Please follow our updates and social media, get to know our scientists, and learn about this fascinating deep-sea volcanic system!

Thanks for joining us, the Axial3D Team!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Meet the PSOs! Amanda Dubuque

Meet Amanda, another one of our Protected Species Observers! 

I learned about this kind of work from one of my teachers at college a few weeks before I graduated. He knew of a company that was hiring at that time from a previous student and passed it onto his current students about to graduate. The work sounded interesting, so I contacted the company for more information and began working offshore about two months after I finished college. I have been working offshore for 12 years now and I still love it.

This can vary a lot depending on the vessel, the location of the survey, and the regulations that we are working under for the project. In general though, we conduct a mixture of visual and acoustic monitoring for protected species and other wildlife 24 hours a day. Visual monitoring involves scanning the surface of the water and area around the vessel for any animals present, and acoustic monitoring involves listening for marine mammal vocalizations using a hydrophone cable towed behind the vessel. The team members rotate through a schedule where we have a few hours of monitoring followed by a break, where we can rest and catch up on the paperwork. Once the paperwork is completed, our downtime is our own to rest and relax, or to socialize with any crew members also not on duty at that time. Some vessels have quite a few options for things to do during downtime, including gyms, tv/movie rooms, libraries, ping pong tables. and foosball tables. Some vessels also stock board games and puzzles for every to use, and some vessels also have gaming systems and musical instruments (usually a guitar).

The most beautiful location I have ever been for a survey offshore was Santorini. We did a survey in and around the volcano, and the view when we were inside the caldera was amazing. However, the most exciting location has to be New Zealand. We did three surveys around the islands, and the variety of the wildlife there was like nothing else I have seen anywhere else. I saw quite a few new marine mammal, fish, and bird species there that I had never seen anywhere else before. I saw my first blue whale on those surveys, and we also saw several species of penguins offshore!

I don’t really favor one group or species over the other. It’s always exciting to see any species offshore, especially the ones where there is little to no chance to see them from onshore. Every PSO has a list of species that we hope to see one day, and if we are lucky enough, we will get the chance to go to a location where we might be able to see them. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of species on my list in the last 12 years, but there are still a lot of other species that I would love to see one day. At the top of my list right now are a right whale, a narwhal, a whale shark, and a great white shark.

There are a few species of marine mammals that have the word whale in their name that are not actually whales. For example, killer whales, pilot whales, melon-headed whales, etc. are actually all dolphins. The killer whale is the largest of the dolphin species, followed closely in size by the pilot whale.

The main visible difference between seals and sea lions is that sea lions have visible external ears and seals do not. There are also fur seals, which are different from true seals as they have external ears like sea lions.

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales, and is the only living member of the genus Physeter. Their name is derived from the spermaceti organ which fills most of their very large heads, and aids in both echolocation and in their incredibly deep dives that they do in search of food. Spermaceti (i.e. sperm oil) was a prime target of the whaling industry, and was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles. Sperm whales also sometimes produce ambergris, which is a waxy waste product of their digestive system, and it is highly valued as a fixative in perfumes among other uses.

One of the biggest concerns in regards to marine species with seismic research is the amount of noise added to the water from the sound sources used to collect the data. These noises can potentially harass or harm these species, adversely affecting not only those individuals being exposed, but also the overall populations of those species. This is of particular concern for protected species, whose overall populations are considered to be threatened or endangered. Our job is to monitor the area around the sound source for protected species, and to mitigate for them to reduce how much they are potentially impacted by our activities within the environment in which they live.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Meet the Team! Science Officer David Martinson

Let's meet more of the ship team - Science Officer David!

I had traveled the world extensively in my 30-some years of being in offshore seismic exploration, and many of them were (and still are) not places you really want to visit. During my time with Lamont I have toured the Pacific ring of fire, Pago Pago, Tonga, Fiji, Taiwan, the Aleutians, Pacific Northwest, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, and New Zealand. On the Atlantic side there is the Atlantic seaboard, Bermuda, the Azores, Spain, Iceland, the Mediterranean, the mid-Atlantic ridge, the Cape Verde Islands, and the South Atlantic. If you are willing to embrace different cultures, nearly every place will become a favorite. I still find new favorites and look forward to return visits to old favorites.

