Monday, June 24, 2013

The highs of hump day and the lows of engine failure…

June 22 was officially hump day – we were halfway through our 43-day cruise. Happily, we were also about halfway through our data collection; we had just finished acquiring the primary lines in the southern part of our survey area, which was a major milestone.  The data are looking very nice (stay tuned for an upcoming post with some of the first images of features below the seafloor here from our new data!).  Now that we have been out for a while and the survey was proceeding smoothly, everyone had settled into their shifts and routines, and the science party was consumed with onboard processing and archival of the incoming data stream. Funny enough, hump day and the near completion of half of our survey almost coincided with the summer solstice and a very full moon!  It seemed like the convergence of many lucky omens.
Alas, it was not so. In the wee hours of the morning on June 24, the port engine failed as we were steaming along collecting data.  The ship has two engines (partially in case of just such an event!).  Fixing things at sea is obviously more complicated than fixing them on land, and the engineers onboard determined that the damage was significant and not quickly repaired. While we have the parts onboard to replace most of the known broken pieces, making the repairs and assessing the full extent of the damage is best done dockside. Thus we decided to pick up all our seismic gear and head back to Vigo to make the repairs.  It took us >3 days to deploy all of the streamers, paravanes, and associated kit, but only about 12 hours to recover them! Now we are limping back to Vigo through relatively rough (3-4 m) seas powered by one engine.  Once the damage and remedies for the port engine can be fully assessed, we can figure out our next move. Wish us luck!

Donna Shillington

Friday, June 21, 2013

How to launch an XBT


All of us on the science team have had our turn being indoctrinated in the "perils" of XBT deployment. In this video, Luke demonstrates the proper technique for launching an XBT.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ship Tour – The Mess

We’re starting a new series of posts here on the Galicia 3D blog to give our readers a piecemeal tour of our home away from home, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth. Every few days or so, you will see new parts of the ship with detailed descriptions and hopefully a few interesting stories to go with them. Today we focus on the mess and galley (dining area and kitchen), arguably the most important area of the ship, but stay tuned for the engine room, bridge, the rack, main lab, aft decks, gym, steel beach, the ping pong table and more! 

Prior to boarding the Langseth, my expectations of the food on board were clouded with visions of elementary school cafeteria slop doled out in aluminum trays and eaten with sporks and a side of plastic bag infused with milk. Little did I know that the folks on board take their food quite seriously. The three meals prepared each day are easily the most anticipated events of a crews’ day.

The galley (a.k.a. the kitchen in land dweller speak) is manned by a cook and steward who are responsible for sustaining the morale for the 53 people on board. The mess is regularly stocked with snacks like crackers, raisins, peanuts, dried prunes (yuck!), popcorn, cold cereal, microwave pasta, deli meats and cheeses, an assortment of milks and juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, and “fresh” fruits and vegetables (which will slowly be replaced with canned fruits and vegetables as the days go by). Cookies and pastries are also available at select times during the day if one is lucky enough to get there before they’ve all been consumed.

Between snacking times are the three glorious meals. Breakfast has the most stable menu of all the meals with a selection of eggs, potatoes, hot cereal, pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, ham, and a fruit platter that is now transitioning from fresh to canned fruits. Lunch generally consists of a type of sandwich, soup, French fries and/or onion rings, hot vegetables, rice, and other unpredictable delights. Supper has been quite intriguing as of late. We’ve been blessed with several kinds of steak, beef tenderloin, meatloaf, spaghetti, and many other varieties of taste bud tantalizing foods. For those who sleep during dinner and require a stomach recharge at 3am (yours truly and a good number of the crew on the midnight to noon shift), the galley staff save plates of dinner for “breakfast” that can be eaten during off times – I like to call this meal “brupper”, but am having difficulty getting the name to stick.

