Malaspina expedition: Pausing in Perth

Malaspina expedition: Pausing in Perth

Broken electronics sit on a shelf in one of the laboratories on the Hespérides, awaiting repair. Finger bones smashed by errant sampling bottles are knitting nicely, the medic says. And supplies ordered last week before we lost our main satellite connection await the ship in port. The Hespérides is now pausing in Perth, Australia. The ship stays long enough to pick up more supplies, drop off some researchers, and pick up a few more researchers on the way to Sydney. It’s also a chance for the sailors and scientists who continue to Sydney to recharge their mental batteries after 30 days at sea.

Malaspina expedition: Cosmopolis of specialists

Malaspina expedition: Cosmopolis of specialists

The showers overflow when the ship rolls. Lunch often resembles the previous night’s dinner, and one researcher slouched on the sofa in the scientist’s lounge grumbles, “My four-year-old and her friends party more than this.” So much for quality of life. But the location and neighbors are little-explored and could give that researcher a shot at publishing a handful of original papers. That’s enough of a draw for a couple hundred scientists and technicians to abandon their homes and families for a month or two each. All the researchers here are specialists of one stripe or another, and the Hespérides is like a small hostel, a stopover in the mobile city of science.

Malaspina expedition: Not an obsession

Malaspina expedition: Not an obsession

One winter’s evening in Callao, in Spain’s viceroy of Perú, Luis Née packed his botanical equipment for a voyage. The 59-year-old botanist had arrived in Perú with the Malaspina expedition from Australia in late July 1793. The Descubierta would continue through the Strait of Magellan to Buenos Aires, on the other side of the continent. Née would walk.

Malaspina expedition: Persistent pollutant pursuers

Malaspina expedition: Persistent pollutant pursuers

A dorado shimmers below the surface, flitting its radioactive blue fins and flicking its yellow tail as it circles a vertical net dangling from the Hespérides. The dorado is the largest animal we have seen since leaving the African coast. This open ocean predator might see our nets as competition, or as a handily packaged snack. An open ocean predator, the dorado is probably laced with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), one of the compounds subject to limits by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

Malaspina expedition: Deep sea -omics

Malaspina expedition: Deep sea -omics

The sun returned to the Hespérides Saturday. Scientists sprawled on the flight deck after lunch, indulging in short siestas or playing a little foosball in the hangar. Just before 3pm, an alarm clock rang and one of the researchers sprang up to check on a filter running downstairs in the laboratory.

Malaspina expedition: Catching our breath

Malaspina expedition: Catching our breath

On Sunday the researchers aboard the Hespérides woke to frothing waves rushing past their portholes. The ship had rocked and rolled through the night, but it had not stopped for its normal pre-dawn observations because the sea was too rough. Sunday would be the first of at least three days when the scientific staff took a forced partial break.

Malaspina expedition: Data deluge

Malaspina expedition: Data deluge

It’s pushing midnight in the computer room and the zooplankton team, some of them awake since the 4:30am Neuston net tow, are starting to get cranky. Pieces of a sandwich and numerous scattered printouts crowd a pair of computers at their labeling station. The bar code printer strapped on top of one of the computers spits out bar codes, one by one, with a triumphant buzz.

Malaspina expedition: Water, water everywhere and not a drop to sample

Malaspina expedition: Water, water everywhere and not a drop to sample

Every day around dawn the Hespérides pauses in its 5000 nautical mile journey. It does not begin again until mid-afternoon, when its researchers have slaked their thirst for samples with a bewildering variety of bottles and nets. Yet every day scientists ask one another a mysterious question: “Can I have some of your water, please?”

Malaspina expedition: Starting with a splash

Malaspina expedition: Starting with a splash

The first working day of this leg of the Malaspina expedition began with the splash of a Neuston net into the black water on the starboard side of the Hespérides before dawn on Sunday. The bosun, another operations officer, and a handful of technicians and scientists wearing life vests and helmets stood watch with arms folded under the warm yellow running lights of the ship. They were waiting in the rich wet air for a fine mesh net, hanging behind the two metal pontoons of the skate, to fill with creatures of the night.

Malaspina expedition: Shipping out

Freelance journalist Lucas Laursen is joining the Malaspina expedition, a Spanish oceanographic survey circling the globe in the wake of Alessandro Malaspina’s 1789-1794 exploratory voyage (http://www.expedicionmalaspina.es). He will report from aboard the Hespérides for the month-long leg between Cape Town and Perth. <img alt=“DSC_6577.JPG” src=“http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/DSC_6577.JPG” width=“400” height=“266” hspace=10 align=“right”/> Cape Town was filled with chattering Spanish researchers this week, on shore between legs of a circumnavigation that will take them from Cádiz to Sydney and back, by way of the Panama Canal. They chewed on biltong and rode the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. Now they are  … Read more