Trevor Harrison’s Blog

21 Sept 2014

I wake in time for breakfast. Part of me wanted to get up early and see part of the following dives. After the transit during my shift, there was another transit to check out the cable at the actual instrument. That was a three hour transit. When I check, ROPOS is about halfway through its ascent, so I might have seen something if I had gotten up at 04:00. But man the sleep felt good. There are some guys on here that have been getting 4-6 hours every night I’m impressed at their continued functionality under such deprivation, but they take it in stride. Breakfast calls me, waiting, already prepared, as it is every morning I wake in time. I’m going to be ruined when I get back on land. I’ll have totally forgotten my morning ritual. For maybe a day.

ROPOS gets to the surface. The crew adds an adapted winch, really just a cable drum with a mechanical line (rope) on it. Turns out we’ll be retrieving the Deep Profiler we investigated in the last few dives. The line will be attached to float at the top of the Deep Profiler line. I should probably explain what the Deep Profiler is… but my mother’s sent me an e-mail commenting on the density of my blogs.  I’m including the details both to digest, organize, and remember, but also so that my audience can understand the intricacies of what’s going on. I guess that isn’t the most interesting for some. 

Well let’s try something new:
Get yourself a pen and blank paper.
Draw a flat line at the bottom. That’s the ocean floor.
Draw a wavy line at the top. That’s the ocean surface (waves!).
Now, add a small black square on the bottom. That’s our anchor.
Put your pen down horizontally against the wavy surface of your ocean. Hold your finger in place one pen width from the ocean surface. Now pick up your pen again and draw a circle where you’ve marked, directly above the small black square. That’s the float!
Now draw a line between the float and the anchor. There’s our profile line.
Same distance from the bottom as from the top, draw a small square over the line: a charging station. Just above this, offset to the right or left side of the line, draw a small round-cornered rectangle, with the long dimension oriented vertically. That’s the profiler.
So that profiler, loaded with instruments and batteries, travels up and down the line collecting data about the deep water column. Combined with the shallow water profiler that we’re installing during Leg 5 and 6, this offers a nearly complete continuous profiling of the water column.

Unfortunately, this one isn’t working, so we’re picking it up.  ROPOS attaches the line to the float, which is only about 80 m deep, and returns to the surface. They winch the float to the surface, along with the line, profiler, and anchor. They then release the anchor using an acoustic signal and pull the whole system to the surface. They don’t need student help and are worried the malfunction experienced by the profiled could have created a pressurized housing. We’re cautioned not to go on deck. The whole process takes most of the day, but I’m able to monitor it in the Main Lab.

In the midst of all this, I’m sitting next to this guy Matt from Sound and Ocean Systems. We’ve chatted briefly, but nothing in detail, and not recently. At some point when Matt’s up, John tells him to talk to me about the AUV I’m designing. He complies and we get into discussion. Sure enough, we get talking about AUV designs. Then about previous jobs in general. And his difficulties with the current winch programming. Inheriting incomprehensible code and demands to decipher. An hour later, we’re still talking and John walks by, laughing ‘I asked you to talk to him. Didn’t ask you to become best friends.’ ‘Thanks for making us both unproductive!’ ‘I had a feeling you too would have something in common.’ He was right. We seem to have similar values about engineering. Further conversations reveal he’s climber and skier. Good to find new adventuring friends.

At 14:00, James Tilley explains the electrical infrastructure installed for the lot of TLAs I understood most of it from my experience at WHOI. Felt bad for the rest of the crew, since they came out with blank stares. Understood a few words in there. As engineers, most of the time, we’re talking with people familiar with standard industry products and language. When we change that audience, even slightly, much of the language becomes useless. Where a VICOR might stand in for DC-DC convertor, the audience might not even know what a DC-DC convertor is. In these circumstances, it’s important to translate down, check in, build from common knowledge of the audience. James is an electrical engineer (EE) talking to Oceanography students with limited lab experiences. He’s excited about sharing his personal work, showing us circuit boards, explaining what they did, but in context of EE knowledge. It’ clear he loves what he does and wants to share that, but unfortunately there’s much lost in translation. Some part of me wanted to slow him down and expand the basic knowledge of the students, but he was moving about two million miles per hour, either from excitement or nervousness, and I felt uncomfortable derailing the train.

Brian, my advisor back at UW, is thinking about purchasing a USBL system (discussed in previous blogs), with an eye on a particular product from the manufacturer LinkQuest. Since I’m around such a wealth of knowledge and experience, I start asking around. Sure enough, the single question, ‘What have you heard about LinkQuest?’ posed to Jim, master of ROPOS navigation, turns into a forty five minute conversation. Lots of questions, speculation on my part, concerns, recommendations of different systems. I do my best to absorb the various iterations of possibility, so I can process, arrange, and report back. [Surprising myself the next day, I think I get about 90% of the information.] A reconnaissance crew has venture out to find my, sweeping the vessel in search parties. Ryan and Ian find me talking with Jim: it’s 19:15! We’re supposed to do informal presentations of our work, in preparation for tomorrow’s official presentations to the science party, and I was the one who declared 19:00 to be the start time. $__t!  I head up and we spend the next two hours discussing our work. Everyone’s got some solid work. I don’t have much to present and just discuss my efforts to design and write a proposal around the AUV.

Feeling pretty wiped out mentally from the process and try desperately to catch up on my blog posts, but fail miserably. Matt puts on a climbing movie and I end up watching with him. The thing about climbing, especially the incredibly difficult climbing shown in these films, is that it all seems to happen in fantastically beautiful. And I mean fantastically, both as immensely, but also in the sense of being fantasy-like. I think this is a significant part of what draws me. Similar to the immense beauty the ocean can offer.


20 Sept 2014

Success! I wake to an empty main lab and nothing on the fantail. I guess they managed to deploy the EOM cable and anchor, which means we should have a ROPOS dive today. I scrounge around for information and learn that the anchor finally went down at 05:45. The APL guys will be tired. I know after my short four hour shift I slept like a rock. The current shifted around 02:00, allowing them to put in the mooring parts down to the anchor. Then they had to adjust the anchor to get the correct depth on the vertical profiler, managing 195 m depth – 5 m off their goal of 200 m.