Lunch at the mess with Luke, Sarah, and Tyler.
It has been entertaining to watch our young British colleagues become exposed to American cuisine for the first time with foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, meatloaf (although they’ve been informed that it’s never as good as my mom’s – love you mom!), French toast, sausage in patty form, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. It is also quite obvious that a 2,000 mile pond provides for the generation of different mealtime habits. For example, Luke was quite disgusted that I would dip a chocolate-chip cookie in a cold glass of milk; I shared his disgust when he spiced his French toast (sans-syrup) with salt and pepper and ate it like a normal piece of toast (apparently this was his first French toast experience). I’m guessing there will be some sort of payback if we ever meet in England sometime.

Well folks, speaking of the devil, I’m off to the mess for a warm breakfast. I hope you enjoyed the tour and stay tuned for the next one!

Brian Jordan

Rice University

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Calm after the storm


We made it! According to the 30 minute log, which is one of the duties that we are given while on watch, we sustained up to 40 knot (74 km/hr, 46 mph) winds and ~7m (23 ft) seas for a few hours last night. That said, and aside from a relative lack of sleep, most of us seem to be no worse for wear. We also managed to travel north of our next sail line by almost an entire degree of latitude, which translates to ~111km (69 miles). We have now turned around, and are heading back to the survey area while working on streamer one. We will then re-deploy the air guns, and re-engage the survey in a couple of hours. 

Same view taken this morning.

James Gibson

Monday, June 17, 2013

Preparations for the storm

As a follow up to Donna's post, we are making individual preparations, which include taking the motion sickness medicine of choice or default depending on where you come from.
Spanish, English, and American motion sickness remedies.
 We are also securing (tying down) our stuff and preparing our beds, which includes a new to us method coined "tacoing." To "taco" a bed means to use whatever you can find e.g. dirty clothes, luggage, random foam (Luke found some foam in the bird lab) in order to form a taco shape between your mattress and the wall. This way the roll has less of an affect on you as you try to get some sleep.. At least that's the theory.
My laptop's ready!
Brian in a reasonably "taco'd" bed... And Luke's version.

Will update from the other side of the storm.

James Gibson

Storm a Comin'

For the last week, we have been enjoying relatively calm seas.  Swells rolled in from distant storms, but the local weather was quite enjoyable. Now the storm that pummeled the east coast of the US last week is headed our way. This storm is expected to give us winds up to ~36 knots and ~7-8 m (~21-24 ft) waves!  This is too rough for the more vulnerable components of our gear such as the airguns, which are dangling beneath floats behind the ship.  Additionally, our data quality suffers when the weather worsens. When the winds pick up to ~25 knots, we’ll pull in some of our gear, and then turn around to face the storm and ride it out.  In the meantime, we are preparing by strapping things down in the main lab and stowing loose items that might roll around and fall over once the ship really starts to roll.
Wish us luck!
Donna Shillington
17th June
Map of forecast wave heights posted in the main lab. The big bulls-eye is right over our field area...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hello, sunshine

We have been at sea for nearly two weeks, and during this time we have seen many things… the hints of exciting geologic structures under the seafloor in our data, waves, whales, gear going off the stern. But we have seen very little of the sun, until today.  Most days have been overcast and grey. Now that all the equipment is deployed, there is nothing requiring us to be outside except for the occasional XBT launch, so it’s easy for a day or two to go by without going outside at all. It is even possible to be totally unaware of the weather for long stretches of time since the main lab, where we spend most of our time, is windowless and below the water line. Instead of windows, we have monitors showing what is happening out on various decks from a series of cameras around the ship.  Today they showed bright sunshine reflecting off the water behind the ship.  After spending a few minutes out in the sun on the deck, my unaccustomed eyes are still seeing spots…. Back to the lab!
Bern and James are on watch, so they can only watch the sun on TV from the lab.
 Donna Shillington
13th June

