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Life as a student on the R/V Falkor – Ella Sinclair

Throughout high school, I always wanted to do Science, specifically, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. Even though I always knew that I wanted to study Marine Biology, I decided to do a broader degree at QUT, just to keep my options open in case there ended up being something I found more interesting. I’m so glad I made this decision because I realised that I really enjoy Earth Science, something I had never considered before. 

Doing a Science degree was extremely beneficial, in more ways than one. My degree at QUT was incredibly practical, being in the labs in my first semester in my first year. I was also exposed to many different opportunities ​including doing a short-term exchange in Costa Rica. I started my degree majoring in Biology, but was able to tailor my minors along the way, ensuring that I was constantly studying something I enjoyed and found interesting. Attending University was an incredible experience, which taught me many life skills I wouldn’t have learnt in high school. 

Having just graduated from QUT, I was offered an amazing opportunity to join Schmidt Ocean Institute for a 30-day research cruise on the R/V Falkor, where I would learn from Marine Technicians and Chief Scientists about multibeam sonar mapping and understand geological features and processes from thousands of years ago.

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Ella Sinclair on R/V Falkor. Photo taken by Aimee Catalan

Life on the Falkor 

Two weeks before the departure date for this cruise, my supervisor for my honours project sent me an email, offering me this opportunity to join the month-long cruise. With only two weeks notice, I moved everything around and made it happen. After the initial safety inductions on the ship and settling in, we left for sea on the 22nd of November at 0800. 

Life on the Falkor is like no other experience. Working with such an experienced and knowledgeable team in this real-world environment is incredibly eye-opening. In the control room, I work 1200 – 1600 every day, learning from the Marine Technicians about mapping, the software we use, and interpreting and understanding the structures we are finding. I am currently 1 week into the voyage, and every day is completely different. As a student, I get the opportunity to visit different parts of the ship, including a tour of the engine room, the galley and learning about how the communications and internet are run on board. I even got the opportunity to steer the ship on the Bridge and participate in communicating our findings to the greater community. 

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Ella Sinclair steering the ship on the Bridge. Photo taken by Taloi Havini

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Ella Sinclair, Ben Houseman, Haydn Trounce and Nelson Kuna in between the two engines in the engine room. Photo taken by Taloi Havini

Being in a completely new environment every day for a month can be very overwhelming. However, 29 different crew members who are from all over the world, work in completely different parts of this ship, all for the same mission – to acquire knowledge about the ocean and communicate it to the greater science community – this makes every day completely different and interesting. 

The work I am doing 

The aim of this voyage is to map and explore the seafloor, uncovering past shorelines, rivers, deltas and reefs which existed during the Last Glacial Maximum (Ice Age). Since the last Ice Age, these features have been drowned as the sea level rose up to 120m due to the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets. By mapping and uncovering these environments, we are provided with a better understanding of the environment present during this time in Australia and we can predict how the current environment may respond to climate change and rising sea levels.

Working alongside Marine Technicians and scientists on and off the RV Falkor, I am constantly learning about the processes and skills required to do this type of research. My job on board involves assisting in the mapping process by ensuring we are getting accurate and reliable data with the multi-beam technology. I am involved in cleaning the data that we send off to onshore scientists who carry out further study. I also assist in running sound velocity profiles which involve lowering an instrument into the water whilst the ship is stationary and measuring the speed of sound using sensors on regular intervals. This gives us an understanding of the depth of the environment and assists in recalibrating the multi-beam sensors. 

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Ella Sinclair, Deb Smith, Mardi McNeil and Haydn Trounce on the aft-deck after doing Sound Velocity Profile. Photo taken by Aimee Catalan

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Ella Sinclair and Deb Smith preparing the Sound Velocity Profiler. Photo taken by Haydn Trounce

So far, this opportunity has been extremely beneficial because it has provided me with an understanding of not only how science is achieved and collected in the real world, but how all different disciplines work together in many different ways to collect this knowledge. Whilst we are collecting this data over the course of the next month, I keep reminding myself that I am one of the first people in the entire world to see what is at the bottom of the sea floor in this area. It’s one of the best experiences I will ever have and I am enjoying every minute of it. 

About Ella: Ella Sinclair has just graduated from Queensland University of Technology, with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Biology and minoring in Earth Science and Wildlife Ecology. She is planning on pursuing postgraduate study in marine science, commencing her honours in July 2021.