Day 5, CAPSTAN Voyage 2

By Luke Walker, Macquarie University

CAPSTAN (Collaborative Australian Post-graduate Sea Training Alliance Network) Voyage 2 is now on day 5 of its 11-day voyage since departing port from Hobart for its first study location just south of Portland, Victoria. On board are 18 student scientists and 8 trainers from a many different Australian Universities. Along with the ships crew and science support team.

CAPSTAN students and CAPSTAN trainers gather in front of RV Investigator while the ship is still at port in Hobart prior to the departure of CAPSTAN voyage 2.
All of the CAPSTAN students and trainers ready for departure.

The aim of this program is to give marine science students first-hand experience in scientific research from Australia’s state of the art Marine National Facility (MNF) RV Investigator. For this particular voyage our goal is to deepen our current understanding of the oceanographic, biological and geological properties of a unique part of the Southern Ocean, in the Portland region south of Victoria.

The first few days of the voyage were spent finding our sea legs, getting to know each other and learning about the ship that was our new home.

When our 12-hour shifts (2am-2pm or vice versa) started, students and trainers were split into groups and began to be introduced to the various work stations: the operations room, hydrochemistry lab, sediment lab, plankton lab, and monkey island (observation deck). I was delegated the 2am to 2pm shift which I soon found out had its advantages and disadvantages.  

The sun peaks over the horizon over the Great Australian Bight- seen from RV Investigator on the 2019 CAPSTAN at-sea marine science training voyage
Perfect sunrises on (unusually) calm seas are a perk of a 2 am start.

The workload for the first few days was not too heavy, so we had plenty of down time. A favourite activity for the group during free time was a good competitive board game like Catan or monopoly or a good movie.  

On day 3, when we got our first station, there was a definite buzz around the ship as we were all excited to start sampling and collecting data. From day 3 to day 5 we repeated all sampling efforts for the CTD, Kasten core, Smith-Mac grab and vertical plankton hauls. The CTD rosette was always the first to be deployed. The information this instrument collects give insight into the current state of the water column in regard to its physical and chemical properties such as conductivity, temperature and pressure. The water samples will provide quantities of oxygen, nutrients and salts in the seawater as they are measured in the hydrochemistry lab over the coming days.

View down a microscope of the catch from a vertical plankton haul including a small larval squid and a bioluminescent alga.
A cute little larval squid next to a bioluminescent alga collected during a vertical plankton haul.

Once the CTD returned to the surface we deployed the plankton nets off the side of the ship. Plankton hauls were collected from two different depths, 40 m and 100 m. We then tried to ID as many organisms as possible from each sample (not easy looking under a microscope on a rocking ship) and to get a total biomass from the two hauls. Some of the more adorable organisms we found were a baby cephalopod and a sea star.

Arguably the most exciting moment so far was bringing in our first sediment core from the base of a submarine canyon (we even had some local seals come by and have a look from the water). The aim of the sediment core was to find out if there was turbidites present in a region known for unique carbonate sediment production and massive canyon features. Our second and third sediment cores found these unique sedimentary features which was very exciting for our team of geologist and sedimentologists.

Our first sediment core with wonderful CAPSTAN director April.

As of today, we have collected our final samples from our final station. From here we will transit to Fremantle and spend the rest of the voyage analysing our samples and piecing together the information to get a clearer picture of the oceanographic, biological and geographical processes in the area.

Personally, I have been really looking forward to this scientific research experience for a very long time and it has surpassed all of my expectations. It has increased my knowledge in all areas of marine science and given me an incredible opportunity to learn about what I am passionate about in the best classroom in the world.

Check out my group’s hydrochemistry & oceanography blog on AGU’s The Field!

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