I think most people would think the travel to seemingly exotic destinations would be the biggest perk, but to me it is not. The shared experience with the new people you meet on every cruise, along with the underlying excitement about discovering, understanding, seeing, and participating in something new is the biggest perk.

On the technical support side, this is a very challenging line of work. It requires constant attention to detail, oft-times working with limited or no spare parts. A fixed time frame in which to accomplish the primary goals despite every negative influence or breakdown encountered is probably the most difficult. One has to plan outside the box routinely and be able to readily implement (at times) an untried alternative.

I have worked in the seismic exploration field since the 1980s. In 2006 I was working as a Project Manager for NCS Subsea on a project offshore Gabon, West Africa. I was asked by my boss (the VP of NCS) if I would be interested in doing some “gratis” consulting work for Columbia University. I said “yes”, and was put in touch with Dr. John Diebold, the chief scientist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. I worked with him via email on the design particulars of a 3D seismic survey. Through John Diebold I learned that Columbia had purchased a former Western Geophysical seismic ship and was doing a conversion to adapt it to have some ability for general purpose oceanographic research. I had worked for Western Geophysical for many years and was actively involved in the six ship building program in Ulsteinvick, Norway where the Western Legend (now Marcus G. Langseth) was built. I had also spent a lot of time on the Western Pride, which is the sister ship to the Langseth. While in Houston once for business, I was invited to see the Langseth (still under conversion) in Galveston. I traveled to Galveston, visited the Langseth, and ended up staying a couple of weeks to help get it rigged up for sea trials that were scheduled in January 2008. I ended up working assisting with the sea trials, and then was asked to help out on a cruise a month or so later. Pretty soon I was asked to be on every cruise. Through scientists and people from the NSF that I had met, I was encouraged to apply for a position at Columbia. I did and was accepted immediately. I had the best wishes for success from my previous employer, which is always a good thing to have. 

When I am off the Langseth, I do try to spend as much time at home with family as I can. Being absent for an extended period of time tends to make home tasks pile up. I also spend a fair amount of time at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory taking care of other related Langseth duties.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

24 hours through the eyes of The Night Crew!

Making sure that a marine science operation runs continuously 24 hours a day requires a small team prepared to flip their usual day schedule around!

By Massimo Bellucci

Welcome to The Night Crew  It's 02:00 in the middle of the ocean, and our seismic and science team are being fuelled by Sour Patch Kids and Cribbage.

So what does 24 hours look like for a night-dwelling science party member?

04:40 - Sam tells me: “Hey Massimo, why don’t you write a blog post on your 24hr day?”. Not enough time to think about my day... and Victoire and Matt arrive for the change shift, it’s 05:00. Time for two words, but then I go straight to sleep.

Usually, I wake up at 12:00, or at least I try, to enjoy the sun by reading a book outside. I take a coffee (the first of many), I meet Sam, who has lunch (actually his “breakfast”), Gilles with a cup of tea, and I get on the bridge deck. Here, I know that I might meet Alistair with his book. Not every day, it depends on the wind direction. The ship’s exhaust can be annoying. It’s nice to find the same people at the same time doing the same things, like when you say good morning to the postman every day. Here is quite different, as you might understand.

My shift starts at 14:00, I go down to the lab and the three hours pass quickly. If you are bored there is a competition for anything, from cribbage to ping-pong or the questions of the day (like the country that won the last table tennis Olympics. Yes, we are addicted to ping-pong!). I have noticed that people take challenges seriously around here. The main task during our shift is to check the acquisition of multibeam and chirp. Furthermore, in case of need, we give support to the doodlebugger team (see Shaun’s post) in deck operations. Usually we only help them with streamers and birds; I don’t think there are “gunners” born between us, except for Shelby and Brian, they actually are, but they don’t know it. In those cases, we are outside, in the middle of the night, sunrise approaching, taking care of “our” beloved birds and there is no better place to be.

