Days 18-19 — Status: 40 knot winds and rough seas
We've been dealing with some rough weather the past couple of days, collecting data whenever conditions allow, and strapping down the furniture the rest of the time... but in the meantime, here's a post and various photos from Jóhannes on how we entertain ourselves in our downtime...
When we get bored
post by Jóhannes Jóhannesson
Life on R/V Marcus G. Langseth is not just about the science. There are several ways to kick back and relax here on board, for crew and scientists alike. In this segment I would like to introduce to you the main recreation facilities on board and what goes on there.
The most important places on the ship (for most of us anyway) are the galley and the mess-hall. Both are controlled by our steward, Hervin McLean Fuller, our cook, Leoncio R. Martires Jr., and our OS, Joselyn N. White. They cook for us 3 times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and keep the mess-hall stocked with goods so we can nibble a bit between dinners. The most important food source in the mess-hall for many is located in the freezer, the ice cream. A mutiny, or at least a cry out to turn immediately back to port, almost occurred the other day, as a rumor that the ice cream was about to run out circulated the ship. Thankfully the rumor turned out to be based on false data, and we have been ensured that there is enough ice cream on board to last well beyond our journey. Food sources in the mess-hall, other than ice cream, include cereal, noodles, salad bar, several different kinds of bread, cheeses, salamis, candy and nuts, dried and fresh fruits, and my favorite, a bowl with a seemingly never-ending supply of oreos.
Apart from the library, the TV room is probably the room that sees the most off-duty action. It has a nice 60 inch screen, a Playstation, a dvd player and a computer with multiple sources of entertainment. The process of choosing what to watch at any given time has so far been quite civilized for the most part, with many finally seeing those “obscure” sci-fi movies that they have always heard about but never watched, or watch old movies from their youth, like the timeless classics “Tremors,” “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot," “Clueless,” and “The Never Ending Story II.” The selection of viewing material has not gone without some controversy though, as people quickly discovered that not all were on the same episode of Homeland. That major problem was taken care of swiftly, by starting on season 1 from scratch, and those who did not keep up with the program were left behind. The TV room is occupied almost 24/7, and there is enough to choose from, with a wide range of movies and a lot of different TV shows.
The library pretty much explains itself, books and reading. Mostly fictional novels and magazines, and in between there are gold nuggets like Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” Simon Winchester’s “The Map That Changed the World,” and William Shatner’s “Captain’s Peril.”
The gym contains a treadmill, ski machine, a bike that’s facing the wrong direction and some weights. Most people were excited for the gym at the beginning of these voyage, but lack of time, high waves and a certain incident involving “die Gesichtmaske” have kept most of those excited personnel from going there.
There is also a ping-pong table on board, but I know of only one and a half attempts to play ping-pong during this voyage, but plans are a foot to play more ping-pong when the wave height reaches 9 meters, which should (hopefully, that would be so awesome*) happen tomorrow.
Well, that’s about it for the recreation here, beside of course personal computers, a guitar, solitaire, each other company's, doing science and so on.
*Disclaimer: not everyone's as excited as Jóhannes about 9 m waves, although admittedly impressive to see in person. In fact, we're particularly unexcited about it because the data quality deteriorates quite a bit when the seas get rough.
Days 15-16 — The Watchers
It's the relative calm before yet another storm system (a couple of them, really). Our multibeam data are nice and smooth in calm waters, with nice wide swaths, but get rougher as the ship starts pitching and rolling more. Everyone's mentally preparing themselves for several days of rougher seas, moving furniture, anti-gravity moments, and improvisational dancing as people struggle to stay upright.... but until then, we'll enjoy the smoother ride and pretty data coming in.
Some photos from watchstanding in the main lab...
Day 14 — RIP, Maggie
Well, we had our first (and hopefully only) casualty of the cruise. Our magnetometer, affectionately known as Maggie, which is towed ~200 m behind the ship, broke free of the cable just as we were coming around a turn last night. We still aren't sure exactly what failed, but the connector broke and down she went, sinking straight to Davey Jones' Locker. Fortunately, she has a twin sister on board, who was out in the water hard at work within an hour of losing the first one.
