At 0400 on March 18th, Honolulu floated ahead of me more brightly and widely than anything I had encountered in the Pacific. As the Robert C. Seamans, a sailing school vessel of Sea Education Association, approached Honolulu harbor, and I with it, too many thoughts entered and exited my mind for me to concentrate on my given task of bow watch. I was returning from a semester abroad studying oceanography and sustainability from Tahiti to Hawaii. After a week of finalizing work, I would be embarking on an entirely new adventure to fill an empty 5 months of calendar space. Among the schemes that my imagination conjured, it did not cross my mind that someone might offer to take me back out to sea and teach me the many skills that I lack in the realm of oceanographic research.
Once I let the competing, unconfirmed plans settle to the bottom and the sense float to the surface, I took the uncommon opportunity to participate in research concerning the ocean’s physical properties and changing climate patterns. With this internship I will get to return to sea for four days to a week at time, on three Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) cruises and one WHOI Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station (WHOTS) cruise. On these cruises on the Kilo Moana I will be able to revisit the skills of science at sea that I learned aboard the Seamans. However, I expect to leave with much more knowledge than I board with.
Between these four cruises spread across the summer, I will spend time at UH in the lab and on the computer learning what’s done with the data after it’s collected. Though data collection has always seemed to me the most glamorous part of science, I am coming to realize that data is nothing without processing and presentation. Of what use to other scientists and other humans are a couple of digits before a parts per million without context? Trends, numbers in relation to each other, are the reason for most scientific endeavors – especially this one in which patterns only become clear with many years of data. With any luck, I will learn to determine relationships using software, Matlab, which so far seems to speak a different language than I do – just when I thought I was returning from islands of foreign tongues. To present this data I will learn a bit of Dreamweaver to make it available online.
In addition to the practical skills and knowledge I forecast learning, I am jazzed about interdisciplinary work combining writing and physics in the form of presenting data online and blogging about my adventures. I am a physicist-in-training and a hopeful writer. My school, Middlebury College, knows me more formally as a double major in Physics and in Environmental Studies, focusing on non-fiction writing. Most of the time these two disciplines make me stretch wide to keep one foot in each department. This summer, however, I am happy to see that I will need less gymnastic ability to stay standing with both sides of my academic pursuit.
I am expecting this summer to surprise and challenge me at all times of the day, whether it be in an office, at sea, or trying to catch the right bus. Learning opportunities, I’m positive I won’t lack. Though there’s a skeletal structure of familiar procedures that I expect to practice again, there’s a whole body of details and variations into which I look forward to delving.