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The team is everything

Jason Expedition Leader Chris Judge (left) acting as deck boss for a Jason deployment. Also pictured (left to right): R/V Thompson AB Kate Varberg and Jason Team members Hugh Poponoe, Akel Kevis-Sterling, and Antonella Wilby. (Photo by Hannah Piecuch, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

An interview with Jason Expedition Leader Chris Judge


Chris Judge is the ROV Jason expedition leader for PROTATAX23. Like all members of the team, he wears many other hats, too, which include working on the vehicle's electronics, as well navigating, and piloting the vehicle during dives. Judge has worked at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution since 2010 and has been part of the Jason Team since 2013. 

The beginning

I took an atypical path to get here. I went to Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School to study electronics and my first job was soldering circuit boards at a small company. When it was time to look for a new job, I almost didn't apply to work at WHOI because a four-year degree was written in the [job] description. But I had the technical experience that was needed to do the work and they decided to hire me. After my first project at WHOI wrapped up, I joined the Jason Team. Until that point, my career had unfolded as different opportunities were presented to me, but once I joined the team I wanted to know everything about how the vehicle worked and eventually be an expedition leader. 

Nothing happens without the team

The expedition leader is the point person for the remotely operated vehicle team, makes the watch schedule, assigns rooms, is the liaison to the science team, and oversees every launch and recovery-regardless of time of day. When I am expedition leader the biggest thing I take into consideration is my team. Nothing is going to happen without them out here. Before an expeditionI meet with the chief scientist, and we go over their objectives. I also let them know that, while we'll push ourselves to accomplish the science goals, my team's well-being in all capacities is paramount to me.

Move over, yule

One of my most memorable moments in the Jason control van was on a cruise to Lost City, a hydrothermal vent system on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. We came to this perfectly shaped white mound with water bursting out of it. It looked like a flame of water. It was so beautiful. Instead of a yule log at Christmas, that is what needs to be on TV.

Chris Judge (far right) and NDSF Lead Jason Data Engineer Scott McCue in the vehicle control van during a night deployment. (Photo by Hannah Piecuch, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Setting the tone

Everyone out here has a home, something they are leaving to be at sea. For myself, it's a partner, three kids, a dog, a house. At sea, you're in a confined space with nine other people on a ship of 40 more. We all have the same goal in mind-to support the science-but things happen. We work long days, we get frustrated or upset, and what helps with being away from home is the family that is out here. There are people in this group who have gone through similar life experiences as I have and I've cried with people, I've laughed with people. You form bonds out here that don't compare to "land friends."

When things slow down, we hang a disco ball in the control van and play Mario Kart. We get super competitive and trash talk each other while laughing the whole time. We have coloring books, puzzles, games, origami, and movie nights. There is a guitar in the ship's Hydro Lab, where our group sits, and people take turns playing. Instead of getting stuck, it's nice to come together.

Music for a dive

I get a lot of sass for my music choices in the control van, but I'll take it because it puts smiles on people's faces: Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Ke$sha. But you can't always have the same playlist-you need to adapt it to the dive, otherwise it won't hit right.

Jason Expedition Leader Chris Judge (left) acting as deck boss for a Jason deployment. Also pictured (left to right) Jason Team members Antonella Wilby and Hugh Poponoe. (Photo by Hannah Piecuch, ©Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Fifty first-time dives

Probably my favorite part of the job is the excitement and enthusiasm that the new science groups bring. We're operating a vehicle, collecting data in various forms-whether it is video, rocks, biological samples, or anything else. We're getting things for people who have maybe never seen the seafloor live or been on a ship like this. For them it's their first time, even though it might be my fiftieth cruise, and that makes this a really satisfying position. As expedition leader I get credit for a lot of the work that we do. While I'm confident in my own abilities, it's also easy to look good when you have a team that performs so well working with you. 

- Hannah Piecuch

This NDSF blog series will follow the PROTATAX23 expedition to Axial Seamount, covering the science and scientists at sea, and the ROV Jason operations that make it possible. PROTATAX23 is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF OCE Award #1947776).