When lava erupts, it becomes polarized in the direction of the Earth's magnetic field as it cools. Because the Earth's magnetic field has reversed its polarity (flipped direction) many times through geologic history, the magnetic reversals give us a way of measuring time. Maggie measures variations in the magnetization of the seafloor as we pass over it. By correlating the magnetic strips on either side of the spreading center, we'll be able to evaluate how symmetrical (or not) the V-shaped ridges are in time, and identify pieces of lithosphere that might have been transferred from one plate to another due to ridge propagation. (See Science Overview for more information).
For more about magnetics and the seafloor, see Tools & Methods.
Day 12 — Progress Update
We're about a third of the way through our journey now, and the science is coming along nicely! The data are streaming in (all day, every day), and we're starting to get a good look at the upper portion of our study area. The difference between the old, previously available maps and our new, higher resolution bathymetric data is striking — even before doing much cleaning and processing of the multibeam data, all sorts of fascinating geology is starting to appear as we map our way south.
The stripe across the center of the map in the photo above shows the (minimally processed) new data we've collected. Check out the difference in the level of detail! What were amorphous blobs of color in the old data are now resolving into ridges, faults, seamounts, craters and various volcanic features. The darker green stripe down the center roughly outlines the ridge axis, the boundary between the North American (on the west) and Eurasian (east) plates (the center of most of the recent volcanism in this area).
Here's a look at our ship track so far (green line in the figure below) — you can see our route down from Reykjavík to our field area, and then we start a series of NW-SE lines, back and forth, like mowing the lawn. The ship can only collect data from the strip of seafloor below it (generally ~6-10 km wide, depending on the depth, topography and other factors), so we sail down one line and back the next, and piece together the strips of data to make a map of the area. We space the lines close together so that they slightly overlap on the ends and we don't end up with too many gaps in the data.
... And here's a map of our study area in more detail, showing the ship track and preliminary mapping from where we've already been (click for bigger image)...
You'll notice the one extra long line off to the left side of the survey area. That's during our first storm, when it got too rough to keep surveying, so the ship hung out for a few hours waiting for the waves to die down enough to continue. This area frequently gets small storms passing through, so we've had our share of rough weather! Luckily we've been able to keep our survey going through almost all of them.
The maps above only show preliminary multibeam bathymetry data. We're also collecting magnetics and gravity data along the tracklines, which will help us determine the age and density of different portions of the seafloor, respectively. Occasionally we also measure how the water temperature varies with depth in particular locations. We'll have a couple student posts on how and why we measure these things coming soon! Meanwhile, they're keeping a watchful eye on everything.
Day 11 — A Whale of a Time
post by Jóhannes Jóhannesson
Well that didn’t take long. We spotted our first whales the day before yesterday, when we passed one (or possibly a pair) of them about 100 meters of our star-board (the right one) side. Captain Mark C. Landow and 2nd Mate Breckenridge C. Crum spotted the whale(s) from the bridge, and I would like to thank them for letting my know about them, since I was at that time on the port-side of the bridge deck, armed with the camera of course, and would have missed the whale(s) otherwise. The whale(s) surfaced quite a few times during a 5 minutes period or so, before we passed them, and I managed to get some nice photos.
We have had some trouble identifying what species they are, since we are more used to analyzing fossilized remains of animals than living ones... plus the fossilized ones tend not to move so that makes it easier. But we have at least narrowed the list down a bit, and unfortunately it was clear from the start that this was not a right whale. The best way to tell the different whale species apart are analyzing the color of them, the size and shape of their dorsal fin and flippers, the blow and the rate of blow that they give away and the dive pattern. The top three contenders for this one are a blue whale (L. Balaenoptera musculus), a minke whale (L. Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and a fin whale (L. Balaenoptera physalus) followed by a more unlikely sei whale (L. Balaenoptera borealis). Since we were unable to confirm the species of this one, although most of the signs pointed to a blue whale, we decided to look for outside help on the matter. Deborah posted the photos on her Facebook page, and her friend Dr. Alison Stimpert, who’s a marine biologist, thought it likely as well that this was a blue whale. So we are going to say we have seen a blue whale, until proven otherwise, and since it is estimated that there are only 5–12 thousand blue whales worldwide, this was a lucky sighting. Hopefully we will be even more lucky in the coming days and be able to spot a right whale.
For further reading on blue whales:
Jóhannes is a student at the University of Iceland, currently studying geology and history, but has also studied archaeology and German. He lives in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, used to play basketball and is currently working on developing a crooked spine and multiple head injuries due to the low ceiling and doorways onboard.