Main St to Main St

JEverest@ECORD_IODP_DSC02750So I live on Main Street back in my wee village in Scotland, though it doesn’t share many similarities with Main Street on the Fugro Synergy, our vessel for Expedition 381. It’s warmer here for a start. It would be t-shirt weather during the daytime (if I ever really saw much daytime) though the nights are pretty chilly. This is made worse by the fact Graham won’t turn the heating on in the ESO Office container. It’s OK for him, he doesn’t sit right by the open door.

I also don’t have a sea view at home. All I have to do here is turn my head to the left, and there it is, the Gulf of Corinth. If I walk ten paces to the starboard rail, at night I can watch anything up to 50 dolphins frolicking (and yes we have discussed the use of the word frolicking. It’s acceptable for dolphins) in the waves next to the ship. When the sun comes up I can watch the sparkling blue waters rolling past in the sunshine, with the snow-capped Parnassos Mountains behind.


My neighbours are just as friendly as those in the Scottish Borders, but morning coffee here is shared with scientists and engineers from Germany, France, the UK, the USA… and Graham, who lives 300 yards from my house at home anyway. On the opposite side of the very Christmassy looking Main St right now I can see Rob examining a section of core, teasing out the fine-scale differences in the sediments. Marcie is staring down her microscope, looking for diatoms, whose species distribution and type will tell us more about the ancient environments preserved in the cores, and whose reproductive habits we only discovered this morning. Donna is lost in synthetic seismics, correlating our core logs with the existing seismic interpretations of the rift geology. Next door Patrizia is curating the latest core that has been recovered, sampling at various points for all sorts of later analyses. In the same container Simone is preparing her speciality, a Squeeze Cake (yum), forcing pore water from the sediments for geochemical analysis. Next door along, Vera is making sure all the data is safely compiled in the onboard database, and probably worrying that I’m going to ask her for another randomly shaped USB cable as I walk past. The MSCL (Multi Sensor Core Logger) container is currently quiet, as Laurence is making himself a coffee back in the office container, but normally he’s in there on his own in his temperature-controlled lab, ensuring the highly sensitive instruments capture the tiny variations in physical properties of each core perfectly. Back across the Street, the sounds of Metal leak from the Geochemistry lab. I think Clint is listening to Slipknot this morning as he is precipitating zinc sulphides in the pore water samples…. I don’t even pretend to understand that. Returning to the Office, Graham is looking out of the door- “Next one’s up- give ‘em the call…”. It’s the signal that a new core has finished its journey from over 500m below the sea bed and up to the deck of the Synergy, and that it’s time for it to start the next part of its journey through our labs and curators hands.

It is 3am.

I wouldn’t be awake at this time on Main Street back at home, and probably neither would anyone else. However here this ridiculous schedule has become normal very quickly, and this Main Street never shuts…


Staying on the Spot

Chief officer Sebastian and the DP consoleby Evert van den Berg (2nd Officer, DPO)

To be able to drill in the seabed hundreds of meters below the sea surface Fugro Synergy needs to stay in the same position on the surface, sometimes for weeks at a time. As anchors would be impractical in the water depths we work in Fugro Synergy is equipped with a Dynamic Positioning system (DP for short), meaning she is kept in position using her propellers.

The DP system receives input from a number of sensors (DGPS and hydro-acoustic beacons for position, gyro compasses for heading and several wind meters) and then continuously calculates the trust settings (both force and direction) required on the propellers to generate the exact forces needed to counter the outside forces and stay in position. In the generally quiet waters of the Gulf of Corinth we are often able to keep the ship within about 20cm of the set position, though we may move over a meter in the strong squalls that sometimes blow through the Rion strait. On one occasion we recorded a 75kn (140km/u) gust while holding position on the DP.


An interesting piece of history: While DP systems are quite common today in the offshore oil/ gas and wind energy sectors as well as on cruise ships, the first predecessor of the technology was actually developed for a ship used by an early predecessor of the IODP. They used converted barge called the CUSS1 during project Mohole in 1961 that attempted to drill through the earth’s crust where it was thinnest: on the bottom of the ocean. As the water depths were much too deep for anchors the barge was kept over the borehole using 4 thrusters operated manually in combination with a crude sonar system to indicate the position which kept them within around 180m of the site, just enough not to bend the pipe too much. 60 years of improvement in computers, positioning systems, electric drive converters and ship design have helped a lot in making our jobs easier!

2nd officer Vlad controlling the ship on DP

The DP system is controlled from the bridge, and while the computer is doing the hard work of constantly correcting the settings of the propellers it is monitored by the one of the duty Dynamic Positioning Operators (DPO). The DPO has to make sure that all parameters stay within limits and also anticipate changes in the weather and other operating conditions. In case of failures the DPO can switch between the multiple systems that provide redundancy, or can take over manually as required; different control modes are available in case of failures from fully automatic, via joystick to control to full manual. As on most ships the DPOs are also the officers in charge of the navigation of the vessel and our normal DP watches consist of a senior and a junior deck officer who are on the bridge together, taking one hour turns at the DP system controls. The chief officer and first officers are changing shifts at midnight and mid-day, while the two 2nd officers are changing at 0600 and 1800 to make sure there is enough overlap between shifts.

Also on the bridge is the survey station, here the surveyor determines the exact position of the borehole. First the position of the ship is fixed using GNSS receivers that can use signals from both GPS and GLONASS satellites which are then corrected using Fugro’s Starfix system to an accuracy of <10cm. The exact position of the Seabed Frame (and drill pipe leading through it) is then fixed using the USBL (ultra-short baseline) hydro-acoustic systems integrated in Synergy’s hull and a transponder mounted on the frame.

Surveyor Golden working on fixing the postion

Hidden Depths

Our drillers and ADs are multi talented. Having the ESO team on board the Fugro Synergy has moved some of our drilling team to commit their experiences to verse. We thought these were awesome! Thanks to Sean, Adam and Dan!


Driller’s Poem

Zero to Hero in 5 easy meters,

Running around deck I’ve heard that Dan’s feet hurt.

Turning and churning were stuffing her in,

Over my shoulders the eyes are watching.

All going smooth, all happy all well,

Oh s#*t there’s sand. Good sample- farewell!!

Pulling it back, a bit nervous and twitchy,

Graham beside me his feet seem quite itchy.

Barrel on deck, here comes Dave with a frown,

Always concerned that our rates will come down.

Cheer up my handsome the bleddy things full,

I can’t believe you were worried at all.

Sean Baxter

Nightshift Driller


Rooster Box Poem

Up in the Rooster Box

Looking down from above

Waiting for the tool

To show its face from the mud

Me and my Filipino friend

Try and keep spirits high

As the driller sends us up high into the sky

Chilly today around 30 knots

But the view isn’t lost upon the oceans we cross

Shift’s almost over, time for some lunch

Chicken and chips

Yep…..every day of the month

Quick gym sesh

Then off to count 40 sheep

Sandwich Dan’s turn tomorrow

Time to sleep now…peace

ADs No.1.5 (Adam) and No. 1 (Dan)