Sometimes the best ideas are also the craziest. I’ve just learned that in science, it’s no different. To achieve a powerful dataset, which will ultimately give you the evidence for or against your theory, often requires bold thinking, a daring strategy, and a team stupid mad enough to go through with it.
Over the last few days one such idea materialised on board. The plan: collect and preserve copepods from shallow and deep water every 4 hours throughout a 36 hr sampling campaign. Simple eh?
The reason behind this rhythmic sampling is to find out if these animals have an innate genetic clock driving their behaviour. If they do, or if shallow and deep living copepods express certain genes differently, it will help us understand the role genes play in determining their position in the water column. The daily and seasonal movements of these tiny plankton are the largest migrations on Earth and have important consequences for the oceans chemistry and residents alike.
Inevitably, the plan gets more complicated as we try to control for other factors that might affect the copepod’s behaviour. Light is the biggest factor that must be eliminated. Easier said than done when you are under the midnight sun of almost 80 degrees latitude, and when everyone else on the ship likes to see what they’re doing. Our highly technical solution involved a lot of black bags, duct tape, and red lights. This turned our controlled-temperature room in to a groovy red-lit dungeon and our microscope room was dubbed the red light district.
So after a week of preparing, “MOCFEST” (after our net system, MOCNESS) finally begun on Monday. Anticipation was high. The headlining act, “MOCNESS Monster” were ready; Geraint, Gabi, Anna and Gareth on net deployment; Dan, Flo, Jordan and I on sample processing. If only we knew of the struggle ahead. Here is my brief account of those fateful hours.
T-4hrs: After a swift MOCNESS deployment the nets came up full of copepods 3 hours later. We cover the net buckets in black bags and quickly escort them in to the red-lit cold room. With a flurry of activity and a bustle of buckets we each take what we need and have just enough time to reset the nets and begin the next launch. Phew. One down, plenty more to go.
T-8hrs: Just as before, the nets and the processing run like, well, clockwork.
T-12hrs: Disaster strikes. The system which tells the MOCNESS to open and close each net has not worked. The samples are unusable. Booo! We try it again with a second motor.
T-16hrs: The nets fail again. Travesty! Our new plan is to try a second net system, called the MAMMOTH. This net works slightly differently, towed vertically rather than horizontally in the water. But the sampling must go on, and we set it up. It really is a mammoth effort to build, change and launch the new nets. Over 10 hours since our last successful sample, we get the new nets in the water.
T-20hrs: This time, thankfully, it’s a success. MOCFEST is dead. The MAMMATHON begins.
T-24hrs: launch, redlight, rinse, repeat.
T-28hrs: launch, redlight, rinse, coffee, repeat.
T-32hrs: Copepods keep coming. Sleep evades us. Luckily we have Dan’s playlist blasting out hits… and Gareth’s cheese toasties. Nom nom!
T-36hrs: Even with shifts in place, it is hard keep track of time with 24hr daylight and short snoozes here and there. So far I’m learning more about my own circadian rhythm than the copepods!
T-40hrs: Through dedication (or foolishness) we decide to push on for an extra 8 hours, making up for the time we lost at the start. It will all be worth it, right?
T-48hrs: The last MAMMOTH. The end of one very, very long day. The end of a successful mission. More importantly, the beginning of my new appreciation for communication, team spirit, and of course, spare parts. Without these, crazy ideas – no matter how well planned – are destined to fail.
Cheers team! Until the next 36 hr event, bring on MOCSTOCK…