Southern Ocean Iron Experiment (SOFeX) Cruise
January 5 - February 26, 2002
February 23, 2002: Day 50
Position: 48 degrees, 56 minutes South, 176 degrees, 9 minutes West
R/V Melville Log Entry: This expedition has been driven by some fundamental questions in oceanography, biogeochemistry and paleoceanography that have important significance to questions of climate change and the fluctuation of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last several glacial/interglacial cycles. These are huge questions not readily addressed by any one person; it takes a large program and many years of study. Although we try, we cant predict the oceans response from our desktop or super-computers using models, there are limitations and there are no substitutes for being there. But mobilizing a large program to such a distant region is non trivial and the efforts and logistical considerations to get a few vessels down here are formidable.
After the science is evaluated for merit (in this case, several times) by peer review and funded by the National Science Foundation, or the Department of Energy, much of the shipboard coordination is done through the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) and its member institutions (Scripps is a member). Once the scheduling has been coordinated with other users, pre-cruise sail meetings held, ship availability is confirmed, port calls, fueling schedules, personnel and staffing issues resolved, permits issued, diplomatic clearance obtained, flight schedules for scientists and crew all researched and tickets bought, the ships sail with a bunch of scientists.
The program advances from the level of the hypothetical right into our hands where we have to grab it, tie it down, sink it into the ocean and get it back, analyze it and adapt our program accordingly. It becomes a job and a daily effort that we need to think hard about and do with our hands and our heads. We have to make it happen.
We have been talking about the job of the scientist, the things we have discovered and what it is like to get the job done. But there are others whose job it is to make sure there is food to eat (see log 21), the ship is in good repair, the winches work, the cranes are operable the lights are on and the boat can go. Without the engineers, we have no program. As you might expect, although we leave the docks with a perfectly functional vessel (or nearly perfectly functional, or not really dysfunctional), I have never been on a cruise where something didnt break. Some take the functions of a ship for granted, like they should work all the time. I think it is a miracle. Especially with an ageing fleet, it is not the lack of mechanical breakdowns that distinguishes the engineering department, but their responsiveness, spirit and ingenuity with which they solve the problems that arise at sea, that set them apart.
When Randy Flannigan came on watch, he did his normal rounds and noticed that there was a new vibration in the number 3 engine. Not severe but noticeable and the oil pressure was a bit low. He shut it down, transferred power to engines 1 and 2 and called Dennis Barclay the Chief. Dennis mobilized the rest of the engineering team: Joel, Sean, Kelvin, Richard and John. At the same time the day workers Manny, Mike and Harry joined in. The scientists could tell that some priorities had shifted but things pretty much continued as usual. After the engine cooled, they started to establish the condition of the block and see if the any of the bearings had spun and #3 had, but that was not the whole story. Next they looked to the top end and pulled the heads and worked their way into the lower end. By the next day, they discovered that the crankshaft was broken! Quick action shutting down the engine had limited the damage.
Although engine #1 was scheduled for a top end rebuild in Lyttelton, now they had other plans. (photo: Valve covers off with lifters and pushrods removed) Each engine room shift plus the day workers pitched in tearing down #3 while keeping all other systems operational and we steamed into 40 knot winds and rising seas. The engine room and machine shop looks like a junkyards with buckets full of lifters, push rods and springs, bolts in cans, turbine fans, manifolds and pistons in boxes and tied onto pipes (I just hope someone is keeping track of the parts). What is now limiting is the space to put the parts so that they can tear down #3 the rest of the way and be ready to install the new crankshaft and reassemble the engine when we reach Lyttelton.
The engineering department has also been responsive to the needs of the scientists repairing pumps, or re-installing them when they have failed, troubleshooting electrical problems and the constant attention to the hydraulic equipment we use topside.
It really is a miracle that we can get to these locations, get our science done and get back reliably and in one piece. This breakdown has probably sprung some gray hairs on some, but the science continued without a skip. Among the others on board, we owe our mechanical fannies to the engineers aboard Melville.
- Kenneth Coale, Chief Scientist