Posted by: adorsk | September 3, 2007

Bermuda High

As I write this it’s 3:00 AM. The ship is Northwest of Bermuda. I’m sitting in the main lab. The ship is moving along at about 10 knots. Outside on deck 8 – 10 ft rollers sizzle by. If I look straight out, sometimes the waves are higher than the deck. But the ship always floats up just in time.

Pipe Dreams

core barrels

The main goal of this cruise is to test the long corer. It’s incredible to see. The whole starboard deck is taken up by a steel air track that ferries sections of the core barrel back and forth. The barrel sections are so heavy that they can not be lifted without a sizeable brute squad, thus the air track. Next to the track stand three motorized davits which lower the barrel down into the water. The very top of the core attaches to a grappling arm at the stern of the ship. When the core is fully in the water, the arm swings the core down to a vertical position.

It’s now that a very important part of the system comes in, the winch. A special custom-designed yellow and purple rope lowers the core down thousands of meters down to the sea floor. When the core gets near the bottom, another piece which everyone calls ‘the dog dish’ (it does kind of look like one) releases the core and drops it into the sediment. Then air pistons inside the core head drive the core into the sediment.

davit long view winch rope

And that’s the way it works. In theory.

In practice, there are still bugs to be worked out. But fortunately we’ve got an all-star team on board.

Mud Slingers

The team of scientists and engineers we have on board have an amazing store of experience. Take Jim Broda, who’s been designing the long corer system for the past five years. Or R, the Norwegian winch expert from the Odim company.  We call him ‘Oz’ because he  runs the winch from up in his control tower (ignore the man in the control tower).  There’s also M, who not only runs the core logger but  is also a world expert on Tunicates. Or B aka ‘the mastermind’ who was the head of WHOI’s mooring shop, the ALVIN group, operational scientific services, AND the deep submergence lab. It’s amazing.

And they’re great to work with. I’m having a blast seeing how they debug things and work together. A few nights ago we were trying to get the dog dish to talk to a transducer that we hung over the side. Every few minutes the transducer would emit a sonic -zap!- . The dog dish was supposed to respond with kind of a sonic warble. To me it sounded like R2D2 crossed with a red wing blackbird.

But the dog dish frequently missed the signals. B was standing nearby. He listened for a few minutes, and then made his diagnosis: too much water drag noise on the transducer and a bad wire angle. The next day we tried again with something to baffle water noise around the transducer, and at a lesser wire angle. Sure enough, the dog dish began to twitter back.

A Foram-idable Task

There are some other projects going on in addition to testing the long core. K,M,M,and E are working on collecting samples of tiny plankton called ‘Foraminifera’. Geologists have traditionally used Foraminifera to study climate changes. The Forams store a record of the climate in the ratios of isotopes in their shells. When geologists find dead forams in layers of a core, they can correlate that section of the core with other records that show similar environmental characteristics.

Or so we think. This dating technique only works if forams from different times don’t mix. Geologists have assumed that Forams from the surface can’t live in deep waters. But it may turn out they can. So, K,M,M,E are collecting some living forams from the surface and some from cores. The forams from the surface will get something I call ‘the Rasputin treatment’: some will get picked apart, boiled down, and dissolved. Others will be put into cooler water to see if they can survive. Basically, they will be subjected to all sorts of nasty conditions to see how much they can take.

Sailing on

That’s all I’ve got for now. Maybe I’ll write again in a week or so. Thanks for reading.


These are survival suits, affectionately known as ‘Gumby suits’.  Before we letft WHOI there were a few drying out on a roof.

gumby invasion

The CTD is a large ring of bottles that we lower down to get water properties and collect water samples.The name stands for ‘conductivity, temperature, depth’

ctd sunrise

Hygiene is very important on the ship.

bladder sneezing


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