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22 December 2005

boredom vs. good chow: life aboard the R/V Laurence M. Gould in the Antarctic Ocean

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The R/V Laurence M. Gould investigates the giant iceberg A52 in the Antarctic Ocean. (My nephew Ice Cube appears also to have been contaminated by the Postal Art / Mail Art disease.)

Ice Cube writes from the Laurence M.Gould:

===================

This started as an email reply to my friend Sandy who worked for a long time on a NOAA [U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration] surveying vessel in Alaska. She helped make the charts that captains blame when they run aground. I figured it would make a good description of life on board the Gould.

At 01:32 PM 12/9/2005 -0900, Sandy wrote:

Hi Dan

Definitely add me to your list. I'd love to get your tales from your sails. Glad you're enjoying it. The work all day, sleep 4 hours, work all day thing sounds right on the mark with sea science. Do you all have a work out room? Movies? Too many sweets?

See ya,

Sandy

===================================

Gee Sandy, sounds like you've done a stint or two at sea. Last couple weeks have been sleep 8 hours, then work a normal 12 hour shift. Work out room yes. Movies yes.

The sweets situation ... actually the food situation rocks. We haven't run out of mangoes yet, although the clementine orange supply is getting a bit thin. I ate one apple before thinking, what the hell are you eating that for when there's better and more tropical fruit than you've ever seen.

The meals are really good, Tuesdays is burgers and dogs day so that's not so hot, but friday is seafood (crab and crawfish soup, baked salmon, baked cod, fish sticks, calamari rings) Mostly the other days are different, interesting and include enough veggies for the vegetarians and the greedy meat eaters who like veggies too. Salad bar, although iceberg lettuce, includes fresh guac. and chilean aji salsa every few days.

And the sweets, well I have to admit a bit of glutteny the last few days with the homemade doughnuts. Before that was a chilean pastry of alternating layers of filo like pastry and dulce de leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk). I had mentioned the filo/dulce thing to Luciano on Monday and it was out on the table Wednesday. Cheesecake, birthday cakes, all handmade. But I'm showing some self control, which isn't too hard with the above mentioned mangoes to hoard.

The biggest downside is that you could spend an entire month indoors. And, except for smoking breaks on the back deck, quite a few people do that. Work gets me out some, and I just hang out on deck for the air whenever I can. And anytime somebody suggests grabbing a print off a printer or finding somebody who's not on radio, I head off to do it because I can't stand just sitting and standing there all day (or all midnight to noon shift as it happens to be.) If I move my schedule around a bit, I should be able to get up an hour earlier and take the time to use the
rowing machine or the exercycle.

Speaking of schedules, I generally get up at 11 pm. (We stick to Chilean time, since that's our port of departure, and Palmer station on the Antarctic Peninsula also operates that way. It's 2 hours later than the East Coast of the US, and 6 hours later than home in McCarthy.) Then it's shower, check email in my room, and off to mid-rats. That's midnight rations. Usually that means breakfast foods, and some sort of leftovers from the normal dinner which I sleep through. I finish that up with some fruit, maybe a salad if there is any left, and a bit of dessert.

The other electronics tech. who is getting off of his shift at midnight shows up for his last meal of the day and we have a quick turnover chat to bring me up to speed on what's happening. Then the conversation usually degrades into some sort of drug, sex, scatological, or horror story session. Feels like eating in college dorms. There are three crews of people on board the ship -- the Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) ship crew (Gringo captain, mates and engineers; Phillipino deck hands and engine room crew; and Chilean crew members working in the kitchen and on deck), the Raytheon technicians and science support folks (that's me and my 5 co-workers), and the scientists (whom the National Science Foundation likes to call grantees to remind them that they are at the NSF's mercy, and we call beakers). The first table in the galley is unofficially for the gringo ECO crew and usually the Raytheon folks eat there.

The next table is usually taken by the beakers. And the Phillipino and Chilean crew members usually snag the farthest table from the food line -- maybe it's a bit of segregation and maybe it's their refuge from having to speak and hear english. I know how tiring speaking a second language all day can be. But nobody flinches or cares if you break rank and sit with someone else to mix it up or practice your Spanish.

