Reunited in Newport

This week, two of Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s research vessels – Sally Ride and Roger Revelle – were in Newport, Oregon in order to offload gear. Both Oregon State University and NOAA have wharf facilities on Yaquina Bay, where their own research vessels live, and scientists from those institutions (among others) were aboard the SIO ships. Sally Ride just completed a successful mooring switch-out in the Gulf of Alaska and Revelle is being used to launch WHOI’s ROV Jason (who you may remember came aboard Sally Ride back in November) on a series of research expeditions this summer. 

R/V Sally Ride (left) and R/V Roger Revelle were both tied up in Newport, Oregon this past week. Photo by UNOLS technician Tina Thomas.

Though there are a few ways to distinguish the ships from each other, the easiest is the placement of their HiSeasNet internet domes. As you can see in the photo above, Revelle‘s is up at the very top of the mast (right), whereas Sally Ride has two on the deck above the bridge

The tides and currents getting in to Yaquina Bay can be pretty extreme, requiring planning in order to navigate safely in the channel and under the arch bridge that spans the bay as part of scenic Route 101. Large ships like the research vessels time their entries and exits for the “stand of the tide.” Also known as slack water or slack tide, this is the time in the tidal cycle where water is neither ebbing nor flowing. If there’s any delay, the ship has to wait close to six hours for the next window of opportunity.  

R/V Roger Revelle (left) photographed by Sally Ride‘s Chief Engineer Paul Bueren as it arrives in Newport. R/V Sally Ride (right) as it departs Newport. This was photographed by restech Josh Manger from the deck of Revelle at the same time the header photo (top of the page) was taken by Chief Mate Wes Hill from the deck of Sally Ride.

Many crew members in the Scripps fleet have worked aboard both research vessels at some point in their career, so there’s a lot of overlap, camaraderie, and friendships among the crews of Sally Ride and Revelle. There were excursions around town while both ships were in port – to see the sights, eat excellent seafood, and of course visit the local brewery. 

R/V Revelle has a few more trips in and out of Newport in the coming weeks, but R/V Sally Ride is now on her way home to San Diego. Stay tuned to the ship’s social media pages for pictures of her triumphant return after months away!

Mooring Work in the Gulf of Alaska

R/V Sally Ride is back out at sea after months of upgrades in the shipyard. This first research cruise has scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Oregon State University working on site at an array of moorings in the Gulf of Alaska to recover and deploy anchored strings of oceanographic instrumentation.

Illustration of all the equipment monitoring station Papa.
From OOI’s website.

Station Papa has been a community study site for nearly 70 years and currently supports multiple mooring strings, including a NOAA surface buoy. The OOI (Ocean Observatories Initiative) has been deploying three moorings there since 2013. Once a year, a research vessel full of OOI scientists and technicians makes the trip in order to change out equipment. This year’s trip aboard R/V Sally Ride will recover and deploy replacements of all three OOI mooring strings. All three deployments have taken place and recoveries have just been completed successfully. Each deployment takes up a whole day of work, as they are over 4,000 meters (two and a half miles!) long. They sit on the bottom of the ocean, weighed down by a 6,000 pound anchor, and reach to either 30 or 150 meters below the surface. Check out an earlier post about moorings, back when the ship was in science verification mode, for more details about how scientists use the ship’s equipment to deploy and recover instruments. 

Technicians prepare to deploy a WFP, which travels part of the mooring wire
to sample at different depths. Photo by UNOLS technician Tina Thomas.

There are multiple sensors on each string, including for temperature, salinity, oxygen, fluorescence, turbidity, and density. CTD casts are taken with each deployment in order to calibrate the new sensors using those connected to the rosette frame. Water from the bottles is analyzed in the lab onboard as well. One of the moorings has two WFPs (Wire-Following Profilers, the yellow instrument in the photo on the right), each of which travels up and down a certain part of the wire, sampling throughout its assigned portion of the water column. Each mooring also has sonars to measure backscatter. The large orange spheres in the photo below contain acoustic sensors. A sound wave is produced, and the reflection recorded, from which plankton and other biological populations can be determined. These are similar to the fish finder sensor that Sally Ride has mounted to her hull. 

