Sunday, 27 September 2009
Two days ago I had my first sober birthday since I was about 13, which was surprisingly good fun.
I hit the big 25 (which felt fairly momentous I have to say) and yet still managed to be the second youngest person on the whole ship. Ah youth.
Everyone was really nice, and they even baked me a cool cake with hearts and everything:
I particularly appreciated the "we love u" that the nice kitchen boys put on there. See, it pays to smile and say thank you from time to time :)
Coincidently, it was also the co-chief (head honcho) Takashi’s birthday too, so here we are enjoying our moment in the sun:
It was also a fun day because we were doing a bit-change for the drilling process (bear with me, the fun part is coming….).
Basically the bit (the sharp thing on the end of the pipe that cuts the rock) needed changing because it had worn out (well you’d be worn out too it you’d been cutting through 250m of basalt for 3 days straight).
So, this necessitated bringing up the whole drill string (that’s 4km of pipe down to the seafloor plus the 250m that’s in the hole), changing the bit for a new one on the ship, reassembling the whole thing and lowering it all the way back down, and then getting it back into the hole.
That’s right; in the total darkness 4 km below you, you have to get the drill bit on the end of your pipe, back into the original 30cm diameter hole on the sea floor.
30cm in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
Oh and the pipe is really bendy like a straw (even though it’s made of steel), and there are currents pushing the whole thing (including the boat) around.
To put this in context, this is like me giving you a reasonably stiff noodle somewhere in Regent’s Park and asking you to thread it through a polo mint somewhere near London Bridge.
Do you think you could do that?
Well these drilling boys can.
Frankly, I’m in awe.
To be honest, they do have the slight advantage of having a “reentry cone” (like a big funnel) to guide them in when they get close enough and a B+W camera which they lower down to help them see where they're going and to “re-enter the hole” as it's often described (to much tittering).
So here’s a video from the bottom of the ocean….
It's a bit grainy, but you can make out the pipe and the cone. (The pointy thing to the left is just a phenomenally useless compass).
And here, finally, is the fun bit.
Are you still there? No? Oh well, your loss.
The fun bit is we all got to decorate some polystyrene cups with whatever we like (i thought i'd better stick with the "i'm on a boat!" theme), then we tied the bag of cups to the camera they sent down into the abyss and let the phenomenal pressure of the deep crush them!
This is my cup before it was sent down:
and here is it afterwards:
And here’s a selection of other people’s cups with an unmutilated one for scale...
And here is a picture of me looking extremely smug about the whole thing.
Pretty neat birthday present I reckon.
Not often you get something you can put on your shelf that’s been to Hell and back…
Over and out x
Friday, 25 September 2009
The "moon pool geyser" during the storm, as promised.
(Please excuse the slightly unhinged laughter; I was wearing flipflops and a cardigan during a typhoon, was getting absolutely soaked and was clearly high as a kite).
Before the storm rolled in, the night-shift science gals went up on the top-deck to see how windy it was getting up there...
Not a recipe for a good hair day methinks.
The cloud was so thick that it felt like nighttime all day long. The rig looked particularly spooky in the stormy afterglow.
The calm after the storm.
The big mass of cloud in the background is the typhoon moving north (to the right) as we were heading south (to the left). (You might say were were "ships passing in the night", if you were the sort of person who liked terrible word-play like that, and was as tired as i am right now).
So for now, no more weather-related drama.
We're at our next site on the Southern Rise, have been successfully drilling for two days and have recovered an absolute ton of sediment. I have more mud than i know what to do with and i'm THRILLED.
(The sad thing is, I truly am thrilled).
Ah well, it takes all sorts to make a world :)
Monday, 21 September 2009
Well unfortunately I’m now in a position to tell you.
It’s tricky. Real tricky.
We've had a couple of days of pretty rough weather out here, due to the remnants of typhoon Choi Wan passing by to the east of us (you can see it approaching Japan in the satellite image above). It started out as a category 5 hurricane (fyi the scale only goes up to 5...) with 156 mph winds in the Central Pacific, but luckily by the time it got up to the latitude of Japan where we were, it had been downgraded to a trifling "tropical storm" with paltry 70mph winds.
A mere gust!
