Around the Pier: A Note from the Field


On Feb. 12, 2007, Scripps oceanographer and La Jolla Symphony second bassoonist Jim Swift wrote this letter offering a glimpse into the spectacular and commonplace occurrences that make up the life of a Scripps researcher at sea. Swift is the chief scientist aboard R/V Roger Revelle’s current expedition to the Antarctic.

It has been a quiet week at sea as far as our science program goes. This was as expected, of course. Any ship transect to the Antarctic from a port city is a long haul, but due to the vagaries of ship scheduling and port assignments, the addition of traveling west to the southern Indian Ocean made our initial transit over 3,000 nautical miles. That's more than half as long as the entire Arctic Ocean transect we did from Oden in 2005, and this was just to get to our first station. Yes, indeed, it is a big ocean.

One highlight of the past week was a very nice auroral display (aurora australis in this case). The mate on watch woke me at 1:30 a.m. saying there was a spectacular sight. I took a quick peek and saw rapidly swirling, bright auroral "curtains" above the ship and went to wake up the science group. By the time we made it to the bridge, the display was not quite so spectacular, but was still very nice, and all who joined us on the bridge enjoyed it. There are not many clear nights here, and now that we are at 64° S the summer nights are short, so it was a rare opportunity.

I have a lot of work to do — enough, in fact, that I'm not getting to some of the writing I thought I'd do. Oh well. The students are fun to have along, and I spend a fair amount of time with them. They’re a great bunch.

So far I have made it to the gym every day, and – ahem! – to every meal every day, too, so it's a running battle between the cooks and the exercise equipment. The food is really good. For example, for lunch today, in addition to do-it-yourself burritos (a common enough item), there were homemade turkey mole enchiladas (the cook even roasted and peeled fresh peppers for the mole sauce), and tonight's dinner included roast pork with cranberry chutney, pesto scallops, rigatoni alfredo, roasted balsamic tomatoes, blue-cheese toast, and salad, with lemon bars on a shortbread crust for dessert.

It's been too rough to practice bassoon about half of the days, but I'm giving it a go when I can. As always at sea in the open ocean I find it amusing that I have no trouble coping with the odd semi-periodic instability provided by ship motion, motion which under other circumstances would be exceedingly distracting. We just bounce, roll, and heave our way to the first station.

The iceberg we cruised past was fun for the newcomers to see. As we steam west, we see icebergs from time to time, but not usually so close.

I have chosen three different locations close to Antarctica to begin the next transect, hoping that one will be free enough of ice that the ship can make it there. If the weather is clear – unknown odds – it could be a beautiful setting to begin our scientific work.  

-- Jim Swift

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.