R/V Sally Ride‘s fantail is part storage (anchors at far left) and part working deck (the anchor to be used for this deployment is in place at the edge under the A-frame) during mooring deployments. The orange spheres house sonar equipment, and the yellow ones are floats that keep the mooring string straight in the water column and bring the instruments to the surface when it’s time for recovery. Photo by UNOLS technician Tina Thomas.

With scientific work completed, R/V Sally Ride has started transiting to Newport, Oregon for offloading. It will then head south to its home port of San Diego. A busy schedule of cruises kicks off with the summer CalCOFI trip. More on that soon!

Back to Work!

The final steps of the new paint job were done with the
entire ship under cover. Photo by 2nd Mate Randy Christian.

R/V Sally Ride is back in the water after two and half months in a shipyard dry dock in Alameda, California. As you may remember from previous posts (here and here), there was a lot of work done to the ship during that time. Everything on the to-do list has been completed, including the addition of a CTD hangar, a reinforced forward 01 deck, and a new paint job. The crew is excited to have the ship back, and took her out in San Francisco Bay for a series of sea trials to make sure all the systems are working properly.

Scientists are now onboard and loading their gear for a research cruise. It will be a mooring trip out to Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) array at Station Papa, which is in the Gulf of Alaska, about halfway between Seattle and the Aleutian Islands. As with other mooring trips aboard R/V Sally Ride, this one will include the deployment and recovery of instrumentation designed to spends months to years in the water column.  

The transition time between shipyard work and this research cruise is brief, so everyone has been working flat out to make it happen. It’s gone from the seeming chaos of just a week or two ago during the final stages of work in the shipyard to the orderly setup of the working deck, where every piece of equipment is secured in place and ready to head out to sea.

What a difference a week makes! The back working deck of R/V Sally Ride towards the end of shipyard work (left, photo by restech Keith Shadle). The walkway is actually the top of the ship’s A-frame, which is in maintenance mode, lowered all the way onto the deck. On the right, taken this week, all that clutter is gone, the A-frame is in its usual configuration, and mooring gear such as anchors and floats full of instrumentation have been loaded and secured in place. (Photo by 2nd Mate Randy Christian, note the lovely San Francisco skyline in the background.)

At the end of this cruise, R/V Sally Ride will return to her home port of San Diego, where there’s a busy schedule of research cruises for the rest of 2017. We hope you’ll follow along!

R/V Sally Ride is back in the water after two and a half months in a shipyard dry dock. As 2nd Mate Randy put it "…as…

Posted by UC San Diego R/V Sally Ride on Saturday, July 1, 2017







She is with us

Most scientists that I know are passionate people because they’re working in a field that they’re interested in. And the environment you work in is important. So if you’re on an expedition in the high seas and you’re on a ship like this that is comfortable, that is gorgeous but functional in a very beautiful way…it just facilitates the good work and helps the scientists.”  – Tam O’Shaughnessy

People around the world know the name Sally Ride. Her legacy is so much more than America’s first woman in space – she was an advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and an expert that NASA called on long after her retirement. Her name on the ship’s stern, and in every data file the shipboard instrumentation creates, means that we at Scripps will never forget that we are carrying on part of Sally Ride’s legacy. But there will soon be another addition that will keep her in the forefront of our minds. Tam O’Shaughnessy, co-founder of Sally Ride Science and Sally Ride’s life partner, has generously donated some personal effects to be housed in a shadow box on the ship. 

Sally Ride’s flight jacket.
Donated and photographed by Tam O’Shaughnessy.

This includes one of her NASA flight jackets and patches from both of her missions aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Also included is a copy of the “Ride Report,” officially known as “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space.” The report came from a task force led by Sally Ride and was issued in 1987. Among other things, it called for learning about Earth from outer space. As you may recall from Tam’s speech intended for the ship’s commissioning back in October, Sally Ride’s space flights led to her future environmental work. “Mission Planet Earth” is what she called it, later writing a book for kids of the same name. Tam donated a copy of that book, as well as “Mission: Save the Planet,” both of which they wrote together and were co-published by Roaring Brook Press and Sally Ride Science.

Mission patches and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Donated and photographed by Tam O’Shaughnessy.


Rounding out the shadow box aboard R/V Sally Ride is the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded posthumously by President Barack Obama in 2013.  Tam accepted the award in an emotional ceremony that acknowledged Sally Ride’s heroic legacy and her relationship with Tam. As the president said, “Sally didn’t just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, she blasted through it. Today, our daughters — including Malia and Sasha — can set their sights a little bit higher because Sally Ride showed them the way.”