When everything it’s apparently quiet, we try to take advantage of the PI’s experience and all the processing software available in the four computer workstations. Personally, I am spending time using seismic processing and interpretation software, which are useful for my thesis project. But it’s interesting to spend time with members of science crew working on topics other than yours,such as geochemistry. There is a lot to learn in the ship and every moment is useful.

17:00 is workout time at the gym. The ambience is cosy. Adrien throws the glove for the challenge on the row-machine but the real task is to run on the treadmill without hands, it is more dangerous than the wingsuit. I have only seen the captain make it...

Shower and dinner, which is actually my lunch. Yes, dinner at 18:15. It is late and only leftovers remain, the kitchen closes at 18:00. We have discovered that English people are not disturbed by this time, but it’s crazy for an Italian!! From 19:00 I take free time, which means... relax. I take a nap, I read a book, make public relations, games, everything that relaxes your brain. Around 21:00 there is the attempt to sight the sunset, but here we are quite north; the weather is not always mild. There is the possibility to watch a movie: the room is fantastic, the sofas comfortable, quality of the system excellent, a wide selection of films / TV series, popcorn available in the mess but a constant background noise (similar to a lawnmower) does not allow you to fully appreciate Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks. Sad!

At about 22:00 I go down to the laboratory again. Around 23:50 Sam launches the call to arms for “midnight meal”, which is actually our dinner. The best meal for me. The environment is familiar, without line and we also stay 50 minutes sitting, with spicy coffee and fried chicken. We all go back together in the laboratory and this is our most productive time... at 01:00!! I’m trying to work on my project, and by 02:00, Shelby shows up, which means our shift starts again until 05:00. I note that she has just woken up(!) and that her morning begins even though we’re on the same “shift cycle”. It's amazing how the ship is a 24h non-stop. There is no specific scheduled time to relax, to work, to sleep or to deploy streamers.

The arrival of Steffen at 04:00 is the signal that only one hour is left at the end of the shift and his morning freshness allows us to survive until 05:00. They look like the 24 hours of a classic winter Monday, but the small details during your day that make this a special place. And there is no place so far from the routine as a research ship, especially working in the night shift.... 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Meet the Team! PSO Alejandra Ramos

One of the critical teams on a seismic expedition are the Protected Species Observers who monitor the marine mammals and wildlife around the ship to mitigate their disturbance from acoustic activity. So let's meet PSO Alejandra Ramos from Mérida, México!

A dear friend of mine told me that her company was recruiting people, and she suggested that I could do a good job as a PSO. I sent an application and they called me for an interview. Apparently everything went well because here I am, in the middle of the sea!

Visual watch has to be conducted 30 minutes before the sunrise until 30 minutes after the sunset. You have to collect data such as weather conditions, visibility, wildlife sightings, and seismic operations every hour, and of course you have to keep an eye on the sea, looking for marine mammals or any other protected species (birds and turtles).

I am really new in this business (6 months), I only have been in the North Gulf of Mexico and now here in the North Pacific, which I think is my favorite place so far.

So far, blue whales are my favorite.

The blue whale is not only the biggest animal on Earth nowadays, it is the largest animal ever known to have lived on Earth! They can live up to 100 years!

I believe it is important because, that way, universities and oil companies can perform seismic surveys at the sea without harming species that are sensitive to those operations. Above all, we should keep the planet safe.

What do all of these screens actually mean?!

If you are wondering what we are doing during our shifts (2x 3 hours per day) it can be summarized in one sentence: “We are watching to see if computers are computing well” (Brian, 2019 com. perso. ). 

By Axelle Cap

What can they all possibly mean?!

In fact there are many screens (46!!) grouped on an entire screen wall
located in the lower part of the boat under the air gun deck, and we check if the acquisition is working well. Three teams can be distinguished here: the navigation team, the PSOs and the student team.

