Jessica Noes Blog

Thank you. 

Thank you to everyone.  Thank you for gifting me the adventure of a lifetime, thank you for sharing your stories and helping me build some of my own.

Thank you for friendship, thank you for laughs, thank you for splitting the popcorn.

Thank you for mentorship and coaching, thank you for answering a thousand questions, dozens every day.

Thank you for showing me worlds so different from the ones I have known.

Thank you for 36 hour days and 24/7 ops, thank you for sharing sunrises and sunsets and stars.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge, your passions.

Forever and always, thank you for sharing this time with me.

July 29

Tuesday afternoon provided a chance for the engineers and science crew to get some well-deserved sleep.  It was also the start of the end of Leg 2.  The last ROPOS dive was over, no more equipment to document before launch, so no more watch shifts for students.  We had our last science talk of Leg 2, the official tour of the ROPOS operation.  We got to check out their double-stack of containers with the spare parts and tools, the isolated power system.  We got the full run of how mechanisms were controlled, how sensors provide feedback on where the vehicle is and what it is doing.  Keith also talked us through the entire top-side control system, which is brand new on this cruise.  Their operations are so smooth, you wouldn’t guess they were on an entirely new system, still working out the last glitches and getting the features to work properly.  It’s truly been a pleasure to watch such an incredible team and incredible machine… Thank you for letting me into your control room, ROPOS!

For me, during these last few hours at sea, all I wanted to do was take in as much as I could of the experience.  Tuesday night I spent hours on the bridge, watching the waves, moonlight, clouds and listening to the gyros whir and the occasional quiet radio message.  The crew members are wonderful people with endless stories, and I have a whole new appreciation for making a life at sea – both its adventure and its difficulties.

I finally conceded defeat to sleep for a few hours around 2AM, but was back up on the bridge at 6AM to watch my last sunrise at sea.  It was a pretty one, and a nice surprise.  In the early glow, it looked like the horizon was covered in clouds and that the sun would be hidden.  Instead, the sun came up glowing orange and perfectly round, a completely clear view of those first few moments of the day.  I stayed for as long as I could keep on my feet, finally saying farewell and heading down to my bunk for one more short nap while the boat cruised the last hours into Newport.

The planning had all worked out, and we made it to the bridge close enough to full tide.  We slipped in between the long jetties and the navigation guides, glided under the bridge and towards my final stop.  When we set out on the trip, I was so excited to be at sea that I had expected to be heartbroken when my adventure was over.  It is a surprise to be at the end and instead just feel… satisfied, I think.

I have gone to sea – gone on the biggest adventure of my life – and been welcomed into a world that had only existed for me in faraway stories and dreams.  I may not know when I’ll cast off lines next, I may not know what boat that will be, but I do know the end of this cruise is not the end of my time at sea.

July 28

The replacement mooring op went well this morning.  On just a few hours of sleep, the team worked hard (and safely) to get the equipment out and then back into the water.  ROPOS dove in after the mooring, beginning the long run down to 2900 meters to plug the cable back in and fire up the deep profiler system.  The data began to stream to Seattle, but again it was not good news.  Something still wasn’t right, and the profiler wasn’t running the pattern that it should have been.

Conference calls and consideration commenced.  Hard decisions had to be made – the Thompson was down to just a few hours left on station.  Would the ship choose to delay going into port by a day to try to do the entire 24-hour trouble-shooting cycle again?  Would we steam into Newport on schedule, but leave the profiler hanging somewhere on the cable?

The team chose a compromise.  The boat would have to leave as close to on time as possible – we had to arrive at the Newport jetty within an hour or so of 10AM Wednesday to have the right tide conditions to enter the harbor.  If we missed the tide, we would lose a day sitting outside the harbor passage and pay for an extra day with the special-order crane.  But, we could make one last ROPOS dive.  If we clipped a weight to the profiler pod, it would lose its neutral buoyancy and drift down to the docking station at the bottom of the cable.  Once the pod docked, the engineers in Seattle could try a variety of software fixes to get the sensors up and going again.

ROPOS was launched and the team got the job done, recovering to deck just an hour after our scheduled departure time.  The Captain was on deck following every step of the process, and the minute all of the gear cleared the water we were underway, full steam ahead for Newport.  Everybody was a bit down – it would have felt great to have a 100% fix to the challenge we had encountered.  However, the team had stayed focused and dedicated down to the last minute, and it’s important to know that sometimes you have to call it and head in.

July 27

After staying up until the end of the ROPOS dive around 5AM, it was nice to sleep til 11.  The afternoon brought me a nice stretch of work helping in the bio lab.  Four of us set up a production line to label the 600 sample vials that would be needed on Leg 3.

The early afternoon also brought some unfortunate tidings.  The newly installed profiler was not sending back the information that the Seattle operations team expected to see.  We’ve been very fortunate up til now, and every other install has worked on the first try.  It is an incredible feat to send down this many electro-mechanical systems and have them all work on the first go.  It’s a testament to the years of development and preparation that everyone has poured into the RSN project. 

Now for the first time on the cruise, the engineers and science crew had a big challenge to work through, and an inflexible deadline to work against.  The Thompson had to be steaming back to Newport by 2PM on Tuesday.  The next 24 hours were a marathon push to try to get a fix in place before we had to break station.  Watching the trouble-shooting process kept our entire group of students up on deck all night, fascinated to see how the RSN team works when things need to be improvised unexpectedly. 

When the news came in from Seattle that afternoon, the engineering team had already been up since 5AM to install the very last mooring of Leg 2.  However, they immediately huddled in for a conference call and started making plans.  ROPOS would dive, find the silent profiler pod somewhere on the 2900 meters of cable, detach it and recover it to the deck of the Thompson. 

This had not been tried before, but it wasn’t a completely unknown idea.  The team had discussed this option in previous years, knowing that they needed contingency plans in place for a day when things go wrong.  It certainly paid off in this situation – the improvised recovery went beautifully, and the equipment was back on deck by late evening. 

