This blog entry is for the students in Fairfax, VA and Beaufort, NC who have emailed questions to the ship through our Ask-A-Scientist program. Thanks for the questions — I hope you like the answers.
Every core, section, and tiny little toothpick of nannofossil ooze becomes a labeled sample complete with a barcode just like the grocery store. In fact, each plastic core liner has the drill site, hole, section number and means of drilling inscribed on it just in case the label is lost. Sometimes the labeling drives us a little crazy. Beware of a pat on the back when you’re in the labs; you’re likely to be wearing a label of your own.
My friend Gary Acton, a paleomagnetist, put a label on me. It read, “Ask me anything. I know all the answers.” I don’t know all the answers and that’s the real fun of my job. When students like you send questions, I can jump up from my desk by the big picture window to the sea to see the person who might have the answer. If the answer requires a trip to the drill shack, or the catwalk where the core comes in, then I put on my hardhat, steel-toed boots, and safety glasses. If the answer can be found in the engine room, I would have to add ear protection. A trip to the Bridge is always fun, and for me it means a few minutes outside (more fun outside than in) and a couple of flights of stairs. I begin with, “I have (insert number here) question(s).” Captain Alex always says no — then smiles and provides the answer. In fact, everyone is eager to share their knowledge and experience with students back on shore. I am grateful to Tool Pusher and Senior Core Tech Bubba Attryde, Chief Engineer Dan Slobodzian, and to Captain Alex Simpson for their time and patience answering my questions. I can’t remember when I’ve learned so much.
Now, if you’re still reading, here are a few questions and answers we haven’t yet posted! Watch for more during the next week or two, especially from the scientists.
Where does the ship get gas, water, and other resources?
The JOIDES Resolution is a diesel electric ship which means we use diesel engines to run generators to produce electricity and we use the electricity to run motors that move the ship and power pumps, lights and everything else we need to live out in the middle of the ocean. The diesel engines burn diesel fuel, not the gasoline you would use in a typical car. We load the fuel when the ship is in port from barges or pipelines from shore tanks. The JR can hold nearly 1 million gallons of fuel! With careful planning we make sure enough fuel is onboard at all times to meet the needs of the coming voyage. The ship can use about 40 tons of fuel a day when cruising at full speed. We have to bring it all with us.
Drinking water is also loaded into tanks while in port, but we can not hold enough for a complete voyage. So we have to make our own water from sea water. Once we are out in the ocean away from land we use equipment called evaporators or distillers to make fresh water from sea water. Simply stated, we boil the water, collect the steam and condense it. All the salt and other contaminants stay behind and only fresh water becomes steam to be cooled into fresh water. The high temperatures of the boiling also kill any bacteria that might have been in the water. The ship uses around 50 tons of water a day and we have to make it all. Laundry, washing, food preparation all use the water up pretty fast.
Do the toilets on The JR use fresh or salt water?
Fresh, and now you know where we get the fresh water! Just in case you want to know, we shared a bit of information about our waste and how we handle it in the comment section about a month ago. I gave Leslie a stick-on poster about the MARPOL Anti-Pollution Regulations that we follow. Hopefully, she’ll get that scanned in and on the site before she leaves the ship 🙂 .
How big can the waves get before you have to stop drilling?
Bubba says about 4 meters. I learned while watching Nick Parrish and Bubba in the drill shack (aka doghouse) that all waves and heave effect drilling. The drillers, winch operator, and dynamic positioning officer all have to work together (even though they can’t see each other) to deal with the waves that lift and drop and push the ship around. The heave compensator does a pretty good job of keeping the drill string stationary while the ship rides the waves around it. But it isn’t perfect, so the drillers have to use their experience and judgement to handle the effects of the waves. It’s amazing and the scientists really appreciate their efforts. — LP
How long does it take for the drill to pick up the rocks?
When we’re drilling through hard rock formations, it takes up to an hour per meter of core. Each core is 9.5 meters long, so that can really be slow. On this expedition, we were in nearly 5000 meters of water and coring sediments and oozes most of the time. Despite the depth, we often brought core on deck every hour, just like a clock, all day long. You might want to watch the animated video on the Multimedia page that shows how we do it.
Is there any possibility that the JR might cut through the Earth’s crust?
We have cut through the outer layer of the crust and it took us a very long time! In fact, we had to return to Site 1256 three times to get there and it was in a very thin part of the crust compared to the continents and other parts of the ocean. Some scientists want to keep working until we get deeper so that we can understand lots more about the crust and mantle.
Toolpusher and Senior Core Tech
Photo: Top: First core of the expedition. Bottom: One of the larger waves we encountered during Expedition 320. Credit: Bill Crawford, IODP Imaging Specialist.