Sue Oltman: A Successful but Slimy Recovery, May 30, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Oltman
Aboard R/V Melville
May 22 – June 6, 2012

Mission: STRATUS Mooring Maintenance
Geographical Area: Southeastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile and Ecuador
Date: May 30, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 21.4 C / 65 F
Humidity: 77.6%
Precipitation: 0
Barometric pressure: 1015.1 mB
Wind speed: 15.8 kt SE
Sea temperature: 22.42 C

Location: 19.55 S, 85.2 W

The Trade Winds are now constant, helping us along to our destination!

Personal Log

An interview with the Captain, Dave Murline

SO: How long have you been a ship captain?

DM: Since 1994. Since then there has been an increase in  paperwork, regulations and inspections due to a world-wide push to make going to sea safer.

SO: What kinds of skills are necessary?

DM: You need a well rounded background in Seamanship, good people skills and the habit of treating everyone with respect.

SO: Does being on a science research ship bring any specific/different expectations than being on another type of merchant ship?

DM: Yes, on a research vessel, you are dealing with scientists and their instruments as opposed to general cargo. Every voyage is different and brings on its own set of new challenges. Scientists tend to work outside of the norm so there are always new ways to figure out how to use the ship in the best way that we support the mission. This is a job that always keeps me thinking and using my imagination!

SO: We are in the middle of a huge ocean, and our destination – a buoy – is like a pinpoint on a map. What has to be considered to make sure you get to the exact location?

DM: We need to consider weather, currents and also vessel traffic around the area. Some hazards to navigation are reefs (shallow), islands, clearances to foreign countries EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone within 200 Miles of any country), and pirates. Once I encountered pirates on the Arabian sea, but on a ship like this, were able to out maneuver them. We have not gone back there!

Melville Captain
I’m on deck with Captain Dave Murline who is cooking up some freshly caught yellowtail. If you like to fish, a side benefit is when you get to enjoy your hobby!

SO: Have you ever gotten lost?

DM: I’ve never been lost at sea, but get lost sometimes driving around in my hometown!

SO: Can you name a really interesting research cruise you have been on?

DM: Every voyage is unique and interesting. I’m always looking forward to the next mission and challenge. Our work varies from studying the atmosphere sea interaction to marine mammals. There is so much to learn about our oceans, it is all very fascinating.

SO: What is something most people don’t know about your job?

DM: There is tons of paperwork with my job! That is what I consider the “work” part. Also, along with many other responsibilities, I am the ship’s medic which can be a “scary” part of the job as we are often working far away from any medical facilities. That is why “Safety” is our number one priority on any cruise.

SO:  Thanks for letting us get the inside scoop on being the Captain of the R/V Melville!

****************************************************************************

There are so many interesting people on the ship with a variety of skills. We eat all meals together and many of the crew support the science team in different ways. They are from many areas of the country and it has been great to get to know them!

My work out routine has become more varied – Unfortunately, the noise with mineral spirits/paint odors are a package deal along with the stairmaster in the machine shop, so I found another way to get some exercise in after noticing what some of the crew did. I spent about an hour doing many laps around the ship, up and down all the stairs of the outdoor decks, with the beautiful ocean all around me. For entertainment, I not only had my iPod, but for added visual interest, all kinds of valves, winches, life preservers, hoses, and the occasional engineer fixing something. A good line from my music today – I sing my heart out to the infinite sea! (The Who)

There is a little store on the ship that has been locked up tight. All of the guests on the ship are anticipating the sale in the ship store tomorrow!  There are t-shirts, hats, and other items as Melville souvenirs.

 Science and Technology Log

A successful but slimy recovery!

The Stratus 11 Buoy was successfully recovered in a process that began before breakfast and lasted into the evening. Remember the thousands of meters of cable?

First, a computer command triggered the acoustic release of the anchor.  There is not a way to safely recover this anchor, so it is left on the ocean floor. Once released, the bottom of the cable, with all 80 plus of the glass balls for flotation, gradually make their way to the surface.  So when we came out after breakfast, the yellow encased glass balls were all bobbing on the ocean’s surface.  A few folks had to go out in the life boat so the chain could be attached to the ship’s crane, then we started reeling them in. A beautiful rainbow was in the sky like a special treat for us!