Unfortunately, the waves have come up. Sea state is too high for a ROPOS dive. So we wait. 08:00 dive shifts to 12:30, shift to 15:00. Finally! Success. They make a short dive to add an acoustic beacon to the float. On surfacing, they prepare the tool basket with the extension cable to plug in the EOM cable. That dive begins at 17:00. I spend most of my day on the internet investigating AUV instruments and e-mailing about classes. Trying to decide whether I will stay on the extra days or not. I’m leaning towards staying, since I only have two classes and what I really wanted to see out here was the instrumentation deployment of Leg 6. Turns out one of my classes is online. That helps. Still, I’m always concerned about getting behind. Other people are struggling with similar issues, though most of them have significantly higher class loads. The struggle of decision, along individual projects, seems to be breaking up the group cohesion we had at the beginning of the cruise.

Busy looking up underwater batteries, I totally forget about the 14:00 presentation, and go racing up at 14:15. Paul Aguilar, Field Engineer from APL, takes us for tour through his ICE DIVING. Yes. Scuba diving in the arctic. No skin exposed. Full dry suit. Insulated plywood cabins and a couple longhouses make for camp. Takes a week to set up. They work for the NAVY, retrieving smart torpedoes that are calibrated for under-ice acoustic conditions. One core cut for torpedo extraction, one core for divers. Always dive in pairs. Each core roughly a meter in diameter. Helicopters to extract the torpedo once brought to the hole. Everyone’s bundled up: it’s a balmy day at 0 Fahrenheit. But apparently, because it’s so dry, it doesn’t feel as cold as Seattle at 40. Subsurface, the depths are this clear midnight blue, while the sun illuminated ice glows blue-white. Stunning. Abstract. Clean. Paul’s been diving since 1981 and still loves it. And not just in the Arctic. Apparently the Galapagos are his favorite. While it’s beautiful, I think I’ll pass on ice diving and stick with mountaineering. Maybe scuba dive somewhere though. Wouldn’t rule it out.

I sit down to do some more work after the meeting, but something not right. My muscles are feeling real antsy. Weird. Icky. Stale. Oh right! I haven’t really exercised (aerobically) in like two weeks. Ugh! I finally make use of the vessels gym, biking intervals for ten miles/thirty minutes. Then do twenty pull-ups on a bar in the science storage room.

After showering, it’s near the end of dinner time, but I check in on the ROPOS dive before heading up. Julie asks me to give her a spell so she can eat. Sounds good. Too excited to jump on the logging to say no, despite it just being a decent. There’s still a few interesting invertebrate life forms to entertain. Plus, I know they’ll be leftovers. There’s always food available on the ship, any time of day. Sometimes, it’s difficult to resist snacking. Julie comes back and feels bad, but I tell her it was a conscious decision.

At 19:00, John calls a meeting to discuss our plans for Leg 6. Because we are 75% of the personnel for standing watch, he’ll need to find people if enough of us aren’t staying. Sure enough, all the current undergrad students are headed back home. We all go around and say our peace, adding the narrative of our personal struggle. Colin, who graduated in the spring and doesn’t begin job training until Oct 1, will be staying. He also mentioned later that he felt like the ‘Survivor’ TV show music should have been playing in the background. I make the decision. I’m going to stay. Let’s make this happen. John is clearly sad to see so many go, but understands the dilemma.

ROPOS dive at 2000. I’m on watch and super pumped. I’m taking over for Julie and we realize there’s something going wrong with the logger system. We can’t create a new observation series, something you’re supposed to do for each new major task. We finally figure out its got something to do with the length of the name. Shortening seems to help. I think it can’t have a comma: I try another series name with a comma later on and the same thing happens. Characters can have funny associated rules. Anyway, the first two hours go smoothly, as the ROPOS guys plug the cable into the junction box (our underwater equivalent to a wall socket) and the other end into the EOM cable. The whole process takes about two hours. Then we have to transit 1.3 km to a nearby site to check a connection on another instrument previously installed. 1.3 km isn’t terribly far, but it takes another two hours, the rest of my ship, to make the trip. Why don’t we just come to the surface then move? Because at 2900 m, the decent and ascent of ROPOS takes about 3 hours. At 00:00, my shift is over. Thankfully, because my attention was fading. Marine snow, which looks like the classic old star-travel screen saver, is only entertaining for so long.

Wondrous, wondrous bedtime.


19 Sept 2014

I wake early – 0500 – to watch the CTD cast. Unfortunately, the troll winch (mounted on Thompson) had needed tensioning and they were still at it. After a short breakfast, I chat with Kendra for a while about instrumentation she would like to see on a remotely docked AUV. At first, there’s just a few, but then she gets some steam and out pours ten, twenty. Sensors for everything. Some aren’t deployment ready, others are already part of the shallow water instrument suite and could be immediately integrated. Every ten minutes, a speaker blares and we both wince: ‘Back it off.’ The winch tensioning needs adjustment and bridge to drum communications are on a monitor channel in the computer lab where we’re chatting.

Finally, the tensioning is complete and we set up the CTD. Down go the heads to be crushed. If I haven’t explained already, the CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Density, and is used by ROPOS for more accurate ranging on their navigation system.

Brian, Second Mate(?), asks for help moving the weights used to tension the troll winch line. I immediately say yes. Feels good to help. Mei and Pam, Able Bodied Seamen, are out waiting. With Mei on the crane, Pam, Brian, and I keep tension on tag lines as we walk the weights through a maze of science equipment awaiting deployment, careful not to move too far or too fast. We shift temporary cleats along the deck to maintain purchase points. It’s a delicate process of slewing (crane rotate), boom up, down, in and out that Brian communicates via hand signals to Mei.

Once the slump weights in place, the CTD is nearing completion of its round trip. The Applied Physics Lab starts swarming the deck to start building the mooring anchors for the second vertical platform. Composed of six 2,000 lbs steel plates, only three can sit on a standard wooden palette. Each one has a ring in each corner for lifting. One by one, we add these to a stack on the back fantail. I start on a fantail, but get replaced by Paul Aguilar. I don’t think he trusts me to keep myself safe. That or he just wants to generally keep students from dangerous tasks. He’s can be a difficult one to read. Instead, I help man-handle the plate into its alignment on two steel beams running up the center of the anchor.

With the anchor built, there’s nothing more for me to do on deck, so I retire to the main lab to continue work on blogs and AUV project. As we’re sitting there chatting, John comes in with a serious look on his face. Turns out we’re going to be delayed. And not just a day, but three or four. There’s a storm coming in late on Sept 23, with swells nearing 3-5 meters, to last until early on Sept 25.  Delivery of the instrument packages to be mounted on the Vertical Platforms are delayed from APL. Decisions must be made, tasks juggled, weather avoided. So now Leg 5 won’t return to port until the 22nd or 23rd. Leg 6, which we’re supposed to be a part of, will now heading out on the 25th and return on the 29th. While acknowledging the extended commitment and making no requirements of us, he encourages us to stay on to continue our support on ROPOS dives. When we inform him that school starts on Sept 24th, he admits that since he hasn’t been teaching for the last five years, he’s totally lost his sense of the quarter system schedule. He’s got one focus and that’s deployment of the cabled observatory. But we’re open to make our own decisions with no consequences on grading. I’m reminded of the Life Aquatic scene, after the vessel is taken by pirates, where the interns all decide to leave. Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) says, ‘I understand but I’m disappointed. I’m not going to fail you, but you’re all getting Incompletes.’ Okay, an unfair comparison, but it’s out of our control and most of the other students are undergrads with four classes. Tensions feel raised as people start struggling with their decisions.

In the midst of John’s visit and researching AUV parts, it’s laundry day.

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Anchor reaches the bottom and I join the crew putting the floats on again. First task was adding bolts to the float and screwing them down. After about a half hour of that, Jae and Ryan came out looking to get involved, so I let them join and started shuttling the 30 lb orange footballs from their place in the baskets to the staging area. We had 98 to put on this EOM cable. A cloud bank grows threateningly in the western sky, a thin orange line slash at its border echoes an inch above the horizon line, the final remnant of the setting sun. The wind picks up and some instinct raises a spirit fearful of stormy weather. Out there for four hours, I watch nearly all 98 floats installed. The APL guys take over, but the cable has pulled way out to starboard by a surface current, which makes continuing deployment incredibly difficult. It’s likely tidal, so they’ll need to wait for tides to turn. I’m exhausted from the three hours of shuttling floats around and succumb to the call of my bed. Feels good to be exhausted.


18 Sept 2014

[Apologies for the radio silence. You’ll find out why at the conclusion of this blog]
It was a slow morning at the dock. Trying to get my blog from yesterday done. Stood out on the fantail for a while with Jae looking at the water and drinking my coffee, just enjoying the sunny weather. I forgot to mention, but it was gray and spitting when we came in yesterday. Cleared last night, leaving blue skies for us this morning. The coffee mugs here are sturdy, classic, diner mugs, but too small. I keep finding myself looking down to an empty mug. Probably good for my stomach.

We depart at 3 pm. Once again, I stand up on Observation Deck 1 as we depart. A crabbing vessel named Sea Pirate II works the jetty. What happened to Sea Pirate I? Calmer waters than the first time and I think I’ll be okay this time.

Jim, the token American on the ROPOS group and programmer of their navigation software, discusses the methods ROPOS uses navigate their ROV. Fundamentally, navigation is about knowing where you are relative to your environment. ROPOS uses a combination of sensors to accomplish the task. First, the boat has a GPS location. Second, there’s an acoustic transponder on the ship which shouts down to the ROPOS. The ROPOS has a beacon which responds back. The transponder also has an array of four hydrophones (underwater microphones) which listen for the response. By processing the differences in arrival time between hydrophones with some complicated math, the position of the ROV can be estimated to within 1 meter. This positioning system is known as Ultra Short Base Line, or USBL, referring to the short distance between the sensors (in this case, the hydrophones). Contrast this with a similar method called Long Base Line (LBL) where several transponders are deployed on the sea floor at a known location. The ROV would ‘ping’ these transponders and each would send a return signal at a unique frequency to a receiver on the ROV. By similar processing, the ROV calculates its position within the array of transponders. LBL was developed first, but as technology improved, USBL became more popular for ROV deployments as it doesn’t require installing base locations and is more suitable to mobile operations.
Back to ROPOS. The USBL position is communicated back to ROPOS via the data connection on its umbilical. For calculating orientation, flight speed, altitude, it utilizes an incredibly accurate and incredibly expensive fiber optic gyroscope (which uses the effect of gravity on light and effects of special relativity) and depth sensor. Many of these systems offer redundant information that can be combined to increase the accuracy of the position measurement and provide soft failure modes.
Unfortunately, as we sit up in the sun-warmed library, the rocking of the boat slowly starts to make me queasy. I can manage it well enough and I’m not quite to the cold sweats. That said, it’s still not comfortable. We head out to ROPOS to look at the components Jim discussed, which puts us out on the fantail. Fresh air and the horizon help, but don’t cure. Dinner comes and I’m hesitant to miss, but stick with plain white rice. I think I’ll go to bed.

Two hours rest. My body wakes acclimated to the motion. I wander down to the Main Lab to investigate what people are up to. Skip invites us to decorate some Styrofoam heads. Yes. Styrofoam heads. One small outreach effort for the RSN project is taking elementary and middle school decorated Styrofoam heads and cups, placing them in a laundry bag and zip tying the bag to the CTD rosette frame. Down, down, down to the depths they go. Oh the pressure! The air squeezed out, the head shrinks, the cups warp. They make for fun souvenirs to return to the young students, artwork or signatures compressed by 3000m of sea water. Well, there’s a few left over on the ship and were supposed to have a CTD cast tonight or tomorrow. Hanna and I grab the last two and start decorating. I’m still drawing mine (as of 9/21). Finally, John is wondering around and doesn’t seem too stressed, so I grab ‘just ten minutes’ of his time. I want the dang design requirements for the AUV of interest. As we chat, he decides a white board is necessary, so we head to the library. As the idea is developed, the conversation expands to what will become of the infrastructure in the next ten, twenty, thirty years. What can we learn from it? Are the lessons transferrable to space travel? How can we piggy back off cable infrastructure already in place from industry efforts? A small selection of our meandering thoughts. Soon enough, John’s been sitting up there with us for an hour, it’s nearing midnight, and he still his daily report to write.

So just in case you were wondering, I’ve caught by the design bug. Been spending my time researching AUVs, instrumentation, wireless charging, optical communications, etc… I’ll try to catch up tomorrow!