So, even though the JR is a tough old girl and us hardy sailor types (ahem) are grizzled enough to take anything Neptune can throw at us, it wasn't deemed the best idea to stay connected to the seafloor by nearly 4 km of steel pipe during such a big storm. So we finished coring (having successfully punched a hole over 50 m into basement), pulled up all that pipe in double-quick time and prepared to scarper.
The eye of the storm was predicted to pass over our drilling position on Monday, traveling at about 24 knots. Well the JR can only do 13 knots on a very good day, so... you do the math. We needed a headstart. So by midnight on Saturday we were on our way south as Choi Wan thundered past us in the opposite direction.
And even though we deliberately avoided the full force of the storm, we certainly didn't escape the huge swell that it sent in our general direction. At one point on Sunday we were caught between another weaker depression to the north of us sending waves down south, and choi Wan to the south east sending even bigger waves towards us, leading to some pretty intense rolling and pitching.
Let's just say living and working in these conditions when things are rolling off the table and you can't walk in a straight line is challenging to say the least.
I had to jam myself into my bunk with my extra pillow and some jumpers to stop me rolling about in the bed, and there were lots of occasions when my feet were above my head as we pitched up and down. (If that thought makes you feel a bit sick just thinking about it, imagine trying to sleep like that. yikes).
Needless to say i've taken enough drugs in the last few days to sedate a bull elephant. I was watching the waves with a sort of bemused interest rather than the more appropriate terror. It brings to mind that bit from Fight Club where they're looking at the airplane safety manual and everyone in the illustrations looks blissfully unaware of their plight.
"Oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, you're taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate. It's all right here. Emergency water landing - 600 miles an hour. Blank faces, calm as Hindu cows."
I decided to go out on deck just to see how bad it was out there at one point...well, I'm not sure "rough" really sums it up.
That's 7.6 metres of angry grey and white foaming water lashing the side of the boat, soaking the deck and rolling us from side to side.
And in a strange additional quirk, because we're a drilling boat we actually have a square hole about 2x2 m called the "moon pool" in the bottom of the boat, all the way to the deck, which is permanently open to the ocean.
(Yes you heard me right, there's a big-ass hole in the boat.
Evidently we still float (although this computer room is below sea level so i can hear waves above my head right now, very strange...) which is something to do with buoyancy or something. I guess it's like how one of those inflatable doughnut things you have in the pool still floats despite having no middle? I don't know, what do you take me for, a scientist?
Annnnyway, about every 2 minutes yesterday whenever we went over a particularly large swell, the water whooshed up through the moon pool like a geyser at Yellowstone park! It was phenomenal. I'll post some pictures when my camera dries out.
In the meantime, the weather has calmed down considerably and we've already arrived at our next site on the Southern Rise where we'll hopefully stay for the next 11 days or so. It seems no sooner had we got started on writing up the findings from the last site, than the new cores from this site were already on deck! These drilling boys are pretty amazing when the weather is cooperating.
So that means another round of hectic work is about to begin. It's 3.45pm here, and well past my bedtime. I wonder what inscrutable conundrums tonight's cores will provide us with..?
I guess "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".
No doubt, but this girl needs her sleep.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Well, we’ve all been incredibly busy the last couple of days which hasn’t really left any time to do anything except work and (try to) sleep, and as you can see, I’m spending my only spare half-an-hour this week updating this blog.
I hope you all feel special.
We finally arrived at our first drilling site early Monday morning (it’s Friday afternoon now), five days of full speed and fine weather from Yokohama. I’ve managed to more or less get the seasickness under control with a combination of hardcore drugs and shear willpower.
Our first destination is “Shirshov Massif” which is the northernmost part of the area we’re here to sample. (Yellow blob nearest the top of the map).
Shatsky Rise is basically an ancient, giant, underwater volcano* about the size of California. Yeah, so pretty enormous then.
*Strictly speaking I guess it’s not really a “volcano” per se, (“igneous plateau” might be better perhaps?) but it’s made of the same sort of rocks (basalts etc) that you’d find coming out of somewhere like Hawaii, so for the sake of argument lets call it a volcano.
p.s. Can you tell I’m not an igneous petrologist?
Anyway, the aim of this whole expedition is to core right down into this volcanic rock, get some samples (cores) and figure out how the thing erupted. Simple.
“But what on Earth is someone who’s interested in proper sedimentary rocks like you, doing on an igneous expedition?” I don’t hear you cry.
