Monday, May 28, 2012

The Ship, The Science, The Scenery

The first thing you need to know is that the Thompson (2)(3) is big, and she sails in the service of Big Science.

Looking up from somewhere near the doorway of the Main Lab, on the Main Deck (Click for larger image.)

The science team who had the use of her for these 48 hours—from University of Washington's Applied Physics Lab, doing Oceanography (at an operating cost of $30,000 per day)("Data is expensive," said our chief scientist, Jan Newton)— didn't waste a minute of it. I'm pretty sure some of the younger members of the team, those who were about a third my age, never went to bed at all. Maybe had an hour or two of a lie-down between CTD samples the second night.

The ship's crew also worked all the time, but by watches. Presumably they slept. Presumably we made life difficult for the cooks, as we would turn up very-nearly-late for meals if we were taking samples from the CTD rosette during the meal hour, or sitting talking when they were trying to clean up the tables. (Is this the place to mention that the food was fabulous, and the whole ship's crew generous and cheerful-spirited?) The captain was on the back deck whenever something important was going on, his eye every minute on safety. Many of us were newbies to the ship, which made the ship's safety officers nervous.

Thompson is bigger than the usual craft heading out through the ship canal and Chittenden Locks. Attracted attention all along the way, kids in playgrounds calling out 'Look at the big ship,' the park visitors at the Locks taking pictures of us as we took pictures of them. Three bridges had to be raised for us, not counting the railroad bridge west of the Locks which is usually up but happened to have trains crossing as we were in the Lock.

Three Bridges (Click for larger image.)
In the Lock. Work continues to get Ch a?Ba ready for its mooring (Click for larger image.)

OK then, we are on our way, watching Puget Sound pass by, watching the weather clear :-) We three Observers from the Sanctuary led a parallel life, neither crew nor yet exactly science team. The work will take place inside the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, so the Sanctuary was invited to send some volunteers to further the educational aspect of its mission, and there we are. We sailed, we sailed, we sailed. SG and I spent a chunk of the afternoon watching the scenery go by from a forward facing area on the bow, two levels up from the Main Deck, two or three levels below the bridge, while JW talked to crew and science team guys about machinery and riggings and engines.

Up above the bow (little video)

The science team worked on finishing preparations to launch Chábă and the subsurface profiling buoy Nemo-subsurface, preparing electronics and physical connections; the CTD part of the team ready their lab equipment. Somewhere along Admiralty Inlet, between Whidby Island and maybe Marrowstone Island, SG and I have our only marine mammal sighting: two sea lions hanging out on a navigation buoy to the east of the channel. (JW saw a humpback fluke up in the middle of the night.) We round the corner into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, sailing in the outbound lane on the Canadian side of the Strait; to starboard is now Vancouver Island; to port, our own familiar coast. We pass Port Angeles, we keep heading west. JW calls his family in Clallam Bay when we are passing there.

After dinner, Jan (the chief scientist) offers us Observers from the Sanctuary a quick class in the science of what we are actually going to be doing out there. JW and SG are both school teachers; I'm just me: COASST volunteer, database volunteer for OCNMS, humble handmaiden of the Muse of Science. She goes to the whiteboard and draws us the coastline and the currents, the ocean layers, coriolis force and upwelling and the mixing of nutrients and dead zones and where adicification gets in the story. We ask questions and take notes feverishly, for all the good it does now when I try to give it back to you. You can read a bit about it in the NANOOS (Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems) newsletter.

Working (Click for larger image.)

At sunset we are still heading west. We have not yet reached Cape Flattery and turned south when darkness slowly falls, and I go to bed for a while. We are going to arrive at our target position, and the actual work of placing the two moorings will start, some time after 1AM.

Sunset, May 24, 2012, still in the Strait (Click for larger image.)

I spent a ridiculous amount of time in stairways like the one below, choosing doors. If I chose correctly, I knew how to get where I was going. Usually. If I chose wrong or broke pattern at all, soon I'd be turned completely around. What worked best was to find my way back to the Main Lab ('Clean and Safe Science' it said on the wall in the corridor, as opposed to the wet lab, the computer lab, the bio-analytic lab, etc etc.; but at least one doorway so labeled in the passageway did NOT lead back to where I could know where I was and thus could start over).

From here, up goes to the mess hall, down to the laudryroom. Unless I took the picture one of the times I was lost. (Click for larger image.)

All three of us observers recounted the same experience the first time we lay down in our bunk and turned off the light: finding ourselves in a steel box one level down below the nearest door to the skin of the ship, in complete dark. 'Uh-oh, this is NOT going to work,' we each thought. But once eyes adjusted, we could see just enough light coming through the louvered ventilation grating at the bottom of the door. Oh. OK. (SG left the light by her sink on all night.)

My berth was #19 forward, the further one on the left (Click for larger image.)

Little film clip inside the berth. Note the safety equipment right there. NOT telling you about how well I did not do at getting into my Gumby suit during the safety drill. I failed Safety 101 completely. Had to send myself to my room for a while.

About 1 o'clock, the ship arrived in position, inside the Marine Sanctuary, west of La Push in Quileute territory. They dropped the CTD rosette, which samples the water at specified depths by closing doors on the tubes, called niskin bottles. Immediately afterwards the other part of the science team started putting Chábă in the water. (I slept through this. SG was up at two, but probably doesn't have pictures either, as she by then had a science role, she was a chlorophyll sample-bottle filler-upper.) When I got up at 4:30, Chábă's upper buoy was afloat, [See the diagrams here:]

; one piece of equipment after another was being assembled onto its cabling and carefully released to dangle below, at all times keeping the tail end of the ropes attached to the bottom end firmly secured. They were still adding pieces a couple of hours later. Then immediately after Chábă was completely deployed, another set of CTD readings. The before and after readings were crucial in the initial calibration of the sensors on Chábă. (I forgot to mention dynamic positioning. The ship, with the help of GPS and a lot of automatic thrusters, simply stays where the bridge tells it to stay, exactly there, for as long as needed. In this case, hours, holding exactly the same position in relation to the mooring.) (You can see its surface buoy there off the stern in the photo below).