17 Sept 2014

Transiting back to Newport to pick up the Vertical Mooring Platform to be installed at Slope Base. We’ve been going since 1500 yesterday and won’t arrive until 1500 today. Apparently, it’s the perfect time for talks.

John Delaney starts our day with talk at 0800. Billed as a discussion of Europa and life on other planets, he ends up discussing plate tectonics, sea mounts, separation zones, and hydrothermal vents. All fascinating. I’ll try not to geek out too much. When I realized (I think sometime last year) that the theory of plate tectonics was proposed and accepted by the scientific community in such recent history – were talking the 1950s and 1960s – I was astounded! To think that something as seemingly state forward as the origins and evolution of our landmasses was so recently revolutionized is fascinating. ! It feels like something akin to the theory of gravity being discovered fifty years ago. And don’t mistake my surprise for disparagement: even modern geologists and geophysicists face major geographic challenges when doing research. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. I started with plate tectonics because I was already familiar with the physics of it, and John skipped over it assuming the same, moving on to seamounts and hydrothermal vents. I shall do the same. Hydrostatic pressure (the weight of the water above) pushes sea water down into the porous lithosphere, the earth below the ocean. That lithosphere is composed of sections of porous basalt interspersed with swaths of densely packed sediment. Salt water is driven down into the porous basalt sections, forming an ocean crustal aquifer. Heat from the upper mantle gradually warms it, changing its chemistry and most notably absorbing lithospheric minerals. As the changed sea water migrates along faults patterns in the lithosphere (crust and upper mantle), the heat eventually brings it to a boil, and it finds rises through the earth, gradually escaping via hydrothermal vents. These venting sites occur at spreading locations between tectonic plates where the weakened crust allows the hotter, more plastic ‘asthenosphere’ to push closer to the surface, thus providing the necessary heat source to slowly transform the salt water into mineral saturated liquid boil from the hydrothermal vents. Seamounts are mounds of the basalt which act as more general areas of heated water discharge from the crustal aquifer and appear along the sites of old fault lines. I’m not sure about the specific details of why they were formed at separation zones. I’m trying pull my student colleagues into trying to think it through, but they seem a bit talked out from the morning. Did I mention we had 3.5 hours of talks straight? Compelling, intriguing scientific questions, puzzles where we can only a few pieces to look at, keeps my attention, but it’s tiring nonetheless.

Following John’s talk, Giora talks about his research implementing early 30 years of plastic concentration data collected by the Sea Education Association tall ships. It’s the source paper for the media explosion around ‘Islands of Plastic’ that, as usual, is nothing of the sort. Just to clarify, the pieces of plastic the collection nets bring up are primarily small chunks, on the order of millimeters in size. However, there are clearly general locations (predicted by particle modeling of ocean currents) where concentrations of plastic develop. Performing this science via the traditional grants-based fundraising to pay for year after year of oceanographic vessel time would be a multi-million dollar proposition. Fortunately, SEA collected such a fantastic data sets because their primary objective (and funding) is providing educational experiences.  I’ve heard nothing but good things from friends who’ve sailed with them. Perhaps some unknown time in my future. At least I know I’d get over the sea-sickness. Anyway, Giora discusses the various outcomes and follow up data collection that’s been initiated, including investigation of how local wind creates turbulent mixing in the upper boundary layer, finding plastic as deep as 25 meters in the summer (and presumably winter storms would drive these even deeper. That said, the greatest concentration is on the surface. Another interesting phenomenon were hotspots that had over 10 million parts per square kilometer (10 parts per square meter). Typically located already in global scale higher concentration areas, they’re surmised to be caused by meso-scale (kilometer) eddies as well as Langmuir currents. Okay, out of my depth here, but it’s a specific type of wind driven mixing that occurs vertically in the water current – imagine water in a pot on the stove boiling up in the center rolling over and going down the sides. Same kind of structure, but in a line and caused by wind. Yeah… I’m trying to work it out in my head and still confused. Anyway, the last thing he touched on was the ecosystem impact and surprisingly, research indicates that it may be forming new ecosystems by offer microbial substrates that in turn provide food for fish. A natural corollary is fish eating eel grass. The grass hosts algae and microbes but is composed entirely of cellulose which isn’t digestible. It’s surmised, with considerable confidence, that the fish eats the grass to digest the hosted biomaterial. There’s potential that fish are eating plastic for the same purpose and result, though there’s also evidence it’s damaging to their health. Perhaps most poignant is the observation that plastics got all this news of terror at how poorly we’re treating our oceans, the real problem is the rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and host of resulting effects, especially ocean acidification. Yet these are so politicized that there is somehow still argument about the impact. Plastic, however, has only one possible source. Us. So it seems less politically charged and can act as a motivator for people to engage with the health of their oceans.

Lunchtime comes as a lovely rest from the bombardment of information. I put a few thoughts down here before then, but honestly, I was pretty fried.

After lunch comes the engine room tour. Three V12 3000 hp Caterpillar engines generate the propulsion electricity which power Z drive engines. I never asked why they were call ‘Z’ drives, but it essentially means they can independently turn the propellers any direction, with two in the stern and one on the bow. This allows for meter-scale accuracy of position keep, crucial for the ROV operations. They have a secondary bank of three smaller engines which provide the electricity for all ship equipment – lights, appliances, computers, etc. The electrical room has some comically large circuit breaker handles, along with large size buttons, switches and readouts, all located high on the panel. I assume they’ve done this to minimize the chances of unintentionally pressing something while swaying down the walkway in rough seas. The coolest part is the induction motors which have a glass window, so you can see the whirring shaft with eights rows of magnets looking like copper stripes.

As we come back into Newport to pick up the second vertical mooring platform, I go out on the deck, with pretty much everyone else, to watch. Shoaling waves break violently on the end of the jetty. We bear down on multitudes of cormorants floating in the channel. Avoiding us, they and as we pass, I can see them swimming subsurface. I’m struck, not for the first time and undoubtedly not the last, by the variation of adaptation among birds. Reflection: I think of birds in the same way I think of dogs, or perhaps more accurately canids. I’m not sure of the phylogenic classification level, but in my memory, birds are of an equivalent classification level as mammals, and yet mammals appear to have far more physiological variation across their species. I guess the similarity of physiologic properties that birds exhibit while adapted to such a variety of ecosystems that compels my interest. The Z drives show their worth as the boat comes up to dock, turning the vessel around on point and crabbing into the dock. Monkey fists, those elegant rope wrapped balls, are used to toss lines to dock hands. Fun to watch the practiced competency of our crew at work. We’ll be at the dock until 1500 tomorrow.

