What is it that attracts the explorer’s heart so much to the sea? To the small island that a ship will be for you for two weeks? To the lonely darkness of the Arctic in winter?
Text and photos: Jenny Friedrich, Geomar.
It is the experience you only share with a small group of people. Nowhere else do colleagues become friends and family so quickly as on a research vessel. What unites you is the thirst for knowledge, to go where no one has gone before, to ask questions that no one has asked before. Already the journey to the Kronprins Haakon in Longyearbyen confronted the participants of this cruise with a special challenge: The organization of the Covid-19 quarantine, that everybody had to do before the trip was a big piece of work, especially for participants from outside Norway. For me, all worries were forgotten, every effort was justified, when I saw the black-and-white beauty in front of a black sky on a dark sea for the first time: 10 decks of the ultra-modern ship, built for one purpose: research.
Meanwhile, we have spent seven days at sea – half of the time we will spend on this ship, hunting cold seeps, is over. The map of the labyrinth to the laboratories, to the mess room, to the instrument room, and back to my chamber is now in my head and I almost never get lost anymore. Nevertheless, there is still so much to explore! So many rooms, corridors, and instruments whose purpose I do not yet know. So far I have been able to learn many new research methods and have gained insights into things that I have only known from television. For example, when we pulled tubeworms from the mud of the Arctic seabed yesterday, I felt like I was in the middle of a BBC documentary.
We are the ones who are allowed to gain this new knowledge, who can make the links between the past of our oceans and current processes. We are on the search for traces of first life on earth, of organisms that do not depend on the light of the sun – just like tubeworms, which live in symbiosis with chemosynthetic bacteria that utilize chemical energy provided by the seeping fluids. For me it is an incredible privilege to be allowed to carry out this work, to make a contribution to solving a little bit of the still-unsolved mysteries of this world.
One of the most beautiful moments so far was when, after a few days of searching for methane bubbles in the water column, we finally found them using hydroacoustic systems and live videos from the ROV. The ebbing tension was literally tangible because everyone knew that we would bring new data and samples home and that we were looking at the right place. I am very excited to get a glimpse of the big picture when the pieces of the puzzle are put together later in the different laboratories at the different locations of our scientific crew. Until then I enjoy the unexpected, the new, and the constant challenges that await me every day!