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13 May 2001 - Drilling and Dredging

RRS James Clark Ross Diary


Noon Position : 15°40' North, 47°00' West, 740 miles from Barbados, and not far from last weeks position !
Distance travelled since Grimsby: 32,429 nautical miles
Air temperature @ noon: 26.1 degrees Celsius
Sea temperature @ noon: 25.5 degrees Celsius


The last full week of science...

We have now completed our last full week of the present scientific programme. Wednesday (16 May) will see us pulling up the last transponder and hauling the last dredge onto deck, before beginning the six day journey to the Azores. It has been a busy week as we try to fit the maintenance of the vessel in between a busy scientific programme of drilling, dredging, and collecting the first four transponders. The transponders were put down at the beginning of the cruise to aid in the submarine location of the drill and dredges.

Socially it has been a quietier week with only the one birthday, that of Paul Woodroffe, but we do end science with two more including the Captain's. This should add to the celebration as people wind down after an intense work period. With six days to steam it does make demobilisation of the cruise a little less hectic, but you can guarantee that as we approach the Azores and the pilot boat is coming out there will be someone who hasn't quite finished. We just wait to name the culprit!


The Science Bit In The Middle.....

It has been a week of record breaking for some onboard as they have pushed the working envelope of their equipment, ready for the next scientific challenge. This was done on the final two drill sites for the BGS 'Bridge' orientated rock drill (See last update). It was supposed to be only one site early on Friday morning as we set out to sample the top of a submarine volcano in a water depth of 3900 metres. However, as that one went so well, we could not resist another? We really wanted to try the drill, and the ship's winch system with the drill on the end of it, down to 4500 metres. This we did by sending the drill to 4520 metres, successfully operating the drill and then bringing the drill back in one piece. The picture below is from the first deep dive to the volcano top and shows the relatively newly formed pillow lava rock, typical of such an area.

Pillow lavas from 3900 metres. Click to enlarge. Pillow lavas from 3900 metres down . Click to enlarge


It was a good week for samples from the drilling, but as everyone knows, you just cannot stop a scientist even if the sample is still in the drill. The merest glimpse is all they need. Below Javier is trying to wrestle a core from the drill barrel, just because it was sticking out a little way. Or was he trying to stop BGS taking a core of our lovely deck ?

Cannot wait for the sample. Click to enlarge. Javier trying to free a sample from the drill. Click to enlarge


Before leaving the drilling for the time being, we thought we'd just show you a few more images from the week. On the left we have Debleena studying the drill screen hard as she is taught all about operating the drill itself; and on the right we have a typical sight for the deck crew of the Midships gantry out with the wire going down, or is it coming in ? It also shows the disbelievers at home, that we have had other weather apart from unbroken sunshine - mind you it was still quite warm.

Driving the drill. Click to enlarge. Sample being sorted. Click to enlarge.

Dredging

Having completed drilling, we return, for the final few days, to dredging the slopes of the submarine peaks, whose upper reaches were sampled with the drill. We are trying to obtain samples from a larger area by the use of the dredge and moving the ship along specific courses. Once the dredge has landed on the sea bed the ship then moves at about three quarters of a knot dragging the dredge bag up the slope. These slopes the scientists tell us are like normal scree slopes you find around any land based mountain, and hence give samples of the local area.

Dredging is not as subtle as drilling as there is no photograph before sampling, and you have to rely on the topography of the terrain to select your sample sites. Though someone must be doing something right onboard, judging by the amount of samples so far collected. The photographs below show the first haul which contained over 300 kg of rocks: the dredge bag was bulging and the scientists were complaining! (there's no pleasing them). On the left we see the Principal Scientist, Chris MacLeod, and his geological haul and the right-hand shot shows the size of rocks obtained in that particular, and fairly typical, dredge bag.

Chris with his dredge haul. Click to enlarge. Sample being sorted. Click to enlarge.

Word of the week - Explained easily we hope !

SCINTILLATION : Scintillate - Fluoresce momentarily when struck by a charged particle

So what does it all mean ? As we are keeping station in very deep water miles from anywhere we rely on Differential GPS (Global Positioning System satellites) for our position; two separate receivers in fact. It is a known fact that around the Equatorial band during daylight the GPS signals can degrade due to the effect of the sun. At the moment it is particularly bad due to intense solar activity, in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CME, another buzz phrase for you there). So what ? Well all this makes it extremely difficult to keep the ship's position to within a few metres as required for the drilling programme, causing much sweat and stress on the bridge as the mates end up keeping the vessel on station in manual. Hence the well used phrases " Damn Scintillation !" and "Damn those Mass Ejections", or words to that effect.


Game Fishing Corner

One pastime that can be undertaken during these long scientific stations, by those off duty, is a spot of fishing. Naturally this is well away from the science work and a strict watch is kept on line length so as not to foul the ship, but this isn't a problem round here as the fish all seem to come to feed at the surface.

So this week there was an unofficial Dorado (Or is it Dolphin fish ? - are they in fact the same ? Whatever..... they are good to eat) fishing competition. It all started when Mark Robinshaw (motorman) hauled a 6 kg one onboard, followed by Charlie Smith (motorman) with his whopping 8.2 kg to claim the prize of largest fish. Last, but not least, Frank Hardacre (2nd Cook) hauled in a 6.5 kg. More importantly to the rest of us Frank did himself proud by cooking the first fresh fish on the ship since Grimsby 'par excellence'. Fantastic. Combined "Men of the Week" to all three.

Mark Robinshaw. Click to enlarge. Charlie Smith. Click to enlarge. Frank Hardacre. Click to enlarge.

Need A Hand?

With all this science going on, the last section this week goes to the deck crowd. Our ABs who clean, chip away old paint, re-paint, operate the ship's scientific gear, deploy all the scientific gear at very unsociable hours, perform watch-keeping duties on the bridge, maintain the greasing programme so nothing seizes, load cargo, discharge cargo, wash the ship, scrub the decks, drive the cranes........................................the list is endless.

Is this the answer to every Captain's dream or just a nightmare ? For those who have not had the dubious pleasure of attending a Nautical College there is an old joke which always surfaces. On being examined you are normally given a disaster to get yourself out of. In these exercises there is always the famous "Box of ABs" as you never seem to run out of manpower.

A Box of AB's. Click to enlarge. Our box of ABs . Click to enlarge.
Opening the box we have : the temporary Master, Robert Paterson.   In the box we have : (left to right) James Kennedy (AB), Marc Blaby (AB), John McGowan (AB), Derek Jenkins (AB) & Dave Williams (Bosun's Mate).

For those who were wondering, the missing one is Jim Baker who was in bed after a long watch (but you can see him on last week's page).




Weekly diary entries