Monday, June 10, 2013

Miracle workers of the Langseth overcome the curse of the Costa da Morte

After days of uneventful and productive data acquisition, a pall fell over the R/V Langseth. Early Sunday morning, one of the streamers began to report communication errors and soon failed to communicate at all.  A series of tests over the ensuing hours revealed that the problem was not on the ship but in the equipment out in the water.  Recovering and repairing seismic gear is not a quick task. To access this streamer, we had to undo many of the steps required to put it out to begin with: recover the port paravane, shift Streamer 3 starboard and out of the way, and then reel in part of Streamer 4. After hours of troubleshooting, the technical staff of the Langseth brought Streamer 4 back to life.  All of the equipment on the Langseth is… not new, and this certainly applies to the seismic streamers. The technical staff on the ship are pros at keeping this equipment alive (and many cases bringing it back from the dead). Twelve hours after the problems with Streamer 4 began, it was back in the water, and we were ready to start collecting data again. 
But no sooner had one problem been solved, another appeared. This time the trouble arose from the failure of a piece of equipment on the ship that is at the heart of our acquisition system – the real time navigation unit (or RTNU, for those in the know). This component gathers satellite and other navigational information from the seismic equipment and delivers it to the navigation software on the ship so that we can determine the positions of all of our equipment in the water, and where and when we need to be shooting.  Once again, the dedicated technical staff of the Langseth came to the rescue.  Painstaking checking and double-checking of each component in the RTNU began last night and continued into the early hours of the morning. In the wee hours, it’s easy to get a little superstitious.  Did all these problems arise because Tim Reston and I each accidentally drew in lines on our chart indicating that we’d completed lines in our 3D box before we actually had? Or was it the curse of Costa da Morte (Coast of Death)? This part of the Galician coast is known for its shipwrecks and nicknamed accordingly. Of course, the real culprit was the non-newness of the gear in question. Once again, the Langseth’s miracle workers saved the day by assembling the working parts of various old RTNU’s into one working unit.  Thanks to their efforts, we are up and running again….

RTNU carnage on a table in the main lab.

Donna Shillington
10th June

Poseidon Visits (and Seismic Oceanography)

One of the secondary activities on the cruise has been the deployment of XBTs off the stern. XBTs are a standard oceanographic tool designed to measure the variation of water temperature with depth, providing information on mixing processes within the water column. As temperature is one of two primary controls on velocity of sound in water (the other being salinity), it is also of interest in the processing of our bathymetric data.

Poseidon's Zodiak on the way over to exchange supplies.

A few years ago, it was realised that seismic provides a method of directly observing the mixing processes, as the different water layers have sufficiently different seismic velocity and salinity for reflections to be generated at their boundaries: we have already seen reflections in the water column of our data, probably from boundaries between North Atlantic water and warmer, more saline Mediterranean water. However there have been relatively few studies of these processes using traditional oceanographic and seismic techniques, a deficiency being rectified by the deployment of XBTs at regular intervals during our cruise.

A successful exchange on medium-high seas!!

In addition to deploying ocean bottom seismometers to record our seismic shots, the German research vessel F.S. Poseidon has been carrying out oceanographic measurements, mainly using CTD casts (conductivity-temperature-depth), which provide more information than XBTs. As a result they had several XBTs left over. These they transferred to us this morning: Poseidon came within about 1 km of the Langseth and sent the XBTs over in a small boat. A real bumpy ride!

Goodbye, until we meet in Vigo!
Tim Reston
University of Birmingham

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Poseidon: OBS deployment update

On 5th of June, Poseidon deployed her last three OBH instruments. The crew then spent the next two days doing CTD ("conductivity, temperature, depth") measurements of the water column. They typically recovered good measurements of conductivity and temperature for depths down to 1000 m. These measurements can be used to monitor mixing of different water bodies (such as warmer Mediterranean waters with the cold Atlantic) and to calculate variations in velocity within the water column to compare with seismic reflections we observe within the water column. Rough seas for the last 1.5 days have made the CTD measurements challenging.

Today the Poseidon is recovering eight OBH to download the data they recorded and redeploy them elsewhere within the 3-D box. It will be exciting to see the first OBH data! We won't see the rest of the data until the remaining OBS and OBH are recovered in August and September.

