Life on a Russian Icebreaker: ACE Maritime University

Last year (I can’t believe it’s been a whole year!) I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to attend a one off opportunity, the ACE Maritime University. The scene for this month long ‘floating university’ was the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, aboard the Russian Polar Research Vessel Akademik Treshnikov.

On the 19th of November 2016, 49 students and 16 scientists from 20 different nationalities joined the ship in Bremerhaven, Germany for Leg 0 of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition. Over 27 days we sailed down across the equator, to Cape Town, South Africa. ACE was a privately funded expedition, that went on to circumnavigate the continent of Antarctica last summer, visiting the islands, measuring things like marine mammal populations, ocean acidification, carbon dioxide dynamics and marine plastic distribution. There were 22 different research projects, and if you want to read more about them then check out the ACE expedition website and blog.

The aim of the course was to bring together a global group of young researchers and introduce marine science as a cross-disciplinary field. Days were full of lectures on various principles of oceanography, or how to use different type of ocean monitoring instrumentation.

We even had homework every other day! We also took part in daily deck work with the different projects that were setting up for the Antarctic legs. This included things like assisting with the CTD deployment, processing data, collecting water samples and filtering them. Highlights included working with Florian and Yajuan to make a film about their research investigating microbial and plankton communities that have big influences on primary production and the carbon cycle, seeing the different layers of biomass on the echosounder display, and also setting up and deploying a radiosonde balloon that measures the atmosphere.

CTD profile from cruise data. Each graph shows information about temperature, salinity or oxygen from the surface down to 1000m depth. Samples start from near the Mediterranean (CTD001), over the equator (CTD10) and further south towards the African coast. You can see things like the high salinity Mediterranean outflow at the start, and oxygen minimum zones either side of the equator.

As part of a personal project, I was also filtering seawater samples from different depths from the CTD casts every day. These samples are being used to look at the difference in species diversity through the North to the South Atlantic, by looking for traces of DNA that has been left in the water by different species that are in the area at different depths – so watch this space!

It’s hard to put the whole experience into words… but I think the below pretty much sums up my life for the few weeks I spent on board:

Physical oceanography, heave away, haul away, global dynamics, swing dancing, filtering sea water, salsa dancing, ctd casts, ocean data, slack lining, cabbage, gliders, juggling, global arrays, Bremerhaven, El Nino, singing, sun bathing, yoga on the helideck, more filtering sea water, bongo nets, lectures, homework, stargazing, bioluminescence, cottage cheese, mermaids, deep scattering layer, pickled vegetables, pirates, devils, prune juice, banjo playing, 4 meals a day, various dolphins, microwave cheese pizza, upwelling zones, pilot whales, disco on the helideck, whistling toilets, echosound, drifters, neptune and his queen, turtles, sharks, Cape Town, moorings, crossing the equator, ping pong, tiny dorm rooms, Russian vodka(?), daily deckwork, stable water isotopes, microbial communities, more dolphins, plankton, atmospheric science, non-existent internet, group challenges, group sea showers, Python, rice porridge, oat porridge, corn porridge, other porridge, SQUISHY.

Thank you to all of the organisers, conveners, fellow students, scientists and crew for such an incredible opportunity! I am lucky to have spent time with such an inspiring group of people. I’ll finish with a video that features our song, written by the 'Rusty Pipes' and a few pictures (taken by those on board)... enjoy!

Video created by ACE participant Pike Spector

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