach them to the wire.

The team is larger than the scientists alone. Because I cannot actually see the pumps from my winch, it is up to another to “be my eyes” (in Phoebe’s words). On this cruise, my eyes are Matt, the Resident Technician, who communicates to me how I should be wiring out the winch based on his view of what is happening on deck. Other possible titles Matt might receive are the Winch Companion, Knot Instructor, Safety Dictator and, most importantly, the Board-Game Adversary. He is present for every cast on the mega-station, and connects our science to their technical operations on deck. It is through this crucial team member that we are aware of the greater team that we belong to in doing science on the Revelle.