Despite being in the same area, here on the Langseth the science party hasn't seen the Poseidon since our first day passing them on the way out to sea from Vigo. However, this may be because we are all busy below deck in the main lab (with no windows) processing data!

Marianne Karplus
8th June

Underway and beginning to collect data

For the last couple of days, we have been slowly (very slowly) steaming along at 4 knots (~4.6 miles an hour) towing all of the gear behind the ship and collecting seismic data. A lot of data! Each of the four seismic streamers behind the ship records returning sounds waves on 468 channels. Every time one of our air gun arrays fires, we collect 60 Mb of data.  Repeat that every 16 seconds for a few days, and it adds up.  Even though we have only been at it for a few days, we have already generated 405 Gb of raw seismic data, and that does not include all of the other types of marine geophysical data that we collect (bathymetry, magnetics, etc). Nonetheless, there are many reminders that we still have a long ways to go.  For example, a large map on a table in the main lab shows all 56 profiles that we plan to acquire during this cruise in our target area for 3D imaging (black horizontal lines in the image below). As we complete them, we draw a green line along the profile on the map. Four down, fifty-two to go! 

Donna Shillington
8th June

Map in the main lab showing planned profiles. The ones we've already completed are in green

*Follow our progress on the "Survey Area" page as we update the sail lines every ~4 days.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Source

Our fourth (and final) gun array was deployed last night!! This means that all of the hard work that the crew has performed (with our help, of course) will begin to pay off as the data streams in while we traverse east along the western most extension.

Marine reflection seismology involves actively generating soundwaves (rather than waiting for earthquakes as in many other types of seismology). The ideal seismic source is as close to a “spike” as possible. Sound waves from the source travel into the Earth, where they reflect off sedimentary layers as well as hard-rock surfaces. The returning reflections are recorded by over a thousand hydrophones (underwater microphones that gauge pressure changes created by the reflected seismic waves) in the streamers that we have been deploying for the last four days.

The source consists of a series of air guns of varying sizes, which are hung at a depth of 9m (~30 feet) below large inflatable tubes. The tubes are 60m (~200 feet) long and each has 9 active air guns (10 with one to spare). In our case there are two sets of air guns being towed 150m (~500 feet) behind the ship, that alternately fire. To create a strong source that is as spike-like as possible, the guns are carefully arranged and fire almost simultaneously. The air is released from the chamber of the air gun, creating a 3300 cubic inch bubble pulse, which collapses to create the sound waves.
Orientation of the streamer and gun arrays being towed by R/V Langseth.
The red circles indicate the location of the gun arrays.
We are making sound in the ocean, where many mammals use sound to communicate and hunt for food. In order to ensure we are operating responsibly and minimizing our impact on mammals, we have five Protected Species Observers (PSO’s) onboard who both watch and listen for (from the observation deck in Donna’s previous post) any marine mammal that comes close to the ship. If any are spotted or heard within a specified radius around the ship, we power down the guns until they leave the area.

James Gibson

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Langseth: The paravanes are out!

Most of the science team came out on deck this afternoon to watch the starboard-side paravane deployed in relatively calm waters under partly cloudy skies. The technical and engineering crew proceeded slowly and carefully through the deployment procedure, and after about a couple of hours the paravane and attached streamer were over 300 m off the starboard side of the Langseth.

The second paravane went in the water at 22:00 this evening, and streamer 2 is currently being uncoiled into the water behind the ship. Despite a few delays, we are making good progress!

Marianne Karplus
4th June

Langseth: The birds

It's 6:30am ship time (Spanish time). The 12am-4am shift finished deploying streamer 4 at about 12:30am, and since then we've been waiting for the sun to rise and the seas to calm before putting out the paravanes and continuing to deploy streamers 2 and 3.

