Day 6 That’s not a winch – THIS is a winch!: Chantelle Cook

By October 2nd, 2017

The Investigator is pretty enormous. It is 94 metres long with 10 levels; 60 berths, which house up to 20 crew, 10 technical support staff and 35 research staff, depending on voyage objectives; and has about a trillion stairs.* It took a good few days to start knowing my way around the twisting and turning corridors and endless doors and stairwells. All crew members have been extremely accommodating, helping us when we are lost, and have made welcome “the teachers”, as Christian and I have affectionately become known.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of tours, which all the amazing people that make this ship operate have put on for our benefit. Science, does not just require scientists. It requires a range of people that support and facilitate to make the science happen. From electrical engineers, to crane operators to data analysists, there are many branches that collaborate to reach an objective. Over the past few days, these mini-tours have enabled us to piece together the jigsaw that puts together all the science on the Investigator.

We started off the morning with a tour from the Geospatial Survey and Mapping team (GSM). Here, Stuart told us all about some of the equipment used for mapping, including satellite and sonar methods used on board. The Investigator has a purpose-built, 13 metre multibeam echosound transmitting gondola on the hull. This enables a topographic map of the seafloor to be created. The acoustic beam can have a footprint of up to 30 kilometres either side of the ship, and can reach as deep as the ocean can go! However, the wider and deeper the footprint, the less effective the read—the shallower the water, the more accurate the data is. It can even measure deep down to the sediment of the seafloor, ideal for the core sampling we will be doing later in the trip.

Apart from mapping the seafloor, other science that can be found using this equipment are marine biology, such as plant and fish life, or resources, such as oil and gas. For this voyage, aside from bathymetry mapping and coring, we will be using this technology to search for the Macumba shipwreck! We also learnt how sonar helps with georeferencing and tsunami detection. The satellites we have on board receive satellite and GPS signals that are accurate to nine centimetres!

Our next tour was run by the Data Acquisition and Processing team (DAP), Pam and Steve, who essentially, are running a small corporate network on board. They set up everyone’s emails, laptops, computers, printers etc and get everyone on the network so scientists can log data. They also handle the management, storage and aggregation of data, which on some voyages can be up to eight terabytes of data! Steve wrote and designed a software system that talks to all the other systems used by scientists on board to bring everything together to be aggregated. The team then quality assure the data to make sure it is accurate. This work takes four servers and 50 virtual running machines! They then process the data to make it into deliverable product of lovely looking graphs, map and tables, which are released to various data banks, not just for scientists but for general public usage. The Marine National Facility has 32 years of this, highly maintained and well managed data—a great repository for Australia and the world.

Just when I thought this place could not possibly have any more stairs, we were taken on a tour of the engine room! Chris, the ship’s chief engineer, took us deep down into the heart of the ship. We saw winches of the most enormous proportions and they just kept getting bigger and bigger!

Chis explained the purposes of the different winches in relation to the scientific purposes. The general purpose winch is 8,000 metres long and capable of holding one tonne every kilometre! It is used for things like the underwater towing camera. The corer winch, which is used for the coring machines, uses Kevlar rope as it is lighter and floats rather than sinks, and builds pressure. Everything was just insanely huge, from the winches to the air compressors and the steering gear.

We then went to the control room and saw the operating panels to monitor all equipment—engines, pressures (fuel oil, water, speeds) and the temperature of electrical systems. There are huge amounts of these on board and keeping them cool is imperative to avoid fire. The generators used to power these systems, plus general electric use of board, generate enough power to power 10,000 houses! Some other mind blowing statistics:

  • The ship uses approximately 20,000 litres of diesel per day, running at 11-12 knots in good weather.
  • 15 knots is maximum speed but there is a huge increase in fuel usage so a big cost jump for only a few knots.
  • On this voyage we left port with 500,000 litres of diesel and will use about half.
  • The ship makes its own water in two ways—an evaporated water system and a reverse osmosis unit.

Chis and I stopped the tour here, as we did a live link-up with a school in South Australia to give them some insight into our trip. Watch this space for the second instalment of the engine room tour—we haven’t even got to the engines yet!

*Stairs are my own estimation.