Well, fortunately for me (and unfortunately for all the poor igneous bods), the ancient volcano has been underwater for so long that a thick succession of sediments has built up on top of it, covering up all of the volcanics under a snuggly blanket of interesting sediments. So to get to the volcano you have to go through the sediments anyway.
Alas that’s where the good news ends; because sediments are not the primary focus of this expedition we’re only actually coring the bottom 50m or so of the sediments and just blowing a hole through the rest of it.
Well a little bit of rock is better than no rock at all I always say.
So, for the last 5 days we’ve been hovering over the same featureless spot in the Ocean, lowering drilling-pipe through 3654m (that’s 3.6km) of water, and drilling into the abyss.
Because I think some of you might have trouble imagining this, here is a diagram I made earlier:
Boat not to scale. Duh.
So, (to cut a very long and complicated and impressive story disappointingly short), we made a big hole by drilling 70 meters into the sediment, then we started collecting the rocks deeper than that and bringing them back up to the deck for study.
And what do ya know, they’re really interesting!
So for the last four days, I have spent 12 hours a day: staring at them/ scraping them/dissolving them/describing them/ hating them- loving them- it’s a thin line.
And, very occasionally, I get to go outside and watch the sunrise and the rainbows for ten minutes or so. And I like it. And it’s pretty.
Unfortunately there’s a super typhoon heading our way, so we might have to get out of here pretty soon. “Choi Wan” is a huge category 5 hurricane and it’s predicted to brush just a little too close for comfort in a few days time.
The predicted track^ takes it just north of where we are now (160 degrees longitude, 38 degrees N latitude) so I think we’re going to have to pull pipe and run away like a bunch of little girls.
The swell has already started to pick up...I’ll keep you posted...
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Because the running costs of keeping the ship out here are so astronomical (on the order of 100k a day apparently), we can’t afford to work normal office hours.
The JR has to be kept ticking over 24 hours a day, or it’d take an extra two months to achieve our drilling objectives. And you guys - the taxpayers - probably wouldn’t be too keen on that…
So we’ve all been split into two shifts, either the day shift (12 midday to 12 midnight) or the night shift (12 midnight to 12 midday).
A few lucky souls get the 6am to 6pm shift, and a few very unlucky souls get the 6pm to 6am shift (yuk), but most of us have one of the equally awful 12-12 slots.
Standing on deck in the middle of the night is a bit scary. The hum of the engines, the strangely lit catwalks and dark rushing water all around. Makes you very aware that if you fall in… well, you’re not coming back… ::gulp::
I’ve been put on the night shift, which is requiring a total reorganisation of my body clock. And the poor thing has already been shifted all over the shop in the last fortnight…
Firstly, the 8-hour time difference between London-Tokyo and the associated jet lag, meant that I basically rolled from one daytime straight into another one without a proper sleep. That was fun.
Then we lost an hour two days ago as we steamed east into another time zone. So we went straight from 11.59am to 13.00, which meant eating lunch in double fast time!
And now, my working day starts at midnight; which means I try to go to bed at around 3pm in the afternoon, wake up at 10.45pm, shower and eat breakfast at 11-ish and then get into the lab at about 11.45pm to do the handover from my counterpart in the day shift.
And it feels weird. Really weird.
I guess the major perk is that I’ve got to see the first sober sunrise of my life. And way out here with no buildings or trees, it’s truly spectacular:
I’m finding it especially hard to make my body go into shutdown mode in the middle of the afternoon, when it’s really bright outside and I feel like sitting in the sunshine on deck. I think the trick may be to just go straight to bed after your shift ends without going outside, but then you wouldn’t get to laze on deck whale-watching….
(I am approaching 86% on the how-much-does-your-life-resemble-The-Life Aquatic-scale. No Jaguar Shark as yet though…).
Meals are served four times a day at 5am-7am, 11am-1pm, 5pm-7pm and 11pm-1am. And you can get a choice of delicious meals at pretty much any of those times.
However, it was quite baffling being asked – 25 minutes after I had woken up yesterday evening and was trying to get into morning mode – “so do you want a steak young lady?”
A steak, for breakfast?
What do you take me for… an American??
You, and doubtless the whole of Blighty, will be pleased to know I declined and plumped for some toast and a pot of raspberry conserve instead.
Friday, 11 September 2009
For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous:
It’s the strangest feeling of my life to be surrounded by water in all directions.
