The Weather Gods

A dolphin plays alongside the R/V Thompson during Leg 1 of VISIONS. Credit: W. Ruef, University of Washington, V23.

Dax Soule, Queens College

This has been a challenging few days at sea. You might not expect that a team of scientists would place much stock in mythical gods… but when the weather is bad the phrase “Weather gods” can be overheard all over the ship. The weather has been blustery, the waves have been choppy, and the students have been modeling a range of hues not commonly seen on dry land. Even in the most ideal conditions, moving heavy things, dealing with lines under tension and all the work done in any industrial setting can be a challenge. Add a rolling deck that is often wet to the mix and things can get hazardous fast. Our work is always at the mercy of weather conditions that impact what can be achieved. Our cruise objectives are important, but safety comes first.

Ship time is expensive and even more so when we have specialized teams like the Jason group aboard. Because not all jobs have the same requirements, when the weather dictates a change in our plans we have to find ways to be productive by matching what we do to the conditions. It is a dance of sorts because each job has a functional range of acceptable parameters. For example, carrying something heavy to the seafloor needs flat seas, sending an unloaded ROV to the seafloor can be safely accomplished in slightly worse conditions. Servicing the winch that will be used to carry that heavy thing to the seafloor can be done even when the seas are rough. The result is that the Chief Scientist and her team spend their time playing a four-dimensional game of chess where she is constantly adjusting our plan so that we can make the most of our time.

That brings us to today…. which has been a service the winch sort of day. The weather has been so bad that we have not really been able to do much of anything that involves putting instruments over the side. Even still, when the weather gods are not kind to science they can sometime provide other opportunities to appreciate life at sea.

For instance, visibility is great, and the waves are just beautiful. Imagine blue water and white waves that stretch as far as your eyes can see and know that it is filled with things that can amaze you in an instant. Last night as the sun was setting, we went outside to find hundreds of dolphins dancing in the water all around us… jumping up right next to the boat, doing flips in the twilight. It was so beautiful. The waves curled over with their white fingers clawing at the air as they boiled up around us. All the while the dolphins played by jumping through their fingers… always staying just beyond their grasp. They would zoom under the ship, seeming to appear from out of the propellers and then they would ride the waves. The sounds were the constant hum of the ship, the whistling of the almost 30 knot wind and the crashing of the waves punctuated by the cheers of the scientist, technician’s and crew as the dolphins put on their show.

I guess sometimes you have to take what the “weather gods” give you.