Saturday, March 4, 2017

Secure for Sea!

One of the joys and challenges of working on a ship like the R/V Sikuliaq is that each mission is different. That means each time a new science team gets on the ship, almost 100% of the science equipment has to be unloaded, set up, tested, and then secured so that it can be operated safely and effectively in sea conditions. Nothing is less exciting than watching the instrument you have spent months perfecting slide across the deck and smash into the wall, or less safe for the people on board.

The SWIMS winch bolted to the deck with cables running overhead. (Photo Credit: Rosalind Echols)

 Since unloading the container Tuesday, we’ve been engaged in a mad dash to test all of our equipment: it’s a lot easier to find a replacement part in Honolulu than in the middle of the North Pacific. For our “SWIMS” instrument that we’ll be towing behind the ship, this meant testing out the winch on both manual and remote control, turning on all the sensors and making sure the duplicate sensors were measuring the same thing, and getting cables run from the inside lab out to the deck without creating a massive trip hazard. For our EM-APEX floats, this meant putting together the wooden racks, making custom bungee cords, and continuously modifying the placement and design of the racks until we were sure that they wouldn’t tip over when the ship started rolling. And for our biologist Kate, that meant setting up her filter manifold so she can gather environmental samples of the cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and prepare them to take back to her lab for DNA analysis.

The ADCP in the stowed position, firmly strapped to the ship (Photo Credit: Rosalind Echols)

 Every piece of equipment needs to be tested before it can be deployed the first time. Often times, this means installing it (like our ADCP current measurement instrument), testing it, realizing it’s not quite working, uninstalling it, taking it apart, trying to figure out what’s wrong, performing delicate operations to fix it, and then reinstalling it. We tested every single float yesterday to make sure it was communicating with the GPS satellites so we know where they are when they’re gathering data and can find them when we need to pick them up. If they aren’t, then we need to figure out how to fix it before we put them in the water. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of tools on board, including but not limited to: a circular saw, a soldering iron, four drills with more bits than most people will see in their lives, and countless straps, zip ties, rolls of electrical tape, etc.

Some instruments need to be set up almost from scratch. For example, Olga and I were assigned the task of building the bow chain. Three days ago, I didn’t even know what a bow chain was, aside from the inference I could draw from the name.  It turns out, it’s a reasonably short (20 meters, or about 60 feet) chain that gets hung from the front of the ship under low-speed conditions so we can look at the temperature and salinity near the surface. In this case, we had a box full of temperature, pressure, and salinity instruments, and we spent two days figuring out how to use the sensors, setting their measurement settings, testing them to make sure they were gathering reasonable data, and then figuring out how to attach them to the chain (turns out, this is an elaborate process of wrapping self-vulcanizing electrical tape around them: awesome to put on, nightmare to get off).

The bow chain coiled up and stowed for transit. Notice the elegant tape work. (Photo Credit: Rosalind Echols)

 Now, everything is secured firmly to the deck. Computers are strapped down, floats are bungee-d to their racks, and all racks and loose object are cinched to the deck. As the captain said, “Secure for Sea!” And with that, we’re off.  

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