After mid rats it's time to start my shift. I stop in to the e-lab (eletronics lab) which includes 5 public use computers, 6 racks of instruments and data logging computers, the e.t. (eletronics tech) computer and workbenches. There I check the E.T. email and the latest schedule of science to be done. Lately there hasn't been anything scheduled until 5 or 6 a.m. so I either play Settlers of Catan (a board game) with the other night owls, or work on some programming projects I've taken on.

We are basically on call the whole time and so, for example, tonight we were asked to deploy a sonar device to map out the base of the iceberg, several hundred meters below the sea surface. That involved three of us using a crane and chain pulleys to lower the BATPOLE into the water and secure it to the side of the ship. (For those of you who got the photo of me in the icy water at Palmer Station, that's what the bracket was for.) The first time deploying that pole it took 5 of us 3 hours and a drill press and grinder to get it in. Now we have it down to under an hour with 3 of us.

The other day someone came in to the galley during breakfast and said we were going to settle a wager which had be going on for a couple of weeks. The first time we were circling the really big berg (A52), there was a waterfall spilling over the side. It was maybe 6 feet wide and flowing probably 200 or 300 gallons a minute. The question was is it fresh water or salt water. Well now when we returned after 10 days away there are 7 waterfalls coming down, one of them is 20 feet wide and raging. So we backed the ship right up to the face of the berg and two other folks and I held a pole out over the stern with a bucket on the end and collected a gallon of water. It's fresh water, in case you were wondering.

I was pretty sure it would be fresh water, but it is an amazing amount of water. The captain had said no photos, bummer cause it was really cool. Too bad we can't actually see the top surface of the berg since it's higher than the bridge. There must be a big lake or loads of drainage streams all over it. But the temperatures are not much over freezing and the sun only shines brightly for a few hours a week. Maybe the salt spray helps melt the ice. I'm going to ask tomorrow if I can climb the meteorological tower to check on the instruments while we're passing one of the lower sides of the berg.

There are also some standard oceanographic measurements we do, like a CTD (Conductivity / Temperature / Depth) cast which involves lowering an instrument package down into the water and taking water samples on the way up, or towing a multiple net system to catch Krill and little fishes (the MOCNESS from my previous e-mails). Throw in a few requests for batteries or help with a computer issue and that's pretty much my work day. Then at noon I eat lunch, chat with folks, grab a movie from the DVD and video library, and watch it in my bunk so I can fall asleep and miss the last 10 minutes. Repeat that 7 days a week until the science is done and we cruise back to Palmer Station and then back across the Drake Passage to port in Punta Arenas (PA). I'll spend 4 days in PA helping the next crew get ready for their cruise, and fly out on New Year's Day.

So mostly it's laid back, some boredom, a few hectic hours or days here and there, some good brain workouts and some (but not quite enough) physical labor. But the long term work schedule is right -- work a month or so at a time, and take a month or so off before flying all the way back to Chile or New Zealand again. Each cruise has a different science mission going on, and a new mix of co-workers. If I work it right, I'll work more in the Alaskan winter (Antarctic summer), and not much at all during the Alaskan summer (except in May and early June during mosquito season). Now I just have to figure out how to sneak the horse, dogs and cat into my carry on.

Hope you all are having a good winter (or summer for Dave G. at South Pole) and have a happy solstice,

-- dan

Dan Elsberg
Marine {Computer/Instrument} Specialist
Antarctic Research/Supply Vessel Laurence M. Gould

Current Position (Lat +N/-S, Lon +E/-W):

- 60.94, - 53.34

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Olson said...

I wonder why no photos of the 'berg waterfalls? Seems an odd thing on a scientific mission.

17:13  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

waitasec waitasec he sent me some fotos -- probably not specifically of the Iceberg Waterfalls -- but some very beautiful panoramas taken of Antarctic Waters from the deck of the Gould. Lemme see if I can find and post em.

19:16  

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