Most of the science group has been working in 4 hour shifts thus far - 4 hours of work and then 8 hours of time for other things each 12 hour period. The last day or two, I was using my 8 hour rest periods to eat a couple of saltines, lie down, and attempt to ignore the rocking of the ship, but I must be getting used to the seas (and they are calmer!) because I can now do other things like read papers and look at a computer screen.

We have been collecting data almost since we left port. We are mapping the bathymetry, collecting gravity data, recording ocean current directions, etc. Since we entered our 3-D box area yesterday, it's been exciting to identify fault scarps in the bathymetry.

Donna mentioned in her previous post that once a streamer is in the water, its location is monitored and it can be moved around using winged devices called "birds" that are attached to it. Imagine a number of actual birds holding a cable in their talons at an even spacing while flying. Our mechanical birds are not so different, except they are flying the streamer through the water. We can see where the birds are on a computer screen in the lab, and we can control the depths of the birds by remotely moving their wings. When a streamer goes into the water, it can take some time to get the weighting right and then for the birds to dive the streamer down to the desired depth (generally 8-12 meters below the sea surface).

Marianne Karplus
3rd June (posted late due to internet outage)

Assembing a bird to be attached to the streamer.
Birds for streamers 2 and 3 waiting to be deployed.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Deploying seismic equipment on the high seas

After steaming for twelve hours out of port, we started the long process of putting out all of the seismic gear needed for this program. The weather worsened as we headed towards the field area, and we have been deploying equipment in 3-4 meter swells for the last 18 hours. This ship can roll by up to 10-15 degrees in these conditions (and more than a couple of people are feeling sea sick as a result).  On the deck, ropes and cables connected to equipment towed off the back of the ship lurch and clank rhythmically, and water commonly washes over the lower deck. Down in the main lab, stray items that aren’t properly stowed or strapped down start to roll back and forth, the ship creaks and groans, and office chairs swivel with each swell.

For this program, we will be towing an enormous amount of gear behind the ship to enable us to image faults involved in rifting, the exposure of mantle rocks and continental breakup in 3D.  Four 6-km-long seismic ‘streamers’ filled with pressure sensors (which can detect returning sound waves) will be towed 200 m apart, for a full spread of 600 meters.  As we deploy the streamers, we add weights to ballast the streamer, acoustic units to determine the locations of the streamers, and ‘birds’ that enable us to control the depth of the streamer remotely.  We also swap out broken pieces. The streamers are held apart by two gigantic paravanes, which are like large metal kites that fly out from either side of the ship. Each one weighs an astonishing 7.2 tons and is ~7.5x6 meters in size.   There are also myriad floats, cables and ropes to maintain the correct geometry of the entire array.  The streamers will record returning sound waves generated by two arrays of air guns, which will be towed 100 m apart and fired separately.  We expect that it will take us 3 days to deploy this complicated array of equipment behind the ship. The weather is expected to start improving tomorrow afternoon, which will help us greatly!

Donna Shillington
2nd June
Looking forward on the Langseth as she takes a roll in the swell.
A streamer with a 'bird' being deployed off the Langseth's stern into the waves.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The R/V Langseth departs Vigo and heads to sea

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth pushed away from the docks of Vigo at 8 am local time.  The sun was shining, and the views of the rugged cliffs, forests and Galician towns along the coastline were spectacular.  We will only be able to see land at the very beginning and very end of this 45-day cruise.  We steamed out of the protected waters around Vigo and out into the open Atlantic Ocean a few hours later, and happily were met by relatively calm seas (1-2 meter swells), although its quite brisk compared to summer weather back home.  We actually saw the F.S. Poseidon in the distance as she headed back to Vigo at the end of the first OBS cruise of this program. We only have a relatively short transit of ~10 hours before we begin to deploy the extensive suite of scientific equipment behind the ship needed to image the structures beneath the seafloor in 3D.  Putting out the seismic streamers and associated gear will take 3 days!

Donna Shillington
1st June
The science party on deck as the ship departs Vigo.

Islas Cies