You may remember from a recent post that sister ship R/V Neil Armstrong houses that astronaut’s Congressional Gold Medal on the bridge, awarded to each member of the Apollo 11 crew in 2011. Neil Armstrong was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon in 1969 upon returning from the moon. Tam says, “The Medal of Freedom is really a beautiful medal…it says Sally K. Ride on the back and I just decided ‘All I’ll do is keep this medal in the safe in my house, so why not have it be part of the shadow box?‘” Scripps is grateful for Tam’s generous gifts. On display aboard R/V Sally Ride, they will be admired by a generation of scientists, many of whom grew up with Sally Ride as a role model, and all of whom are expanding on her legacy. 

Quotes from Tam O’Shaughnessy are thanks to Shannon Bradley and UCTV, who interviewed her aboard R/V Sally Ride. More from that interview coming to UCTV later this summer, so stay tuned!

Shipyard Status Report

R/V Sally Ride is entering the last few weeks of a planned shipyard period. Crew members and technicians involved in the process have shared that the ship is almost unrecognizable as work is being done from top to bottom to make it a more efficient and adaptable member of the Scripps fleet. 

Click on any of the pictures below for a larger version. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are thanks to 3rd Mate Randy Christian. If you’re interested in more, a previous post contains details and pictures about some of the main projects, and there are more pictures here

One of the biggest projects has been upgrading the forward 01 deck. This required cutting away the original deck, while making sure to protect everything in the focsle deck staterooms below. A new deck was then brought onboard using a crane and is being welded into place. This deck is stronger and has securing points so that container vans can be placed on it, allowing for better use of space on the back working deck. 

The anchor chain has all been replaced. R/V Sally Ride has an anchor on each side of the bow, plus one spare, each weighing 5,000 pounds. Anchor chain is measured in “shots,” with each shot being 90 feet long. The ship has eight shots of chain, so 720 feet total on each side, which is stored in a special locker. Each shot of chain is connected by a detachable link, (painted white and red in the pictures below). The chain closest to the ship is painted red so that it’s obvious when the last shot is being paid out. The crew wants to avoid using this section, as it’s intended to be extra in case weather warrants a longer length.

The ship has gotten new paint, including anti-fouling paint on the underwater portions, which will discourage marine plants and animals from attaching or growing there. For a little while, the ship looked very different, as the undercoat is black. Soon enough, it was back to the usual red color. Next up is the blue, which has been sanded and is ready for a fresh coat, though I kind of like the denim look it’s sporting right now.

Technicians and crew members are taking advantage of the shipyard period to make upgrades to many of the systems onboard. Running new cables, cleaning outdoor or underwater surfaces, and calibrations are all taking place. This has led to the interesting photos below of people in cramped spaces, or checking out instrumentation that is usually underwater. 

This shipyard period has been a whirlwind of activity. R/V Sally Ride is on schedule for sea trials in a few weeks, and then back to science cruises right away, returning to San Diego later this summer. Stay tuned for more! 

On the East Coast

The view from the fantail of R/V Neil Armstrong. Active amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and four YP (yard patrol) boats are tied up in the background. Midtown Manhattan looms in the fog. The oceanographic equipment in the foreground includes a REMUS autonomous vehicle outfitted with SharkCam. Check out amazing footage, and see how it got those scratches, here

I recently took a vacation to the East Coast, but couldn’t fully separate myself from R/V Sally Ride. Her sister ship R/V Neil Armstrong participated in New York City’s Fleet Week, so I got to see it as part of the Parade of Ships. It came down from Woods Hole, and lined up with aircraft carriers, destroyers, and other Navy ships to travel up the Hudson River, from the Statue of Liberty to the George Washington Bridge (see Twitter photo below). It then tied up at Pier 86, home of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Among other things, this museum showcases a retired aircraft carrier (USS Intrepid) and the space shuttle Enterprise, which was used only for test flights. Neil Armstrong was open for public tours during fleet week, and I jumped at the opportunity to scope out the differences between it and Sally Ride.

Neil Armstrong’s Medal of Honor is displayed on the bridge
of WHOI’s research vessel bearing his name.

