Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mississippi River cruise

What to write......

Today I slept in late. I went to bed at around 1:00 and awoke at nearly 9:30, dragged myself to the shower, and arrived in my office pod by 10:15. During the night 2 more vertical casts were made and when I awoke we had just entered the southwest pass of the Mississippi River delta and were heading north to Venice. It was a slow trek upriver and I spend several moments simply looking at the surrounding delta scenery and watching the mighty Mississippi and all it's boat traffic drift by. This part of the day went slowly but as the day wore on things sped up. The trip up the river and back down is analogous to the kind of day I had. At the surface everything moved steady and smooth, with tini ripples undulating on the surface, but underneath the river water and all its bedload rushed quickly to the sea where it was swept away by the currents.

I checked in with all the ship scientists. The 3 vertical casts went fine overnight. Unfortunately the waves and swells throughout the night had continuously hit the container lab's A/C unit causing it to short out. In addition to this the shortage caused some problems with the underway pump. So by 9:00 AM the underway pump was useless and not collecting any useable data.  This all seemed relatively manageable, but based on the inability to collect data during the last 3 days due to weather we all were very disappointed. When we finally hit Venice, we found a place to deploy the vertical cast in ~20 meters of water. Our first data collecting point for the day.  Yippy. This was the one bright spot during the day. In the midst of this slow moving river trip I was running around making phone calls to homebase and then relaying info to the captain. We have a scheduled modification to the ship in Port Fouchon, where it will be outfitted with an A frame and additional equipment, namely a CTD sensor. The addition of the CTD will also require additional ship personnel. Currently the Ryan Chouest is able to fit 26 people, we currently have 23. After the CTD is added we will require an additional 3 personnel and possibly 2 more.

So the captain and I had many discussions trying to figure out how we could figure out the boat capacity and sleeping arrangements. Not only that but I made calls to different contractors arranging people to come onto the boat and work on various issue such as sticky doors, shorted air compressors, etc. while the major contruction was taking place. Taking care of a ship in addition to pilotting the ship is a logistical nightmare. By 6:00 PM the captain and I had everything all worked and we were able to relax. All I can say is I have a new found respect to everyone who works on a ship. There are some many things that need to be taken care of, I know have a really solid idea of where the saying 'he runs a tight ship' comes from and it has a whole new meaning to me. In addition to 'everything is in ship shape'. The AB seamen all have their specific roles and jobs that they complete deligently everyday. The OB also follow a strict schedule. The cooks make meals for each crew shift. Breakfast at 5:30-6:30 AM, Lunch 11:30-12:30 PM, Dinner 5:30-6:30 PM, and then dinner for the night shift at 12:00-1:00 AM. So the two cooks are cleaning and cooking non-stop and the galley is never in disarray. They also do things like make banana bread from overripening bananas in between. The engineers are also impressive, constantly working in the engine room fixing anything that might arise or anything that may arise on the ship. This way of life is very intriguing, it has a stillness that drifts above the unlying chaos of the ship. Man constantly harnessing a floating beast that is being pulled and tugged upon by both the air and the sea. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The long awaited second journey begins

I did not write anything yesterday because I was busy running around talking to Captain Bill, my bosses onshore, Coast Guard, and the ship scientists trying to determine when we should head back to the gulf for our second planned trip. As I mentioned before, the weather has been relatively rough. A low pressure in the gulf just south of Mobile Bay had generated a fair amount of storms. These storms were causing combined waves of 6-9 with the occassional 11 feet surges and winds were measured at 18-24 knots with gusts up to 30.
So a lot of discussion insued about the reliability of the instrumentation, the safety of deploying the vertical cast equipment, the ability to remove the noise from the echosounder data. Finally we decided to stay in port another night. In the meantime, the Captain and I plotted a course from Theodore to the south pass of the Mississippi delta, up to Venice, Louisiana, and back again to Port Fouchon. So it may end up that we have a little Mark Twain adventure, several hours of life on the mississippi. We are hoping that we can tow the array up river collecting water quality data. This will provide a better understand of the river's influence into the gulf. It is already well documented that the discharge of the Mississippi has created a growing 'deadzone' at the mouth of birdfoot delta and into the gulf for several years.

For the rest of the time my officemate, Curt, and I have been eating numberous amounts of starburst candies and hershey miniatures while just surfing the web and talking. So I thought I would provide a few pictures of the inside of the ship and some of the people on it.
Officemate, Curt

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Messages from home

Before I left home for this seafaring adventure I had been working on some curtains for the kitchen. I got these two great pictures on my phone. Matt had found a curtain rod. So now my kitchen has some mushroom curtains.  I do think they need some pressing and possible adjustments to look a little better, but not too shabby.