After dinner, Colin, Hanna, Ryan and I go to a local bar called Hoover’s. The solid ground sways under my feet. I hope it keeps swaying until we leave again tomorrow, since it’s the sign my bodies adjusted to the sea. It’s open-mic night and a band of weathered locals play some solid rock covers as well as some of their own stuff and get the small crowd dancing. I thought I’d be on the ship continuously for the full leg 5, but things here always changing. Delays in delivery of the instrument packages to be mounted on the Vertical Platform forced the change in plans. Don’t mind being able to relax and have a beer, but honestly, I’d rather be out there doing stuff.

Night ends with a late night game of cribbage with Max, Colin and myself. A good end to any day.

16 Sept 2014

With the mooring guys still needing to do a number of weight transfers with floats, build the anchor, and then adjust the anchor location, I was skeptical of the 04:00 scheduled ROPOS dive time, but as the first dive of our cruise, I didn’t want to miss it. When my alarm sounded, I quickly dressed and journeyed upstairs feeling surprising rested. Ryan Groussman, my neighbor on the bottom bunk, wanted to get up for the dive as well, but since my alarm hadn’t stirred him, I figured I’d check to see if it was happening before I woke him. Sure enough, the winch was still being raised after the anchor release, so he got to sleep for another hour and forty five minutes.

ROPOS heads to the water with the cable basket! The dive plan is to connect the EOM cable (see previous blog) to the sea floor junction box via an extension cable viewed in the basket. We’re still an hour away from dawn when ROPOS goes down, which gives the experience a strange dramatic energy. Probably just the strong dynamics in the lighting appealing to my cinematic cultural saturation. The ROPOS crew seems pretty calm. Practice makes banal. But honestly, you don’t want them excited, because that means something bad is happening.

The way down isn’t terribly exciting, though it could make for a great screen saver. Small, white particles, the so-called marine snow, wash through the screen, undulating with the waves above, though slightly out of phase with the boat. While ROPOS is a tethered ROV, they gradually add floats to the umbilical (similar to what’s done on the EOM cable) to isolate the vehicle from the ship. Between that increased dissociation and the gradual decrease of wave orbital motion below the surface, the movement doesn’t quite match what we’re feeling on the vessel. Occasionally you spot a jellyfish or other strange creature: it’s surprising how life filled the entire water column is even out here. I keep an eye on the Main Lab monitor while I finish yesterday’s blog.
Touchdown at 09:00. Eyes glued to the ROV monitors (see pic) for the next three hours. It’s amazing how slow thing happen and yet how quickly the time passes. My watch isn’t until 20:00 to 24:00, so I’ll not be needed today, but nonetheless I sit through the whole process. They have fantastic bungee wraps for holding the connecting cable onto the tool basket. Bungees are trapped in placed with holding pins strung with giant knobs that make for easy targets for the guys manipulating the robotic arms. A crew of four – one pilot, two arm-manipulators, and one navigator – make the magic happen. Before each task, they pause to strategize. Then slowly, step by step, act it out. The anchor placement, however, ends up 107 m from the junction box and the electrical optical termination is 13 m off the surface from the anchor. The first connection, on the junction box, goes in smoothly. One robotic arm holds the box to stabilize the ROV, the other maneuvers the connector. Oh! I forgot to mention: both male and female sides of the connector have protective dummy plugs which get pulled off by the robotic claw before installation. And, in a move that looks gentle as can be (but actually requires something like 100lbs of pressure), the connector clicks into place. Moving back to the other side, they undo the cable from the basket (More bungees. So magical.) and bring it out to the vertical platform connection. Worried about straining the cable (which, I might remind you, has a bead of glass running down its center), the room is tense. The suspended strongback (see previous blog) makes for a more difficult target and they adjust the ROV several times to get better camera angles. They have two main working cameras, one downward looking, one outward looking (so roughly 90⁰ angle) that offer gorgeous HD video (with the help with a few kagillion lumens of illumination). Even still, depth perception from two cameras when the object is 45 degrees offset from the camera plane is not the easiest task. Breaths are held as two unsuccessful tries are made. Step back. Reassess. Align. Finally, zoomed in, connector pins are inline. Now push. Gently. In? Another push. Nothing. Quick adjustment of the cameras: ‘It’s clicked.’ Something in the structure of the connector changes when fully inserted. With no ‘before’ view, I couldn’t see the difference, but the experienced crowd were confident.  Still, moment of truth comes in back away… and. Exhale! Success. A brief clap for Peter, master of the manipulator arm. Still, there’s more to be done and we need to be back to the surface by 15:00. It’s these brief moments of celebration that must satisfy, because there’s always more to be done. At this point it’s about 12:15, a ROPOS shift change is happening and the full suite of scientists and head engineers had come to watch. I depart from the shoulder of Max Schrempp (fellow student) who, along with Ryan (aforementioned bunkmate), had been logging the dive. Taking notes and photos. Notes and photos. Did I mention photos? And notes? I know ROPOS dives will be sparse these two legs. I hope I get my chance.

Afternoon is low key after the entertainment of the morning. The dive finishes up some maintenance stuff and brings the tool basket back to the surface. I chat with a bunch of the guys I met at ‘Monday Night Football’ and introduce myself to a couple more. They’re excited we came out to join them and encourage us to join in more often. I spend some time catching up on e-mail and researching AUV navigation systems. Yes, I’m still seriously thinking of putting together an AUV design as my project.
As our daily talk, Ryan presents his personal research on how iron, an essential ocean micronutrient, is processed by diatoms. While some of goes over my head, he definitely makes it understandable, and I especially appreciate his enthusiasm for the topic. His data set is also an example of high resolution data sets (i.e. lots of data in a small sample), relevant in the context of the cabled observatory, which is going to produce absolutely mind boggling amounts. How do you store it? Process it? Publish it? These are intimidating questions. I hate to call out what seems the phrase of this decade, but it’s a perfect example of big data. Hopefully science can leverage some of the algorithms already developed to tell Amazon what kind of shoes you might like.