Fundamentally, of course, they’re the same, and were made in the same shipyard. But there were some noticeable differences in how the crew and technicians that live and work there have set up their spaces. What on the Sally Ride is used as the electrician’s shop is assigned instead to the restechs on Armstrong, and their computer lab is more open lab space, instead of the server racks and desks for technicians on Sally Ride. The paint job is an obvious difference, with Armstrong’s house being a bit green instead of white. Officially it’s azure green, but is often referred to as “WHOI green” and has been used on all their modern research vessels. The memorabilia onboard is of course from a different famous astronaut, the first person to walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong’s Congressional Medal of Honor is on display on the ship’s bridge. The ship also has the fortified 01 deck and CTD hangar currently being installed on Sally Ride already in place. 

Sally Ride’s flight suit from her historic Challenger mission.

Another stop along the way was Washington, D.C., where I spent most of a day at the National Air and Space Museum. Always a favorite amongst the Smithsonian Institution’s amazing offerings, it houses a mind-boggling amount of vehicles and artifacts from throughout the history of flight. This includes some of Sally Ride’s personal effects, which were donated by her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy. The flight suit she wore on her first shuttle mission is there, complete with patches and the simple ‘Sally’ name tag she chose to wear. Displayed alongside it is the flight suit of Dr. Guy Bluford, the first African-American in space. Both historic trips took place onboard Challenger in 1983. 

An interactive exhibit at the Air and Space Museum, where kids are encouraged
to move each shuttle through its history-making lifetime of missions.

Sally Ride’s legacy, and that of the space program in general, will endure forever, and it’s an honor for SIO and WHOI to be a part of it. When Sally Ride returns from shipyard, there will be a display of memorabilia added, including a flight jacket similar to the one above, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded posthumously in 2013 by Barack Obama. Look for more on this in a future post!

Upgrades in the Shipyard

R/V Sally Ride is currently in the shipyard for some upgrades. It was always part of the plan for the new research vessels to spend a few months there at the end of their first year in service. R/V Neil Armstrong, which was delivered to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has been about six months ahead in the whole construction and verification process. As such, that ship is already done with its shipyard period and back to doing science. Sally Ride will soon be ready to get to work, with a full schedule already set for the rest of the year. Up first is a research cruise scheduled out of Newport, Oregon, and then the ship will return to San Diego just in time for the summer CalCOFI trip.

R/V Sally Ride in dry dock. The propellers have been buffed and the shafts and rudders are back in place. Note the blocks under the keel.
Picture by ROV technician Doug Penny.

The ship is currently in dry dock, which means it’s out of the water. Dry docking a ship is an involved process – the ship pulls into a submerged slip, which is then raised and the water drained. Divers steady blocks underneath the keel of the ship and secure it. This makes all areas, including those usually underwater, easy to access – and the work continuing over the coming weeks takes advantage of that.

A hole is cut in the side of the ship in order to add the
additional ballast. Photo by 3rd Mate Randy Christian.

One important item on the to-do list is to add more permanent ballast. The ship is lighter than expected, and thus floats higher in the water. This can throw off the instrumentation that is mounted to the bottom of the ship, including transducers that collect data about the seafloor, currents, and animals in the water column. Over 700,000 pounds of magnetite, a type of iron, have been added into chambers on the lower decks of the ship, which should lower the ship about a foot and a half. In order accommodate this work the propellers and shafts had to be removed, which required the rudders to come off as well. While they were off, the propeller blades were buffed and are all nice and shiny again (see above photo). 

Changes are being made to accommodate containers on the forward 01 deck, both for storage and lab space, which will lend more flexibility to Sally Ride‘s configuration. Currently, all containers are placed on the fantail, which is prime real estate for equipment staging and deck area for operations. This upgrade is no small task though, as the deck has to be reinforced in order to hold the weight of these containers and their contents, and sockets have to be added in order to secure them. The area in question is on top of the staterooms at the forward part of the focsle deck, including those for the Chief Scientist and Chief Mate. The entire deck will be sliced away and replaced with a new one that’s up to the task. Check out this post for pictures of that operation.

Shipyard workers wall off the opening between the wet lab and
what will become the new CTD hangar. Photo by Doug Penny.