Normally if you’re taking a ferry or going on a leisure cruise somewhere, you’re never really out of sight of land, even if it’s just an inky smudge on the horizon. Out here, everywhere you look it’s just the white-topped swell on the watery blue of the ocean, with the grey-blue sky bleeding into the horizon.
My eyes and brain just aren’t used to it.
Especially having gone straight from the sensory overload of London, Tokyo and Yokohama, it’s like stepping onto the moon. If you stand on the top deck above the bridge, all you can hear is the wind, the sound of the boat cutting through the waves and the distant rumble of the engine at the back of the ship.
It’s even too far out for most seabirds. We saw a few hardy seagulls swooping in the distance yesterday, low over the water looking for fish to snack on.
But it’s not totally barren out here.
You have to remember that there’s plenty of life beneath the waves that we don’t see at the surface. We’ve already seen lots of flying fish jumping out of the bow-wake at the front of the boat. They’re really cool and look like silvery darts hovering above the water for an impossibly long time, until they plop back into the deep. Really strange but definitely an interesting addition to the scenery.
We also had a tantalising glimpse of larger life out here yesterday evening... the spout from a distant whale and some silvery fins on the horizon!
I was so excited I actually lost the power of speech for a minute or two. Hopefully we’ll see some more cetacean action before the cruise is done ☺
I decided to try and catch the sunset last night, as I’m migrating to the night shift tomorrow (12 midnight to 12 midday), so it might be the last one I’m awake to see.
This turned out to be a good decision:
Words cannot describe.
And later on, when the sun had slipped beneath the ocean and the stars had come out, and Jupiter was hanging huge and red, we saw the International Space Station whizz overhead, chasing the Space Shuttle toward the horizon.
The seasickness was worth it.
This. Is. Awesome.
I’m not usually such a big drama queen, but I really did think I was going to die the other day, and the thought of spending two months draped over the side of the ship like a big useless lump was not an appealing one.
Anyways, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m now totally medicated up to the eyeballs, and no longer feeling so poorly. Hurrah! Unfortunately if you think I’m a tad rambley and incoherent normally (and lets face it, I do tend to waffle on sometimes), you really ain’t seen nothing yet.
Being on Dimenhydrinate is like conducting conversations underwater… when you’re drunk. Kinda fun for me, but must be maddening for the other scientists I’m trying to communicate with.
“Kate, as one of the shipboard sedimentologists, what’s your take on the sedimentary database setup we’re implementing here?”
-“Er well… yeah….it’s good…by which I mean…I think we should put the…er… you know…um…sediment size table…sorry I mean size column thingamy…to the left of the whatsa-ma-call-it…::trails off forlornly::”
“Right….thanks for your input”.
We had a lifeboat drill yesterday, which was pretty fun (and of course very necessary and important, ahem). Everyone dressed up in their lifejackets and hardhats preparing for the very worst!
But I’m not worried. The JR may rock and roll a bit on the ocean waves, but she sure is built solid. Built in 1976, refurbished in 2008, still going strong.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Well, we’re all on board our ship the JOIDES Resolution (affectionately known as the "JR") now, as she sits in Yokohama port waiting to leave.
Home sweet home for the next 2 months and I have to say, she’s a beaut:
400ft of cool, hard, steel with that all-important drilling derrick in the middle. You can see Yokohama Bridge and Tokyo Bay in the background.
She's a bewildering maze of seven decks (from bottom to top: Hold Deck, Lower T’ween Deck, Upper T’ween Deck, Main Deck, Forecastle Deck, Core Deck and Bridge Deck), complete with conference rooms, core labs, a galley, a gym and a mini cinema (way cool).
Needless to say, I get lost about 4 times a day.
All the corridors are this matt grey and look exactly the same, so it’s really easy to get turned around. My suggestion that we colour code the decks so that “ya know, Main Deck is blue, Bridge Deck is pink…” got shot down pretty quickly. Apparently the sailors weren’t too keen on having a pink deck… go figure.
We have been going into Yokohama in the evenings to get our last taste of dry land (and wet alcohol). The food in Japan is amazing. I’ve never eaten so much delicious fish in my life, although I’m feeling a bit guilty about that after watching “The end of the line” on the flight over. Apparently the old saying “plenty more fish in the sea” no longer holds true. A sad indictment of man’s wider impact on planet Earth methinks.
^ Yokohama central by night. Neon paradise.
Anyway, I think me and the JR are going to get on fine.