Idiosyncrasies of the Thompson bathrooms: one has a push button on the side of the toilet. Two has push buttons on the top of the toilet. And my bunkroom head has what looks to be a push button, but is actually a pull! I keep forgetting which one of those combinations I’m using. Except the side one. That’s straight forward.

I think it’s about that time now. If you got all the way to the end here, congratulations, you’re now welcome to the private club of individuals who get to e-mail in questions about life on the Thompson, if you have them. May all your ships stay afloat!

16 Sept 2014

Wake at 9:00 after waiting up for the CTD cast to return from 2600 m. Quick breakfast and a chat with Kyle from the ROPOS team. He’s the newest member of their team, having come on two years ago with Computer Engineering background, as well as experience as a mechanic in the Royal Navy – it was the breadth of skills that put him at the top of the hiring list. Good to know.

CTD measures Conductivity (a proxy for salinity), Temperature, and Density. It’s a standard tool in Oceanography, both for scientists and engineers. In our particular case, we were calibrating the sound speed through the water column that the ROPOS team uses to more accurately assess the location of their vehicle. We also attached student-decorated Styrofoam heads. Here I’ll give you this sentence to figure out why. Time’s up. They shrink under pressure and end up as a cool souvenir to share excitement about the project with young students. Our particular CTD is combined with a whole suite of other sampling instruments, including a rosette of Niskin bottles. Oh. That’s helpful. A single Niskin bottle is a water sampler with two open ends. You hook the ends open via a cable around a mechanical latch. When you get to the depth you want a water sample from, you can use an acoustic signal to trigger the latch to release, closing the Niskin bottle. Each of these Niskin bottle holds five liters of water: it’s about 5” diameter tube and maybe 3’ long. The rosette is 24 of these mounted around the exterior of a cylindrical frame. I think it’s rather sexy. The cast last night took about 1.5 hours round trip, so I ended up heading to bed at 3 am.

Skip gives an update on our current research status. Deploying the first mooring, but having issues with overheating in the resistor banks. They’ve set up box fans and sun shades over open resistor boxes. Apparently, just before heading out, there was a big to-do upon realizing the VFD (Skip – define that for us: ‘Variable Frequency Drive’ – something else to look up) was insufficient for their drive, so they beefed up the VFD to four times what they had, but that also meant they needed to increase their resistive load as well. ‘What’s the role of the resistors?’ I ask Skip. Since we’re paying out the anchor on the winch, the motor is being run in reverse and acting as a generator. The role of the resistors is to dissipate the generated energy and when they’re installed inside a watertight box, there’s not much heat dissipation. Hence the box fans and sun shade. Holding steady at 40⁰ C and holding, first anchor half deployed. There’s some weather headed towards us in 24 hours, so is a slow-speed pursuit to get everything in the water by then.

Spent the morning preparing my last blog while watching the choreography of float attachments following the anchor reaching bottom. There’s a monitor up in the Main Lab which streams a camera feed of the back deck (or whatever boat cam the videographer feels interesting). Since the anchors weigh 6 tons, we’re not allowed on the observation deck to watch, in precaution of a snapping line. The monitor gives a great perspective and allows multitasking. If I could actually multitask. At the topside of the mechanical side there’s a 48” diameter float. An orange sphere of syntactic foam, it feels like concrete, but it’s composed of tiny air filled glass beads potted together with a hard resin and maintains buoyancy at full ocean depth. Following that float, there’s a stretch of line then another smaller 28” float, followed by a paired acoustic release – a mechanism for disconnecting the line for retrieval – and finally a chain to the underside of the Vertical Mooring Platform. Each of these connections must be performed on the back deck as the line is deployed, so the process moves slowly as the Applied Ocean Physics (APL) crew who designed and built the mooring take special care transferring loads on and off the lengths of cable.

When we’re twenty minutes from our daily 14:00 lecture, the Vertical Mooring Platform, the base for the future instrument packages, is schedule to go in the water in 45 minutes. Actual time 90 minutes. Just like the factor of two I have to work into my own scheduling. Things happen after whatever needs to happen before it and knowing how long that will take is, well, difficult. The process is particularly long, because they have to connect the Electro-Optical-Mechanical (EOM) cable to the platform, but can’t have it take any strain as it goes in the water. As the name indicates, it’s a multipart cable, with copper for power transmission (Electro), glass fiber for communications (Optical), and synthetic fiber (Mechanical) components. Once again, the APL crew sets up temporary cable strain relief using a Yale Wrap, a cable wrap that works much like finger trap, tightening under tension and distributing strain over a length of cable, rather than the point of connection. This is after they’ve already separated out the mechanical portion of the EOM cable from the Electrical and Optical component in a ‘strongback.’ It’s like a fancy version of tying your extension cord to your power tool cable so it doesn’t come unplugged. As you drag it around your backyard.  The moment of submergence is more like a minute of submergence and passes without much fanfare. There’s always more to be done and big parts in the water are pretty standard. You can tell they’re happy with how smoothly things are going, however.

At 16:00, Kendra Daley, Senior Project Scientist, finally gives her talk about her research in the Antarctic. Makes me want to go down there. Such a stunning, yet harsh landscape. Her work focuses on understanding the krill population, which are major food suppliers for fish, penguin, seals, and whales. For some strange reason, the challenge of field work on the ice appeals to me. There’s something about hardship and physical discomfort in the face of accomplishing something that seems to be a recurring theme and attraction in my life. Curious. Of course, the engineer in me couldn’t help wonder what tools could make the science either easier, more effective, or even enable improved science through better sampling methods or access to remote sample locations. They use a ‘though-ice’ ROV named Skinny, narrow enough to fit through a standard 10” hole in the ice. What a fantastic design constraint! All parts must fit into a tube of this diameter. There are a number of similar torpedo shaped AUVs, but expanding that concept into towable sampling devices, as they did with a sampler they called ‘Fatty,’ is just super cool. Apparently, they used to be able to work off zodiacs and get out on the ice, but working at McMurdo Base Station, the safety standards are eliminating that kind of cowboy attitude. You can tell she laments the change and I think there’s frontiersman attitude that most scientists feel, especially those who work in remote locations, that’s hard to suppress. It’s a ‘work hard through adverse conditions in pursuit of something noble’ attitude that drives significant portions of scientific development. And it’s an attitude I connect to.

