Anne Mortimer: The Oscar Dyson is like a floating city, July 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Monday, July 18, 2011—sunny and breezy
Air Temperature: 11.2 ⁰C
Sea Temperature: 10.7 ⁰C
Wind direction: 219⁰
Wind speed:  7.06 knots

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday I took a tour of the engine room and all of the behind the scenes areas that allow 30+ people to live comfortably at sea. One of the engineers, Terry, agreed to show me around, and now I understand that the Oscar Dyson is like a floating city.

First, this city needs power – power to drive the boat, power to run all of the computers and lab equipment for scientists, power to cook food, power to do laundry, and power to watch movies! This power comes from 4 diesel engines that run generators. The generators create electricity, and that electricity is shared throughout the boat to whatever needs it, including 2 electric motors that turn the propeller, pushing the ship ahead. All those engines create a lot of heat, but a seawater cooling system helps counteract that.

An amazing fact: the Oscar Dyson can hold 107, 000 gallons of fuel, and the last fill up was a top-off of only 37,000 gallons! At $3.86 per gallon of diesel, that was a hefty chunk of change – about $142,820!  The Oscar Dyson isn’t exactly fuel efficient, either. According to Jerry, the 1st Assistant Engineer, depending on the speed and fishing operations (fishing requires much slower speeds), the Oscar Dyson uses around 100 gallons per hour. We usually average about 10 knots per hour, that equals around 0.1 knots/gallon (and remember that 1 nautical mile = 1.2 miles). Wow! Because the fuel is so vital to all of the functions on the ship, the diesel is run through a purifier system that spins out any residuals and ensures the engines receive pure fuel. The fuel is stored in compartments throughout the ship, and is routinely monitored and moved using a series of valves to ensure the ship is balanced. All of the engines and electric motors are run by computers, and monitored by the engineers.

Diesel engine and generator number 2.
These computer monitors tell the engineers about the diesel engines, generators and motors.

I talked to Jeff, the Chief Engineer about the water and waste on the Oscar Dyson. A floating city must also use lots of fresh water, about 50 gallons per person per day to use in the sinks, showers, toilets, and kitchen.  The Oscar Dyson takes sea water in and converts it to freshwater by boiling the water at very high altitude in two water-makers. Once the water is used (gray water from sinks and drains, sewage from toilets) it goes to a water purifier that uses aerobic bacteria to break it down and then chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria in the effluent before it is released to the ocean. This is a similar to a septic system without the leach-field.  International codes require ships to dump waste water at least 3 miles from the shoreline. On the Oscar Dyson, the engineering crew will calculate when the holding tank’s volume is high enough to warrant releasing the waste — anywhere from 1000-6000 gallons. According to Terry, my tour guide, you could drink the treated water, but he wouldn’t do it! Terry also showed me the vacuum system that pulls the waste/water from toilets through the water treatment system, rather than a regular plumbing system using gravity. Much like an airplane toilet, they have a very auspicious “suck.”

Waste and gray water purifier.

Another necessary part of a floating city is a means to dispose of waste – and thankfully it’s not over the side! All solid waste, except for metals, compostables (food waste) and hazardous materials are burned in an incinerator. All metals used by the engineering department are retained and recycled in port. Aluminum cans are also collected and taken ashore to a recycling facility. Hazardous materials such as fluorescent lights and batteries are collected and taken to hazardous material collection facilities, also in port. The Chief Engineer, Jeff Hokkanen, told me that ship is attempting to change out hazardous fluorescent bulbs with l.e.d. lights in an attempt to reduce hazardous waste and to make the “hotel load” (every thing on the ship needed for living) more energy efficient, reducing the limits of the power supply.

The final part of the floating city are the crew that keep it running smoothly so the scientists can do the research they plan for. The ship’s crew is made of several groups – the NOAA Corps officers, deck crew, electronics crew, engineers, survey crew and stewards. The NOAA Corps officers (one of the seven uniformed services of the United States)  are responsible for managing all operations and departments on the ship, including navigation. The deck crew are the people who make fishing and other research operations happen. Some specialize in fishing, others are general deck crew and assist in deploying equipment. As I stated before, the engines and motors are all run by computers and monitored by the engineers. The engineers are a vital part of the crew — if anything on the ship is not working properly or is broken, the engineers can fix it. There is also an electrical crew – on this cruise only one person – who manages and maintains all of the communication and electronics. The survey crew play a key role in assisting the deck crew and scientists. These people have a degree in science, participate in all the research operations, and monitor information and data that the ship’s systems generate. The final group, the stewards, are also important for the ship to run smoothly – the cooks! Without these two, there would be many hungry crew members! The stewards cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also retain food in several refrigerators for folks on the night shift that need more than a midnight snack.

Check out the Oscar Dyson on NOAA ship tracker to see where this floating city is now!

Personal Log

Well, I am in my last week as a Teacher at Sea. This has been quite a trip. I am really enjoying the Shelikof Strait– there have been calm seas, sunny days, lots of whales, good fishing and beautiful sunsets.  I was really happy to get a tour of the lower decks of the ship, it really is impressive to see and hear it all. I got a nice pair of ear plugs for going into the engine room that replaced the ones that I’ve lost while sleeping these past weeks (since I go to sleep when the next crew comes on, sometimes fishing happens early and it can be noisy when they bring the doors back on board!).  Terry did assure me that the engine room wasn’t as loud or as damaging to my ears as a rock concert. We have about 3 more days of fishing and then we head in. I’m starting to transition my sleep schedule but getting up earlier and earlier everyday, which is hard because I can’t seem to get to bed any earlier.

There was is a small chance to see auroras on the 19th and 20th, I’ll be up during those hours so you can bet I’ll be looking!

Species List

WHALES! humpbacks and fin whales — I saw at least 7 blows at one time, far off in the distance. Fulmars, tufted puffins, sea gulls, cormorants

2 Replies to “Anne Mortimer: The Oscar Dyson is like a floating city, July 18, 2011”

  1. Anne, I have really enjoyed reading your blog, hard to believe Little Anne has grown up to be a scientist. I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work. Katie Grothe

    1. Thanks Katie! This was quite an experience. I’m excited to share this with my students in September.

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