Southern Ocean GasEx Blog

Dispatches from the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment

Portable Labs

Posted by sogasex on March 9, 2008

By Paul Covert, NOAA/PMEL

If you went to public school in the US, then more than likely you share with me the experience of looking at your class schedule at the beginning of the new semester, scanning down the list of classrooms, and realizing that one, if not more, of your classes are to be held in the “portable”. Far from an ideal spot for education, classrooms in the portables were damp, musty, and alternated between freezing cold and swelteringly hot, ideal conditions for sleeping through, or just plain skipping. Perhaps that’s why I don’t remember a lot from my freshman American history first class.

Out here on the Ron Brown, space is even more limited than in the public schools. And, like the public schools, “portables” are used to supplement existing laboratory space. These “portables” are usually standard 20 foot shipping containers that have been converted into laboratories, complete with power and running water. While some of the vans are quite utilitarian, others include many of the creature comforts of home, usually the result of the same group of people inhabiting the van for several cruises in a row.

The biggest benefit of having a lab van is ease of setup. The chaos imparted by 30 scientists scurrying on and off the ship and up and down the halls, moving equipment, and laying claim to a small amount of indoor space for their equipment can be quite amusing to the bystander. If, however, you show up to a cruise with your lab van, setup is as simple as placing the van on deck, tying it down, plugging in to power and water, and opening the door. Admittedly, this process isn’t a walk in the park, but you also aren’t fighting others for space.

There are three lab vans on board for this cruise. The University of Hawaii van was pictured in an earlier blog entry. Bob Vaillancourt and Veronica Lance inhabit the radioisotope van situated on the aft deck. Next door to that is the CO2 van. This is the van where I spend much of my time.

Life in this van isn’t too bad. During periods of frequent sampling and analysis, the van in pure lab. But in the morning, before the 9AM CTD cast, it’s a place to enjoy your coffee, look out the window, peruse the library, and check your e-mail. And after a long day of analyzing samples, the van is a place to kick back in the glow of chili lights, listen to some tunes, and unwind before it all starts again in a few hours. With your own espresso maker and a hi-fi sound system complete with sub-woofer, why would you go anywhere else?


Main entrance to the CO2 van.


The laboratory side of the CO2 van.


CO2 van library and espresso bar.


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