Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Off to sea again!

Hi all,

This is just a quick note to say that I am off to sea again! This time it is to the Wyville Thomson Ridge and the Faroe Shetland Channel taking more video footage of the sea floor. I'm heading out with Marine Science Scotland and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee who are aiming to:

a) work out how best to monitor and manage an offshore marine protected area (the Wyville Thomson Ridge special area of conservation), and

b) find out how far the "sponge belt" extends up the Faroe Shetland Channel.

I will tell you a bit more about this later, but for now take a look at this map and see where we are going.

I will tell you why this is an interesting area, and hopefully keep you up to date with what we see. But it is possible the internet will be patchy or non existant, in which case i will stockpile my posts and put them up when I get a connection again.

Departure is on thursday morning.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Nearly There

Since I last left you the weather turned bad again and we have left Rockall Bank, returning to the Darwin Mounds to try and wrap up the work we nearly finished there earlier in the trip. It has been most unfortunate for me and my boss Kerry, as we have been hardest hit by the weather, managing to get only one out of the 13 plannned transects we hoped for. However all is not lost as we are being allowed to take away the other ROV transects we have done throughout this trip as compensation and hopefully manage to use them to the same effect.

I should say (albeit very late!) that the reason we want these video transects is to ground truth and refine a model that Kerry has built to predict the locations of vulnerable marine ecosystems. Finding out where we do actually encounter deep water coral reefs is important to these predictions and allows us to build up a database of factors that can be used to refine these predictions.

As such I am now gathering in the photos from our transects and have a few to show you here of the wonders that lie hundreds of metres below the water surface up here in the north atlantic.

Now after a 40hour transit back to the Darwin Mounds which has been one of the roughest trips we've had, we are now sitting one again, able to do a final 48hours of megacoring, ROV dives and maybe even a piston core for the sae of reprise (and of course valid science ;) ).

We have also finally seen a proper whale! A fin whale was rumoured to have been hanging around, and after scoping the seas for longer than anyone else could be bothered to, I managed to spot it and alert the rest of the crew as they were getting ready to deploy our own curious yellow whale, the autosub, for its penultimate if not final voyage of this cruise. My time advantage gave me the chance to get one of the few closer pictures of the fin whale near the ship.

Definitely looking forward to getting home now, and I'm very excited that Luke has managed to get a couple of days off work, so that arriving on sunday evening, I still manage to get a little bit of "weekend" with him before it is back to the usual working week.

Enjoy the pics!Live corals and anemones on the Rockall Bank Cliffs
Even the dead coral provides a rich habitat for other species here there are several species of sponge, urchin, polychaete worms, a sponge crab, some shrimp and even a little bit of live coral on the side there.Chimaera monstrosa, the rabbit fish, these are somewhere between a fish and shark and elegantly glide just above the bottom, flapping their wings and looking like they are hopping when they are startled.A dumbo octopus! This little guy has wee "ear flaps" that do indeed flap while it glides through the water making it look like a large elephant with only its ears to help it fly. Rather a groovy spot from the Polygonal Faults.A fin whale doing a blow, its long body following, finally its tiny little dorsal fin arches over as it dives. 2nd larges animal in the world! Woop. :)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Very Dangerous Engine Room Tour

Yesterday I had the pleasue of a tour around the engine room, offered either as standard, dangerous or very dangerous as you like. Naturally you have to pick the most adventurous, so at 10.30am, just before an ROV dive, a few of us followed George, the chief engineer, down into the bowels of the ship (when picturing george think silver haired Scotty from star trek and you've got him in one!).

Decked out in oil stainable trousers and steel toe capped boots we were given hard hat baseball caps, specially chosen for the fact that they are not higher than your head (as other hard hats are) and therefore you will probably be able to judge the small space clearance just that little bit better.

I shall have to tell this story in reverse as I feel the piece de resistance was shown first, so suffice to say we started at the aft of the ship and were lead all the way to the stern.

