The R/V Thomas G. Thompson left Honolulu on November 5, 2011 heading toward the Western Pacific. This expedition journal written by cruise participants and uploaded about once per weekday, depending on internet availability.
December 17, 2011: A Few Final Thoughts
Over Christmas breakfast a few years ago, a family member asked me about my research; at the time I was studying the geology of Mars. After I answered, he asked another question: "What's the point?" I don't remember my answer, but I'm pretty sure I blew it. On this expedition, we took six weeks to study the magnetic signatures of rocks erupted underneath the ocean at a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth. So, "what's the point?" A friend on board told me one answer. She said, "I'm curious, and I like myself when I'm curious." Working with the students on these daily blogs, I have satisfied some of my own curiosity. About the magnetic field of the Earth, about instrumentation, data collection, and living conditions on an ocean-going research station, and about the politics that can be present within scientific institutions (as scientists, we are often erroneously thought to be immune). This is not work that will cure cancer. But it will give us insights into the history of the Earth as a geologic system, a system of which all known living things are a part. This experience has reminded me in a visceral way that real exploration, based entirely on our thirst for knowledge about our environment (and, therefore, ourselves), is still possible and happening, and I am honored to have been involved.
Marine Geophysical Lead
I am finding it hard to sum up the last six weeks in a few sentences that capture Nick’s spirit of science, Jen’s appreciation for teamwork, Dani’s fond memories, Tom’s sense of experience gained, and Matt’s newly discovered academic direction. I was asked if the five KU students will return from the R/V Thompson as different people. I responded that they would likely still be recognizable to family and friends, and that I cannot be the best judge of any changes since I saw them happen little by little over the course of this research cruise. They will all take something from this experience and incorporate it into their lives, and I think they will continue to realize how much they have learned as they return to campus, classes and “normal” life. I am very proud of the work they have done and am happy that I got a chance to work with and get to know these five wonderful people. I have learned a lot from them. Our blog and website have been viewed across the country and in many nations around the world. We could not have achieved that level of success without Will, and for his hard work, I am extremely grateful. Guam is currently off our port side, and our adventure at sea is coming to a close. Personally, I find it hard to leave the ocean, but I will be back. And I have a feeling these five incredible undergrads will too.
Looking back at all the great things we’ve accomplished over the JQZ, I just as quickly recognize the glimpses of shadows from the not-so-good things that “Murphy” threw at us. It’s easy for us to take hindsight and say, “Well we could have done this,” or “We should have done that.” But that’s what every expedition into open waters conducting marine geophysical surveys is all about, the learning curve. One of my favorite sayings describes this perfectly: “You have to take the good with the bad; you can’t choose only one, because if you do – you’re only running away from the truth.” The experiences we take away are what we make of them, so it is with all of this in mind that I am driven even more than before to further my understanding in marine geophysical fields, following in the rather large footprints of all the great scientists, technicians, and mentors aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson – I truly am thankful to have been given this amazing opportunity in working with them.
After these past few weeks, I can say I am extremely thankful that Dr. Oakley selected me as one of the five students to go on this cruise. It has been such a wonderful experience and it really opened my eyes to what happens in the real world of science. This trip made me realize how important it is to work together as a team. Whether we are deploying the surface-towed Maggie or searching for Sentry, we work as a team to get everything accomplished in a timely and smooth fashion. Being able to work with all of the intelligent members of the science team was also really awesome, because every day we were learning something new. Working with the crew was also cool because we got to go behind the scenes on the ship and see that everyone working together is what keeps the R/V Thomas G. Thompson running. I hope that I will be able to have more experiences like this one on future cruises.
As we approached the end of this six-week cruise, I have found myself reflecting on several aspects of this experience. For the past few weeks, in fact, I have been regretting the fact that I don’t have another research cruise lined up in my future yet. I have grown very fond of the perpetually interesting cast of scientists, engineers, and crew as well as getting to participate in gobs and gobs of hands-on science. The Sentry team has entertained my relentless questioning without fail, and revitalized my interest in how engineers make the impossible seem possible. While working on this research cruise with these passionate scientists the spirit of science has been instilled in me, and that is something that cannot be learned in a classroom. After I get back on land, I will do everything I can to make sure that I can be a part of more oceanographic research like this, because I am now unquestionably sure that this is what I want to do with my life.
Over the last week I have been asked numerous times how I felt about the end of the cruise, and each time I struggle for an answer. Luckily, the people asking use my loss for words to explain how they feel about the end of the cruise, which usually ends the conversation and leaves me free from having to answer. I know I will have to answer the question sooner or later, but I honestly don’t know how I feel. A part of me is excited to finally get off the ship and set foot on land. Sweet, stable, nonmoving land. But another part of me doesn’t want the adventure to end. I have had the chance to experience things that I would have never dreamed of doing and learn from my peers who I now see as good friends. I’ll cherish the memories that I made on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, but I also look forward to my next adventure that I know will just be around the corner.
Looking back at the forty-two days spent at sea, I have to say that I have had an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to work with expensive geophysical equipment that I may otherwise have never gotten to interact with. I got the chance to learn from scientists and technicians that specialize in marine geophysics. Throughout the cruise, I learned about marine geophysics to a greater extent than I would have in the classroom — and because of this I found a new interest in multichannel seismic data. This new interest is leading me towards graduate school in the near future. All in all, this was an amazing cruise despite some equipment setbacks. We all had a great time and created memories we will never forget while onboard the TGT. Even though it’s sad that this cruise is ending, I am excited to return home to frigid Pennsylvania to spend the holidays with my family and friends.