Another big change is the addition of an enclosed CTD hangar on the starboard side. R/V Neil Armstrong got one just like it during its shipyard period and reviews are positive. Originally, the ships were designed with a rolling door between the wet lab and the deck, but reports of the wet lab getting too wet made it back from the Armstrong in time for the doorway to be patched on Sally Ride. Now that opening will be converted into solid wall, and paneling will be added to enclose the area forward of the CTD handling system (aka T-Rex arms). So CTD casts will still be deployed and recovered in the same way, but now the frame can easily be moved into a hangar, which makes sampling easier and more safe. 

There are also some changes being made for the comfort of crew and scientists aboard. One such example is that the opening between the galley and mess will be made larger. Lowering the bottom of the opening will allow shorter people to be able to reach salad fixings that are in the back row. And raising the top will make it so that taller people don’t whack their head every time (see Twitter pictures below). I was glad to hear of this plan – I am an average 5’7″ but have both hit my head and not been able to reach the snap peas.

Restech Keith runs cable on the 02 deck, also referred to
as the Hobbit deck, a low space just beneath the bridge.
Photo by Doug Penny.

Sally Ride will get a fresh coat of paint on those usually hard to reach areas – underwater and the freeboard (area from the waterline up to the main deck). There will also be upgrades to various pumps, drains, vents, tanks, and valves all over the ship. Once she emerges from the shipyard later this summer, R/V Sally Ride will be better equipped than ever to perform the numerous tasks that science parties require, including deployments and recoveries of myriad gear and top-notch sensor data collection. Scripps Institution of Oceanography is lucky to have such a workhorse in the fleet!

Check out these posts for more pictures from the shipyard

Back to the Shipyard

Shipyard Status Report


Crew Introductions: Electrician

“Sometimes it feels weird to be home. And when I get back to the ship, it just feels normal again. I really do enjoy going out to sea. I used to get homesick, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I actually found a job I enjoy.” 

Adam can usually be found in the electrician’s office just outside the lab.

Adam Goodbody has always had the skills and inclination to be an electrician, even helping his dad rewire the house as a kid. His uncle, a tanker captain and former SIO Chief Mate, suggested that he work at sea so that he could also see the world. So for the last three years, that’s exactly what Adam has done. Right out of high school, he began as an OS (ordinary seaman, see post about that job here) on the now-retired Melville. He then worked his way from wiper to oiler (see post about those duties here) in the engine room of R/V Roger Revelle. The Chief Engineer there knew he was interested in becoming an electrician, and made sure he learned those duties when he had time. Adam was then sent to R/V Sally Ride as day oiler while the ship was still in the shipyard in Anacortes, Washington. There, and on many of the science verification cruises, he trained under Manny, a long-time electrician on Scripps ships. And now the training wheels are off and Adam has been sailing as ship’s electrician for the last few months.

Coming aboard a brand new ship and learning about the electrical systems was a trial by fire experience (though thankfully not literally). As Adam says, “You start the engines from a screen, there’s no manual way to do it. The fact that everything is electronic on this ship means that my job is that much more important.” And he’s not overstating things, pretty much every component in every space falls under his purview. When things are running smoothly, he’s studying diagrams in anticipation of the day that something important breaks. “That’s my biggest fear. I want to have a basic understanding of everything on the ship before I have to fix some major problem. So I study constantly…and I hate studying.”

Adam at work, taking things apart and putting them back together.
This is his patient face, just after I made a joke about cutting the red wire. 

There are hundreds of these diagrams, and he showed me a few. To me, it just looks like a confusing jumble, which Adam assured me is normal. “It all looks like a bunch of jumbled up lines when you just look at it, but all you have to do is find a line and focus on it and you can tell where and what it is. There’s switches, junction boxes, but it’s not as complicated as it looks.”

Adam works a day shift. His morning rounds begin on the bridge and take him six decks down to the engine room. He checks on the lights and alarms all over the ship, as well as any equipment that’s plugged in outside on the decks. He also monitors the load on the ship’s UPS (uninterruptible power supply), which protects lab equipment from power surges and supplies a charge even if the main power is lost.   

