LLO Student Corner with Daniel Sandborn

A research cruise on a rather larger lake: GO-SHIP A13.5

The first evening of the research cruise we passed among the ten islands of the Cabo Verde archipelago off the coast of Senegal. The tropical sun sank low to the west, just missing the mountainous slopes of Santo Antão island. It tumbled into the long blue horizon, stretched like painter’s tape under an impressionist painting of a sunset colored by Saharan dust. This would be among the last sunsets I would see for nearly eight weeks as I continued south. Ahead of me lay approximately 12,000 km of travel (most of it at a leisurely 10.5 kt), 69° of latitude, and 326 km running or biking in the ship’s gym.  

Daniel on Langseth
PhD Candidate Daniel Sandborn on RV Marcus Langseth.

To get here, I applied to work on a research cruise traversing the Atlantic Ocean from Mindelo, Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa aboard the RV Marcus G. Langseth. This expedition was one of a series of decadal cruises organized by the Global Ocean Ship-based Hydrographic Investigations Program (GO-SHIP) in an effort to observe long-term shifts in ocean physics and chemistry and understand how climate change affects the ocean. My cruise, GO-SHIP A13.5, departed on February 2nd 2024, retracing the steps of past expeditions in 1985 and 2010.  Aboard the Langseth was a broad cross-section of the oceanographic community; 48 scientists and crew members representing 14 academic institutions scattered across 3 continents. 

My job on the vessel was a midnight to noon shift as CTD Watchstander, operating the water sampling instruments which pulled seawater up from the depths and measured its Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. A strong camaraderie developed among us night owls. Being the only people awake in an endless blue world encouraged a close sense of teamwork and togetherness I’ve only ever experienced in the wilderness or at sea. My days at sea were distinguished from each other only with effort. We held regular game nights, shared all of our meals, and rotated the responsibility for playing music during water sampling. The weather steadily became colder as we steamed south, and our clothing transitioned from shorts and T-shirts in the tropics to layered fleeces and foul weather gear in the Southern Ocean. Balanced against the hard work was the sense of adventure, of purpose, which I found inspired many of my fellow scientists on the Langseth

This adventure at sea was a personal and academic goal of mine years in the making. I already had experience with shorter research cruises while pursuing my PhD at the University of Minnesota, spending many days working on the RV Blue Heron studying Lake Superior. The inspiration to pursue a longer research experience first came from several mentors and research advisors, but it was the opportunity to contextualize my science in the real world as much as the sense of adventure and derring-do that had me hooked. 

Now on the other side of the cruise, and in fact nearing the completion of my graduate degree, it’s becoming clearer to me how my time on the Langseth fits into the bigger picture of my training at the Large Lakes Observatory. The technical skills I picked up working onboard A13.5 are invaluable, along with an understanding of the practical considerations and logistics involved in research in very challenging marine environments. Yet the most valuable takeaways from this cruise were the connections I made with my fellow oceanographers, the crew, the other student volunteers, the veteran technicians, my travel companions at sea and in port, and my fellow adventurers. These are the connections that make months of hard work worth it. The ones that enable careers in a tight-knit scientific community. The ones I can look back on, glad for the memories, the lessons, the good times, the hard times. Everybody talks about the adventures of Jacques Costeau, but we seldom mention all the others on board the Calypso, the ones who made the adventures possible, and worth it. 

Langseth crew
Crew on GO-SHIP A13.5. Photo credit: UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

If you’re interested in participating in a GO-SHIP cruise, applications open regularly at usgoship.ucsd.edu/students/.