Day 9 CPR – no, nothing has gone wrong: Christian Halverson

By October 3rd, 2017


We all know what CPR normally stands for and it usually involves someone in a remarkably poor state, but not on Investigator. The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) is a large metal box with a smaller metal box in it that is dragged 60 metres behind the ship. A large spool of silk webbing, like one might find at a quilting shop, is placed within and over 400 nautical miles filters out the plankton from the water passing through. As it is submerged at around 10 metres, it is designed to take an upper water plankton sample. There are other plankton nets that used for other depths, but I was fascinated that such old technology was still relevant today. One final blast from the past was to find out that when we bring it back on board the whole spool will be preserved in formalin. This older preservative is great for keeping shape and structure, and to look at the tissues and cells, but you lose the DNA. Safety first though, protective glasses and gloves were used, as it has been found that formalin can damage kidneys. One hundred years ago, they used to wipe down cutlery with it to ensure the cutlery was clean—I like progress, the kitchen of the ship uses a dishwasher.

One aspect of the science undertaken that has me fascinated is that for all of the crew and the Marine National Facility (MNF) science staff of Investigator, they don’t really know the final outcome of the work that is undertaken. Scientists apply to do research on board and, if the selection team finds it of benefit to Australia and meeting a fairly stringent application process, then you can join one of the expeditions. Once all the research is undertaken, the scientists take their data, write their papers and have them published. This process can take a bit of time, one or two years in some cases. The data remains with Australia and is open to the public. Therefore, the people at MNF are aware of the data but the vessel’s staff may never really see what the final outcome is. I guess the scientists that appreciated all the hard work might attempt to get a copy back to the MNF. Some scientists have been able to return to Investigator and continue with their ongoing work, or a new area of research. Then the staff here find out what happened with the initial research area—they like it when this happens.

I wonder what will happen with the continuous plankton recorders that we will set—will it meet the researcher’s expectations? Will something important be added to human knowledge? Helping spot birds for a few days has helped me realise that in these northern desert like oceans, rather than use a sense of smell to find shoals of fish, the birds use their sight to zoom in on the top predator pelagic fish, as they force the smaller species to the surface. These events are over so fast and, yet, this is an important part of the cycle of matter. All of the research projects for this transit voyage are going to add to a better understanding of our oceans. At 70 percent of the planet, it is about time we put a bit of effort into understanding this aspect of Earth.