The arrival of the profiler pod on deck kicked off a blitz of activity.  The engineers all hit the coffeepot hard and settled in for an all-nighter.  It was great to watch the engineers work together as a team.  They’ve worked together all over the world for the last few years, making sophisticated equipment function in every inhospitable environment imaginable. 

They had a coordinated, deliberate approach.  Systematically layers of the pod were peeled away, diagnostic equipment was plugged in, trouble-shooting computer programs were run, one system at a time was checked off as good or questionable.  They ruled out possibilities, continued searching, narrowed the problem down to a single pressure vessel full of electronics, and finally to a specific sensor and cable in the package that had gone bad.  With the problem identified, they were able to install the spare and begin the process of rebuilding the pod.  The entire rebuild was accompanied by full systems checks and diagnostics, making sure that every system came online and responded as it should before finally replacing the outer panels and declaring it ready to re-install.

This long process brought the team to about 3AM on Tuesday, and they would all have to be on deck again with first light at 6AM to begin the process of pulling up the mooring line and reinstalling the repaired profiler.  Everybody crashed down into their bunks for those precious hours of sleep.  I headed to sleep too, loving that I’d had this chance to see watch how the pros do it.


July 26

I almost forgot that it was the weekend and therefore last-chance-for-laundry day.  I got up, tossed laundry in the wash and headed up for breakfast.  There’s been some kind of crud going around, and today was apparently my day for it.  I switched laundry into the dryer and then decided to lay down for a while.  Being sick is extremely annoying.  I wanted to head up to the bridge and bug them with more questions about navigation, watch more of the mooring operation, and instead I had to give in and rest for a bit so that I could fight off the cold.

I headed back up again in the afternoon for soup, and felt good enough to hang out on deck taking photos for the deck ops documentation.  They called everyone in for the student meeting at 3pm, so up to the library and grab an orange from the mess on the way – Vitamin C is my friend!

Deb gave her talk on geology and underwater volcanos, and I feel like I caught more of the details and names this second time around.  There is one photo in the presentation that I really like.  It is a mountain side in Cyprus, and you can see an entire underwater volcano that has been exposed, sliced in half from top to bottom.  At some point a long time ago, that chunk of sea floor was pushed up and now as you walk in the meadow below you can see the old magma chamber in the middle and the ducts above it that would let small plumes of magma rise through the crust.  I asked Deb about it later, and she said that while Cyprus was a good site to finish her PhD, the site she really loves is Oman… So next I need to find pictures of Oman!

After my 4 whole hours out of bed, I ended up down in my bunk passed out again.  Being sick is *really* annoying.  I slept through dinner, but around 7pm on Sunday evening we were diving on Axial Caldera again, and I didn’t want to miss it.  I got up out of bed and made some supper out of the leftover fridge (rice, ham, and cheese is a darn good bowl of food).  Of course, that let me see that there was leftover pudding in there too…

The dive was amazing, standing room only til well after midnight.  Everybody loves watching and talking about the volcano.  There were lots of stories going around the room, stories from other dives, from other seas, other sites, stories about the people that have been part of the Axial community over the years but couldn’t be out on this year’s cruise. 

It was another one of the experiences on the ship that left me keeping back tears at how amazing and unbelievable it is that this opportunity was granted to me.  It’s difficult to explain how life-changing this experience has been, how much my world view has been opened, how many new potential paths I can see.

The best I can say is that being on this ship, in the ROPOS control room, in that space of exploration, surrounded by dedicated, fascinating people, never-before-seen images and maps, and amazing robotic equipment, is so much more than I ever dreamed my life could be. 

I walked out to the main deck, looked up at the moon through the A-frame, its bright glow and reflection on the water.  The world was calm and gorgeous as I sent out a wish that for the rest of my life, I would be able to bring back a memory of this time and this feeling of immense possibility.  And then, lucky woman that I am, I headed back into the control room for more.

July 25

It was a quiet morning, reading and thinking in my bunk.  It’s one of the best places in the ship to listen to the water swishing by the hull.  It’s a sound I love, it reminds me of the sounds and joys of sailing little boats during my sunset classes on Lake Washington.

Mostly I was thinking about going home soon, and if I will be able to hold onto the things I’ve experienced at sea when I’m back in the familiar environment of home.  I’ve had glimpses of new worlds, and now I want to attempt everything I’ve seen.  I’m going to have to develop a more realistic graduate school and career plan than just “Learn and build all the things! Have 3 jobs! Never sleep!”.

In the short term for the rest of this summer and my upcoming year at UW, I’ve accumulated quite a list of exciting new projects from my 6 weeks of travel and adventure.  Those new goals will have to mix in with the list of projects I put on hold when I left for Newfoundland and the VISIONS cruise.  Very soon I will have to make some choices about the paths I most want to walk, and how many opportunities I can realistically say “YES!” to before losing my ability to deliver results on any of them.

But for now, I am still on the Thompson and Saturday was full of ROPOS dives, engineers working on really cool splicing machines, meetings with my cohort and a little more reading in the history of physical oceanography book (ocean currents and circulation) that I found on board.  It’s amazing how many scientific voyages went out during the nineteenth century – it seems like each generation sent out a wave of exploration, in the 1850’s, 1870’s, 1890’s, each one going out with better scientific instruments and building a better set of data about the oceans.  It’s cool to recognize the major theories that I learned in my spring Oceanography 200 course (hello, Ekman transport!), read about the people that created them, and learn how rigorous physics equations were slowly developed to support quantitative studies of the ocean.

The book also gave me a new building project to support the Portage Bay profiler!  I had been wondering how I could measure currents in the Portage Bay area.  It is one of the parameters that I will need to know as I begin to design the profiler.  Currents will push the sensors horizontally as they move vertically, and I will need to be able to predict how large that horizontal movement will be.  The book supplied an interesting answer – an old school science instrument that basically is a large underwater sail attached to a very low profile little boat or buoy on the surface.  The sail catches currents lower in the water column and you can measure the current speed by the measuring the surface buoy’s movement. 