Science log 3- out to sea and back

We arrived at the deployment site at 5:30 AM. All hands we on deck and by 6:30 the wave glider was in the water and quickly moved on its eastward path. Throughout the course of the day the glider's speed was registered at 2.1 to 3.0 knots. This surprised just about everyone on-board the ship. The average, or expected speed, was between 1 to 2 knots.
So the deployment went smoothly. The retrieval, on the other hand did not. You may be asking, but why? Well the gulf is always full of surprises in weather, especially in the fall. So when we left the dock it was kinda overcast and then for the whole day yesterday it rained, either a drizzle or a deluge. The storm caused 4-8 foot swells and a very fluid boat, or what everyone called 'the rockin' ryan'. Luckily I took everyone's advice and started taking dramamine 2 days before deployment. I got kinda queasy at one time, basically the first time I tried sitting down on my computer to write the daily report. I took a video of the 'box' I call the office, but I can't seem to get my computer to play it. Maybe I can add it through another computer. The portable office is situated on the back deck very close to the deck edge. We had wave crashing into our window every 10 or so minutes and our chairs were rolling around, even with duck tape on them.
The day seemed to be going pretty slowly. Especially since I woke up at 5:30 and the peak excitement of the day happened at 6:30 am. However, at 4:00 pm, the CSIRO scientists came knocking at my office to inform me that the winch they used to deploy the vertical cast equipment had broken, or more specifically, there was a crack in the shaft coupling sleeve of the sprocket. Immediately I had to call the manufacturer and relay that we needed a replacement sprocket for us at port on Saturday. This call required a photograph due to my inability to properly describe all things mechanical. Based on the winch being out of commission we made a decision to go ahead and head back to port. On our way back in we decided to try to find the Wave glider and retrieve it. Finding that little sucker was tricky, especially since it had gotten dark and the storm had escalated (along with the size of the waves). So the wild goose chase continued and when we finally found it it took 2 hours to catch the glider and get it onto the deck. It was almost like the little robot had a mind of its own, always tacking when we got close to it. I felt like I was in a wild adventure with big seas, rain, and a pitching boat- a regular most dangerous catch. After the excitement of getting the wave glider on-board it was almost 9:30 pm. I had a few hours before my shift was up and we headed in to Theodore. The boat continued to pitch all night and I slept in till 9:00!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Science log 2- Setting sail

One of Liquid Robotic's Wave gliders
Last night at around 9:00 we finally moved out of the Theodore dock, down Mobile Bay, and into the great expanse of the gulf. This first leg of the cruise will last 2 days, Thursday night to Saturday evening. The main purpose of this short cruise is to release the wave glider into the gulf. The wave glider is an autonomous ocean vehicle, created by a company called Liquid Robotics, and commonly described as a robot. This robot is slightly different from most in that it is uses solar energy generated by the solar panels ontop of the 'surfboard' body to power the electronics and has no motor, but is powered by waves.
The glider converts wave motion into forward thrust, thus propelling itself forward. It can travel from .5 to 2 knots depending on the roughness of the sea. The amazing thing about this piece of equipment is that it can be released into the ocean, travel long distances, and collect an array of data, ranging from weather and water temperature, water quality, marine mammal vocalizations, and even take pictures. The plan is to deploy the wave glider early in the morning and then check on it on Saturday on the way back into port. At the same time, vertical cast will occur continuing the collection of water quality data.

So after going to bed (at 12:45), I set my alarm for 5:30 in order to get up and watch the deployment. So I crawled out of bed, ate some bisquit and gravy and a to-order omellette (I swear I will gain weight with this sedentary ship life and hearty ship food), and stepped onto the deck. [Safety moment: When on the slippery deck, we must wear a life jacket, hard hat, and steel toe boots].
Once the sun finally peeked over the horizon and the rain began to drizzle we set to work deploying the glider. It was quite successful and we all watched in excitment as it moved quickly away.
All and all, I think it was a succesful deployment. Now to take a nap before my 12:00 shift.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ship science log- Day 1

I have decided to change the focus of my blog from the recent craft documentation to a log of the the activities I am going to participate in during the next 2 weeks. I will be the representative for a science vessel that has been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico for the relief efforts after the spill. I have to admit I feel slightly overwhelmed with all the responsibilities I have to take-over. My colleague and friend, Lawrence, has been doing this on and off for a total of 6 weeks so he has the drill pretty down pat. I, on the otherhand, am truely unexperienced, but hope to gain some experience over these next 2 weeks.
I arrived on the Ryan Chouest on Tuesday evening at 6:00. The ship was commissioned in 1996, it has been traveling and working in the gulf ever since. There are 24 people total on the ship- a captain, first mate, several deck hands, two cooks, four geotechnician running the echo sonar, four scientists from CSIRO, a GSI expert, and myself. It is a dynamic crew and the ship captain runs the activities on the ship very well.

Tuesday I simply arrived on the ship, meet everyone, and then made a late night supply run at wal-mart and lowe's. So for the rest of the blog I will write a little science log so that everyone can keep up with what is going on and get an understanding of ship life.

This ship has been used for this particular mission for about 3 months. The primary purpose is to monitor the detection of hydrocarbons at varying senistivities at surface depths to depths of ~100-130 m. The current instrument platform has an array of sensors that together detect and differeientate hydrocarbons in marine environments. So far the team has surveyed over 7000 nm in the Gulf. Below is a map of the previous ship cruises that have occurred during the past 3 months.
During my portion of the cruise we will also be deploying a relatively new technology, called wave gliders. These wave gliders also detect hydrocarbon values in addition to CTD information. The deployment should begin late Thursday afternoon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Biking in the heights

I like the urban biking options in Houston. This trail runs from the far northern part of the heights and then goes towards downtown. I am not sure when they will extend it all the way downtown or if they will, but I sure hope they do. It is nice to have the little urban biking adventure. We could see sky scrapers and turtles and fish and lots of trash all wrapped in one.

Impromptu baby bib

So I had some scraps leftover from my pajama pants and a neighbor who had a little baby boy recently. Put those two together, with the fact that I didn't feel like knitting anything, and I decided to sew a little bib. It was fun. I got the pattern from on-line, bought some flannel for the backing and made a little bib.  I now need to attach the snap closure.

Sew III- Pajama pants

I took third sewing class. I made a pair of pajama pants with pockets!  It was pretty fun and was a two part class. I feel a little more confident at my ability to make something from a pattern, but still not confident enough to do it by myself. I met a nice woman in my class and think we will be pretty good friends. It is always nice to drink wine with someone and talk about something other than work and geology. I think she and I will try to make some projects together to improve our skills and confidence.