A day in the life of a Principal Science Officer (PSO)

By Geraint Tarling on January 18, 2013 in Ocean Acidification
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PSO is a shorthand for Principal Science Officer. Mostly it is a senior scientist who has a strategic overview of science operations and also an understanding of how a science vessel is run. Their role is to coordinate daily activities, liaising between the scientists and the ship’s crew so that things run as harmoniously as possible. This is not my first PSO role but it is certainly the most complex, with many different types of activities carried out by a number of different working groups. My tasks are varied and multifarious and so far, each day has brought new challenges, some foreseen and others not. I thought I would take you through this particular day as my contribution to the blog, as typical or atypical as it may be.

01:35 My alarm goes off and I wonder for a few moments where I am and why I need to get up in the middle of the night. Then I remember it is a bioassay set up day. This is an activity we undertake every 5 days to bring water on board to incubate in our specialised containers. Setting up a new bioassay involves almost three quarters of all the scientists on board, and one by one, they start appearing, sleep heavy in their eyes. They set to their task soon enough, carrying ultra-clean water sampling bottles to the CTD  (a water profiling instrument) which is waiting on deck.

Sampling with the  Bongo nets @Jeremy Young

Sampling with the Bongo nets @Jeremy Young

My role here is to check that the location and conditions are suitable for sampling activities (e.g. not too rough to be carrying heavy bottles around, or too icy to deploy the CTD). I sometimes also make a few phonecalls to those whose alarm-clocks have been ineffective.  When I see that everything is going smoothly, I leave them to their task and get a couple more hours sleep before my day begins in earnest.

06:00 Quick check that everything is still going OK with the bioassay set-up. This is the second time we have done one on this cruise and they have already shaved an hour on how long it took last time – practise makes perfect.

07:00 Help the zooplankton team deploy their nets. Zooplankton ecology is my own discipline and there are four of us on board in total. Because of the many demands on my time, they mostly have to get on with their work without me. However, I try to help where I can and fielding the nets is something that I can do within my usual day. Its also fun, because you get to look at the wildlife as you wait for the net to descend and reascend the 200 m that it samples. Today we were in amongst the ice and watched chinstrap penguins jumping on and off the ice-floes. Some appeared to be dipping their toes in and refusing to jump – the water is -1.8oC  after all.

08:30 Go the bridge. The bridge is where the ship is controlled. During science sampling stations, it is also where sampling operations are coordinated from. Line of sight onto the decks is often obscured, so there are a multitude of cameras where the bridge officer can monitor activites. Communication to the deck crews is mainly done via radio, although there are phones strategically placed around the ship when radios are not available. I check with Phillipa, the 3rd mate, that sampling is going OK. We watch the screens for a bit and also notice some Minke whales appearing on the starboard side – so close you could almost smell their breath!

Minke Whales and penguins @Jeremy Young

Minke Whales and penguins @Jeremy Young

09:00 Meeting with Master and Senior Officers. Matters are always arising and I usually meet with the ship’s captain, Jerry Burgan, at least once or twice per day to talk things through and consider best options. Today, we were starting to think about plans for demobilisation since, although we are only part way through the cruise, dates for our return to allow sufficient time to pack the large amount of equipment we have on board need to be considered.

Meeting with captain and officers @Jeremy Young

Meeting with captain and officers @Jeremy Young

11:00 Do a round through the ship to check that the things are going OK with the various science teams on board. This is one of the most intensive days in our work schedule so I am particularly on the lookout for people getting overtired. Things have gone pretty smoothly today so there is a quiet and efficient hum of activity.

12:00 Lunch – this is a particularly important part of the day in that it is the main time that the whole science team congregate. Mingling is unavoidable as we all squeeze in to the tiny room and it is great time to catch up with people you may not have had a chance to speak to for a couple of days. Today’s offering – burger and chips – just the job for people who have been up since 2am.

Plotting out the next station locations @Jeremy Young

Plotting out the next station locations @Jeremy Young

13:00 Meeting to discuss station locations – although an outline route was thought out well in advance of the cruise, plans often have to be adapted in the field as weather, ice and other sampling issues get in the way. We are about to start the 3rd of 7 legs and we realise that we may need to increase the scope of this leg to take extra measurements. The consortium leader (Toby Tyrrell) and I look at some charts together and consider various options –  can it be done?  I spend the next 2 hours on my mapping software measuring things out and calculating distances that can be covered at the ship’s average speed of 10 knots. It will be tight!

16:00 Check emails. This is often the most effective means of managing daily housekeeping things on board such as the consignment of waste drums and the calling of meetings. There is also the odd mail from BAS, Cambridge saying that someone has left their car lights on – not much I can do to help there I am afraid.

17:30 A bit of exercise. For those still with energy amongst the heavy workloads, the Ship’s Purser, Richard, runs circuit training in one of the cargo holds. It is often cold and noisy and the ship does lurch in heavy seas or pack ice, but Richard makes it fun and it’s a wonder how high you can jump when the ship is going over a crest of a wave – just don’t try and jump again 2 seconds later when you in the subsequent trough and you have miraculously gained about 4 stone in weight.

19:00 Circulate the itinerary for the next day detailing what sampling activities will be happening when, and what to number to the respective stations. I try to post this up in as many handy places round the ship as possible but there will always be someone who will ask me what is happening next!

20:00 Check in with the bridge once again that all is well

20:30 Write the daily cruise narrative about the sampling events, weather, locations, and other various issues. Then send an email home to my family, as my eyelids start to droop.

21:00 Crawl into my bunk and think about reading my book, which doesn’t happen yet again as the urge to sleep starts to overpower me….. now what was it that I forgot to do today…….

Geraint Tarling

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Geraint TarlingView all posts by Geraint Tarling >


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