We saw all the generators, engines, stabilisers, thrusters, tunnel thrusters, sewage works, CO2 scrubbers feshwater tanks, seawater tanks, bilge pumps, ballast tanks and lots of pipes and cables!
*George in the white boiler suit showing us the generator control panels.*

The tour was considered very dangerous as we had to manouvre through tight spaces- something the engineers do everyday. And we were led through the main engine room with disposable earplugs twisted into our ears which I have to say meant that my lipreading skills were thoroughly put to the test! "....seawater......valve........fire...." ok, must be to pump in seawater to fight fires? *point* "....4....1,2,3,4....thunderbirds...." thankfully I can see the signs on the engines labelling them 1 and 2 either side of me, each one baring a picture of a thunderbird for ID ease, there are more across the room.
*Khaira clambering over some pipes to follow george as we all had to- it was our choice whether we went over or under... :) *

"Guess what the next room is" says george as he leads us into a room full of machinery, to the untrained eye, like any other, but in the middle of the room is a fully plummed toilet looking a little worse for wear! Sewage works! And now you look at the machines you can even see the very helpful windows into the tanks to see how full they are- a scrunch of the nose as you recon they need to be emptied again pretty soon....

A walk to the stern and the giant Azemuth thruster fills the room. This, we are told, is bust! True indeed we've had some chatter that the "azi" is not talking to the bridge anymore and here we see the giant thruster, capable of 360* rotation for stabilisation up to a force 8, which no longer works until they can get to land and purchase a spare fuseboard. Fingers crossed we get no more truely bad weather as our stability will be off quite a bit!

And then there was my favourite bit (shown to us first). We were led to the very stern of the ship where a large yellow fan pointed down into a hole. George removed the fan and dropped a sensor down the hole taking an oxygen reading on a handheld monitor. "O2 is good, follow me in but only 2 at a time". So 2 of us descended into the hole to the lowest part of the ship standing on beams attached to the steel skin of the hull, here there was just one layer between you and the big deep blue. And this was emphasised by the cubby hole corner that two of us squeezed into and peered out through two portholes below the waterline staring at the 2 giant propellers whizzing away. It was fantastic to be able to see that part of the ship, to peer outside and think how amazingly useful these portholes must be. Anything that may be tangled round a prop or if damage is suspected, all you need do is to squeezed down here and take a gander!*Neils heading down into the hole with the yellow fan that had been pumping the oxygen in until we got there*
*The starboard propeller out of the porthole at the lowest part of the ship*

A great experience, thoroughly enjoyable (especially after a morning of swathing!), followed by an ROV dive which kept us busy until the end of shift.

Today we swathed again and then ROVed again (with intermittant dumps and pickups of the autosub) as is our pattern these days. This is the first of our transects to be completed, and it very nearly wasn't! A mishap in the ROV shack (while I was in there) resulted in a mass power down of the entire control system and the ROV had to be recovered to be reset. But 5mins on deck was long enough and the ROV descended again with a little bit of overlap so that the transect could be completed.

This was a beautiful dive (and I have sneakily looked in on the one they are doing now which is similarly interesting) with steep cliffs and coral patches, some massive clumps and many different anemones and sponges lining the wall before us. So thankfully thats one under the belt (albeit a little disjointed) and more to come. And check out the flat calm that is hanging with us at the moment! Knowing our luck this won't last, but its gorgeous to look at while it's here.

