Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ode to the chefs

Today is my last day onboard the Ryan Chouest. It has been a great trip and I have really learned a lot of interesting life skills that I never thought I would be any good at. So after 2 weeks of being a communicator, organizer, decision-maker, I am happy to say that I am looking forward to returning to my quiet house and my quiet desk where I spend time on my microscope. I really loved this experience and have learned a lot about work at sea and the research that is currently going on the gulf. I have found great respect for these types of jobs. The jobs last from 2-6 weeks of being at sea. Once at sea the work is hard- shifts last for 12-18 hours. Sleep is a precious things. The other amazing thing is that everyday everyone intereacts with on another-- crews are often thrown together and immediately they must learn the ropes and get the job done without any conflict. It is truly team work.

Ole cook, Steve and I in the kitchen.
Today I want to spend a little time thanking the cooks (even though they may have caused me to gain 5 -10 pounds). These two guys worked in the kitchen non-stop, made 4 full meals a day, kept the kitchen in tiptop shape and since there was no dishwasher always cleaned the dishes. I will show an array of meal pictures and you will see how hearty the meals were.

Fried chicken, fried okra, and mashed potatoes

Crawfish etoufee, mashed sweet potatoes, and beans

Chicken fried steak, mac n' cheese, and peas

Boiled shrimp and peeled shrimp in butter

A well fed crew makes a happy ship!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Battle at sea

Last night was the ultimate battle at sea. The were thrusters engaged, instrumentation pushed to the limits, and all hands on deck. Well, ok, so it was not quite that exciting. I was quietly sitting in my office pod when I got a radio call from the bridge from Cpt. Bill, "Rebecca, are needed in the bridge."  Uh oh. I thought maybe he had some concern about the remaining route, but it really had to do with the circumstances surrounding the ascent on the site locality we were targeting. At the same time that we arrived at this previously identified seep site we were racing a smaller research vessell to the same locality.
WHOI research vessell in same area when we returned in the morning.
So we did some investigation into the ship name and determined it was the Oceanas and realize that they were after the same seep. One of the C and C technology survey guys found a link on the internet that explained that the Oceanas was commissioned by NOAA and NSF and that the onboard scientists were from WHOI. So I started joking with our scientists onboard that it was the battle of the research institutes: WHOI vs. CSIRO. The Captain established contact with the boat after about 15 minutes discussion and we relayed information. They had just recently deployed a buoy with a sensor array into the water (move #1) and then they informed us that they were going to be in the area for 36 hours (move #2). So we told them we would get back to them about our plan-- commando mission- don't relay your plans! In the end we decided to do several 'clover leaf' patterns around the suspected seep (~2.5 hours) and then head south returning to the area we left about 5 hours ago to try once again to relocate potential seeps. So through the night we left the site, cruised south, and then right at dawn slowly returned to the original site and quickly slipped into position while the Oceanas was distracted. Check mate! Then we sat there for about 6 hours and dropped two CTD casts. All and all it was a pretty funny event. You sure do have to be cut throat in the science and ship biz.
CTD retrieval with WHOI ship awaiting locality

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coffee breaks

I think I have found my favorite thing on the boat. I only wish the previous days would have had weather like today's. Even though the seas are still pretty active (4-6 foot swells) the sun is shining brightly. I finally got to bed last night at 3:00 AM. Part of our goals yesterday was to relocate a previously documented 'seep' and do a clover leaf pattern around the seep to pinpoint the direction the plume was flowing. So at 12:00 we located the anomaly on the echo sounder and we proceeded to do this pattern across the seep until daylight. All these sweeps across the area provide us with an image at different angles which ultimately can be used to put together a 3-d idea of the plumes shape and location on the seafloor.

Morning coffee and morning view
When I woke up at around 8:30 AM this morning they had complted their cast over the seep and were heading to the next locality. The CTD and fluorometers did not read any PAH (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) at the seafloor and currently the methane sensor is not attached so we have not details on methane. We can try to deduce that the seep may be primarilty emitting methane gas by the readings from teh echo sounder, but there is no absolute certainty. Even the water samples collected will not be able to confirm this. So the 'seep' is still a little bit of a mystery.  After I did my morning rounds and e-mail check I brewed a cup of coffee. I then headed to the bow with a cup of coffee and sat there for about 30 minutes just looking out into the distance.  Hence, my new favorite thing to do on the boat. The ship noise is pretty much alleviated and all I hear is the wind and the waves crashing against the boat as we move forward.
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A sailor's poem

