Equator station: between North and South, yesterday and today

Wo sind wir eigentlich? Bild vom Bordcomputer, das in allen Laboren live verfolgt werden kann. Der rote Punkt markiert die aktuelle Position von SONNE. Foto von Rohan Henkel (AG Sensorsysteme ICBM, Wilhemshaven; hier an Bord gehört er zum “Bio-optics” Team).
Where are we? Screenshot of the bord computer display that can be followed in all laboratories. The red dot marks the current position of Sonne. Photo by Rohan Henkel (Marine Sensor Systems ICBM, Wilhemshaven; on board member of the “bio-optics” team).

We have finally reached the equator – the boundary between the northern and southern hemispheres at 0 N and 0 South. But we aren’t just anywhere on the equator: we are exactly at the point at which one step in the right direction can turn today into yesterday, and visa versa. Our station is exactly on the international date line between 180 W and 180 E.

So today we were simultaneously at the 12th and the 11th of May. At the moment, the bow of the Sonne is in yesterday, while the stern is in today. Of course, here on board we are not continually changing the date. On board, we are following ship time, and the captain decides when we alter our clock and calendar. At some point before our arrival in Dutch Harbor he will send us on a time-traveling journey, and we will turn our watches – or rather, our calendars – one day backwards.

This is a unique place for our 24 hour station. But the equator station is also scientifically interesting, so we are collecting samples every three hours for a 24 hour period.

We are in the equatorial upwelling region. In this region of the ocean, waters from the deep reach the surface of the ocean, bringing high concentrations of nutrients to sunlight waters. The phytoplankton (marine plants) that depend on these nutrients respond accordingly. Our deep-blue Pacific is still very blue, but on our filters we are more frequently finding thin layers of phytoplankton. The higher plant productivity feeds the entire food chain here. We are also seeing more birds, some of us have seen very large schools of fish. Fishing boats are also attracted to this area, so we are not quite as alone as we were in this far reach of the Pacific.