Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

A ‘Day’ in the life of a Nocturnal Sea Scientist

Even now, over halfway through the expedition, some of us are still trying to come to grips with the abnormality of our shift times and sleeping schedules. Myself, I’ve found that breakfast becomes a midnight snack, exercise IS possible at 4am and that ping-pong makes for a good science break!

This being my first cruise, adjusting to this pattern is taking some getting used to, but it’s an incredible experience all the same. So as part of the ‘midnight crew’, I thought I’d give a rundown of how a day usually pans out for me at sea:

WARNING: May contain science and copious amounts of food.

23:20 – Believe it or not, this is actually time to WAKE UP. Its slightly surreal waking up earlier than I’d usually go to bed and hopefully I’ve been able to catch a few hours rest but we’ll get to that…

23:45 – After a quick splash of desalinated seawater in the face, it’s into the main lab for a quick debrief of the evening’s activities, and what the plan is for the rest of the night. At this point the majority of the science party head off for some well deserved sleep whilst the owls among us begin our night’s watch.

23:55 – The most important part of the day… “Breakfast”. An endless supply of snacks, toast, cereal and juice is essential for a boost just before the shift begins. If the others on shift want me to be civil… this is a necessity!

00:00 – Our shift begins. And so we start a mix of various activities for the next 4 hours including: event and image logging in the Jason control room, working with the Jason crew to collect samples from the seafloor, processing rock samples that have come up, data entry, moving around rocks, and a LOT of labeling buckets and trays.

03:45 – The next shift comes to relieve us. At this point we swap roles, they begin their day and I attempt to keep mine going throughout the night. This is done usually by making use of the exercise and weights room onboard… when you can walk anywhere on the ship in 60 seconds, some exercise is needed (especially with the food supply!).

05:00 – By this point I’m usually feeling a bit perkier, so I dedicate the next few hours to catching up with the expedition’s outreach platforms: answering Twitter questions (we get around 30 a day), writing blogs for the website and uploading photos and data to share with the rest of the science party. If I have time, I also like to have a look at what the current shift are looking at on the seafloor to stay in touch with our findings.

06:00 – Around this time I usually nip outside to catch the Pacific sunrise. Each one is fantastic so it’s a shame to miss out on them – I won’t get these back in Northern England.

07:15 – Our other scientists have arisen and it’s time for an episode of “A Night on the Seafloor.” This gets the rest of the team up to date with what we have found throughout the course of the night, although there is sometimes a bridge to cross between my deliriously-awake state and the poor souls who only woke up 5 minutes prior to me babbling on about pumice.


07:30 – Breakfast. I’ve had one yes, now what about a second breakfast? By this point some extra food is needed to keep us fueled and the food is so good it’d be a sin to miss out (although I’m noticing the slow transition in my choice from a fruit bowl and muesli to sausage and egg overload).

08:00 – Shower time. Bunkmates have different shift schedules so that sleep patterns do not interfere so once they’re up, I can use the room without being a pest. Now ready for stage 2 of the day.

08:30 – The next couple of hours are usually spent either helping out with operations on deck: elevator and Jason loading/unloading, Sentry deployment or extra hands needed to process samples. If these jobs are well manned then it’s an opportunity for either a bit of free time (I’m currently on book 4 of 5 and I’ve only been at sea 2 weeks!) or writing up bits of my thesis for back home because I’m such a good student… but every so often a quick game of ping-pong works its way in there.

11:30 – Lunch. (More food!) You’re starting to see a pattern here now… Once again we indulge ourselves in the glorious range of creations from our 2 Masters of the Kitchen: Marc and Mark. It’s incredible that just the 2 of them feed 50+ crew and passengers 3 times a day without fail – thanks guys!


12:00 – And now begins shift no. 2 of the day. As with the first shift, we’ll be controlling Jason, processing rock samples or doing data entry. The difference here is that with a few more awake this time, a few other hands usually help out, so we have remained on top of things well and suffered no backup of workload. This is also a good opportunity to bounce ideas off the other scientists, and we found ourselves frequently in impromptu debates and meetings discussing our findings and hypotheses.

16:30 – This shift usually runs a little later as most of our operations happen during the day. I’m starting to slow down now, the seconds feel longer, my body is weaker, my head is heavier and I think it might be time to go and catch some rest but wait… what’s that smell?

17:00 – Dinner. By now I should be able to battle my instinct to run towards the dinner queue and try and convince myself that I don’t fancy what’s on the menu tonight but alas, this day hasn’t come yet. So I find myself with no choice but to sit down for my 4th and largest meal of the day and as per usual, it’s great.


18:00 – Post food-coma and a quick check up with emails, I finally concede to the alluring call of my bunk. By this time I can’t decide whether I’m wide awake or positively worn-out, so I force myself down to my cabin, set my alarm and hope that my body decides to shut itself off.

23:20 – After an eventual crash-out, another round of science, food, science, food begins – this is the life, right?!