By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
Data sheet with circular time-depth recorder.
What would it be like to sail around the world? To spend endless days unable to see anything ahead but more ocean before the horizon? While cataloging the field notes of Allan Bé, a marine biologist, these questions often arose. Because his collection consisted mostly of data sheets and very few narrative notes, however, I used available information to fill gaps in both the catalog record and my imagination.
Allan Bé spent much of his career at the Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory and was a pioneer in the study of environmental factors affecting foraminifera plankton. Bé’s collection (Smithsonian Institution Archives Acc. 09-008) contains mostly data sheets created by Bé or his colleagues and completed for each haul of plankton samples during their cruises.
Each sheet records several types of information including “surface temperature”, “water salinity”, “weather”, “depth”, and much more. This rich data not only helps biologists to understand the environment in which the plankton live, but also can inform research into historic weather patterns.
Each data sheet also contains coordinates, lacking in most other field books I encounter. This posed a cataloging challenge as did the marine environment in which Bé collected. For example, 30° n 60° w drops you somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean—but where exactly? Saying “Atlantic Ocean” is like saying “North America”. It helps, but it’s too broad to be of great use. One obvious solution was to specify North or South for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
One exciting aspect of this collection was seeing the exotic waters Bé or his colleagues sailed through, especially near South East Asia. I was careful with coordinates in this region because just 5° could be the difference between the Banda Sea and the Arafura Sea. More enjoyable was when photographs of tropical beaches popped up during searches in Google Maps. Try it yourself. Search 0° n 129° e in Google Maps.
I would shiver when their research took them to the colder waters of the Southern Ocean near Argentina and Antarctica. In one field book, the extreme cold of this region is playfully reflected in a drawing on a plotting chart of the area near the Falklands. The chart depicts their vessel, the Eltanin, mounting a large iceberg and a sea god blowing wind with a frosty breath.
It’s difficult to see at first and relate in a bibliographic record how rich and full of life these log books are. Looking closely at the data, however, an entire world of scientific research adventures on the high seas was exposed. By cataloging these items and highlighting aspects of seemingly plain data, users will have greater access to and better understanding of these materials.