Questions From Students

Ms. Callaghan’s Classroom

Jil Callaghan is a 6th grade science teacher at Houck Middle School in Salem, Oregon. She is posting blogs for her students while aboard the Research Vessel Sikuliaq as part of a teacher at sea program through Oregon State University. 


  1. Is it really cold?  How cold is it?

It has been between 28 and 35 degrees, so not as super cold as I was expecting, but definitely cold enough that we wear the big orange “float coats” with multiple layers of clothes under it when we go outside to help keep us warm. It is usually windy too, partly because we’re on a moving ship…and that makes it even colder. And it has snowed several times.

  1. What kind of food do you eat?

I am told that often cruise food is very much like what you’d get in a cafeteria… but we have an amazing Steward named Mark who makes super delicious meals with lots of vegetables…sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I’m eating but it’s amazingly tasty! I don’t eat wheat products or dairy or meat, so Mark will often make a slightly different version of some of the dishes for me. We’ve had lots and lots of fish – cod, salmon, tilapia, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and halibut. There are multiple options and side dishes for each meal. Some have included pad Thai, stuffed tomatoes (sooo delicious), quesadillas, eggplant, various forms of potatoes, rice, chili, fried rice, pizza, stuffed squash….and delicious cornbread and desserts like fresh baked cookies, brownies, and pumpkin pie!

laurie pad thai 5.jpg
Mark, who is Steward, is helped by Laurie, our Chief Scientist, in making Pad Thai for dinner. (one of Laurie’s favorites)
  1. What are you studying?

Overall, the scientists onboard are chemical oceanographers. There are 2 main groups of scientists- one from OSU and one from VIMS – the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The OSU group is looking at the amount of CO2 in the water, nutrients, oxygen, to name a few, to see where the nutrients are coming from that are allowing the microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton to grow this late in the year. We are also looking at the layers of the sediment on the ocean floor, to see what type of organisms have been living in the water above, have died, and fallen down the bottom of the ocean over the last century or more.

The Virginia group is looking to see if there are any organisms in the arctic ocean that can use nitrogen gas as a food source (called nitrogen fixing) – which not many organisms can do. Then there is a scientist from UC Davis who is filtering organisms out of the water to test them for the gene that can fix nitrogen, so that they can find out which organisms are doing the nitrogen fixing.

  1. What are some of the other animals you have seen?

We have seen Muskox, foxes, whales, walruses, polar bears, seals, and birds (arctic terns for one). Kimberley saw a moose with her 2 babies….but sadly, I did not see that myself.

A muskox we saw outside of Nome, Alaska before the ship sailed.
  1. Are there igloos there?

When we were on land, there was no snow or ice on the land, so no igloos – just regular buildings and houses. Since we have been out at sea, we have been 30 miles off of the coast, so no igloos here.

  1. Has anything gone wrong on the ship?

Yes. The hydraulic boom (the mechanical arm) that extends the CTD package out over the side of the ship started leaking oil. The CTD has 24 big bottles on it that we use to collect water samples, so we couldn’t do that until it got fixed. We had been in the middle of doing a 24 hour run of CTDs, once every hour, until it broke. But the engineers on board are terrific, and they were able to fix it and get it working again!

  1. Have you seen icebergs?

We have seen lots of ice that has formed from the ocean surface freezing, but no large icebergs, which are usually ice breaking away from the edge of a large ice shelf at the edge of land or breaking away from a glacier, which is formed over land.

  1. How big is the ship?

The ship is 261 feet long.

The day we arrived, unloading our suitcases from the truck to make our home on the ship.  This should give you an idea of the size of the ship.
  1. When you stick your tongue out, does it freeze?

No, my tongue doesn’t freeze when I stick it out. I have, however, stuck it out to catch snowflakes on it.

  1. Are there penguins?

No, penguins are only found down near the south pole, in Antarctica.

  1. What type of electronics are on the ship?

There are tons of computers and tons of sensors on the ship – collecting information like a map of the ocean floor using multi-beam sonar, measuring temperature and many different things about the seawater, electronics that help with navigation of the ship, radar that helps detect ice, large machinery like the winches and cranes that help to move large equipment around the ship.

  1. Where do you sleep?

We sleep in state rooms, which have bunk beds, a small desk, closets for your clothes, and a tiny sink. There is a bathroom with a small shower that is shared between 2 rooms. The state rooms for the science crew are on the floor above the main deck (which is the level you’re on when you walk onto the ship, and is also the level that the science labs are on). My state room is right across from the galley (kitchen) and mess hall (where we eat).The state rooms for the ship crew is on the floor above us.

  1. Are you going to bring us samples?

I have some sediment from the bottom of the ocean (it’s mud). I’m trying to see if there’s a way to preserve some of the small critters that we’re finding in the water, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to bring those back.

  1. How many people are on the ship?

There are 42 people on board, 17 in the science party (12 of the science party are women)

  1. Do you have a best friend on the ship?

I would have to say that would be Kim, my roommate. She is a journalist, and she and I have been working on the blog (she writes the main page, I do posts for my classroom), and we are working on a video together about the whole cruise.

kim and jil.jpg
Kim on the left and Ms. Callaghan on the right

See Ms. Callaghan’s other posts here.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert Maplethorpe says:

    Those are beautiful polar bear and musk ox photos… who took them?


    1. Sikuliaq 2016: The Dynamic Arctic says:

      Hi Robert,
      The polar bear photos were taken by Scott Meyers, a crew member aboard the Sikuliaq. The musk ox photos were taken by Dale Hubbard, a research technician from Oregon State University.


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