Yuliya Pruzhanskaya Blog Leg 3

An octopus and brittle stars at Axial Seamount. Credit: Y. Pruzhanskaya, University of Washington, V22.

August 30:

I feel like the 4 on, 8 off is finally starting to get to me and the usual 2 alarms weren’t enough to wake me up so I was a little late to my shift. Thankfully, there wasn’t much to do, as we just started to ascend.

A little later in the day, we had an unexpected visitor, a tiny bird that flew into the main lab. Everyone was super surprised as we haven’t seen it before. We assumed it was a migrating bird flying from somewhere in the North to the South for the winter. It made itself pretty comfortable in the lab, flying from one cabinet to the other. It even hung out at one of the desks for a while, but eventually flew outside and disappeared.

Today we also had a bridge tour. It was very informative. We learned some basic things about how the ship is navigated. I was really excited to see that it has an autonomous system that can make ships stationary at one precise  location. It takes data about the wind, currents, waves and manipulates the thrusters to keep the ship steady. This system is being used every time there is a ROPOS dive going on, to make sure that the ship is not making any movements that could impact the ROV. Without a system like this, it would be impossible to do by hand. Additionally, the crew can specify the exact point of the ship that needs to be stationary, so that if the ship is making some rotation, it would be around that point, and not through it.

We also learned about the laws of ship travel and crew hierarchy. The Chief Mate, Todd, explained to us the process of studying and becoming a mate or a captain on the ship. The process is long and complicated. It takes a lot of knowledge and certifications as well as many years of experience.

Tour ended halfway through the shift.At that time there weren’t any dives going on, so it was a good opportunity to peacefully grab dinner and get some rest.

The engine room on the R/V Thompson. Credit: Y. Pruzhanskaya, University of Washington, V22.

August 29:

Today started as a regular day with my 4 am shift. I made my way to the control room to find that ROPOS was in the middle of the dive to replace junction boxes, which I am not exactly sure are for. Most of my shift was a lot of connecting and disconnecting cables.

Later in the day one of the ship’s engineers, Ben, gave us a tour of the engine room. It was really interesting to see all of the parts of the ship that we don’t usually have access to. The ship has 4 engines. Two of them are 16-cylinder, and the other two are 8-cylinder. Usually, while we are on station, only 2 of the engines are working, one big and one small one.  Those engines use fuel to generate electricity for all parts of the ship: motors, lights, ROPOS.

The engines actually generate general electricity at 600 V that then gets converted to the appropriate voltage depending on the use.Then we proceed to the motors. It was surprising to learn that this ship has thrusters that can be rotated in any direction. This technically means that the ship can even travel completely sideways, which I don’t think is necessarily a good idea.

Besides that, we also got to see the ships fire systems. It consists of tanks with gas, which I do not remember the exact name of. In case of fire, the rooms that are affected will be isolated and then filled with the gas that will prevent the chemical reaction of oxygen and heat and will put out the fire. I also got to learn a lot of cool information about the ship in general. It was built in 1991, and has 3 sister ships that were built a short time after it. The ship had its half-life in 2015, at 25 years, which is a great life time expectancy for a ship.

After the tour, most of the people stayed for some time and asked all kinds of questions. Then I learned that in case of the abandoned ship, we would evacuate in the emergency boats and try to stay as close to the place of sinking as possible. This is because the ship continues to send out signals about its sinking location for some time, which increases the chances of someone responding and saving us. On that positive note, the tour was over.

 I returned to the main deck and headed for the control room. The dive was to start in half an hour. This time we were near the location of the underwater volcano and thermal vents. The bottom of the ocean was very different from the previous sites. instead of clay-like mud it was a solid lava rock. We also got to see one small vent. The highlight of the dive was a really cute purple octopus that was sitting curled up at the seafloor. As always, I headed straight for bed as my shift ended and hoped to get enough sleep before I have to be on shift again.

August 28:

I woke up for my shift to find that ROPOS was in the middle of the dive to retrieve a Deep Profiler vehicle.  This dive had already been going for 6 hours, and the ROPOS was about to resurface. It is crazy how many things happen while you are not on shift. The operations are going on nonstop, 24 hours a day.

Whenever I wake up I don’t know what is happening or what my shift is going to look like. We do have a schedule of all of the dives, but we are almost never on schedule. There are always some circumstances that end up shifting or changing when the dives happen.

This time I got to see ROPOS being retrieved from the water.  I look pretty cool, especially in the middle of the night when completely black water gets lit up by ROPOS and takes on a vibrant blue color.

The next dive wasn’t going to get started until after a couple of hours, so I had some breakfast and went to the library. Later I saw other students helping out with oxygen titrations from the water samples that we collected at the 3 locations. I didn’t get to do it, but I was able to see the process, which was pretty interesting.

I also got my styrofoam cup back that I decorated and that got shrunk by the pressure of the water when it was taken down 2600 meters. A lot of people did it to have a little souvenir from the expedition. In the rest of the time I had dinner and got ready for my evening shift.

August 27:

I woke up at 4 am and got ready for my shift. When I went to the main floor, to my surprise, I found everyone in the main lab instead of the control room, where we usually meet. The reason was that we were actually in the middle of transitioning to our next site (which was going to take 18 hours) and there weren’t any dives happening. I took my computer and tried to work in the main lab, but very soon seasickness became much worse than it has ever gotten. I couldn’t do anything productive so I went back to bed and ended up falling asleep.

I spent most of the transition time laying down, reading, or sleeping. Those were the only activities that I could do while keeping sea sickness under control.

August 26:

Yesterday morning we departed Newport and started on our journey. We transitedto the Newport Offshore Site where ROPOS operations started right away.

We arrived at the location around 5 pm, which was in the middle of my shift(4 – 8), so I got to log the dive right away. It was very exciting to see what kind of things ROPOS can do.

The main objective was to clean the cable for the Deep Profiler Mooring and replace the instrumented profiling vehicle on the cable. Upon finishing the shift, I went straight to bed because I had to wake up at 4 am for the next shift.

The second shift again started with  logging of the dives. It was the last ROPOS dive for this location, so after finishing it, we went to get the CTD rosette ready to collect water samples. I and the other people on my watch got to coordinate with the Winch and take water samples at different depths, which will then be used to process and compare water properties.

My shift ended right about the time that the rosette was brought back on deck. I decided to go to my berth to lay down and work on the blog and project proposal, but the ship already started the transit to the next location, which made my  seasickness a lot worse, so I ended up falling asleep for a couple of hours.

I woke up right before lunch. We were already at a new site – Slope Base. All of the operations that needed to be done were the same as at Oregon Offshore Site, but this time the depth was 2900 meters, which made all of the operations about 3 times as long.

I spent most of the day reading, working on project proposals and relaxing while waiting for my shift. When I got to the control room for my shift, ROPOS was still in the middle of cleaning the cable. After reaching the bottom and detaching Deep Profiler vehicle from the cable, ROPOS spent the next 2 hours ascending back to the surface. Shift ended right when the ROV was back on deck. All that was left to do was install a new DP vehicle and take water samples.