Assembling the Whale's Tail (Chábă) (Click for larger image.)

Meanwhile, the other part of the science crew prepared the CTD rosette for its next drop, and down it went as soon as ChaBa's bottom weights were put on and the final line released.

Getting Ready (Click for larger image.)

Small video, our water samples rise swinging from the sea...

On it goes. The ship repositions slightly, and the subsurface mooring is emplaced. Diagram for the subsurface mooring, the other half of Nemo.

More CTD samples, more crane and chain and cable work. I am trying to be a water sampler, so have no pictures of the second mooring going in the water either. I'm sorry to report that I also fail at Water Sampling 101. I am just the old lady who was so tired that she wasn't competent to collect water samples in the proper order into the correct numbered plastic bottles from the correct tubes, and kept dropping the sample bottles and having to rinse them three times with water from said tube all over again. The youngest and most energetic of the science team, who was 'sample cop' and telling all four samplers which tube to sample into which bottle, and checking off when they are done on the master checklist, took over from me after everyone else was done, so we could ever get finished. I sent myself to bed for a while.

Then the ship begins 6 or so hours of mapping the seabottom, with a sensor on the bottom end of a long pole called an 'overboarding pole' running down the side of the ship and into the water. Meanwhile the science team adjourns either to computer screens to start examining the new incoming data, or to the lab benches. Of our four kinds of water samples taken in several spots and from 24 depths, the oxygen and chlorophyll analyses have to be done before we leave the ship. The bottles for nutrient and Co2 testing are frozen and will be shipped to a lab. Yaay for outsourcing.

In the labs (Click for larger image.)

Small video, in The BioAnalytic Lab.

We sail north. Our next CTD drop will be at sunset off Cape Flattery, in a couldn't-be-better scenic spot.

Meanwhile, there is no action on the rear deck for us Observers from the Sanctuary to be in the way of. We drag three chairs out from the Staging Bay (and why are there chairs there unless for this purpose?) and turn the Thompson into our own private cruise ship. Except that nobody came by to offer piña coladas, it was perfect.

(Click for larger image.)

Ready to drop, again.

Water sampling again, off Cape Flattery. There will be two more (or 3?) through the night. (Click for larger image.)

Scenery takes over. There we are off Cape Flattery and close enough to see the lighthouse on Tatoosh Island with our eyes. The weather continues perfect.

The lighthouse on Tatoosh Island from the sea (Click for larger image.)

We round the corner into the Strait, and find ourselves in the shipping lane with really big ships: suddenly R/V Thompson isn't big anymore. Vancouver Island to port, Neah Bay and the rest of our own familiar coast to starboard. The sun sets. The science team is going to take samples, and run the ones that have to be run, all night.

(Click for larger image.)

I trudged back up the stairs at 4:30 AM to find us stopped in the middle of the Strait, exactly off home,

Port Angeles' lights still twinkling in the twilight, the Olympics in their familiar profile as seen so many times from the ferry, Mount Baker on the eastern horizon, and Victoria on the other shore.

Home view. (Click for larger image.)
Mount Baker, over to the east behind Bellingham (Click for larger image.)

We have to get out of the way of the crew, they are readying the decks for our arrival.

Ready to dock. (Click for larger image.)

The Victoria pilot boat brings us our pilot.

We cruise right past Esquimalt Lagoon from the Strait side (!!), and into the harbor.

(Click for larger image.)
Pilot and captain, waiting for the customs guy. The captain's attention is already on the next thing: he is wearing his ROPOS t-shirt. (Click for larger image.)

Past the Canadian Forces Base.

(Click for larger image.)

And dock. Instantly we are history. The next leg of Thompson's itinerary belongs to the Canadians. They will be servicing the Neptune underwater network with ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences), and their cruise will last a month. The minute the customs guy came aboard to meet with the captain and examine our passports (the captain had them all), the big crane on the dock started bringing in ROPOS' containers.

(One of) Esquimalt's big cranes at work (Click for larger image.)

They are calling their expedition Wiring the Abyss 2012 and their website is very slick. Well yeah. Neptune is really REALLY big science. Their science team will be 38 on board. They tweet as @nc_operations

We have a group photo, wait for our passports; and then we three Observers for the Sanctuary are first off the ship. We have a ferry to catch. We hustle along the pier, up the hill to the guard post.

The security guard kindly calls a taxi for us, and we are rushed off to the ferry terminal, just in time make the 10:30 AM run of the Coho.

Home again, 58 hours after I left, having been on two ships, and in two countries, and out to sea.

Group photo (Click for larger image.)
Hurrying Away (Click for larger image.)

PS. Found on Jan's profile page, finally, what NEMO is an acronym for (besides being the Jules Verne reference that it is): Northwest Enhanced Moored Observatory. The description says it "consists of a heavily-instrumented real-time surface mooring (Cha Ba), a real-time subsurface profiling mooring (NEMO-Subsurface) and a Seaglider to collect spatial information, aims to improve our understanding of complex physical, chemical and biological processes on the largely un-sampled Washington shelf." And leads in turn to a lovely web page. Um... Jan, did I miss entirely the deployment of a Seaglider, or what??

PS. I absolutely can't see why the ship's track graphics, nor the other couple of photos I inserted late last night, won't embiggen. All the others do. If I figure it out, will repair.

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