P.S. I'm afraid, as I have not brought a wide angle lens or proper compact camera, these blurry pictures were taken on my phone and are not very good quality, but hopefully you get the picture more or less :)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thinking of Rockall

Swathing around in the north of the Rockall Bank having skimmed past the rock in the night, many of us are still hoping we will have time to catch a glimpse of the actual rock of Rockall where radio enthusiasts long to be able to broadcast from and the shipping forecast makes mention of all the time. It often sparks conversation "how high is it?" "is it covered in birds?" "how close will we have to be to see it?" "does it have a light on it?". So as we have had another day able to do nothing but multibeam and hope that the swell calms down, I had a little look around for some info. I've even found a poem which is rather evocative:

Where we are today: you can see that we passed near the rock in the middle of the night.


by Epes Sargent (1813-1880 United States)

PALE ocean rock! that, like a phantom shape,
Or some mysterious spirit's tenement,
Risest amid this weltering waste of waves,
Lonely and desolate, thy spreading base
Is planted in the sea's unmeasured depths,
Where rolls the huge leviathan o'er sands
Glistening with shipwrecked treasures. The strong wind
Flings up thy sides a veil of feathery spray
With sunbeams interwoven, and the hues
Which mingle in the rainbow. From thy top
The sea-birds rise, and sweep with sidelong flight
Downward upon their prey; or, with poised wings,
Skim to the horizon o'er the glittering deep.
Our bark, careening to the welcome breeze,
With white sails filled and streamers all afloat,
Shakes from her dripping prow the foam, while we
Gaze on thy outline mingling in the void,
And draw our breath like men who see, amazed,
Some mighty pageant passing. What had been
Our fate last night, if, when the aspiring waves
Were toppling o'er our mainmast, and the stars
Were shrouded in black vapors, we had struck
Full on thy sea-bound pinnacles, Rockall!
But now another prospect greets our sight,
And hope elate is rising with our hearts:
Intensely blue, the sky's resplendent arch
Bends over all serenely; not a cloud
Mars its pure radiance; not a shadow dims
The flashing billows. The refreshing air
It is a luxury to feel and breathe;
The senses are made keener, and drink in
The life, the joy, the beauty of the scene.
Repeller of the wild and thundering surge!
For ages has the baffled tempest howled
By thee with all its fury, and piled up
The massive waters like a falling tower
To dash thee down; but there thou risest yet,
As calm amid the roar of storms, the shock
Of waves uptorn, and hurled against thy front,
As when, on summer eves, the crimsoned main
In lingering undulations, girds thee round!
O, might I stand as steadfast and as free
'Mid the fierce strife and tumult of the world,
The crush of all the elements of woe,--
Unshaken by their terrors, looking forth
With placid eye on life's uncertain sea,
Whether its waves were darkly swelling high
Or dancing in the sunshine,--then might frown
The clouds of fate around me! Firm in faith,
Pointing serenely to that better world,
Where there is peace, would I abide the storm,
Unmindful of its rage and of its end.


Height: 19m
Length: 31m
Width: 25.3m
Distance from Scotland: 301.4km west from St Kilda
Distance from Ireland: 430km north-west of Donegal
Birds: Fulmars, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillimots
Currently owned by: The United Kingdom
Others who have laid claim to the islet: Ireland, Denmark (Faroes), Iceland

Fingers crossed we shall see it one of these days. We will continue multibeaming until tomorrow evening probably, but if the weather perks up we can drop autosub in the water for high resolution mapping and if it's even better than that we can start on the ROV transects! Watch this space.


Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Fingers Crossed Our Luck Will Change!

Today I have mainly photos for you, as with internet down time it has been difficult to catch up.

Earlier we attempted box cores where the piston and megacore had failed and surprise surprise all three of those failed too. So we collected autosub which had done an 8hr mission mapping the seafloor inside and outside of the "Haddock Box" (an area of voluntary closure to bottom trawling and longlines to try and regenerate stocks of haddock fry) where we were hoping to compare the species diversity in the trawled and non trawled areas. We then managed to get the ROV in for a couple of hours running a transect inside the box to ground truth the acoustic data. However with worsening weather once again we could not do a transect outside of the box in a trawled area. With any luck we'll be able to return again at the end of the trip to complete this, otherwise we shall have to make do with only a complete set of monochrome autosub photos from 15m above the whole area which do at least give you an idea of the life that may be seen on both sides of the box.

