Today has been very busy for the biologists. An otter trawl was landed early this morning full of deep water marine life. Fish, starfish, urchins, holothurians and crustaceans were all avidly sorted, examined, sized and described by a large team of dedicated scientists in what looked to the untrained eye like a production line. This took most of the day to complete. Along side this two RMT trawls were completed, examining the top layers of the ocean for biomass of various types to correlate with the acoustic data that we have been collecting. This evening a SHRIMP run is underway, looking at the habitats and (slow-moving) animals that live on the seafloor some 2,600m down. This run was postponed from yesterday evening when a fault in the cable that supplies SHRIMP with power and communications developed. This meant a long night for the technicians to get it ready for today.
This brings me neatly on to the role the technicians play in supporting the scientists aboard the vessel. The beginning of a cruise for the technical staff starts well before the ship sets off. Equipment has to be assembled together either from existing stocks, bought new form commercial sources or specially customised or developed for a particular scientific requirement. In this latter case, development can start a year or more before the use of the equipment at sea.
Depending on the type of cruise, a team of technicians is assembled to best suit the requirements of the trip – mechanical, electronic, computer and instrumentation experts each with their own specialities and skill sets. On board for JC011 there are three mechanical, two electronic and one computer technician, each specialising in one or more aspects of the cruise as well as providing more general engineering support. To paraphrase a well known saying, you have to be ‘a jack of most trades and master of lots’. This was well illustrated yesterday evening during the re-termination of the SHRIMP cable. One moment you are wielding a grinder to cut the cable while a colleague heats up the termination module with a blow torch in order to release the cable, in other words work that would expect to see in a blacksmiths. While later in the same process you are connecting a plug to the fibre-optic strand in the cable – thinner than a human hair – and having to look down a microscope to polish the end. Such is the range of skills required.
Another requirement for the seagoing technician is the ability to troubleshoot and fix equipment with the resources available on the ship. This has, in the past, included raiding the sonar spares box in order to fix the ship’s washing machine – a most important function as you can imagine.
Nothing so dramatic has happened this evening as I write this with SHRIMP taking nice video images of the seafloor with just the changing of tapes and disks required.
Ian Rouse, Oceanographic engineer