Day 16 – 3 December – Liberia

Out of the doldrums! The storms of the previous evening were the first clue. Gone are the glassy waters and still, heavy air. We have entered the region of the trade winds and towering marshmallow clouds (“cumulo-nimbus” if we’re going to get technical about it), known as the intertropical convergence zone. Back in the day the sailors would be thanking their lucky stars around now. As are we! Each day brings us closer to the equator and the fabled baptism by Neptune that supposedly accompanies it.

Today we heard from fellow student Anna Cresswell from Australia. She presented her PhD work on disturbance impacts in Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

Couche de soleil au passage de l’équateur. © V.Sentilhes

Day 17 – 4 December – Equator crossing at 12°22’W

Vladimir Zimine turns into Neptune, secretly, in the gym. ©V.Sentilhes
Vladimir Zimine turns into Neptune, secretly, in the gym. ©V.Sentilhes

Today we had the day off to partake in a hallowed maritime tradition – atoning for our sins so King Neptune would grant us safe passage across the equator! Tradition also dictates that we are sworn to secrecy regarding the details of this centuries-old ceremony, so I shall say no more. Suffice to say that all newcomers to the equator participated – scientists, students, and Russian crew – and we all crossed relatively unscathed. To celebrate, we ate rich Napoleon cake for Anna Kozachek (Russia) and Tanja Hanekom (South Africa)’s birthdays. Then we all danced the night away under the light of the stars and the helicopter landing pad. Every once in a while I stopped to take it all in: our tiny speck of laugher and dancing on a Russian icebreaker surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of dark Atlantic Ocean.


Day 18 – 5 December – Guinea abyssal plain

Everyone moved slowly today, recovering from the previous day’s festivities. We students spent most of our time enwrapped in a fascinating discussion on climate change. Each group led a discussion on one of 8 topics: the COP21 international agreement to limit warming to 2°C, the role of media, the relationship between science and politics, the role of interdisciplinary work in science, should scientists set an example, communicating with science skeptics, the role of science education, and the relationship between science and economics. We took careful notes of everyone’s comments and hope to turn it into a more formal document, so stay posted! It was both encouraging hearing climate change-related solutions from other countries, and discouraging to recognize the familiar tones of hopelessness and pessimism that peppered our discussion. A major theme that emerged was our need as scientists to improve our communication skills, especially to the public. We all acknowledged that climate change is a global issue and opportunities to discuss with our peers across the world, such as we have now, are rare yet much needed.