Stepping Stones bursary report: Anna Belcher

Dr Anna Belcher has recently completed her PhD at the National Oceanography Centre and University of Southampton


The night time trapping team

I was awarded the Challenger Society Stepping Stones grant to allow me to collaborate with a group of American scientists and join their research cruise to the Eastern Tropical North Pacific. The cruise was led by scientists from the University of Washington, Seattle and brought together scientists interested in the degradation of sinking particles. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join Prof. Rick Keil’s group and help with particle trapping and in situ incubations, as well as collecting pumped water samples.

The ship left from Manzanillo Mexico on 28th Dec, and once on board the work began prepping the floating sediment trap incubators (PHORCYS) and making sure we were all ready for the first set of deployments. It was great to learn more about the techniques they used and the tracers that we would be using to monitor different reactions in the incubators. We were working in the oxygen minimum zone off Mexico, so were particularly interested in the anaerobic reactions. After the usual couple of days to really get everything working correctly we were catching lots of particles for everyone to use for their experiments. The research cruise lasted just over two weeks, we deployed a total of 42 traps and 60 water pumps, a great achievement for the whole group. It was really interesting to be able to learn about the different experiments going on board the ship and was a great chance to network with some amazing scientists from the US and Mexico.


Deploying the sediment trap incubators

Working at night to deploy and recover the sediment traps, we managed to escape the intense heat of the day and got to enjoy concocting ourselves the curious meal that is ‘mid-rats’ where pretty much anything goes from cereal, to curry to ice cream! We’d start the day with breakfast, and finish with dinner, overlapping with the rest of the scientists on board and getting the chance to chat about what they were working on. It was a great chance to really learn more about American Institutions and the process of getting post-doc positions etc, as well as just getting some great career advice from those who’d been in the game a long time. Despite becoming creatures of the night and only seeing a little daylight, we were treated to some beautiful sunrise, sunsets and moonsets. Check out the cruise blog at to find out more about life on board and the science we were doing.


One of the amazing sunsets

It has been an incredible 3 weeks, and I really want to thank the Challenger Society for helping me to form these strong networks and to enable me to learn lots of great new skills that I can apply to my own research and share with others in the UK. I’ve opened the door for possible future collaborations/post-docs with the US team, and know that from the strong friendships formed I will always be able to seek their advice in the future. I’d really encourage everyone to apply for the Stepping Stones grant as it is a great way to help you boost your career and explore your interests, hopefully setting the seed for a long scientific career ahead.


Having a great time at sea

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