Of course, Miles probably has a slightly newer instrument hanging out in the Ocean Technology Center that will provide similar measurements much faster…  And that would be interesting to learn too.  So whether I do it with old school or new school instrumentation – it sounds like an entertaining August afternoon to me.  Add it to my list!

July 24

ROPOS caught a fish!  The poor fish got his head jammed between a titanium pressure case and a hard spot. For hundreds of meters of ascent, the camera pointed at the gauges filmed his flailing, valiant attempts to get his head unstuck…

But unfortunately, he was jammed tight and came all the way to the surface and onboard the Thompson during the ROPOS recovery. Keith jumped in to help a fish out and got him out with a quick tug.  Two steps and a fling put the fish back into the big blue.  It turned out that this was just not a good day for the fish though.  Before the fish could get oriented and dive down, an albatross dove under the water after him and slurped him up in one gulp.  As Keith said – Welcome to Wild Planet, ROPOS edition.

The second deep profiler installation went well. The rigging started at sun-up and was finished by early afternoon. ROPOS dove and plugged in the connector, finishing up by 4:30 this afternoon. Seattle reported good initial data. The bridge crew plugged in the next way point, the engineers fired up  the second engine and we’re transiting to Axial site once again for the third and final Deep Profiler.

I really enjoyed today.  I spent as much time as I could talking to crew on the bridge, engineers on the deck, ROPOS operators in the control room.  I have so many questions and follow up projects I want to tackle when I head home.  I need to learn how to build and operate hydraulics.  I need to learn how to use sonar – would fishing sonar gear be useful at all on my ROV Admare back at UW?  Could it help us detect the range to objects?  Give us a picture of our surroundings to help us navigate?  (By the way, some good news – Admare has finished its long trip home from the MATE International ROV competition in Newfoundland and now is just waiting for us to get back to the UW Oceanography dock too.)

Of course, all this leads me to more questions.  One of the challenges of knowing the location and movement of your ROV is even defining that movement.  In the water, absolutely everything is relative.  The ROV is moving relative to the water. The water is moving relative to the ground underneath.  If you have a ship, it’s moving relative to both of those.  Which type of movement do you want to know about and track?  What do you use for an absolute reference?  More questions for the ROPOS team tomorrow!

July 23

Wednesday began around 1 in the afternoon, it was good to get that 5 hours of sleep after my long Tuesday.  A quick shower and up to the mess.  I had missed lunch, but soup was still on and I grabbed some turkey from the leftover fridge.  Happy girl full of food – it’s pretty much impossible to go hungry here.

Deb brought the students together for a kick-off meeting and went over plans for the next couple days.  We’d be finishing up the Deep Profiler deployment, making sure everything was running well and then moving on to the next site.

I headed back down to the deck to watch the rigging continue, and then picked up the 4-8pm shift in the control, watching ROPOS plug in the DP.  It was great to hear the shore team call in and confirm that all the signals looked good and the profiler was running its pattern up and down the cable.  All in all, a very successful day for the Cabled Array and the APL-UW mooring crew.

After watch I snagged a copy of “Ocean News” and pulled my dinner out of the fridge – tuna, baked potato with all the goodies and Brussel sprouts with pine nuts. Eric had been really nice and wrapped it up for me to eat after my watch, and I’d been looking forward to it all night.  There is good stuff to look forward to tomorrow too – the next Deep Profiler at the Endurance Array is a recovery and a deployment.  Lots more rigging tomorrow!

July 21

First day out on Leg 2 of the Visions15 cruise!  It’s been a really great first day and night back out on the water.

Tuesday morning started with an 8 AM muster for the ship safety briefing. Alarm bells, fire procedures, gumby (survival) suits, exit routes and reminders to always wear the right PPE.  Be smart, wear the hard hats and work vests (life vests) when you’re working on deck!

With safety covered, the ship made ready and right on schedule we cast off from the dock. By 11 we were under the Newport Bridge headed through the jetties, and everybody on board was so excited to be underway, lots of pictures and lots of smiles. All around was bustle and life.  Fishing boats and recreational boats were headed up and down the coastline, birds and sea lions and a couple whales were spotted on our way out of port.  As the ship picked up speed, first the bridge, then the lighthouses and finally the coastline disappeared behind us and we all headed down for lunch.

Our first stop was Slope Base, so it was a pretty short transit and we were on station by dinnertime. I spent the afternoon catching up on a lot of blogging… During my call home my mom had kindly reminded me that I hadn’t posted for a while!  We also spent some time getting organized as a student team for the work we would be doing during Leg 2.  There were a few new students that had their introduction to the ROPOS logging system, and then we all talked through a new project that we have undertaken for this leg – photo documentation of the operations.  Photos and videos need to be taken for each ROPOS deployment and recovery, each instrument that is prepped for deployment or examined post-recovery, each deck operation.  This leg the ship crew and science team will be doing a lot more deck work, and it isn’t possible for just one or two people to be up 24/7 to take the videos, so as part of our watches we will be taking on more of that photo & video work.  I’m excited, it’s cool to have an official position in the ops and feel helpful.

Our first job is to recover a 2014 HPIES and deploy a 2015 HPIES at Slope Base, which is a really interesting process. (It took me 4 tries over two days to learn the full name of this one, but I finally managed to wrap my brain around “Horizontal Electric Field, Pressure, and Inverted Echo Sounder”.)  During the afternoon the crew deployed the new HPIES using a winch and a rigging point on the big A-frame.  Once it was lowered into the water, they played a special sound in the water and the acoustic release device released the pin and the HPIES was freed from the wire and drifted down to the sea floor. 