After dinner, I got to help with what we called ‘Monday Night Football.’ It was Monday Night. And the floats on the Electro-Optical-Mechanical cable are familiarly known as footballs for their shape. Why the floats? The cable itself is quite heavy per unit length, so it would develop a catenary (imagine a straight diagonal line, now let using the same end points, draw and arc, steeply down from the high point first, then getting shallow). They’re trying to anchor the mooring at a specific depth, but the shape of that curve would is relatively unpredictable, since it depends on cable and water column characteristics. By adding the floats to offset the weight of the cable, it should tension closer to a straight line and allow a more accurate placement of the platform in the water column.
Working out on the fantail was particularly satisfying for me: while I’ve not done the engineering work on a ship, I’ve done plenty back on land and there’s something inherently soothing to working with the hands. The task itself was straightforward, but the crew I worked with was friendly, good to chat with, and we started timing the installations and got down to 27 seconds for a single float. Since something like 85 of the floats have to go on, and the ship can only go at the pace the cable unwinds, making it quick counts. That said, I joined the crew about a half hour in, stayed on for an hour and a half, and there was still another hour left before they got to more interesting parts.

It’s bedtime for me, but the mooring crew is now attaching another strongback on the anchor end of the EOM cable. There’s potentially a ROPOS dive at 4 am and I’m definitely going to be up for that.

15 Sept 2014

Feeling better in the morning. Come down for breakfast hungry, since I’ve skipped dinner. We’re still transiting to Axial Base, the location of our first mooring deployment. Have a single fried egg, fruit, yogurt, and potato hash. In a moment of caution, I take a Dramamine.

Five minutes later, I’m back to feeling queasy. So I decide to get some air and head up to O2, or second observatory deck, for some fresh air and the horizon line. There is no land in site: we’re at least 200 miles out.

The relative wind induced by our 12 knot transit quickly chills me, so I move to the side of the boat. The thought of confined space discourages me, however. Colin comes out to check on me, discussing thoughts on his project. I want to offer questions, support, advice. Frankly, I’d simply like to absorb his words. He generously gets my water bottle. And thirty seconds after dinner, I offer my breakfast to Poseidon. Quite the repayment for his graciousness. Fortunately, it’s the only such worship for the day.

Fire drill at 10:15. Everyone musters in the Main Lab. It’s all I can do to fight off another bout of nausea. Are you sensing a theme yet? Back to bed: sleep for another two hours.

A loud noise forward of my berth wakes me. That’s the bow thruster, which means we’re holding positon. The heaving of the ship decreases too.  Colin and Jae kindly come down to check on me, so I decide it’s time to give it another try. 12:40 and he’s back at work.

Ed McNichol, the self-titled ‘video guy,’ gives the daily 14:00 talk today. His two part discussion covered intrepid explorer Captain James Cook and the role of videography in oceanographic studies. I was particularly struck by the new model of telepresence research he described. For some background, the traditional oceanographic data collection model as a scientist was to raise a bunch of money, have specific science questions, go out for a few weeks of ship time and collect a bunch of data, then come back and analyze it for a year. This requires the scientist to be on the boat for the full cruise, anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months, when they may only be collecting data for their work for two of those days. In the telepresence model, utilized particularly by the NOAA R/V Okeanus Explorer (for those of you who like to look these things up), the ship maintains a yearly satellite connection contract which allows live steaming of 24 Mbps data, connecting scientists working from command locations at their home institutions work and lead a dive in real time. A regular crew on board manages the physical operations, the key component being the tethered remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, much like ROPOS on our ship. What struck me most was the ROV crew building, in the course of a night, a methane seep bubble catcher and machine vision target for visually tracking and measuring bubble sizes and velocities. That type of on-the-spot adaptation and expansion capacity seems a crucial component in the telepresence service. Anyway, it’s good to be exposed to the multitude of approaches the oceanographic community is taking to advance their discipline.

Today was about winches. No, not witches, wenches, wrenches, or wretches. Winches. Once we got to sufficient depth, we had to re-tension the cable on the winch drum. By we, I really mean the Sound and Ocean Systems guys who are contracted to run the winch sufficient for carrying the 12,000 lb anchor weight at the bottom of each mooring.  And since I know you can’t wait to know why this is important, I’ll give a run down. In fact, I’ve even included a diagram to help you understand. In Figure A, we see the cable nicely wrapped around the drum. In Figure B, we see the winch holding the weight. In Figure C… holy cow! The weight got bigger! And look what it did to the drum in Figure D: the cable ‘dove’ which means the extra weight pulled the line down into the layers on the drum. As Skip Denny put it, as he was describing this process to me for about 30 minutes today, ‘Then we get excited.’ ‘And not a good excitement’ I add. He shook his head in agreement ‘No, definitely not good.’ It prevents the line from flowing smoothly, or in some cases at all. By adding tension to the cable before putting on the package, the cable is less prone to diving. But because the tensioning process requires weighting the cable (which as we’ve learned causes diving), it must be done incrementally. Apparently, a safe ratio is about 4:1. For example, the cable was originally loaded at 400 lbs of tension. A 1500 lb weight was loaded initially, and then another round added weight to make the final tension 4000 lbs. This brings the within the 4:1 ratio with the 12,000 lbs package that it will be lifting. They also spooled the cable in a webbed pattern to make it less likely to dive, though potentially prone to slippage. Check out Figure E. The whole process took about 8 hours today, as they had to re-tension both the mooring mechanical cable and the ships trolling winch. Not sure of the role of the latter one. Looks like I’ve got another question for Skip.

While feeling better after the sickness, it was mentally frustrating to lose that time. Still not at 100%.

Back to transiting: we weren’t quite at Axial Base when we did the tensioning, so we have a couple hours until we’re on position. A CTD cast will take place at that point. I think I’ll wake up for it.

