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Sep 01 - West of Svalbard

Monday the 1st of September 2008

Noon Position: Lat.: 78.32 N, Long.: 09.31 E
Location: West of Svalbard
Total Distance Travelled: 4287.7 NM
Air Temperature: 4.2 Degrees Celsius
Sea Temperature: 5.9 Degrees Celsius

The other day at the dinner table some of the scientists had a rather strange conversation (at least it was strange at first to me- I am sure it sounded perfectly normal to them!) Here are a few quotes:

Scientist A: ”Have you ever been out with Toby before?”
Scientist B: “No we could not get Toby, we had to use Daisy”.
Scientist A: “Did that work?”
Scientist B: “No-we nearly did dredging with Daisy”

This went on for quite a while. By now I had worked out what they were talking about, because TOBI is in fact on board with us. It stands for “Towed Ocean Bottom Instrument”, which is used to survey the ocean floor. Apparently Daisy does something similar. On further inquiry more colourful names entered the conversation like ISIS, Bridget, Myrtle and the like, of which I will spare you the details, as none of these instruments are being used on this cruise.

TOBI however has been in the water regularly. As the name suggest it needs to be towed behind the ship, because the ideal depth of deployment is 400 m above the sea floor. If the sea is any deeper an appropriate length of cable is needed.

TOBI is equipped with a side scan sonar, swath basymetry, a high resolution magnetometer and (my favourite word) a chirp sub bottom profiler, which is able to analyse the seafloor beneath the surface (down to 40 meters in soft sediment). All this is packed into a big yellow box (the actual TOBI) hooked up to a long thick cord (the umbilical) hooked onto a weight (the depressor) and suspended from a winch of the gantry of the ship.

With all these interconnected big and heavy instruments you can imagine that deploying TOBI and getting it back on board is not exactly straightforward. Yesterday was the first day of sunshine we had in a long while and I took the opportunity to take pictures of TOBI’s retrieval in a very nice golden evening light! (Unfortunately this beautiful light is the exception up here in the summer).

01 - Lester, Marc and Derek, securing the weight on deck
01 - Lester, Marc and Derek, securing the weight on deck


After the weight is secured on deck the long cable between the weight and the actual TOBI needs to be rolled onto a special winch- at least in theory… In this case the winch engine was not working and it had to be done by hand! (Who needs winches anyway?)

02 - Heaving in the TOBI cable by hand
02 - Heaving in the TOBI cable by hand


Finally the actual TOBI could be hooked up the gantry and lifted on board. It just fits onto the deck space for it.

03 - TOBI suspended from the winch
03 - TOBI suspended from the winch


04 - TOBI nearly back on board - with Marc and Derek
04 - TOBI nearly back on board - with Marc and Derek


While the ship is towing TOBI, she can only go at a speed of about 2.5 knots and not perform manoeuvres quickly, which is why special signs need to be displayed from the mast, indicating the vessels ‘reduced ability to manoeuvre’. The international sign for that is a combination of shapes: ball-diamond-ball, which are still made in the old traditional way, much like willow baskets! It will be accompanied by a combination of lights on the mast, but these are not easily visible in the bright sunshine. This is obviously important because we would not be able to get out of other ship’s way quickly.

05 - Signals to the left of the mast, port side, indicating that the vessel's ability to manoeuvre is restricted - ball-diamond-ball
05 - Signals to the left of the mast, port side, indicating that the vessel's ability to manoeuvre is restricted - ball-diamond-ball


After retrieving TOBI we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset. The days of the midnight sun are over. The sun is setting at round 23:00 local time at the moment. It does not get properly dark at night yet, but the difference is noticeable.

06 - Svalbard Sunset
06 - Svalbard Sunset


Meanwhile in the labs people are working hard on supervising all the experiments going on at the same time. They are also starting to interpret all the data and merge the information into maps of the sea floor.

07 - Kate and Graham working on the new data
07 - Kate and Graham working on the new data


With no polar bears outside I have been doing my own little study: I have tried to investigate what uses people find for the number of empty biscuit tins on the ship. I have long been of the opinion that the humble empty biscuit box is a mainstay of world-class science, useful to transport samples home from all over the world. I therefore started my study at the –80 freezer and of course found a biscuit box in it:

08 - Biscuit box in the freezer, containing Ellie's samples from the last cruise
08 - Biscuit box in the freezer, containing Ellie's samples from the last cruise


Further inquiries resulted in more imaginative uses: One can soak one’s feet in the box filled with warm water (no photo of that one I am afraid), the engineers constructed a spill safe tea tray, with a biscuit box suspended on four cords, which will hold several mugs of tea at the same time. The boxes also fit perfectly on a drip tray and are therefore used to drain oil from various machines. Everybody else seems to keep small loose things in boxes.

09 - Simon the deck engineer with his box of hydraulic spares
09 - Simon the deck engineer with his box of hydraulic spares


In fact there was no need to look very far- as of course I have a few boxes myself in the surgery. They come in handy when people are seasick (as opposed to buckets they have a lid…) and I do keep instruments boxed up in there too.
So keep on eating biscuits everyone- we need the boxes!

Wildlife was not too abundant over the last week, but we really have been spoilt over the previous cruise. Cruising slowly in the open water, there were several sightings of various cetaceans, most notably blue whales!

10 - Blue whale starting to blow photo Robert Paterson
10 - Blue whale starting to blow photo Robert Paterson


This will be the last of my diaries, because I will leave the ship tomorrow in Longyearbyen to fly home to the UK. The journey has been a fantastic experience and I would like to thank everyone on board!

Petra
Photos by Robert Paterson and myself