Life boat and yellow glass balls
Sean, Eugene and Rob hold onto the deepest part of the cable which has surfaced, thanks to the glass balls encased in yellow cases.

Sometimes one or more will implode due to the massive pressure, and this time, only two did. Little by little, as the cable was wound onto the winch, the instruments started coming in. The deepest ones come in first and the shallowest ones last, opposite from deployment. They were cataloged and cleaned and if all is well, will be used next year on Stratus 13. It is amazing how all of these sensitive tools can last for a year under such conditions!  The battery left with the buoy is good for up to 14 months.  Sometimes, there would be fishing line entangled with the tools, as there is some good fishing in this area. As we started to get to the more shallow instruments – and by this I mean 150 meters or so – we started seeing that organisms had started taking up residence on them!  This is called a fouling community.  There are slimy growth algae and these little shells with a neck called gooseneck barnacles, sometimes with a crab in the shell. The closer to the surface we got, the population of these barnacles just kept increasing and increasing! There were quite a few instruments that were so covered in the barnacles; you could not even identify it!

Nan Galbraith
Nan’s organizational skills help the team know which instrument provided what data to maintain the integrity of the research.
Stratus 11 and its detritus and barnacles
Wearing a coating of fouling organisms, the Stratus 11 buoy looks nothing like the one we deployed 2 days ago! This is typical after a year in the ocean.
Sean and Stratus 11
Sean snags the Stratus 11 buoy to bring it in to the Melville. Photo: Rob Ball
Stratus 11 has been successfully recovered, barnacles and all! The crane carefully hoists it onto the aft deck. Photo: Rob Ball

As we recovered more instruments, we were drawn closer to the old buoy, which had acted as an artificial reef for the past year. Whales sometimes like this, so once again, we spotted our cetacean friends! Once the last instrument was on deck, it was time to recover the actual buoy. Like earlier in the day, we needed a few folks out in the boat to help make sure the buoy stayed with the ship and did not float away, as we had released it from the crane. It took longer than expected, but it was finally on board and it, too, had its own fouling community.

All hands were needed to help clean the instruments.  At first, it was a novelty to see a cute little crab crawl out of a colorful barnacle shell, but then all of us became quite ruthless, ripping and scraping them off of the tools with no regard for the destruction of their little ecosystem. We had quite a pile to get through and had no time for this – what was at first cute was not only annoying, but downright nasty!

Cleaning the shallow instruments was the messiest of all! Jamie from NOAA and I tackle a couple of more instruments, with a plethora of barnacles at our feet.

Some folks’ clothes were so disgusting, so caked with grime and detritus of the sea that it was decided to sacrifice them to the great Pacific instead of potentially fouling the ship’s washing machine. With all of the great attitudes and camaraderie, it wasn’t too bad to be doing this clean up together as a team.  All felt a great satisfaction at seeing two facets of the mooring project – the deployment a couple of days earlier and now a successful recovery with no injuries or loss of instruments.  A good nights rest was in order!

Getting ready to clean some instruments
Sebastien, Pamela, Elsie, me, Eric and Jamie have a moment of fun on a long day of hard work. A terrific group to cruise with! Photo: Ursula Cifuentes

You saw it here first… The EM122 Multi Beam sonar mapped out some brand new ocean floor for future research and deployment. The newly mapped area is seen on the screen – and in a year or so, will be added to the mapping database on Google Earth. So, before this part of the ocean floor makes its mapping debut to the world, you get an insider’s sneak preview here!

Mowing the lawn to determine topography
Sneak peek! A brand new map of a section of ocean floor, using the EM 122 Sonar and the “mowing the lawn” technique

4 Replies to “Sue Oltman: A Successful but Slimy Recovery, May 30, 2012”

  1. Thank you for educating us with all the detailed information with your busy schedule. It is a amazing adventure and we are eagerly awaiting for more.

    1. Hi guys, I am so glad you are taking the journey with me! I am learning a lot, too, and will have another couple of posts in the coming week. Have a great summer!

  2. Susan, really enjoy reading your log! Thanks for always keeping us updated!! Love the pics as well!

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