Confession: when I’m around such experienced intelligent people, I find myself intimated to point of being shy. Frustrating, because I find myself curious about things and not asking questions. I guess it comes down to how I absorb information: I need context, the story behind the object. Like the winch. I know tensioning the winch is necessary. I’d seen crew do it back in the days when I worked at WHOI. But I was embarrassed at my lack of knowledge, so didn’t ever ask why, as if to ask was to admit some personal failure. A bit of reflection identifies it a defense mechanism for maintaining a self-perception of intelligence. I recognize the self-consciousness as a barrier to my growth and learning and I’m working on it. I guess I need to go back tomorrow and start asking Keith a bunch of question about ROPOS.

Goodness! I forgot to mention the ROPOS tour. ROPOS is the Canadian ROV that’s installing all the equipment, plugging instruments into their sea-floor junction boxes, our sea-floor eyes and hands. After dinner, at 20:00, Keith Tambouri, director of their operations and electrical engineer, gave us the walk through of the various components. He included tons of technical details that I sort of understood, but I wished I’d asked more questions to build context around decisions made. The difficulty, and fun, of ocean engineering is that understanding the role of each instrument to the collective requires decent expertise in a wide range of topics.

Waiting. Waiting. Writing. Waiting. The heaving of the ship is stronger in transit. Fortunately now, it’s calling me to sleep rather than sickness.


13 Sept 2014

Rise at 07:10 for 07:15 breakfast in the galley. The cooks keep us well fed. Veggie eggs with spinach, olives, feta, and other stuff. I’m impressed and full. Hour and a half until the safety meeting. I set up my computer station in the Main Lab. The adventure is starting to get real.

Alas! We’re delayed. Some things on the back deck need to be addressed. Departure now at 16:00. Perfect. Give my worries about sea sickness time to grow. Okay, I might be exaggerating my concern, but really… it’s amazing how the nausea lays you out. Delays are common (at least that’s what I hear), but the crew, both ship and science, work hard to make it back. There’s a scheduling board with events posted each day, lovingly called the ‘Board of Lies.’ 

It’s the small things: a rubber chicken hides behind an NSF sign. Picture to follow.

Safety meeting at 09:00 as planned though. Get the run down on precautions when going out on deck. But most entertaining is trying on the survival suits. Imagine a cross between a seal, neoprene, lobster, parachute pants, and Inuit snow coat. With hope, they’ll not be necessary.

Hannah and I sit down and start looking through the comprehensive cruise, especially at the two legged moored shallow water profile system, but have some questions. Fortunately, UW Engineer Skip Denny is sitting behind us. Following instructions to badger staff with questions we have, I turn around and ask. The result is a captivating forty-five minute explanation of the various components, latching mechanisms, sensor packages, deployment steps, mooring components, anecdotes of mistakes made in the first deployment. You can tell how excited Skip is about the engineering behind it all and the energy is infecting. Recognizing sensors. These conversations with staff calm my nerves and increase my confidence.  The environment of active, applied, inspired knowledge, with so many experienced crew eager to share. It’s impossible not to glom onto research questions and start brainstorming solutions.

Salt water scent drifts in through open hatches. Smells like home.

At 14:00, John Delaney, chief scientist and core motivator for the Regional Scales Node, offers his vision for the expansive project. While he has a meandering methodology, we gain valuable perspective on the relationship between the broad science questions, site selection, and instrumentation. Focused on this for the past nearly twenty years, you can tell he’s both excited to see the idea finally implemented, but also already to what the infrastructure will enable twenty years from now. 
I inquire if there’s a mechanism within NSF for scientists wanting to piggyback on the infrastructure, putting in new sensors, expanding the capacity of the system. Nothing. There are to be now new instruments down after the first year and there is no structure in place for even suggesting putting them on, despite the fact that scientist are submitting proposals. The instruments that are going down this year were themselves decided upon five years ago and needed sufficient evidence of robustness at that point. A fine decision parameter. This is a totally different project, however: it’s not just putting a few sensors down and getting data once. It’s infrastructure. It’s like putting phone lines up and then deciding you’re don’t want to attach a computer to the end. Frustratingly short sited.

As we pulled away from the dock, a sense of foreboding struck. I needed some Dramamine, but it was already too late. I put myself to bed before dinner, my stomach lurching rhythmically with the waves crashing against the hull. Alas.

12 Sept 2014

The long drive Seattle to UW Newport, OR. Skipped traffic on country road. I drove, with Colin as shotgun passenger, navigator, and DJ, Jae and Ryan, all fellow students, and a full load of gear. Massachusetts driving urges successfully resisted.

Arrive at NOAH Marine Operations Center where R/V Thompson is docked. We wander around in the parking lot before realizing we need to just drive up to the Thompson. I was distracted by finding a bathroom. Used the head on the boat instead. Find our berth and throw our bags onshore. The beginning is unstructured, which makes me feel nervous, shy, off-kilter. Fortunately, the Leg 4 crew offers some direction.

Tasks completed: unpacking, grab linens for bed. The crew unpacks the load of food for the coming leg. While I hate feeling useless, trying to help would just put me in the way, so we sit around and chat.

Introductory meeting with John and Kendra at 15:00, pushed back to 15:15. We each talk of our origins. A shortened version of the car ride up. Honestly, I haven’t thought at all about what I’d be doing for a project, but knowing I’m in engineering, Kendra and John are quick to offer ideas. ‘Just design an AUV while onboard’ John proposes. No facetiousness detected. I initially chuckle nervously: that’s impossible. And yet, I can’t help but start mentally designing, or building a list of design constraints. It’s an inevitable consequence of personality. There’s a reason I’m in school to be an engineer.

A quick tour of the ship, my second at this point – the first back at the UW Oceanography Building in Seattle. The best way to understand is to wander though. And get lost. Find your way again. That’s already happened several times.
First meal in the galley. Delicious and filling. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll see it again. I’m resigned to getting seasick. If I don't, spectacular. Frankly, I think I'm doomed. I’ve got Dramamine, but we’ll see what happens. We finish the evening with a walk to Rogue brewery, ten minutes up the road. Something like 31 beers on tap, many a delicious, a few weird. My taste buds seek the darker flavors – it must be changing seasons. A concerning affair, the dropping temperatures, as it foretells coming of rougher winter weather. Our operations for the coming legs are delicate affairs, despite the scale of some of the packages to be submerged. Everyone’s wishing for calmer waters.

Looking forward for our departure tomorrow. Safety briefing at 09:00, departure at 10:00. Now for a solid nights rest. Until next time.