Saturday, July 15, 2017

Life at Sea

By Teresa Atwill

I am the teacher at sea on the research vessel Roger Revelle (I teach at Newport High School in Newport, Oregon) and I will be working on this blog to communicate what is happening with the science and describing shipboard life. Although I have spent the last 30 years teaching in public K-12 schools, I have a BS and an MA in geology. I have gone on two previous ocean research expeditions while I was an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii and a graduate student at University of California at Santa Barbara.

Hallway aboard the R/V Revelle.
If you’ve never been on one, it might be hard to imagine what it is like on a scientific research vessel. Normally, you spend a day or two loading the ship which allows you to get used to the layout and feeling of being on the ship (although there are no waves at the dock). Research vessels have much more in common with a navy vessel than a luxury cruise line. The walls are metal and covered with rivets and the stairs are steep and many. To go from my room to the linen closet required that I climb down and up 5 flights of stairs. We have bunk beds in our rooms and small little bathrooms with a curtained off shower. It is good the bathrooms are small, because as the boat pitches around it is easier to stay standing in a small area.
Panorama of the aft deck of the Revelle with AUV Sentry on the left and ROV Jason on the right.

Once at sea, the ship rocks and rolls and creaks and there is a continuous buzzing of the engines and air-conditioning systems. The ship is as clean and well run as I imagine a Navy ship would be. Everything is utilitarian. It is all designed for ease of use by the scientists and the ship’s crew. The Revelle is in the middle of its life as a scientific research vessel and the ship will go in for a major overhaul in the next year or two.

Outside the decks are chock full of equipment, winches, storage and work containers (no room for a volleyball court or shuffleboard!).

Main science laboratory on the Revelle.
The science labs are now all full of equipment. There are instruments like a gas chromatograph and helium extractor plus a whole slew of laptops, computers and monitors spread throughout the three main science labs. One whole lab on board is occupied by the Jason crew. A third of the main science lab is being used by the Sentry team.

A few of our newbie scientists are feeling seasick and have not yet gotten their sea legs. For them the safety drills were not a lot of fun, as everyone has to participate. We were told where to muster in the event of an emergency and shown how to release the life rafts. We saw a demonstration on how to put on a Gumby suit (survival suit). The ocean around us is so cold (about 50 degrees) that we would not likely last more than 1 to 3 hours in the water without the survival suit.
Safety drill on deck for abandon ship.
We each have our own survival suit in our rooms as well as a heavy duty life vest. We were told where the fire extinguishers are located, and where to find and how to use oxygen masks. While all that safety talk was going on the ship was steaming to our first waypoint, because time is precious.

Careful planning is needed to ensure that as much science as possible can be completed in the time we have at sea. It is expensive to work out here so no scientist wants to waste a minute of the time. Sometimes scientists won’t eat or sleep while they work to complete their part of the project on the cruise. The work is intense with everyone feeling the pressure to fulfill their role and the science goes on around the clock. All night long the scientists are collecting data, running experiments and equipment is in the water.

Scott Nooner (left) and graduate students preparing mini BPRs for deployment.
The three lead scientists (Dave Butterfield, Bill Chadwick and Scott Nooner) on this cruise work well as a team to ensure that everyone’s research goals (or as many as possible) are met. The cruise plan is adjusted almost daily to reflect changes due to technical issues with the science equipment or changes in the weather. The scientists are also in communication with the Jason and Sentry teams (the crews that run our underwater vehicles) as well as the Revelle captain and crew to ensure that everyone knows what is happening next and is planning for the next day or two of activity.

One nice thing about a research cruise is that someone else makes the food for you. There are two cooks that are part of the ship’s crew and make meals for everyone on board. The best part is you also don’t have to do dishes! The ship makes its own fresh water by desalinating seawater, and to conserve water, showers must be kept short.

There are 34 people in the science party and 22 Revelle crew. So far, everyone has been really nice. I think it helps that the weather has been pretty good so far (winds 15 to 20 kts and a 4 to 6 foot swell). We don’t have much free time which is good as there is only limited internet and no TV. There are some DVD’s in a movie room, but so far I have not had time to check them out.

Preparing the moorings for deployment at Axial.
Today we arrived at Axial Seamount in the later afternoon and immediately began recovering and deploying instrument moorings. Tomorrow is when things get really busy, as that is when we start the dance of running two underwater vehicles at the same time (Jason and Sentry). That will keep everyone on their toes.