Michael T Simmons Elementary
Friday January 20th, 2006
Blog entry by Trina Litchendorf
Mrs. Glass’s 5th grade class at
has been visiting this webpage and they were wondering what it is like to live and work on a research vessel. Mrs. Glass’s daughter, Jennifer, is one of the students on this cruise.
I think living and working on a ship is a lot of fun. The ship we are on, the Thomas G. Thompson, is 274 feet long (almost the length of a football field) and is 101 feet tall from the water line to the main mast and there are seven decks (floors) inside.
There are some cool things about this ship. I visited the engine room where the generators that power the ship are located. Those generators give off a lot of heat and it is HOT down there, 115 degrees! Luckily for the engineers there is an air-conditioned control room. The ship can hold up to 270,000 gallons of fuel and uses on average about 2000 gallons a day, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on how fast the ship is going. There are six generators, three big ones each weighing 14,000 pounds and three smaller ones about half that size. Three are used for propulsion and the three smaller ones are used for ship services. The generators power two big DC electric motors that run the propellers. The really cool thing about this ship is that it doesn’t use a rudder for steering, instead there are two big propellers in the back and in the front of the ship there is the bow thruster that shoots out a jet of water. Each one of these can rotate independently of each other 360 degrees and they enable the ship to use dynamic positioning to keep the ship on a GPS position to within a few feet. They also enable the ship to move backwards and sideways too.
Up on the bridge there is not a giant wooden wheel for steering the boat. In fact, this ship runs on autopilot most of the time while at sea. The Captain can plot a course on the computer and the ship's computer keeps the boat on course. Of course there is always someone in the bridge keeping an eye on things. When we are on station and doing a CTD cast or a net tow, the ships dynamic positioning system will keep the ship on location.
On a research ship, work goes on around the clock, 24 hours a day. We all have watches to stand. I was given the 12-4 watch, that is 12 noon to 4 pm and again from midnight to 4 am. While on watch I have to help out if we are doing any CTD casts or other operations. If the ship is just transiting to the next station while on my watch then I can work on my own stuff; in fact it is 3 o’clock in the morning as I write this. I have found it a little hard to get used to this schedule and haven’t been getting as much sleep as I’d like, but I haven’t been too tired, probably because there is so much happening on the ship.
Jan Gawel shows us the generators in the engine room.
The bridge of the Thompson, where the ship is steered from.
A stryofoam cup before and after it visits the deep sea.
Kathy Newell at sunset.
All this work makes you really hungry. Luckily the ship has really good cooks so there are always a lot of yummy things to choose from. At breakfast, there are pancakes, eggs, french toast, hash browns, bacon and sausage. There is even a big selection of cereal too, everything from Fruit Loops and Coco Puffs to Grape Nuts and Granola. Lunch and dinner are also very good with soup and salad and a variety of different entrees to choose from. And after dinner there is desert too, cake, pie or even ice cream. In between meals there are cold cuts for sandwiches, PB & J, cookies, popcorn and other snack. You’ll never go hungry on this ship, it can carry enough food for 72 days!
One thing oceanographers like to do to amuse themselves is to decorate Styrofoam cups using colored markers. Why? You may recall the CTD instrument I mentioned in an earlier log. We sometimes send this instrument down to deep depths where the water pressure is very great. When we are planning a deep cast, we decorate the cups and put them in a mesh bag and tie it to the CTD. The other night, we sent the CTD down to 3250 meters, that’s about a mile and a half below the surface. The pressure at these depths causes the air in the Styrofoam bead to be pushed out and the cups to shrink. When the CTD comes back up we have miniature cups! You can see the difference in the before and after picture. They make great souvenirs of the cruise.
It can be hard work at times, but there is still time for relaxing. The ship has a library with lots of books for us to borrow and there is a lounge with a wide-screen TV and hundreds upon hundreds of movies to choose from. There are computers for us to check our email on and in the main lab there is even a ping-pong table. The other night, some of the Ecuadorian scientists were teaching us how to salsa dance! Sometimes there is time to lie out on the deck and work on your tan. There are two hammocks strung up on the forward deck and the other night I slept out under the stars with the ship rocking the hammock and listening to the sounds of the waves crashing as the ship moved through the water.
And the stars! One of my favorite things about being out at sea is looking at the stars. You have never seen the stars like this before. Out on the ocean there is no light pollution from nearby cities and the ship travels at night with its lights off. On a clear, moonless night you can see thousands upon thousands of stars all the way to the horizon. There are so many stars that one person commented that it looked like fairy dust in the sky. You can even see the faint glow of the Milky Way stretching across the sky, something I’ve only ever seen at sea.
There is something new to see every day. Whether it is seeing a pod of whales, an amazing sunrise, sharks circling the ship, shooting stars, dolphins swimming in the bow wake, flying fish gliding over the water or even looking at strange and mysterious zooplankton under a microscope, I never get bored while out at sea.
I think being an oceanographer is one of the best jobs in the world. Imagine a job where going to work means going to the Galapagos
on a research ship. It certainly beats going to an office! My work and studies have taken me to
and now to the Galapagos. I’ve wanted to be an oceanographer since I was about your age. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau on television and spending my summers exploring the beach. There are still so many new things to discover in the ocean and I think oceanography is one of the most exciting and fascinating fields of study…but maybe I’m a little biased.
“There is nothing absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
The Wind in the Willows