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MESA Archives: Aleutian Islands Deep Water Corals Cruise, August 4, 2004

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Part I:  A crazy sleep schedule. By science reporter Sonya Senkowsky.
Part II: How the Aleutian seafloor is like the desert (guest journal by Gordon Hendler)

  Lena Krutikov working with DVDs
Working in the dark, coral science team member Lena Krutikov, a geology graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, wears a headlamp as she labels and logs DVDs of video footage recorded by Jason II. Photo by Sonya Senkowsky.

A crazy sleep schedule

Work aboard a research vessel can be monotonous and relentless. Work occurs at all hours. When the Jason II dives go down, not only is there a lead scientist on the watch who takes control of the "science cam," directing the pilot when and where to take samples and making decisions on where to go next, other researchers must be there to watch the videos, log what they observe and make sure DVD copies are recorded.

When the dives come back up, the lab becomes busy with scientists working steadily to sort through bucket after bucket of specimens, slice and preserve promising tissue samples, and even conduct an impromptu dissection or two when something looks unusual.

Even between these times, there are still detailed maps to prepare to guide the work and instructions to be provided to the captain and crew of the RV Roger Revelle.

So the science team is pulling shifts, working at four-hour stretches around the clock. I try to rotate the times I'm awake, so I can get a glimpse of everyone's different worlds; I have been up at all hours, and never once have I found myself alone.

Most of us bunk two to a room. I room with Lena. She creeps in to bed at around 4:30 a.m.,, wakes at around 10:30 and then starts the routine again. Just about everyone on the science team has red eyes from lack of sleep.

Occasionally, though, there is respite from the mad schedule -- for example, this evening. Tonight (Tuesday night/Wednesday early morning) at midnight, the night watchstanders found themselves with rare downtime, while Jason II was being towed to a new dive site. A nap might sound like a good idea, but not at the beginning of a shift when you might have to be called back to duty at any moment . So instead, they milled around the ship's mess (or kitchen), making themselves midnight snacks; then we shared popcorn and watched a movie through to the end.

I think I'll try to get some rest now. But though it's now past 3 a.m., the watchstanders still have an hour and a half to go.

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