The people (both the scientists and the ship's crew) are very nice, the insane vacuum-toilets work (for now...), the labs are really well equipped, the food is of an impressively high standard and my cabin is comfortable and spacious. Not much cause for complaint so far.
I’m excited about getting out into the big blue ocean and seeing what there is to see out there. Stay tuned…
Friday, 4 September 2009
Having just spent 3 days trying to negotiate Tokyo and Yokohama on my own, I feel I am fully qualified to make this statement. Tokyo, a sprawling urban mass of some 12 million souls, is a steamy Miso soup of a city full to the brim with chunks of concrete, tarmac and neon all writhing and jostling for space in the bowl.
And god is it steamy. I don't know what the official humidity percentage was this week but it must be up in the 80s. Perpetual leaden skies overhead as the remnants of typhoon Krovanh rumble a few hundred miles offshore. Not a breath of wind and your clothes stick to you in minutes. Yummy.
And the work ethic here is insane. I sat next to a (bizarre but very nice) Japanese chap on the (hellishly long and uncomfortable) flight over here, who had gone for a holiday to the UK for 6 days.
Five thousand, nine hundred and fifty six miles there and back, 11 hour flights, 8 hours time difference, for 6 measly days. I asked him why he bothered and he said that it was very uncommon to be able to get more than 1 week off work in Japan, ever, but that he "really really love England!" so wanted to come anyway.
And yet and yet, despite all this, the Japanese here remain some of the nicest, kindest, calmest people I have ever met. On the (many many) occasions I got lost and had to ask in my horrible broken Japanese "excuse me, where *insert destination that is nowhere near where I think I am* please-thankyou?" they were infallibly helpful and patient. (I am resolved to being about 60% nicer to tourists in london from now on). Oh and some of them are also very cute...
-Baby Leo trying to eat his entire hand.
I got lost inside Shibuya station today for 25 minutes while looking for the train to Yokohama, finally ending up in the lingerie section on the second floor of a department store, with all my baggage, looking truly pathetic. The woman who helped me spoke no English, but literally took me by the hand to the platform, pressed the correct buttons on the ticket machine, and put me on the train.
If there is such a place as heaven, this lady has surely got a spot reserved.
Of course, there are mental people too...
For instance, I fell asleep in the park with jetlag on wednesday and was awoken by this guy^ sitting less than a metre away from me, drawing me! In the end we had a chat and it was fine, but ya know, bit odd innit. He also seems to have imagined me in this drawing as some kind of super tall, waif-like nymph and has omitted the glasses i was wearing, so actually i guess i didn't mind all that much in the end.
I am currently in the plushest hotel room I have ever had the good fortune to set foot in. It's so amazing. 13th floor of the Pan Pacific, woman playing a grand piano in the lobby, view out over the harbour, complementary monogrammed pyjamas and a fluffy white robe.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have arrived.
But the toilets here are terrifying. I am afraid to pee for fear of what might whoosh up out of nowhere. I mean, look at that thing.
It looks like something the CIA might use in one of its "enhanced interrogation" sessions.
I don't want to sit on anything that's plugged in thankyouverymuchforasking.
Right, enough of this prattling. We're all boarding the boat tomorrow so the actual work can start! Hurrah! Already met a few of the people I'm sailing with, and had a beer with the crew that's just finished the last expedition.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
It's 8.30am on the day of my departure, the cab gets here in an hour and, predictably enough, I'm not even remotely ready.
I have no idea what you pack for 3 months away, when you'll be on two separate continents and in at least 3 different climatic zones (probably including "typhoon", which will be a new one on me). Now I'd like to think I'm a pretty sensible person, so the top things on my to-bring list were obviously:
Series two of The Wire,
My hilariously funny "I'm on a boat" T-shirt,
6 gallons of TRESemme,
Enough Green & Blacks to sink the ship.
So yeah, fully prepared. hmm...
Off to Tokyo this morning for a whistlestop 2 day visit to the city. I'll try not to get horribly lost/ abducted/ go native and forget to leave. Hopefully boarding the ship at Yokohama on the 5th and then off we go!
I have nothing sciencey to add yet, although I'm pretty sure i'll have to bend the space-time continuum to get all my stuff in this rucksack.
For the moment you'll just have to content yourself with this:
It's all you're going to hear about for 2 months so get used to it.
Toodle pip x