The electrician is also treated like the ship’s resident MacGyver. If a scientist lingers sheepishly in the hallway outside the electrician’s office, you can bet that something has broken and they need help. I have definitely brought nonfunctioning instruments to them, putting on my nicest voice, and opening with “Hey…so, I have this problem…”

Adam trained AB Natasha and day oiler Dave on the operation of the winches, which run
the spools of cable or wire that scientists attach their instruments to before lowering them
into the ocean. I tried to sneak up on them to get a natural photo, but was noticed.

From waterproofing crates to soldering a circuitboard, from removing water from a winch on the back deck to fabricating Teflon pieces, or if the carburetor on your remote controlled kayak has stalled – Adam has seen it all and can probably help. Or give him a few minutes and he’ll catch up. Science parties try to bring everything they might possibly need (or at least they ought to), but if you forget tape, the drawers in the electrician’s office have like 12 kinds of tape, along with zip-ties (all sizes!), rope, screws, you name it. When asked what his favorite tool onboard is, Adam says, without hesitation, “…the sledgehammer. I’ve found there’s a lot of situations where it does the job. A few good smacks.” 

During his downtime on the ship, Adam shows up to game nights (see Twitter picture below), watches movies, and gets as much sleep as he can. Like many crew members, he extolls the virtue of having his own room. On Revelle, he had to change rooms often, moving in and out of other people’s rooms based on their schedules. Despite this, he says he’d be happy enough to go back to that ship, and says “It’ll be cool to see Revelle come into San Diego. I kind of miss that crew.” The ship just arrived into its home port for the first time since 2012, and will be working along the West Coast for the rest of the year.

Adam in the ship’s engine room.

Adam’s preferred schedule is to work about eight months a year, though this year he’ll only get two months off. When asked what he’ll do with that down time, he says, “I don’t have the full year with my friends and family, so I spend time with them. I enjoy whatever holidays I get at home. It’s not the same at sea – you still work your full day, though there’s usually some sort of treat from the galley.”

Down the line, Adam is interested in becoming an electro-technical officer, adding programming and networking knowledge to his skill set. There’s always work on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, where the money is astronomical. But he plans to remain aboard R/V Sally Ride, keeping the ship running smoothly so she can travel the world doing science. There’s still a lot he can learn onboard Scripps research vessels, and he’s eager to do just that. “I largely attribute why I enjoy working with Scripps to the crew. Any time I want to learn something, it’s not difficult to find a teacher in the crew.” Research cruises have taken him to nine foreign countries already in his short career, and Adam says that is a huge draw, “The adventure keeps me coming out.” 

Commemorative Coin

As you know, Sally Ride was America’s first woman in space. And now R/V Sally Ride is the only member of the academic research fleet named after a woman. Carrying her name is an important legacy, and one that we here at Scripps Institution of Oceanography are excited to be a part of. 

The coin on the highest deck of R/V Sally Ride, just before the mast
was placed. Photo by Paul Bueren. 

When the ship was being built in Anacortes, a bronze coin commemorating Sally Ride’s first mission into space was placed under the mast for luck. The coin, purchased on eBay by Chief Engineer Paul Bueren, shows the official NASA mission emblem, with the space shuttle flying over Earth. Seven stars and the shuttle’s robotic arm shown in the shape of the number seven denote the 7th shuttle mission. Sally Ride operated the arm in order to deploy and recover satellites during the mission. Also of note is the plus (female symbol) as part of the 5-pointed insignia, with the other four parts being arrows (male symbol) for the other members of the crew. 

From June 18-24, 1983 the space shuttle Challenger traveled 2.5 million miles with Sally Ride and the rest of the crew aboard. Though it’s impossible to compare, Scripps research vessels have traveled an estimated 7 million miles in our 100+ year history.

The mast is craned aboard. Note R/V Neil Armstrong already afloat in the background. Photo by Paul Bueren.
The coin (bottom center) was placed on the deck and the mast was lowered and guided into place on top of it. Photo by Paul Bueren.

Technicians At Sea: Computing Resources

“Yeah, it’s one big adventure, to travel the world, that’s cool and all – but the rewarding aspect I didn’t know until later was seeing the research I assisted with on the news. I felt proud to be part of something greater.”

Computer tech Daniel can often be found near the main lab’s wall of monitors,
keeping an eye on the countless systems he’s in charge of maintaining.
Photo by ROV tech Doug Penny.