I did some more blogging after dinner, and caught a nap around 10.  My first watch was midnight to 4 AM, and on our dive ROPOS scooted the new HPIES into position, completed the set up and cable connections, then carried the 2014 HPIES back to the ship.  The dive went really well, and I took the chance to stick around for the next watch too.  (Long day!) I helped film the ROPOS recovery and the HPIES rising out of the sea.  The swell was up a bit, and it got a bit wild when the wave would carry the HPIES up, put a lot of slack in its cable that was hooked under ROPOS, then HPIES would slam down to the end of its cable again as the water dropped out from under the instrument.  It was one of the more dramatic recoveries I’ve seen so far.  I see why ROPOS likes to have the fixed framework connection to the instruments. Cables are just bad news in the swells.

As soon as ROPOS was back on deck, the sun was just coming up and it was time for the APL-UW engineers to start their Wednesday.  They were rigging a Deep Profiler Mooring to go off the ship’s A-frame.  They had spent most of Tuesday prepping, and were set to go.  The deployment itself would be an all-day process. I spent a few hours watching the start of it, the anchor and junction boxes and docking station being carefully lowered and pushed out away from the stern of the ship. There was a big sigh of relief through the rigging team when the gear was safely down into the water and away from the air-sea interface where damage is most likely to happen.

For me, that was a good time to grab eggs and bacon and hashbrowns and head down to my bunk, my long Tuesday satisfyingly complete.

July 20

I’m back on the ship and the new crew have all arrived and started settling in!  After the gear was stowed, today was pretty relaxed and gave us one last opportunity to visit Newport.  A few of us took a walk to a candy shop for fresh made fudge and candies.  They were delicious, and the shop smelled like heaven as we walked in.

I spent part of the afternoon researching in the UW library system while we had access to the dock’s internet service, which is a bit more robust than the satellite.  I didn’t quite find what I was looking for, so I think when I get home I’ll need to make an appointment to meet the mechanical engineering professor in charge of the project I was trying to research.  It is through the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC), a combination of ROV and sensor pack designed for environmental monitoring at underwater tidal electricity generators.  I remember seeing a project poster in the hallway of the UW ME building, and it had descriptions of the fluid mechanic equations to determine forces of water flow over turbines and vehicles.  I suspect that would be a great place for me to start understanding the engineering equations I will need to design the water profiling equipment for my project.

A big group of us made the trek into Newport’s north shore neighborhood for Irish food at Nana’s.  The cider was delicious, and I ate enough peas, bangers and mash to still feel full the next morning!  Good food.  We walked back to the Thompson across the VERY tall bridge as the sun set.

A few phone calls home, a late night movie and tea finished out a very nice day – back to sea in the morning!

July 19

Part 2

Shore leave!  Arriving at the OSU dock in Newport is a big shake up in the ship routine.  It isn’t quite accurate to describe the port call as a “weekend” for the ship, because all of the responsible adults are still working full days.  However, there are definitely a lot of changes in operations while we are in port.

The ship’s crew stands a watch at the gangplank, making sure neither pirates nor terrorists nor stowaways invade our vessel.  In just one afternoon, a massive effort by the crew, science party, and a portable crane completed the offloading of the recovered gear of Leg 1 and loaded on the gear headed out for Leg 2.  The ship gets resupplied on food and other consumables, gear needing repairs ships out, spares are brought on board.

As a student bum, I got to watch everyone else work and then hit the shore for two days of exploration.  I tossed a backpack together and hit the gangplank, excited to get onshore and meet up with the welcoming party that had been waving to me as we came in under the big arch of the Newport Bridge.

It was wonderful to see Joe (my husband) again.  He was on an adventure of his own, a weekend motorcycle blast from Seattle down Highway 101 to come visit me in the middle of my sea adventure.  The last time we’d seen each other was another dock – the big send off for the ship as we passed through the Ballard Locks.  After 15 days immersed in the most amazing adventure of my life, it was the best feeling in the world to weave together mine and Joseph’s journeys for a day and night.

After miles of wandering through Newport and the shores, a great night of sharing food, stories, and pictures, on Monday morning Joe zoomed back onto the road to our home in Seattle, and I headed back to my home-for-now, the wonderful R/V Thompson.

This morning the ship crew is buzzing with the excitement of lines being laid to throw to shore, everyone is waiting to pull into Newport and end Leg 1 of the Visions cruise, but fog and tides have us waiting offshore for a few hours.   

Back home in Seattle, it is extremely rare that I need to know anything about the world around me.  Tides can creep up and rush out, the moon can rise at noon or deep night, the weather can change as often as it pleases, and it doesn’t change my day in any meaningful way.

At home my day is governed by the alarm clock and a schedule, segmented into numbered weeks and held strictly to a time-grid of classes, meetings, homework deadlines.

I am finding at sea that days can meld into each other, days of the week have to be looked up on an electronic device, even time has changed from local to UTC.  The ship world is governed by tides and dives, weather and wave.  It is immersive, enveloping. 

I am finding that a ship runs outside of normal time, and bends normal space around it.  At sea, our ship is the center of the universe, a completely contained home and workspace surrounded by a small bubble of air and cloud, sitting on top of an endless deep ocean.

I like this world, surrounded by sea, working to understand the processes that have created and sheltered life, formed and governed the planet for billions of years.  I like knowing the tide and the stars and that the weather above me is the last bit of a typhoon that blasted a far away shore a week before. 

I hope I can find a way to hold onto this connection when I get back to Seattle, back to my numbered weeks and insistent morning alarm.  The ship’s passage carried me to the ocean and back again, but more important, it has carried me into the world.

July 15

I've had kind of a weird day and a half…

After a pretty full day on Tuesday, that evening I laid down around 6:30 meaning to take an hour nap.  I hadn’t slept much the night before and it was going to be a pick-me-up nap, give my brain the energy to tackle that writing project that I wanted to finish.  But I’ve always been terrible at waking up from naps, and it was after 10pm when I finally crawled out of bed.  This was the start of a 24 hour marathon – it was finally my turn to experience how people can end up busy and going for 24 or 36 hours straight on the ship.

I started out Tuesday night with a cup of tea (you might remember my VIMOT rigging from earlier in the cruise… it has safely kept my cup looped on my thumb and my hands free to use the hand rails going between decks!) and powered through  completing my first draft – hoorah!  I could sleep on it and do a final pass tomorrow.