Right now we are leaving the southern end of rockall bank and heading on the 8hr journey up into the northern end where there is a bit more inside and outside protected area autosub mapping and ROV transects to do, along with the ROV transects I'm here to get around the eastern and north eastern cliffs of Rockall Bank. There is a lot of ROVing to come, so fingers crossed the weather finally lets up by tomorrow so that we can get down to it all.

The polygonal faults (a bit of a rubbish photo of the multibeam bathymetry). The purple are the higher plateaus and the green to red areas are the fault channels. The little lines are some of the transects where we have run the ROV. The polygonal plateau at the bottom of this image is 2km across.A sub-bottom profile image of a fault between polygonal plateaus.
This is Aggie in the cold lab where we were performing geochemical tests inside a glove bag filled with nitrogen to avoid air contamination of the split cores of sediment obtained at the polygonal faults.
When transiting to the rockall bank, many people could be found chilling out (and often assume this sort of position in the corner of the main lab between science activities even when we are on site!). This person has asked to remain anonymous, but I can confirm they were asleep... :)
Problems in Rockall 1: this megacore should not be coming up with cylinders full of water (or emptying as they come out of the water) in an ideal world they would have been filled with sediment.Problems in Rockall 2: this piston core should be straight! I took this picture after they cut off the end of it to get the 49cm of sediment they did manage to catch with this 12m corer, so it actually was more bent than this! This steel barrel bent upon impact with a hard surface that we didn't expect to be there.
Start of shift at 4am on Rockall Bank and the clouds are closing in again and the wind starting to whip up again. End of play is called once again.
A bit of bad weather downtime is a good excuse for a quick viewing of Despicable Me in the main lab (Ben in the orange is here watching this cartoon movie for the 3rd time in 12hours!).

Friday, 27 May 2011

Catch up to the Polygonal Faults

Since I last managed to post we have moved site. We took a 36hr trip (which actually took more like 50 hours as we tried to go around the storm) from the Darwin Mounds to the Hatton-Rockall Basin (between Hatton Bank in the West and Rockall Bank in the East). This involved diverting in the direction of Iceland to avoid the storm, resulting in a nice coating of ash on the ship due to our proximity to the erupting Grimsvotn volcano.

The long journey was spent mostly in rough seas with a session of amusing games one evening, mostly requiring physical tasks which were compromised by the pitch and roll of the boat- have you ever attempted a game of Twister in a force 10? I can tell you we had more than one balancing body turn into a bowling ball!

The rough weather is not very conducive to looking at computer screens and I too was finding I could not spend much time reading before my eyes started going funny.

We have been back in the calm weather now for a couple of days and I can tell you the rest is much appreciated from the constant adjustments and strains on your knees as you sway to stay upright.

The Polygonal Faults is a predominantly geologically interesting feature. Think of the Giants Causeway of hexagonal rocks on a scale of 1km per hexagon. The multibeam map looks like giraffe skin with these kilometre wide hexagons displaying acres of fine sand endlessly burrowed and turned over by unseen creatures. The gaps between hexagons are 30m deeper and the sub bottom profiler shows that there are deep fault lines fracturing the earth’s crust here. The geologists have not seen these so wide and are puzzling over the potential for fluid up-flow in the faults between polygons. There were some little “pimple” features on the multibeam maps that showed 3m deep, 10m wide depressions which were potentially indicative of gas escape points and the biologists were also interested in seeing if there might be any chemosynthetic communities living in such areas. However the ROV footage has shown a pretty uniform silty substrate, one of the pockmarks looked like it might have been a gas vent once, a depression filled with glacial boulders that may have accumulated in a pile when all the sand is continuously being blow outwards by bubbles of gas, but the only signs of life here was one large octopus! Other pimples turned out to be large boulders with giant scour pits behind them. One of these boulders did take everyone’s imagination, said to have looked like a shipwreck it was very pale, the size of a small house and had lines of tubular holes punctuating its surface, the origins of which everyone is still debating about. I’m afraid I was asleep at the time and therefore cannot weigh in until later when the photos and videos are available to view.