Daniel Yang first started working for Shipboard Technical Support at SIO as an undergraduate student, programming applications for the Oceanographic Data Facility. Later he became one of the department’s Computing Resources (CR) technicians and in the last ten years has traveled around the world on Scripps research vessels, spending anywhere from a few days to a few months away from home. The techs are in charge of making sure everything digital onboard is working, including data collection and processing from all the sensors onboard. There are also ship networks to maintain, servers that the scientists use to share information. You’ve seen pictures of R/V Sally Ride’s “wall of monitors” in other posts – fifteen screens all showing readouts from different instruments  – and the CR techs are in charge of keeping them all up and running. 

Along with the resident technicians (restechs, see intro in a previous blog post here), the CR techs act as a liaison between the scientists and crew. No matter what the science objectives, every research cruise on R/V Sally Ride requires setup, tracking, and assistance from the computer techs. The coring group needed singlebeam echo sounder data to reliably collect sediment samples, the ROV group used an acoustic positioning system to track the submersible’s location, and many trips require CTD sensor data and bottle samples. In addition, there are many systems that run by default unless they interfere with primary science operations, like the seafloor mapping system and current profiler. Daniel works with the scientists in advance to make sure their needs will be met. “What the scientists want versus reality can be challenge, but we always try to accommodate the science,” he says, adding with a smile “We can’t break the laws of physics, but sometimes we’re asked to.” And if nothing else, no one can function without internet access these days, and Daniel is in charge of keeping that running as well.

Daniel gears up to climb the mast of R/V Roger Revelle to make repairs.

But he’s much more than just an at-sea IT guy. Daniel has had standard desk jobs in the past, and says “I probably wouldn’t want to go back to that. No, I don’t think I could sit in one place.” Trouble-shooting equipment on a research vessel can be “like a stair master when things go wrong,” he tells me, as there’s gear on every deck of the ship, not to mention up the three-story masts. The computer techs are also in charge of launching XBTs (eXpendable BathyThermographs), temperature probes used to determine the speed of sound in seawater, which can vary due to many factors and are needed to calibrate measurements made by onboard and deployed instrumentation. For this, Daniel dons the work vest necessary for any operation involving something placed over the side of the ship and makes his way to the fantail. For some reason, it seems to be tradition to prank a new scientist into helping with an XBT deployment and telling them how dangerous it is, loading them up with unnecessary protective equipment (see Twitter picture below). 

There is often only one computer tech on a research cruise, which means they may be called for assistance at any hour of the day. Without the routine of a work shift, Daniel adapts his hours to when he is likely to be needed. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get a call right after he’s hit an REM cycle or just gotten to the best part of a movie or book.

Daniel launches an XBT off the fantail of R/V Sally Ride.

Though it’s more likely to be interrupted, Daniel lists the same downtime activities that the other techs and crew members have mentioned in their interviews. “I read a lot of books, watch movies, rinse, repeat, eat, workout, that’s about it.” He also gets asked to help people with their personal computers, and is ready to help. It’s always good to be known as a helpful person and to make friends with the crew. “We’re stuck with each other for a month or more at a time, so it’s good to help each other out.” 

When asked what he would recommend for people who are interested in a job like his, he says “Practice being handy, even if you’re a programmer, knowing some basic things like soldering, hands-on stuff away from the keyboard, maybe build an RC car. Those skills really do come into play out at sea.” On one trip aboard SIO’s R/V Roger Revelle, the MET sensor stopped working. Short for Molecular Electronic Transducers, the gyroscopes, tilt sensors, and accelerometers are vital to both crew and science missions. Their location on the ship’s mast makes troubleshooting quite an undertaking. Daniel geared up with safety equipment, including a harness and hard hat, and made the climb. It turned out to be a short in the wire, which he cleaned up with a pencil eraser and then repaired – all while about nine stories above the ocean surface, in the middle of nowhere.

Having a brand new ship to set up and work with has been exciting for everyone at Scripps, but especially the technicians who are expected to know everything about keeping a research vessel running. R/V Sally Ride is now a passion project for those of us lucky enough to have been involved from the beginning, and one that Daniel is excited to be a part of for a long time coming.

“The ship is the most advanced in the world, and I really want to keep it that way.”

See more from Daniel at the R/V Sally Ride gallery at Birch Aquarium’s Explorations at Sea exhibit! Thanks to aquarium staff for the interview, taken for the “Meet the Crew” feature.