That took me to about midnight and I was still wide awake.  I dropped into the computer lab to double check with Deb (I’m pretty sure she doesn’t sleep – might be a really nice vampire?  Will carefully investigate and report back to you, faithful readers…)  Did she think this would be a good time to visit the bridge?  I’d been shy, and hadn’t gone above the 02 deck yet.  I was reassured by Deb that almost anytime was good, and that nighttime was always a fascinating time to visit.

I climbed the 4 flights of ladders to the top deck, and waited a few moments in the red light at the bottom of the final ladder up to the bridge level.  I thought my eyes had adjusted, but the bridge seemed pitch black when I got to the top of the steps.  I wasn’t sure what was in front of me, and my tentative hello was too quiet for the bridge crew to hear me.  I could definitely tell that somewhere in the black in front of me was an open hatch, and I stayed completely still, suddenly worried about falling through that hatch, off the boat and into the sea… Probably not the most realistic scenario, but it’s hard to stay reasonable in the dark.

When I was finally able to see a little, I found the passage forward to the main bridge area, and met the crew standing the watch.  Dana was really happy to show me around, explain the dozens of screens and look up information about the other ship we could see on the radar, although we couldn’t see its lights yet out in the distance.  We talked about life paths and hopes for the future and our mutual admiration of Port Townsend and ships.  Then she took me out and showed me the stars.

It seems really silly, but so far I hadn’t spent much time out on the deck in really deep night.  I’ve had watches at 8 am, so generally I’d been trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour or had been caught up in conversations in the main labs or mess or library with the always fascinating people around me.

The stars were an order of magnitude greater than any sky I had seen before, even out in the desert areas of Eastern Washington.  It’s like seeing something from the space observatories.  I don’t think I could possibly be right, but I thought I saw the international space station zipping across the sky.  It was about 1:30 in the morning, and I think that is too late after sunset for the ISS to still be catching and reflecting sunlight down to me, even at its high altitude.  Maybe it was another satellite instead.

After staying outside until the wind had me chilled through, I said thank you to the watch crew and headed down to the mess for a quick meal out of the leftover fridge… Ham, pepperjack and Fritos.  It made Dana laugh a little to see the combination.  I was just cleaning away my dishes when Brendan came up – would I like to take a 2AM temperature measurement?

Brendan and Jim were staying up long after the ROPOS dive finished to map methane bubbles at  Southern Hydrate Ridge with the multi-beam sonar. Calibrating the multi-beam sonar requires a measurement of the sea temperature through the entire depth profile, because the speed of sound through water is affected by density, a water property that is dependent on temperature.  (I think that is how that goes…)  They helped me load the cartridge with the temperature probe and long copper wire into the gun, wind its cable through the recovered equipment on deck and fire it off the back of the boat into the black and white sea behind us.

With temperature profile safely uploaded to the computer system, Brendan and Jim settled into the computer lab to watch the ship slowly travel the survey lines at a crawling 3.8 knots.  I brought down yet another cup of tea and settled into the extra chair, watching the rainbow colored lines slowly stack up on the computer screen for the next few hours, watching for the telltale column in the cross-section that would indicate a vertical stream of bubbles from the deep.

I was starting to get sleepy by this point, but right after the survey was a chance for one of my fellow students to do the zooplankton sampling that he had been working towards for months.  It isn’t really possible to set aside time for student experiments on a working cruise, so this short window between the end of the survey run and the start of the morning dive was going to be a rare opportunity for him to deploy the rosette, and he was going to need a hand.  I decided to stay up and help, hoping that I would at least be able to catch a nap before my 8AM shift.  While he prepped, I got a big mug of mint and honey tea and went up to the 02 forward deck to watch the sunrise for the first time on the cruise.  I’m going to have to try to do that again. It’s a good feeling to be part of the day’s start, to bask in the first pale rays of sun over the calm water.

Soon after, The Great Zooplankton hunt was on… Jesse recovered multiple batches of swimmy, twitchy, squishy, minute life out of the sea and like all great hunters, killed it dead.  His weapon of choice?  Formaldehyde.  A true old school scientist, through and through!

It was fun to help, but of course there wasn’t time for the nap… just a shower, change of clothes, breakfast and onto my 8 to noon watch… which led into lunch, and then I did that final pass on my writing – even though the “sleeping on it” part hadn’t happened!  But it felt good to have that off my to-do list.  Next up was the 2-4pm student seminar (Brendan and Rick did a great science talk, wish I hadn’t micro-napped through half of it…) and then dinner at 5.  So it is all very silly, and basically there is always something to do on the boat.

After a really nice dinner with lots of vegetables (curry cauliflower! one of my favorites), and resisting the ice cream and candy, I wasn’t quite sleepy yet so I settled into the lab to catch up on email and business on the home front.  That let me stop feeling guilty about neglecting it.

It was getting close to sunset, so I grabbed a book and some hot water and snuggled into the very forward bow and watched an incredibly gorgeous sunset.  It felt really special because I had seen the night and the stars leading into that day, seen the sunrise that morning from the 02 deck, had a productive day and was watching the sunset in the middle of the ocean with my mug and a good book.  I'm finding that I definitely love living and being on the water about as much as I always thought I would.  My only wish is that I had done this sooner.

To finish out the day, still feeling antsy, I did a quick 20 minutes of exercise – lifted some heavy things, walked a fast half mile on the tread mill and stretched out.  I crawled in bed, ate a protein bar, read a little bit of my Oceanography textbook, went to sleep around 11pm to the rocking feeling of the boat and the sound of water on the hull, and slept all the way through breakfast to 9AM Thursday morning and just felt awesome.

