Meanwhile, Back on the Deck…

Monday, March 3, 2014

Today marks the beginning of another workweek and like any Monday, everyone on board is preparing for a busy week ahead. As can be expected, the weather forecast for the week is influencing our decisions. However, unlike a typical Monday at home, the weather will affect not only the morning commute but also the type of scientific work that can be accomplished. With the variety of scientific disciplines operating on the vessel, each scientific team must take turns deploying and recovering instruments. This means that while one group is occupied with collecting their samples, other groups use that time to focus on keeping lab space clean and performing preliminary analyses. In addition to the scientists, a dedicated crew of marine technicians works continuously on the back deck, no matter what project is being deployed. Without their technical skill, hard work, and expertise, it would be impossible to deploy or recover the various coring devices, CTDs and dredges that constitute the main body of our scientific sampling operations. These MTs, as they are known, are one of the Palmer’s most important assets.

MT's burning midnight oil

Burning the midnight oil; Ross Hein, Jullie Jackson, Katy Smith and Kelsey Winsor work on a Jumbo Piston Core.

As any of the MTs will attest, the most important quality to have while on the ship is flexibility because as new data come in, surprising and interesting regions appear frequently and without warning.  This is especially true in an unexplored territory. An area where the ocean floor bathymetry shows a significant drop might call for deployment of a CTD. Analyzing processed seismic data may reveal the perfect site for a dredge or may indicate a small pocket of unexpected sediment that will prompt a core to be collected.  Because new information is coming in constantly, the plan of the day is always changing, requiring all crewmembers to be ready to stop work on one project if another project becomes a priority.

Few people are required to be as flexible as the MTs on board. Much of the equipment that gets deployed into the water requires both extensive setup and operation, and the science crew depends on the MTs for this. In addition to the changing projects, there are also rapidly changing weather conditions that come into play. Because the back deck is mostly exposed, equipment can only be deployed in suitable weather conditions. This only adds to the variables that the marine technicians must keep track of in order to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Along with their flexibility, the marine technicians are well versed in how to operate the machinery used to take samples. The Palmer is equipped with a variety of winches and coring devices, all of which are hydraulically powered. In order to maintain safety, the MTs put together and take apart the sampling equipment on deck, deploy and recover equipment, and operate the winches. This ensures that the equipment and the crew are safe, and that sample material can be recovered efficiently.

Marine technicians also often take on a MacGyver-like role. Because of the remote location and extended length of cruises, access to resources and the ability to order new parts are both very limited. In the event that a piece of machinery or research equipment breaks, the science crew turns to the MTs for assistance. Thus, the marine technicians must have a comprehensive knowledge of how each piece of machinery works, the tools that are present on board, and how to utilize all available resources in case of a malfunction. Fortunately for the science crew, our marine technicians, Jullie Jackson, Hannah Grey, Ross Hein, Dan Powers, and Jeremy Lucke possess the know-how and flexibility to keep things running smoothly and ensure that the scientific crew can do their best work.


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