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Throwback: RV Belgica research cruise

The Joint Action Science for Good Environmental Status entered operational activities in July 2022 with a one-week long research cruise endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade.

Throwback: RV Belgica research cruise

  • 18 April 2023


A group of about 20 scientists went on board the brand-new RV Belgica for a one-week observing campaign off the Belgian coast. Experts from Belgium, Italy, Malta, France and Norway were present. In a joint letter of agreement, 12 institutions committed to in-kind contributions of approximately 700 000 Euro for operating the cruise and analysing samples and data. The operational activities started with the cruise in July 2022 and the sample and data analysis is foreseen to continue throughout 2023.

It was an exciting highlight for JPI Oceans to have seagoing operation take place in one of our Joint Actions. Accordingly, the JPI Oceans communication team invited artist Sarah-Marie Kröger, Environmental Management master's student, to join the cruise. We had the opportunity to witness her talent of capture life and work on a research vessel in illustrations.

Sarah-Marie, what was the most interesting aspect of the cruise, in your opinion?

So far, the cruises I had joined were putting the focus on one scientifical field, such as geochemistry or geophysics. I found the interdisciplinary approach of the S4GES so fascinating. Scientists from many fields of marine science were present and conducting their research about physical, chemical and biological data. I was looking forward to seeing how the holistic approach of the cruise will contribute to a better understanding of the marine environment off the Belgian coast.

How was it to sketch the crew and be there at the same time with them?

As I am usually on the scientific side on research cruises, this was a completely new experience to me. Many scenes worth sketching were the ones where there was movement and bustle on deck. When scientists took samples on the deck or did processing in the laboratory, they needed to move fast and work efficiently to receive good data and get the most out of the ship time. Keeping still and posing for a sketch was not an option. Trying to observe and artistically grasp a scene within a few minutes is something you can spend decades on mastering. I usually work several days to weeks on one painting. Luckily, the crew and the scientists gave me such a warm welcome and were so patient with me, which made me feel very comfortable. In fact, it was freeing to not deliver a nitty-gritty finished canvas. This is what makes the sketches more authentically in the end. I loved the outcome from the 1-minute sketches, and now I do them almost every day. 

What is one significant moment you remember?

We were approaching the vessel like pirates on a rubber boat and had an amazing view of the beautiful RV Belgica with the sun slowly setting down. There were so many sunrises and sunsets at sea. This is something I never got tired of. 

What is the most challenging aspect of life on a research cruise?

You definitely have to feel comfortable at sea and on ships in general. When there is bad weather, seasickness, or perhaps the research doesn’t go as planned, the mood can easily deteriorate. Strong nerves and resilience are required then. Acting together as a team is the most important thing to overcome the challenges. Additional note for artists: pens rolling all over the table is something you need to get accustomed with.

Which of your sketches from the cruise is your favorite and why?

The ones that I favor the most are the sketches of the engine room. The engine room of a ship hid so much beauty. Multicolored details, screws and wrenches, signs, steam, smell and noises which kept the vessel running. It was dynamic and vivid. As a color enthusiast, I could make a book of sketches about it.

What are your thoughts on the importance of using art to communicate science?

For me, communicating science via art in any form holds an enormous potential, as it can visualise difficult scientific concepts and make them more accessible to people that have no background in science.

Artistic storytelling can reach the audience emotionally and help them to make a connection with a scientific topic. Communicating abstract scientific concepts artistically enhances curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder about the natural world.

Complementary reading

We had also spoken with Maelle Giraud, polyvalent officer aboard the Research Vessel Belgica, who shared her experience on board the RV Belgica and her thoughts about her career choice.