July 2018 saw two ATLAS researchers, Graham Tulloch (me) of the British Geological Survey and Sabena Blackbird of the University of Liverpool, join almost 40 ArcticNet scientists on board the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen, to lower equipment for sampling the sea bed and to take samples and measure the sea water in the Canadian Arctic.
The expedition started following a short helicopter journey from Iqaluit airport to the Amundsen ship. Once on board everyone had to undertake a familiarisation visit of the ship before being let loose on their labs and work spaces. For me this meant finding several boxes of equipment loaded on to the ship in Quebec several months before.
My task was to position and attach the measuring and recording equipment on to two sea bed landers before we reach the locations in the Labrador Sea at which they have to be deployed, in 3 days’ time. Although I have been working offshore with the British Geological Survey for almost 40 years, I have never come across a lander before, so it’s going to be a new experience for me.
The Job in Hand
There are 12 pieces of equipment to fix down, including a flag and a float line, to each lander, and I have to change the lifting hook on both. Where do I start? With the easy ones or the important ones (just in case I run out of time)?
I start with the largest on the premise that I can fit the smaller pieces around it. Unfortunately the bolt holes do not match with the holes on the lander, so I select another instrument. This one has to be programmed before it is deployed but I cannot connect it to my laptop, despite having (what I think is) the software and an RS232 (the right cable).
I have problems with the next two instruments. I am beginning to be a little concerned.
I decide to place the radio beacons on the first lander and call it a day.
A New Dawn
After a long think and a short sleep, I have a new plan! I waken to a bright, sunny and cold morning. A minor adjustment to one of the instruments allows that to be programmed; a minor success but it feels like a huge one. Fortunately, Shawn Meredyk of Amundsen Science has the software programs I need and can connect to the equipment I tried yesterday. Another success! Things are looking up. I exchange the lifting hooks and suddenly the day gets brighter.
The following day brings more progress and meetings with the crew who will be responsible for deploying the landers. These familiarisation talks in the comfort of the tv lounge are important safety discussions. The crew need to know what the equipment is, where they can lift it from, tie safety lines to and which parts are sensitive or fragile. I have taken a number of photographs to illustrate the various talking points and the Mooring Engineer hosts the discussion, in French.
A final meeting with the Chief Scientist and Principal Investigators to discuss the timetable for the launch is held and it is back to the deck to complete the first lander.
A very long day finds the first lander complete and the second started. The ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) is deployed to conduct a video survey of the sea bed around the chosen location to ensure the area is suitable for the lander. Following a “toolbox talk” (a final safety discussion on the deck) the lander is craned into position on the deck and attached to the winch to be lowered to near the sea bed when a signal will be sent to the release mechanism which will allow it to settle on to the location where it will remain for 12 months.
There is no time to relax, the second lander must be ready in two days. This build goes more smoothly than the first as communications problems have already been resolved and lessons have been learnt. Thanks must go to my two helpers, Gustavo Guarin a PhD student at Université Laval and Kandice Piccott of Amundsen Science, without whom I would not have made the deadlines.
A last-minute request to add a piece of equipment to the lander for one of the scientists on board requires a late-night construction of metal housing and it is ready to go!
A shorter “toolbox” in the morning and the second lander is deployed. My job is finished but someone else’s has not yet begun.
This time next year, someone will be back to collect the landers and download all the data the instruments have been logging. This will be passed to various labs for interpretation to help build the picture of the composition and movement of the currents of the Labrador Sea and how these connect, are associated with, and affect the water of the Atlantic Ocean.