Oceanographic cruises

PERLE4 – The redemption during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nunzia Antonicelli, 13 May 2021

A student from the university, at her first experience, launched on an oceanographic vessel “at the LIW’s (Levantine Intermediate Water) heels”. YES! it seems the beginning of a science fiction story, especially at the time of Covid-19 , but this is real!

On board the Atalante, one of the ships of the French oceanographic fleet managed by IFREMER, a crew made up of scientists from different nations entered the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, starting from the port of La Seyne-sur-Mer. The main goal of this expedition was to study the formation and dispersion of the (LIW), a water mass of the Mediterranean Sea with unique characteristics.

The ocenographic vessel L’Atalante

PERLE4, the oceanographic cruise, in which I had the honor to participate, was the opportunity for La!DOM to redeem itself from the experience of PERLE3, interrupted just one week after the departure, due to the Sars-Cov19 pandemic.

The project is ambitious, with a program rich of sampling stations and parameters to measure. Our contribution to PERLE4 was to collect seawater samples, to filter them and once ashore, to measure the optical properties (absorption and fluorescence) of DOM. In collaboration with Daniel Repeta (WHOI, US) we collected samples to study the activity of two enzymes: C-P lyase and Alkaline Phosphatase. In collaboration with Benjamin Misson (MIO; France), we collected DNA samples using methods and tools that are new for us. We also carried out an incubation experiment aimed at studying if the microbial community present in surface and intermediate waters are capable to use the high molecular weight DOM (HMW DOM), concentrated through our ultrafiltration system.

Struggling with seawater sampling

In this adventure I was not alone, Giancarlo, Valter and I were La!DOM team at sea. For me and Valtere it was the “baptism of the sea“, our first experience in an oceanographic cruise.

You cannot forget the first time

At the beginning, looking at the various protocols and listening to those who have more experience than me, it seemed to me that the work on the ship would be almost unmanageable.
Once on board, things change; your rhythm adapts to that of the rosette, you are always ready to collect the samples as quickly as possible and you are always ready to work.

Howevere, with two travel companions everything is simpler, I have to admit.
It is true, sometimes you are exhausted, but a nice song in the lab next door or a curious animal found in the zooplankton net make you full of energy again!

la!DOM with the rosette

Working in an environment so rich in input and experties makes you familiar with new fields of research and you can begin nice collaborations.

Mooring, PERLE4 lack for nothing

The recovery of the mooring was one of the most anticipated events of this experience. The mooring, a set of instruments and sensors, was anchored to the bottom during the first oceanographic cruise of the PERLE project. The initial goal was to recover it after a year, during PERLE2, but this was not possible. I have to say “luckily form me”, since this allowed me to be part of its recovering in PERLE4!
On April 16th, the Atalante managed to intercept and unhook the mooring from the bottom. Once the various components were recovered, everyone worked to ascertain the conditions. Except for some “incidents” (such as fish inexplicably entered the sediment traps), it seems that the various tools did a good job during these three years. We now look forward to looking at the results.

Mooring recovering

Not just science

This was my first experience on a research vessel, and its human side was crucial to me. The bonds created oboard are special, some not very lasting in fact, but they are fundamental in the middle of the sea. The relationship with La!DOM team was fantastic, even if Valtere had to have a lot of patience with the constant teasing between me and Giancarlo, and both Giancarlo and Valter had to have a lot of patience with my inexperience.

The relationship with the other researchers are equally important, new friendships allow you to know different and fascinating realities. We had a lot of fun together, because the oceanographic campaign is also this, moments of pause in which you can refresh your mind and stretch your bones, for example with a nice game of ping pong or a baby foot match. Or spending a few hours sunbathing on the deck like little lizards.

A moment of relax

Once back on land, I can only thank La!DOM for giving me the chance of having this amazing experience!

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