When I was offered a place on the JOIDES Resolution I thought I would be coming away from home for a bit of ‘peace and quiet’. Lovely! No traffic noise; no sound of tills ’pinging’ as every item goes through; no students shouting at each along the corridors or playing loud music in the car park! Heaven! I couldn’t have been more wrong! We are about 250 miles off the coast of Japan, in the middle of the ocean, but it certainly isn’t quiet here, because we are making a lot of noise! Goodness knows what the fish think!
The Joides Resolution is a very noisy place, but it has to be noisy in order to do its job. To the rear of the ship there are 7 very large 16 cylinder engines working all the time to provide energy for the whole ship. They drive the thrusters (sideways facing propellers) that are found all along the sides of the ship, which switch on and off constantly (computer controlled) to keep the ship within 2 metres of the drilling position – an amazing feat in 2 kilometres of water with a further kilometre of drill pipe below the sea-bed. They are essential but can be very loud particularly when they are battling against a high sea! Then there is the drilling floor – the drill pipe keeps turning, the crane keeps picking bits up, or dropping them down, and the wind keeps blowing through the rig. Even inside the ship there is the constant hum of scientific equipment and the diamond saw cutting through the rock cores, which adds to all those other sounds seeping in through every window and door.
There are dangers in this level of noise, particularly for those working outside. It is crucial for efficiency and safety that every engineer and driller, mechanic and crane operator can communicate with everyone else but that is difficult, especially since the drill rig is controlled from inside a small hut called the ‘dog-house’. So a series of hand signals has been developed to replace the spoken word. It is a language that everyone on the drill floor has to learn, and just in case they forget, it is pasted up on the wall nearby too! There is an old saying that goes: ‘actions speak louder than words’. In the context of the Joides Resolution it is very true!
It can be hard to sleep with all this noise going on 24 hours a day (most people use earplugs!), but you do adjust to it, and eventually you don’t notice the background noise during the day – indoors it is no worse than an office in a city. I once heard about a place where people went mad because of the constant, loud noise of the wind that went on all day and every day for six months of the year. I am glad that we are only going to be on the ship for 9 weeks!