July 14

The weather came up a little last night, and my cabin is tucked against the outside hull on the forward, port side of the ship.  Turning the door handle to enter my room, I heard a BANG that made me sure I was hearing a loose anchor trying to slam its way through the hull.  It was hard to drift all the way to sleep with that non-rhythmic, but somewhat frequent BANG…  My brain was simply not going to be convinced that the attacks were only of an acoustic nature and let me completely relax into unconsciousness.

This morning it turned out that the BANG I was so sure was metal-on-metal was only a wave hitting the metal hull.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for how hard water can be during a high-speed impact.  Do not try that belly flop dive from too high up, kids! 

Today’s dive was really enjoyable.  We were still at Southern Hydrate Ridge, close to the location called the Pinnacle. To start off, the Pinnacle is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in my life.  It is 20 meters (about 60 feet) of white carbonate tower, covered in several species of soft pink corals, big red crabs, rockfish under little overhangs.  The water looks blue and inviting against the white backdrop of Pinnacle.  From far away, the shape is lovely, rising from the sea.  From close up, there is a whole world of swaying, gentle life.

Another portion of the dive that made my sci-fi geek side really happy was watching the ROPOS robot gently brush clean another robot on the sea floor.  I delighted in the care that the ROPOS operators showed in picking out the softest brush, placing rigging lines to hold it onto the ROV “porch”, ever so carefully brushing the lense of the camera and the covers of the lights to make it ready for another year of service filming methane vents.

But now I think it might be time for a nap this afternoon before I get back to work on the writing project that I owe to my mechanical engineering department back home.

July 13

I'm having a hard time getting anything done on the ship today, I just keep chatting away with people and missing things I should have been doing.  I was supposed to help launch the rosette of Niskin bottles over the side to get water samples, but I stayed late after breakfast chatting with one of the crew members about her path onto the Thompson.  I made it down to help with the water collection after recovery, but I still felt bad that I abandoned my team for the launch!  I'm also feeling kind of dumbed out and lethargic… need to get some exercise, I think.  About the most I've done for days is a short walk around the upper decks of the boat while I watch the blue water or the sunset. 

The sunset was amazing tonight. We are sailing east, the colors were all dark dusky pink and orange, the A frame and the ROPOS cranes were silhouetted, the water was dark and lovely, it was pretty much magic. I really, really like ships.  Especially this ship, even though it is my first ship.  It seems like everyone in the science party and the crew agrees that this is a special combination of vessel and crew that makes for a top notch cruise.

It sounds like tonight and tomorrow's dives should be exciting.  It is a field of methane seeps around the subduction zone, and we’re expecting to see big fields of snails, tube worms, sea stars, crabs. Researchers from a lot of different places have been coming here for a really long time, and it is one of Deb's favorite spots in the world to dive.  Hard to beat that recommendation!

July 12

Yesterday we had a chance to make a long dive (14 hours!) and work at several hydrothermal vents within the International District site.  This dive showed just how challenging it is to wire up a volcano with scientific instruments.  Every surface of a vent is vertical, rocky, lumpy, and many are also covered in tubeworms, algae, crabs. I guess the vents didn’t get the memo to build up some convenient, flat, level locations for us to place mass spectrometer samplers over the venting water…

However, no matter how many times the sampler fell over, the ROPOS team displayed their dexterity and patience in retrieving the equipment, changing the position or angle ever so slightly, and trying again.  I have rarely met people with the focus and professional cool of the ROPOS crew.

In spite of the challenges, today everyone seemed to be particularly excited about the locations and the scientific data that we were collecting.  These hydrothermal vents are very unusual places on the planet.  Heat, metals, and chemicals have risen up from the earth’s core into magma chambers, water has seeped deep down into the Earth’s crust, up to 5 kilometers deep.  Where the two meet, the heat and pressure force the water back up through small crevices in the crust in just one or two days.  The jet of super-heated, mineral-rich water looks and sounds like a roaring column, a killer fire hose blast of poison and heat if we were to stand in its way.  And in spite of the extreme heat (280°C (536°F) was measured) and heavy metals straight from the planet’s core, life had developed to use this energy to build incredible communities in the total dark at the bottom of the ocean. 

So there is your reason for the day on why underwater volcanoes are awesome!

July 11

Late last night, Julie somehow spotted something moving in the completely black water.  With a flashlight-turned-spotlight, we saw the long, pointed shape of a top-tier ocean predator. The shark seemed pretty happy to show off, staying just below the surface and turning back and forth next to the boat.  It was the first time I had ever seen a shark in the wild.  It is an experience very different from the aquarium…There is nothing between you and shark teeth but the boat railing.  It would be a bad time to fall overboard!   He cruised around for several minutes before deciding we weren’t interesting… I guess we didn’t smell like food.

The day is off to a good start (the availability of eggs, fresh baked pecan banana bread and very large quantities of coffee and bacon definitely improves morale). To start off the day, I helped Ben test electrical connections on one of the recovered instruments. That particular HD camera from the Axial caldera had a rough time over the last year.  The test results will help his team of engineers understand how the equipment, water and electricity interacted to cause challenges for the camera.

Next up was a morning watch in the control room.  We’re diving on another Axial caldera site (underwater volcanos are awesome, in case you ever doubted) called International District 1. The crew had already deployed a mooring with scientific instruments off the Thompson’s A-frame crane down to the sea floor yesterday, and today’s dive moved it into place and set up sampling equipment onto the chimney El Gordo.  They are finishing up by working with the shore crew at UW to ensure that everything powers up and starts taking samples the way they expected.

For the rest of day, the students are going to have a tour of the ship (including the engine room!) provided by the Thompson’s Chief Engineer Paul.  It’s also student laundry day, so we’ll have a chance to get lost with our bags of clothes on the way to the ‘basement’ of the ship, called Deck 3 or Tank Top Deck as Dana (one of the crew members) just helped me find on the map.  Dana also mentioned that none of the stair wells on the boat travel from the very lowest deck up to the highest deck, the bridge. The Thompson was commissioned by the Navy, and one guess is that the Navy wants the bad guys to have to fight their way from stairwell to stairwell before they could get to the bridge?  And maybe a second reason is fire isolation?  Or perhaps being able to close off flooded parts of the boat in an emergency?  Any way you look at it, ship design is a complex, artful sort of engineering.