We are also undertaking piston cores, megacores, CTD readings and Niskin bottles for water sampling so that we can measure and assess the geochemical constitution of the sediment and the water column above and around the polygons, faults and pockmarks (testing for Methane, Oxygen and Hydrogen Sulphide content) which is what is still happening now until the weather turns for the worse again expected this evening.

Meanwhile, in spite of having a calm patch the phones and internet have been on the blink. The phones apparently are a fault with the service provider and they are blaming some other ship in the area who are overusing the frequency (somehow?!), hopefully they are working again now. The internet is a bit more mysterious, frequently taking funny turns and today the router burnt out with a fizzle, luckily being replaced by a spare they happened to have brought with them. Fingers crossed we stay connected now (at least in the good weather periods!).

Only a couple of pictures today, but I shall have polygonal fault examples for you tomorrow (internet permitting).

A game of home made twiser over the waves (from left: (back) Aggie, (front) Veerle, Colin, Steve and Ally). There were two bags containing bit of paper one containing left hand, left foot, right hand, right foot, and the other offering the colours. Easily done and hours of fun ;)

Our location at the polygonal faults, although since I typed the post above we have set off now for Rockall. More soon. :)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

In the thick of it

Just a quick post just to say we are in the storm and it's rather fun as the sights are beautiful, I am not seasick and the captain seemed unphased yet sensible and competent when I went to visit the bridge. We have been ordered to stop work and batten our porthole covers so I sanpped a few pictures before battening mine. The sea is looking a little wild but the true force of it is much easier to feel than to see. The pitch and roll is now of the sort that you should time your transit through corridors and up stairs. The gravity changes so much, sometime you feel you are trying to heave yourself up with your arms, others you are flying and lighter than you were 10 years ago.

While we ride out the storm we are also worrying about the current task at hand: autosub was deployed last night and now the sea is too rough to retrieve it. Currently we are essentially chaperoning it about the atlantic, guarding it from other ships and trying to not run into it ourselves. We are just waiting for workable seas again in order to haul it back on board- this could be interesting!

My shift today included only one successful task and that was a quarter size box core. Apart from that the ROV stopped feeding video on the way down so has been hauled for repairs, 2 further box cores failed and by the time we had got the piston core ready the wind was at 40knots and the captain shut down all operations. So much for trying to have a prodctive weather window. Not to mention the main thing the night shift suceeded in (the launch of autosub) is now what we are chasing around the north Atlantic.

Fingers crossed tomorrow gets better (which would be at odds with the 70mph winds forecast on the news today, but we shan't mention that... ;) ).

Here are a couple of pix to entertain you.

The massive bridge (With the 3rd mate Euan, who funnily enough was born and brought up in morningside, Edinburgh too; the captain/ master/"old man" on the chair beside him; Doug the sedimentologist from Aberdeen standing behind them; and Malcom the 1st Mate at the chart table behind). I went up here to stare at the sea- they have plenty of space for visitors, provided their attention is not too taken up with something difficult, and as we had shut out port hole covers it afforded a great view over the surrounding wild seas which I could no longer stare at from my cabin.
The waves are pretty intimidating from the waterline. Time to shut those hatches.
As the sun was setting and casting lovely light over the wild seas, I risked a snap through my porthole and just happend to catch a nice moment when a fulmar flew over the crest of a wave. You would not believe how many birds are following us, there must be hundreds you can see from the bridge wheeling behind and alongside, looking a lot more shaky and strained in their flying (unless they are flying with the wind at their backs, then they are 50mph bullet birds!).

Ok, as my only symptom of seasickness I must stop now as looking at text is sending my eyes all funny. More soon I promise.