Blue yonder: blogging on the high seas

Podcaster, illustrator, social media star and science fanatic Jesse Hawley takes to the high seas in the name of science exploration

Read Jesse’s full blog at bit.ly/CSIRO_blog

WEEK 1

I’m on the CSIRO research vessel RV Investigator, and we’re voyaging from Sydney, up the coast past the Great Barrier Reef, across the Gulf of Carpentaria and on to Broome, WA.

On board is a researcher conducting a survey on science communication, two STEM teachers, and an ornithologist perched on the ‘monkey bridge’, a small lookout room high up on deck seven that cops the brunt of the ship’s movements. It’s the closest you can get to being a camera on the end of a selfie stick.

We’ve also got our regular onboard crew who analyse all the classic oceanic goodies: things like water salinity, temperature, depth and the seafloor. One research team is using Investigator’s onboard sensors and specially fitted equipment to catch airborne particulate matter (containing iron and other nutrients) all the way from Sydney to Broome. Investigator’s foremast is a snorkel, funnelling air particles down into the ship’s lungs, where they can be analysed in a lab at a later date.

This data can then be matched up with weather events that occur on land (e.g. dust storms) to determine how much the weather can stimulate ecosystem flourishes (e.g. phytoplankton blooms) in the oceans.

WEEK 2

The days have just swept by. Breakfast, sun, dinner, breakfast, sun, dinner…

We’ve learnt a lot, but what truly floated my boat was the ability of the ship, its scientific instruments and the people on board. On one of its most recent voyages, Investigator went to the Eastern Abyss, a deep sea plain down thousands of metres. Thanks to the crew, like seagoing instrumentation technician Aaron Tyndall, who constructed a deep towed camera, the scientists were able to watch a live feed of that abyss.

WEEK 3

Around 1 am we found the wreck of SS Macumba lying 40 m under the Arafura Sea off the Northern Territory. It’s been a flurry of media activity, satellite calls and interviews.

On Friday 6 August 1943, the SS Macumba was carrying supplies for the war effort in Darwin when two Japanese aircraft came in low and opened fire on the vessel. Three members of the crew were killed in the attack, and Macumba took enough damage that it began to sink. Disappearing below the waves, the vessel wasn’t to be seen for 74 years.

Circumnavigating the top half of Australia’s coastline has been a unique experience – not just for us, but for science. There’s scarce data for our tropical waters and the species that inhabit them, so we didn’t know what to expect. Each day I get up and look out and the sea’s personality is different. In fact, most things are different each day, always surprising. I’ve learnt too much to ever document or pass on entirely,
and I’ve only been on the ship for a fortnight.

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“Around 1 am we found the wreck of SS Macumba lying 40 m under the Arafura Sea off the Northern Territory. It’s been a flurry of media activity, satellite calls and interviews.”

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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