Apr. 05 2019

I applied for the Student Opportunities program through the Schmidt Ocean Institute as a way to learn about living and working on a research vessel, as well as the different kinds of sciences that are conducted out at sea. Before coming on this expedition, I had just finished the winter quarter of my first year in graduate school. After speaking with my graduate advisor about how I have too many competing interests, he suggested I focus on mapping as a way to bring all my passions under the same umbrella. It seemed fortuitous that SOI should call me a month later to go on a transit cruise that would be mapping seamounts off the Mexican coast.

Alexis in front of ghostfish mural on R/V Falkor.

As one is apt to do, I started to form an expectation of the things I might learn. I expected to learn some new (to me) software, different data sets, mapping systems, and a variety of uses for multibeam information. While I am happy to report I am learning a great deal about all of these things and more, something happened that I was not expecting. I was not expecting to ignite a passion: the passion of discovery.

This brings me to the R/V Falkor journey: I was involved in the process of mapping a previously unmapped (and unnamed) seamount yesterday. I watched a mountain appear out of the seafloor that no one had ever seen before — how incredible! Sure, the various algorithms, altimeters, and satellites that exist had given us an idea that the feature may be there, but no one knew for sure until yesterday. This amazing ship and this amazing crew used technology to reveal something new. In this age of information, how many people can make the claim that they discovered something truly new? After some time, I will be able to go to any online mapping system, type in coordinates, and look up the seamount we just mapped. The newly added seamount will have a small tag with a name above it. I will then be able to point it out to someone and tell them I was there when it was discovered. I was there. I was on the ship that mapped this massive sea mountain.

So yes, I have learned much in my short time with the crew on R/V Falkor. This experience has been something that I will never forget, and I will hopefully be able to use these mapping skills to further my education. However, the part that I cannot wait to rush home to tell my friends and family about is the feeling of discovery. I cannot wait to tell them how, for a short time, I was part of the crew that is working tirelessly to move the needle on the 10% of the ocean floor that has been mapped, with the hopes of sharing this information with the world. This experience has ignited a passion I did not know I had, and shown me all the amazing things you can do with technology – like discovering the new. After reading textbook after textbook and article after article about all the things that other people have done, it is nice to feel like I am a part of a truly new discovery. What a gift this time has been.

Multibeam projection of mapped seamount as seen in R/V Falkor’s control room.