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! "" 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.