Happy weekend to you land-lubbers, back I go to work!

July 10

As you may already know from other blogs, each of the students on the Thompson will be producing a project based around some aspect of their shipboard experience.  Some very cool projects are being worked on in the main cabin.

I’ve been wondering what I might do for a project.  Being of the engineering sort of mind (and able to induce laughter when I attempt to pronounce the scientific words and names that my shipmates know so well) I thought that maybe I could do the tech version of the on-going and deeply impressive Biological Catalog.  I thought I could learn about each different piece of equipment on the Cabled Array, get photos, videos, interviews with engineers to discuss why each piece is mission critical or a particular challenge that they had to solve to make equipment survive the extreme, punishing environment of the deep sea.

However, in spite of my good intentions to learn about the system as a whole – from the power cables to the scientific instruments to the operations control center – I kept going back to the Thompson’s main deck to stare, poke, ask questions about the exquisite mechanical engineering on display in the Cabled Array profilers.  The deep and shallow profilers are absolutely fascinating to me, and I have relished the chance to talk to the engineers who solved the problems of deep sea operations, built the profilers and bring them to sea to deploy scientific instruments up and down the water column in pursuit of a better understanding of the ocean environment.

So by combining this profiler fascination with my need to have some sort of build project in the works at all times (or I start twitching a little), I have hit on a new project idea.  I can make my own profiler and install it on ERIS, the UW cabled observatory in Portage Bay.  And for extra bonus, I can make a video comparing the different profilers that were engineered to meet the requirements of the different sea floor sites and the different science goals of the Cabled Array and ERIS projects.

I think the video should be a pretty interesting comparison showing that ocean science can be done at any scale, anywhere.  But as cool as I think the video might be, mostly I’m just excited that I get to research, design and build a sweet mechanical system full of moving parts.

Wish me luck, I’m going into unknown depths on this build!

July 9

I would like to share a bit of advice from my experiential learning opportunity on board the R/V Thomas G. Thompson.

Do not leave bananas in your back pack for many days.  Bananas turn squishy and leak and smell bad and you have to empty your backpack and wash it twice and hang it to dry and explain to everyone that stops and stares why your bag is hanging around like Hamlet’s ghost.

The upside is that Ben teaches you a cool new knot to hang your backpack, the double Beckett bend.

July 7

I looked around me this afternoon and was awestruck for the 706th time that I am sitting on a ship, in the Pacific Ocean, included in a pioneering venture of science, engineering and exploration.  This is a lifelong dream come true, one I had never thought would actually happen.  So I would like to use today’s blog to say thank you.

Thank you to everyone on this cruise for being outstanding human beings who never make me feel like I am bothering you.  (Even when I am.)

Thank you to Deb Kelley for including me in this adventure.  Every single time I get to see you, you have been passionate about your work and always, always make everyone around you feel supported.

Thank you to John Delaney for creating the Vision.

Thank you to everyone who has worked all year long to make this cruise happen, though we might never meet.

Thank you to the UW for supporting the Visions program, for supporting undergrad research, for supporting oceanography, and for letting me become a part of the community.

Thank you to the NSF and all the other organizations that have supported the Oceans Observatory Initiative around the world.

Thank you to Miles Logsdon, Fritz Stahr and Rick Keil for creating the Ocean Technology Center.  The opportunities you have created and the encouragement you unfailing give out to students have changed the shape of my life.  I might not have found a path into ocean engineering without the programs you have created in MATE’s ROV competition, the UWROV team and the OTC community, and now I hope to make it my life’s work. 

You all help make the world a more awesome place.

And thank you to Joseph for supporting my crazy dreams, even when they take me far from home. To the many, many people in my life that I have missed naming here, my deepest thanks for your support.  I promise I’ll buy you the ice cream cone of your choice when you see me next.  Til then, best wishes from the Thompson!

July 6

Today started early for the Thompson and ROPOS – midnight was the target to put ROPOS in the water and start working. The goal of the dive was to complete the break-in of the new tether.  It needed to be stretched out and allowed to unwind, just in case there was still a bit of twist in the tether from the original windings onto the spool.  With this complete, ROPOS came back on deck for a quick double check on a motor with a high pressure reading.

With ROPOS ready to go again mid-morning, the Cabled Array maintenance officially began at the Slope Base site.  Today we deployed a new secondary node with numerous sensors including a CTD instrument (conductivity, temperature, depth) and recovered the existing secondary node and CTD from the same position. This required lots of swapping – of node positions, of cables, of bungee cords, of tools, of manipulator positions.  Working 2900 meters underwater is never a simple exercise!  However, the experienced and talented crew of ROPOS handled each challenge with aplomb.

My day started around 7:30 with breakfast (bacon, dirty rice with sausage, cottage cheese and fruit salad, bless the mess) and then rolled right into my first watch in the ROPOS control room.  It included a deployment of ROPOS and the first half of the descent to 2900 meters.  It went smoothly, no surprises, just the way you want a dive to proceed.  I spotted quite a few little critters.  Mostly the life seemed to be jellyfish and some animals that looked like big krill.  Those had transparent whitish bodies with a bright red center, lots of little antennae and legs.  Unfortunately it’s tough to snap a picture of those little dudes fast enough to keep them in frame when you are descending at more than a foot per second.

For the rest of the day, I had the opportunity to hang out on the main deck with the UW scientists and APL engineers.  The engineers need extensive photo documentation showing the final, exact rigging of every instrument that is going over the side.  That includes every zip tie for cable management, every bungee loop placed to help the ROPOS manipulator team, every jute tie that will be popped away with a slight tug.  The documentation helps the engineers optimize future designs or just confirms their memory of the final configurations.

