Posted by: adorsk | September 11, 2007

Squid Attack

Right now I’m sitting in the analytical lab listening to R & E play Norwegian folk songs and Jimi Hendrix. We have decided to give up on the whole science thing and become a traveling road show…or harbor show rather.


No, not really. We’re just taking a break as we steam from the Bermuda rise to the edge of the New Jersey contintental shelf.

In the last few days I’ve been suspended off the back of the ship, put out in the small boat, and assaulted by flying sea creatures. And I only died once.

Recalled to Life

My death came a few days ago during our weekly fire and boat drill. Here on the Knorr they don’t kid around when it comes to drills. The Captain set up a smoke machine and asked G and I to play the victims. We sat in the dark while smoke filled the lab. Finally, after about 15 minutes, the crew pulled our limp bodies from the smoke. Had it been a real fire, we would have certainly asphyxiated. Anyway, the afterlife looks a lot like the old life.

The Education of a Machine

Over the past few days we’ve been learning more about out how the long corer works. One of my favorite parts of the system is that the davits and A-frame which move the corer around the ship can be programmed. After a successful stage, J (the long corer master) calls out ‘Learn Grapple Extend!’ or ‘Learn Boom Out!’ or the such. On the next deployment, the system then repeats exactly the same motions that worked before. This is great for safety and for rough seas.

We have been consistently pulling up long cores. Our record so far is 37 meters of mud. This has been making the science party happy. I misunderstood the real virtues of the core before. The length isn’t so much for looking further back in time, but for getting better resolution. That is, allowing scientists to look at how things changed on the scale of hundreds, even tens, of years rather than thousands. It’s designed to fill in a gap in the middle of the core record. Small corers can get the top layers, but can’t go deeper down. Long drills can get to the deep stuff (even a few kilometers down), but they make a mess of the top and middle layers. Enter the long corer.

It tries to extract the upper and middle layers of the sediment record, without compressing or otherwise distorting the mud. Which is hard to do. You have to make sure that the core doesn’t recoil when it hits the mud or comes up. The special rope tries to minimize rope stretch so that there’s no recoil. So far the cores have been looking good.

Going Overboard

During the coring ops I’ve been shooting pictures of how the system works. One day, B, the chief scientist asked me to go out in the small boat to take some shots of a core deployment. It was a blast! I feel very fortunate to have seen the ship from the outside. She really is quite fine.

I’ve also been out in the ‘man basket’. It’s not a male fashion accessory, but a platform that hangs off the side of the ship. When a core comes up a couple people stand in the basket and use an air-powered piston to push sections of core out from the back. Sometimes the waves come up right under your feet.

man basket

Night Life

At night there have been lots of critters around the ship. My favorite are the squid. Most are about six inches long. They slink around just under the surface, changing colors and dashing away when a shadow falls across them. They make me think of blobs of submarine greek fire.

Now, I knew that there were flying fish, but what about flying squid? One time a squid shot out of the water six feet below and hit J right in the arm with a resounding ‘thwack!’. Maybe it’s the sea’s kamikaze counter-attack to the fishing we do on deck.

squid attack

There are also snake mackerel with nasty teeth which look like someone stretched a normal fish into a pipe. Mahi-mahi with iridescent bue fins come by to nosh on squid and flying fish.

There’s also science at night, like multi-coring. The multi core looks like a 10-foot high teepee with meterish long plastic pipes at its base. It picks up tubes of sediment, kind of like sticking a straw into the sea floor and holding your finger over it. Then the mud team does what is called ‘slabbing’. They take the cores and cuts into them into thin cross sections. Thin, sloppy mud cookies. These they put in plastic bags for later analysis. It can take a while, and folks get pretty dirty.

Back to Jersey

In a day or so we’ll be on the Jersey rise to do more testing. We’ll be trying to see how the corer performs in shallow waters and in a different type of sediment. And then the cruise will be over! The time has seemed to fly by for me. I’ll be sad to see this science party & crew go. It’s been a great cruise.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading.


Did you know that we found the original lyrics to the song “Hotel California”? I guess the Eagles must have had a secret passion for sediment. Here’s what we found:

Hotel Foraminifera

On a deep abyssal plain, tow net in the drink
Foul smell of dead plankton, and they sure stink
On the screen in the main lab, I saw a shimmering light
My max tension rose on the winch monitor
and my line went tight

There she stood on the fan tail
In the waves and the dips
And I was thinking to myself
‘this could be WHOI or this could be Scripps’
Then she lit up a flashlight and she showed me the way
There were voices in the squawk box
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the hotel Fo’manif’ra
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely carapace
Plenty of bugs at the hotel Fo’manif’ra
Any time of year, you can find them here

Her lab is stocked to the ceiling, she got the Zeiss pipettes
she got a lot of pretty, pretty bugs that she calls data sets
How she picks at the lab bench, to observe and collect
Some pick to remember, some pick to forget

So I called up the captain,
‘please bring me my wine’,
He said, “we haven’t had that spirit here since UNOLS imposed a fine”
And still those voices are calling from far away
wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say

Welcome to the hotel Fo’manif’ra
such a lovely place
Such a lovely carapace
They pickin’ it up at the hotel Fo’manif’ra
Bring your CTG, and your ATP

Petris on the scope
Cibicidoides on ice
And she said “we are all just scientists here, of our own device”
And at the Jersey margin, they gathered sediment
They stab it with their multi-cores
But they just can’t make a dent

Last thing I remember, I was
running for the boat
I had to find a passage back
to my hat and gumby coat
‘Relax’ said the night watch
We are programmed to DP
You can change course any time you like,
But you can never leave!

Here are some shots from around the ship.

A-Frame telephone core samples dog dish

picking mud night dish spider

sunrise corer net



  1. Hey Alex!

    Your job sounds awesome! I hope to follow in your footsteps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: