Sunday, 24 December 2017

Core on deck - Core on deck

Hey peeps!

I know, I know, I disappeared again, but I’ve got a good excuse; we got really busy, then we got rough seas and then we got really busy again. We finally arrived on our first site the day after my last post and we began drilling as soon as the equipment and the drillers were ready. So much excitement and exuberance as you can imagine! People gathered on every spot of deck that we were allowed to be while able to look at the operations. My curiosity and childhood tendency to like machines and how they work could not be contained. I spent hours watching how the drillers fitted the pipes, how they brought instruments, fixed them together, put them aside, brought a new bit to the floor, fixed that, brought the other bit and so on and so forth, it was like a choreography only greasier. Bob, or Bubba as everyone calls him, who is the toolpusher (which I think means the overseer) saw me standing there, taking photos and came over and offered to take me to the heart of the operations, the doghouse (oh yes that’s what they call it-Bubba brought me to doghouse – that’s for you Dave hahahaha). There I had him and Charlie, who operates the crane, to ask question after question about how things are done. And they were so willing to tell me and explain things to me! I can’t tell you how I appreciated this!  A few days later and after we finished logging the hole we drilled for the physical properties of the sediments below the seafloor, but without bringing any of it up, we were ready for the actual coring. Two hours I spent on deck watching how they put together the corer! This time it was Phil, a Scottish guy with a heavy Aberdeen accent, who is the toolpusher on the opposite shift, who spotted me on the railing, came over and just started telling me everything they were doing and what was happening next. I’m astonished and so happy that they just come and explain things without my even having to ask. I guess if someone is standing there watching them for two hours it must mean they are genuinely interested in the operation and appreciative of what these guys are doing for us. I just feel that I’ve been given this amazing opportunity and I want to suck up all the knowledge I can from it. Thank you Ireland and thank you GSI!

The corer was ready and went down to the seabed late that evening and the first core was not due on deck until the early morning hours, well into my bedtime. Do you think I went to bed? Do you think anyone went to bed? Nope! Lisa, our ALO (Laboratory Officer) said she hadn’t seen this many people waiting for a core ever before. Maybe it was the long transit that made everyone so eager, I don’t know. When a piece of core comes on deck, the driller announces it through the tanoy system and it’s heard through the entire ship, “Core on deck (long pause) Core on deck”. You can even hear it in the cabins, not as loud, but it’s coming through the walls. It’s a great sound! The core is then handed over to the technicians who cut it into 1.5m sections on the catwalk (area on deck just outside the core lab). Several measurements and samples need to be taken immediately on the spot before the core starts equilibrating to ambient temperature, before it starts oxidising and, if there is gas present, before it degases. Then the regular flow on the core in the lab begins, while the drillers drill deeper for the next segment. We can get either 9.5m or 5 m segments, depending on the types of sediments we expect to find. Obviously, when you drill for the longer segments you’ll finish faster but what if that is at the expense of the quality of your results? So you have to balance, getting good quality results but without using too much of the allocated time in one location. These are hard decisions that the chief scientists have to make.

Once we got the core, my work started in earnest and we’ve been busy ever since. In the meantime we got a couple of days of high waves which affected a lot of people even though by now we mostly have our sealegs, but they were high waves and it doesn’t help if you’re looking down a microscope or if you are looking at a computer screen. You might wonder, what happens if you get big waves? Do you continue coring and logging? How do you stay on the same spot when the seas are so rough? I’ll answer the latter question first; the ship has 12 thrusters, 12!!! Their job is to operate in concert to keep the ship in the same place, it’s computer-controlled, this is called dynamic positioning. So even if the sea is rough, JOIDES will stay put. So been moved from our spot is not a problem. But what becomes a problem is our heave, our going up and down, because you have to imagine, if you are drilling into the seafloor and you’ve laid out 200, 300, 400 m of pipe, you’re properly anchored to the seafloor, but the ship is going up and down against the drill pipe and that’s not good from some point onwards, so we had to pull out and wait for the sea state to calm down, then drill as fast as possible to the level below the seafloor we’d stopped. More lost time, more hard decisions for the chief scientists. But that is something any sea-going scientist knows well and contingency plans are always in place. By the way, now that we are in full work mode we’re all lit up, so no more stars… L

This is the amazing lab that I'm working in!!!

Enough with the science and engineering! What are you guys doing for Christmas? I bet you’re all home, eating mum’s and dad’s all delicious meals and cookies (μαμά θέλω μελομακάρονοοοοο). We are not stopping, we’ll keep working through but we are also planning to have a good time. I think I mentioned the last time that we have formed a choir, we have named ourselves the Creepy Choir (Creeping landslides… get it?). We’ve been rehearsing and rehearsing and this morning we gave our first performance, we went caroling to the engine room and to the Bridge and tonight after midnight we’re singing to the drill crew on the drill floor. Singing… that won’t be exactly singing as it’s very loud out there so we’re gonna have to shout!!! Then tomorrow, Christmas Day, we’re part of the Christmas show and singing the carols and other Christmas songs for everyone. We’ve messed with the lyrics of a few songs in a very nerdy kind of way that cracked us up every time we sang them in rehearsal so I hope we manage to keep a straight face for the show (or not, it’s all for fun, isn’t it?). The moment I’m mostly looking forward to is Silent Night; we will sing it in 12 languages (only the first verse), including Irish and Greek, and we sound great if I may say so myself. The guys have been amazing in trying to learn the Greek version and they are pronouncing it perfectly! The other languages are English, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Korean, Chinese, French and Maori! More on how Christmas goes on the next post!

One more thing, last night Dave and I gave a ship-to-shore interview for an Irish radio programme that is part of Newstalk and it’s about science, it’s called Futureproof and you can hear us here We are in the podcast called Stars, bizarre physics and Joides Resolution. If you don’t want to listen to the other bits scroll about 1/3 in, we are the middle of the three interviews. Doing a ship-to-shore interview can have its technological challenges. For example we couldn’t hear them very well and had to press the headset into my head, keep my eyes closed and concentrate very heard to hear the questions. But it worked out really well in the end. Only regret I have is we didn’t get the chance to mention that the Geological Survey of Ireland is the reason Dave and I are able to be here us they are funding us.

Right, so, after the shameless self-promotion I wish you all Happy Christmas! May Santa bring you everything your heart desires!

One of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen in my life (last night)

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