On recovery, we take photos of the equipment back on deck and work through an extensive checklist for each instrument.  We confirm identifying information, condition, any loose mounts or connections, operation of the electrical connections. The final tasks include a clean up to remove the sediment and biology that returned to the surface with the instrument, then packing the instruments carefully for return to UW.  All of the information will be used to review the overall performance and iterate to an even better Cabled Array system.

I also had the chance to do a little deck work.  Brendan from the bio lab and Brian from the Thompson crew coached me on handling a guide rope to deploy and recover the big CTD sensor over the side of the deck by crane.  Brian showed me how to do a Bowlin knot – every time I take a sailing class I learn it, but a couple years go by and I forget again.  Maybe this will be the time it sticks in my brain!  If I just keep practicing…

In another fun knotty activity, Ben from APL helped me take a little cord and create a sling from half hitch knots that gives me a safety loop on my travel mug.  Now I’ll be able to clip my VIMOT (very important mug of tea) into my belt loop and have both hands free going up and down the stairs when the ship really starts rolling.  The weather has been calm, cool and the seas smooth, but it looks like the weather might come up a little when we are at Axial Mount later this week.

Another highlight of the day was Deb’s quick science talk on the Axial site and some of the geology of the ridge configuration and underwater volcano.  It is a particularly complex site with intersecting and warring side branches of the spreading fault line.  It is really interesting that the colliding spreading centers areas coincide with the existence of the underwater volcano and a range of exotic geologic features.  Seems connected, no?

The ship is officially running 24 hours a day without a break between dives, so I’m off to bed to get some sleep before Day 5 starts steaming full speed ahead.  Good night and lots of love to all my people at home – I miss you!

July 5

My first night sailing was successful on the only metric that matters: I was not seasick.  It was a fascinating experience, snuggled into the dark, cozy bunk in my sleeping bag and holding a picture in my head as if I was flying next to the boat. Having the mental picture of the Thompson's movements as we sailed, imagining the bow pitching over and down the swells and up again seemed to help stop the little bit of queasiness.  It was still a long night awake. I didn't fall completely asleep until early in the morning, and then it was an early alarm to make it up to the mess for breakfast – delicious eggs, bacon, potatoes.

Asking at breakfast, I found out from Captain Russ that during the night we had made the entire Juan De Fuca Strait passage and around 2AM entered the Pacific Ocean. A left turn put us on a southern heading and the boat is running straight to Slope Base for the first equipment recovery and deployment missions.

PST: 08:30
Latitude: N 47.30.3180
Longitude: W 125.19.9008
Depth: 1327.88 m
Sea Temperature:  15.409 C
Heading: 179.6
Speed Thru Water: 11.6 knots
Speed Over Ground: 13.1 knots

I was shamefully lazy today – I took a nap in the morning before lunch to try to catch up on sleep.  The afternoon had a bit of hanging around the deck pestering the APL crew with questions.  Katie and Lauren helped the noob students by providing a training session for us.  Each day we will work a 4 hour shift in the ROPOS control room, so we need to learn the Integrated Real Time Logging System.  On my 0800 – 1200 watch I will be taking still camera images and logging the important notes about the picture.  My watch partner Rick will be handling the main logging.  The process is critical to future success in maintaining the Cabled Array.  These log notes will ensure we know exactly how cables were connected and rigging was done, especially any last minute on-the-fly changes that occurred during dives.

To cap off my afternoon, I went and passed out in my bunk again… So lazy today!  Dinner was tuna, rice, potatoes, squash, another delicious meal. This evening was more hanging out on deck asking questions, and there will be a lot of reading and writing.  I want to make sure that I'm prepped on the mission plan when I walk into the control room for my shift tomorrow.  The ship should be on station and ROPOS starts diving at midnight!

July 4:

Woke up this morning at 5:30 – I had set the alarm to get up to the dock for one last peek at the world before we sailed.

Went back to sleep (of course).

Woke up this morning at 6:30 when the intercom blared the announcement to get off or you're sailing with us…  That got me up!  I wanted to see us pull off the dock at 7 am.  It seemed that everyone else did too.  The decks were full with people enjoying the trip from UW through Lake Union and down to the Ballard Locks.  It was a nice chance to chat with my new shipmates, ask if Seattle was home, talk about where everyone was from and how their winding paths had brought them to the Thompson.

Breakfast is set for 7:15 to 8, so everyone snagged breakfast sandwiches from the wonderful group in the mess and dashed back up to the decks to keep watching.  Around 7:45, we reached the Locks – our gateway to the Puget Sound and onward into the Pacific.  The Locks were also the last chance to see some familiar faces.  Family and friends had braved the early hour to hang out in Ballard and wave off the brave mariners of the Thompson… and they brought doughnuts!  The whole crew agreed that it was a great send off.

On our first day out we had the very important safety briefings to cover emergency evacuations, fire and man overboard drills.  In case you've ever wondered, 20 people shuffling around in immersion survival suits look like a forest of happy orange Gumbies.

Afternoon brought us to the Puget Sound and a deep 200 m hole off Carkeek Park where the ROPOS team could deploy for a systems check.  Meanwhile the Thompson crew, APL engineers and UW scientists and students lashed down equipment, ran the last cables, checked connections and generally made sure we were ready to sail.

With equipment checked, people settled, and the barbeque fired up for an Independence celebration, the Thompson set sail for our first stop in the Pacific.

Happy 4th of July everyone!

July 3, 2015

Today is the start of my Visions 15 cruise!  My first day on the Thompson we are on the dock and getting ready for the trip.  My job was to show up on time, load my gear into my bunk, get a quick ship tour with Ed and Katie, and then I helped Orest and Katie load biology lab equipment.

The load in had gone well on Thursday, so most of the scientists and engineers were able to leave the dock by 4 and 5 on Friday afternoon.  With no one left to help, I had a chance to have one last dinner date with my husband Joseph, wander through the park, then head back to the ship and claim a computer space that will be my main workspace for the trip.

The evening gave me time to get lost on the ship, take pictures, and make a lot of final phone calls home.

Into my bunk for a night next to the dock, and looking forward to sailing in the morning!