Sounds of a moving ship

March 17, 2009

The walls of the Palmer are insulated against the cold, but a variety of sounds pervade. The constant low rumble of the ship’s engines slowly transitions from a distinct sound to background noise as our ears adjust. A-frames and winches, used for instrument deployments, whine as they hoist heavy loads in and out of the water. The bathymetric sonar chirps about every ten seconds to measure the depth of the seafloor. In the laboratory, freezers hum and sigh. Throughout the ship, walkie-talkies crackle. Once a week, the alarm bell rings for a fire drill or abandon ship drill.

Every so often, a muffled clang reverberates through the mess hall as the ship runs over a large chunk of ice.

Today, a new sound presented itself: the iceberg calved. At first it sounded like distant thunder. A series of cracks and rumbles was followed by splashing and waves. Massive chunks of ice, some greater than 10 meters across, fell into the water, then rose to the surface and further broke apart.

With all of the noise, it seems surprising that people can sleep; however, sounds drown themselves out into white noise before too long.

All of the berths are on higher levels than the main deck, which helps reduce the noise. Also, sleep is easier after so many continuous days of hard work.

—Amanda Kahn