SEA 2014: Did you have a "sleep of kings" last night? (July 6)

A six-week expedition with Sea Education Association (SEA) is en route from Honolulu to the Phoenix Islands. This will mark the first-ever oceanographic cruise to PIPA, and is a historic collaboration between SEA, the New England Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and of course, the Republic of Kiribati. The objectives of this mission include the high-quality education of 13 students in both science and policy aspects of PIPA as well as scientific goals, which will be detailed in the coming weeks and months here on this blog. 

This post is from Aquarium research intern Luke Faust.

 Sunday, July 6, 2014

Today we passed the 500 mile mark since we left Honolulu on the 2nd, well on our way to the Phoenix Islands. Fully immersed in life at sea, it is hard to keep track of time. Time is marked by what watch is currently being stood. For four to six hours, one watch team controls the ship, steering, looking out, making sure everything is running smoothly, and working in the lab. Because there are five watch timeslots in a day, and three watch groups, the time each group stands watch changes each day, rotating on a three day schedule. Today I was on watch from 0700 to 1300, and will go on again from 2300 to 0300. This allows us to experience the different parts of the day, seeing sunrises, sunsets, clear night skies, and hot sunny days. Sleeping occurs whenever possible, at different times every day, with no more than four or five straight hours of sleep at a time. However every third day you get a 'sleep of kings', where you can have an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep.

Soaring sea birds

On watch my two favorite duties are lookout from the bow, and doing the hourly seabird observations. Just looking out into the ocean is very relaxing and allows you to appreciate all that is going on. Constantly checking for squalls or obstacles in the water, you have to be attuned to any changes that are going on around you. This means that every school of flying fish that jumps out of the water, every petrel soaring in and out of the ocean swells.... all are noticed. Other than our 32 other shipmates, these open ocean inhabitants are the only other life we have seen since leaving Hawaii.

A diving bird photographed on a previous expedition

Of course we cannot forget about abundant zooplankton and phytoplankton existing in huge quantities in the ocean all around us. Every night we deploy a Neuston net, which we drag along the surface of the water while we sail by. Mostly we catch copepods and a few cephalopods in our net, but as we traverse south, we expect to see a change in composition of our net tows. Throughout our voyage we will making similar measurements, as well as daily carousel deployments, where we sample water at preprogrammed depths, characterizing depth profiles of temperature, salinity, chlorophyll a, and a
few others.

As we approach the intertropical convergence zone, these measurements will change. This is the area where Hadley cells on either side of the equator converge and air rises, leading to pretty much constant cloud cover. There is also continuous upwelling of cold, nutrient rich deep water to the surface, as the surface water is driven northward. Because the cold deep water goes to the surface (bringing with it an abundance of nutrients from the deep), these depth profiles change significantly. One of the big questions we are trying to address in the Phoenix Islands is how its waters are affected by the intertropical convergence zone. It sits right on the edge of the equator so it is unclear how the productivity of the waters of PIPA compares to surrounding waters. But we will soon find out.

Until then, I'll be standing watch, and waiting for my next sleep of kings.

Luke Faust


  1. Very interesting Luke. How did manage to post something online from your boat?

  2. Will they give you a sleep of kings for your birthday today?