So let's break it down:

We, the student team (A), are working by groups of 2 or 3 persons. Our task is to adjust the phase (depth range) of the bathymetry to capture the seafloor depth from the Chirp. The Chirp (32) provides 2D data with accurate data until 10 m depth whereas the multibeam (33/34) provides 3D data (morphology) of the seafloor. We can adjust the incident angle of the multibeam to get greater, or lower, spatial resolution. Every 30 minutes we fill an Excel sheet (35) with various information (location coordinates, depth, shot number, direction and speed of the boat, wind force and direction, wave length, gravity, sea temp, salinity) from screen 19. On screen 33 there are waves curves indicating the heave, pitch and roll of waves (with practice you can also feel it directly when you walk in the boat). Screens 2 and 17 give the navigation direction and information about the boat. Screen 31 corresponds to water temperature according to the depth (only 4°C at 2500 m!). All this information will be used to know the environmental settings at any time of seismic acquisition.

Team A: I can see the seafloor from here!

The navigation team (B) is watching if the air guns and streamers are working properly. That means that when there is a shot every 15 seconds, the streamers receive a signal. They can have up to 4 streamers (line of receivers behind by the boat) to take care of. If there is something wrong with one of them, they launch the alert and then the team start to bring back the air guns and the failing streamer. They can contact the bridge at any time to adjust the navigation plan, depending on the needs of the science party and to fill the gaps of the navigation plan. They can control the birds (modules with wings located on the streamers) depth at distance in order to adjust the depth of the streamers down to 16 meters for our cruise. It is important to keep the streamers at the correct depth otherwise they can be damaged by a too high depth (birds have also a security system in case of issue). Screen 20 (RMS window) gives information about the velocity in the water column and noise proportion in the channels. Screens 7 and 8 give an idea of seismic signal, so if you have informed eyes you can guess shape of the magma chambers or other features.

Team B: Everything looks ship shape and in the right direction

The PSO team (C) is looking for mammals from the outside tower during the day and listening to them during the night using acoustic monitoring. If mammals are communicating, their “voice” can be detected by sonar. If they are too close (less than 1 km) from the boat we have to stop to shoot to not disturb them too much. Screen 45 shows the PSO team live acoustic signals from the water column where they can distinguish the frequency, amplitude and length of an acoustic signal; different mammals produce different sounds. Screen 46 helps them to locate any sources by bearing and distance from the ship. 

Team C: Watching for whales...

Other notable screens and devices:
Did Italy score Massimo?!
  • Camera screens (1/6/9/11): Almost every part of the boat has a camera, and most of the time there is nothing to watch on it, but there are 3 exceptions. (1) When operations on gear are taking place of the desk you can stake if other students are working efficiently and not resting! (2) “pongvision” is surely the most important and diverting one: you can watch a ping-pong match live like in a stadium but comfortably seated and without screams in your ears. (3) It is a long time that you are here in the basement/hold of the boat, so if you want to have an idea of the weather, you can have a look on the screens (S9).

  • News screen (S5): we don’t understand most of the 16 lines of this screen with so many numbers(!) but 2 things are noticeable: (1) you know that we are not shooting (turning or fixing gear) if the 15th line is red, and (2) you can get international news in English and even in French (the French community is well represented on the boat!) on the last line, if you are patient, as the words appear slowly. Newsflashes are really randomly ordered: you can learn important international news in a sentence and the next sentence will learn you that a new mosquito has been discovered in the unknown forest of somewhere unknown in the world.

  • Phone: calls from bridge to the navigation team or if the PSO see a whale from the observation tower.

  • Walky-talky: communications during operations are made by radio, you won’t understand well what is said because of crackling but it seems ok for people used to.
First discussions at the map table
  • The map table: It is here than you can have a look to know where we are. Normally you see a black triangle in the middle of a pack of red lines (shooted lines) and white lines (scheduled lines). Sometimes you see the triangle in middle of nowhere, we are not lost but just fixing the gears and out of the studied area. This table has also many other important roles. It is like the countertop of a pub... but without beers. It is THE place where: (1) Tom brings candies and sweeties every day (the best ones are the pistachios in my mind), (2) the “question of day” is located, and (3) for a week where the Cribbage tournament took place. Here you can see the best Cribbage player of all the pacific battling for the top spot!