Best Laid Plans
Long before a typical research cruise occurs (which is nothing like a vacation “cruise,” by the way), a plan is devised, time on a ship is applied for, and the crew is selected. No two research experiences are ever exactly alike, so each mission plan starts from scratch. Once the research topic is chosen, the chief scientist will need to assemble the crew that will be participating in the mission. A research vessel is selected, as well as preferred dates for the research trip. Due to very high demand on research vessels, the dates assigned to the research mission may not always be the chief scientist’s first choice. The science crew will have to make arrangements to work within their given time frame at their selected locations.
Ideally on this mission, the science team would be able to deploy the ROV every day from 8 am to 8 pm. Wonderful specimens would be collected and processed efficiently. The night crew would head up the multibeam data collection, which is a method of sonar mapping to determine the layout of the ocean floor in this area. The next day would begin with another ROV dive, and so on.
But even the most well-planned research experiences may have to move on to plan B, or plan C, or plan D. A good expedition plan has plenty of flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. During the Extreme Corals Expedition, we have had to make several adjustments to our itinerary. There have been minor technical difficulties with the ROV, such as recalibrating a new transponder system. We have also had quite rough waves on a few days, and can’t dive because the ROV isn’t able to deploy in rough conditions. Our research locations have changed some due to weather. We skipped over a few sites because of high swells and rough seas, steaming ahead to Jacksonville, and then backtracking to the original sites following behind the weather front. Yesterday, weather altered our plans again. In the morning, the seas were too rough to dive, so we steamed on through for three hours, hoping to reach calm seas. Unfortunately we did not, and were not able to dive at all but made the most of the time by more mapping.
When conducting research at sea, many factors beyond our control come into play. Just as in other situations in life, we must be flexible, and adjust our plans. We continue on to find the best course of action, and hope for the best.