Category: General Article
Saturday August 15, 2015
Submitted by Rachel Teasdale
Summary: Rachel describes what it’s like to live on board a science vessel at sea.
This morning we were in transit to Axial Seamount and arrived about 3:30 p.m. We completed a CTD cast to collect water Conductivity and Temperature at various Depths of the water column while we are still far enough away from the volcano to get background levels. Later, the Jason elevator was lowered to calibrate the underwater acoustic navigation system. An elevator is basically a platform that is lowered to the ocean floor to deliver or retrieve instruments or other gear that Jason can later unload or load, and later it is released to return to the surface. We also launched a student-built unmanned sailboat that has GPS tracking (see Launch of the SS Morning Star.)
Living and working at sea can be challenging, but the Thomas G. Thompson is set up to make it as easy as possible. The Thompson is operated by the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington, but is owned by the Office of Naval Research. The ship is 274 feet (83.5) long and has a 52.6 foot (16 m) beam (width). Normal cruising speed is 11 knots (12.7 mph) and the ship has space for 36 scientists, in addition to its normal crew of 21 plus 2 marine technicians who support science activities. The marine techs are invaluable in facilitating things like assisting in deck operations to deploy instruments and equipment, setting up internet and locating support equipment such as cables, batteries, and more.
Workspaces on board the Thompson include four labs, including the Main Lab where the Geology, Geophysics, Chemistry, and Sentry teams are working; Jim Holden and colleagues use the Bio-Analytic Lab and the Climate Control Chamber & Freezer for their work on microbes; the Hydro Lab is occupied by the Jason Group; and the Computer Lab houses Chief Scientist Bill Chadwick, the data management and outreach teams.
All science team members have access to an internal intranet where images and data from the Jason and Sentry dives are stored. Updates on science activity plans are posted on a white board in the computer lab, which is broadcast on the intranet to keep everyone up to date. TV screens in the Main Lab and Computer Lab project live video from cameras on the Jason ROV during dives, so everyone on board can watch the action!
Operations on the deck of TG Thompson are overseen by the ship’s crew, in collaboration with the scientific team. Cranes lift instruments up and over the side of the ship and lower them into the water where they can drop to the sea floor. Sentry is deployed similarly, but once in the sea, it begins its preprogrammed mission. Launch and recovery of Jason is overseen by the Jason Expedition Leader using a crane to lift Jason and lower it into the sea. Jason is piloted from the a “control van,” which is really a storage container set up with the equipment needed to operate Jason, and space for the scientists and Jason pilots to do their work during dives.
Science operations on the ship are conducted 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so scientists and the ship’s crew have shifts around the clock. During Jason dives a science watch leader oversees the real-time operations of a dive to accomplish pre-determined goals. For instance, a goal might be to collect samples of the 2015 lava flows, but during the dive, the watch leader will decide exactly which rock sample to collect, and work with Jason pilots to get the correct sample. Jason has multiple video and still cameras to record each dive, which are tracked in a log by two data loggers from the science team who are also in the Jason van throughout dives. The science team rotates through shifts that have them work 4 hours, then have 8 hours to do other work, eat and sleep. Such shifts have not started yet, but will begin with the first Jason dive.
We are especially lucky to have a wonderful kitchen (or “galley”) crew on board the TG Thompson during this cruise. We are treated to a spectacular array of food, throughout the day. Breakfasts include basic cereal, yogurt and fruit, as well as hot food options such as French toast, quiche, and a variety of eggs and breakfast meats. Lunches typically include a salad bar and hot food items such as burritos and hamburgers. Dinners include salads and at least two main course options. We had a full-scale Thanksgiving-style dinner two nights ago and last night’s options were halibut and turkey pot pie along with a variety of vegetables. Desserts are served daily, with each option a special treat. Homemade cookies, éclairs, cake, ice cream and more have been available in just the few days since boarding the ship. Meals are a great time to catch up with shipmates on board, for work-related conversations, as well as a chance to socialize and share stories of previous expeditions and to talk about things going on back home. Stories of families and dogs are common topics of conversation in the mess hall.
Scientists have 2-person staterooms on the ship with bunks, storage, a sink and access to a shared bathroom (“the head”). Most scientist staterooms are on lower decks of the ship. The “around the clock” work schedules are facilitated by having dark curtains around bunks. The ship’s library houses a collection of technical and non-technical books, and the TV room has a video library where the science and ship’s crew can relax while not at work.