Seagoing Science Revisited

Kim Kastens
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published Aug 3, 2010

I'm writing from the Coast Guard research icebreaker Healy, offshore from the Aleutians, where I am at sea with my husband Dale and daughter Dana. Dale spends four to five months a year aboard this ship, making the complex suite of science instrumentation work for science cruises in the Arctic. But I've never been on this ship, and Dana has never been on any research vessel. The Coast Guard sometimes allows family members to ride the ship during transit legs, and so Dana and I are aboard for the three day run from Seward, Alaska, to Dutch Harbor.

I feel a bit like Rip van Winkle, having gone to sleep and awoken 17 years later to find that some things have changed in seagoing science and others have stayed the same. I last sailed in 1993, as Chief Scientist aboard the R/V Ewing at the Vema Fracture Zone. What hasn't changed:

Interestingly, the thrill of watching the seafloor emerge from the mapping system is there even for a piece of the seafloor in which I had no prior involvement and no vested interest. We are crossing continental shelf, a feature which my previous seagoing persona had viewed as merely something to get across. Nonetheless, the emerging maps are fascinating me. I think it has to do with the sense of revealing the unknown, the previously unseen. I have no question I am trying to answer, no hypothesis I am trying to test, but seeing a previously unmapped part of the planet seems rewarding in and of itself. Scientists are driven by wanting to know the answers to questions, it's true, but I think there is also a deeper-seated, more visceral, less intellectual, human urge to explore.

What's different:

Three women of the icebreaker HealyHealy women in the engineering spaces, on deck and on the bridge

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