I will simply say that this has been a nice day. As always the gulf weather is unpredictable. In most of the daylight hours we spent either in the rain or under a grey sky. Just before sunset the sky began to clear. Even though I have yet to see the gulf waters lite up by the sun, I was able to witness some spectacular beauty. At around 6:00 PM you could capture a rainbow on the stearn and a sunset on the bow. Charlie, one of the CSIRO scientists, and I were flitting from the front and the back of the boat snapping photos and watching the waters slosh by as we moved away from the sunset.
I convinced Bob, our engineer, that even though he had seen a million gulf sunsets that everyone was unique and worth getting up to see. So he finally got up and went to check it out.
Beginning of sunset
Near the end
Afterwards Bob told me their is a sailors saying ' Red skies in mornin' sailors take warning, red skies at night sailors delight'.  Delight indeed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Science log 4- Mission CTD

Short summary.
We finnnnalllly left the port at 5:00 PM. The finishing touches on the deck started fairly early. In fact, the ship's first mate, Brian, peeked his head into my room at 7:45 AM to get me up because the port workers had arrived and their supervisor needed to speak to me about the exact jobs that needed to be completed. This just happened to be a morning I decided to hit the snooze button and sleep for 20 more minutes. Oh well.
Since they started the job so early I was certain they would have it done by 12:00-1:00 PM.  How wrong I was. The job probably finished at around 3:00 PM. By this time, all the crew is once again restless and about tired of waiting in the dock. I have started to notice that being out at sea is a sort of adrenaline rush. The longer you just sit in a sea-going vessell the madder and more eager to sail you become. I can't be sure, but just the fact that we are moving makes the ship seem less closed in. The whole sea becomes your home.

Right before we departed Cpt. Bill called a quick safety meeting to go over the new equipment and overall ship set-up. Everything was secured on deck and we finally set off. During the first hour the ship scientist and I finalized the map, with the help of our GIS specialist and the captain. This planned cruise route is specifically targeting several natural seeps in the gulf. It should be an interesting task to locate the exact position of the seep in order to drop the CTD over the ship, but possible with some practice. By the end of the cruise the staff and scientists should be experts at this. Especially with the combination of the echosounder, fluorometry, and documented coordinates.

We completed a test CTD cast at around 10:30 PM and are now headed for the first official site locality in the morning. I have not pulled my pictures off to show, but will soon get to that.

I will write more tomorrow after I have had a nice 6-7 hour nap (fingers crossed).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ship break

Port Fouchon, Louisiana
After arriving in Port Fouchon, Louisiana I have had a short hiatus on my blogging for two reasons. 1) The ship has been grounded in port for some 'minor' modifications and 2) I had to travel to New Orleans to meet with those in charge at the UAC.  Even though I have only been on this boat for a few days it was kinda hard for me to watch it change. This seems to be a pattern in the shipping industry, everything is dynamic or subject to high amounts of flux. It ranges from the weather to the sea conditions to the ship crew. Even those things change there is a constant that remains- the Captain and the overall skeleton of the ship.
So basically in the past 2 days the ship has gone through a dramatic transformation. This includes the addition of a CTD sensor. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. It is a very important tool for determining the properties of sea water and can provide precise data on the variation of temperature, salinity, pH, and density. In addition, this CTD has a methane and dissolved oxygen sensor. As part of the research we will also attach the most sensitive fluorometer to measure the hydrocarbon concentrations at depth. This is very exciting because we can collect a wide range of data up to 1500 m depth!  Exciting work ahead. In order to get this peice of equipment on the ship there needed to be a few modifications. There was an addition of a large A-frame for the deployment and also two large winches that help in the deployment process. The ole ship literally had its deck cut off in pieces and the barrier cut to make way for the A-frame platform.

Construction on the ship at view of bridge

Side of ship that A-frame will be placed
During the majority of the construction I spent my time in meetings in New Orleans making plans for the next ship's mission in the gulf. This was lots of fun especially being in the heart of the UAC. The strangest observation I had during my time there was that the US Coast Guard seemed very limited in diversity not in a male/female sense. I am not sure why that caught my attention it was simply an observation. They are all so well dressed and formal in their activities, I felt quite bizarre as a 'civilian'. To be honest, even though I was on land for a while, I still had my sea legs and was itching to get back out to sea. Hopefully tomorrow morning it will happen. In the meantime I spent 2 evenings in New Orleans hanging out with a different friend each night. Friends I had not seen in a while. One friend, Jeff, is a friend from graduate school. He just got a position as a geology instructor for UNO and then my friend, Robert. Robert was an old high school friend. We had a good time re-living some of the experiences we had and then learning a little more about our life during the past 5 years. All and all, it was just lovely to stroll down Royal street and the remainer of the quarter while in good company and being in the completely lovely New Orleans evening weather.