Seeking Space Rocks

Sea Trials and Error

Elisa Aitoro / SOI
Jun. 03 2019

My love for the ocean began on the protected shore of Terrace Beach on Vancouver Island, surrounded by shorelines armored with rocky outcroppings that create structures for tide pools hundreds of organisms call home. I let the waves wash over my feet as I sunk deeper into the sand, my eyes fixed on the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Even as I stood there at only eight years old, I felt certain longing to unravel the secrets that the ocean holds – a constant that followed throughout my academic career. In the pursuit of this I have been a part of many short research cruises, ranging anywhere from three to twelve hours all within the Salish Sea. However, I have never been a part of a lengthier research cruise, nor have I done research in the open ocean.

The first field test was a shallow water dive with ROV SuBastian, checking communications while calibrating instruments and sensors.Elisa Aitoro / SOI
A view from one of R/V Falkor’s portholes.Elisa Aitoro / SOI

The R/V Falkor has been in dry dock for two months and it is time to return to sea. The first leg of this trip consists of sea trials where we will test out some of our key equipment before we can begin the science. One key system on board is the Ultra-short baseline, also known as the USBL, which determines the position of deployed equipment, such as the ROV. Calibration requires precise piloting skills. The Falkor must complete a cross-hatching pattern mapped around a beacon on the seafloor, combating swell and wind while sustaining appropriate speed. Testing is critically important. Waiting until we are sampling to make sure all instruments are up to standard slows down the science and limits what can be accomplished during a restricted time period. Even with a plan, working with technology at sea comes with unforeseen challenges that need to be handled. Whether due to weather conditions or equipment failure, what makes a truly exceptional crew is the ability to assess the situation and come up with multiple solutions on the fly. The work of scientists truly depends on the hard work of incredibly skilled technical staff on board the Falkor.

R/V Falkor departs the dock to begin her first sea trials after two months in dry dock.Elisa Aitoro / SOI
Elisa Aitoro visits R/V Falkor’s bridge for an introduction.Elisa Aitoro / SOI

Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Student Opportunities Program affords an me an incredibly unique and valuable experience. Time at sea is crucial to build a future career in oceanographic research. Academic understanding of scientific concepts is important, but field research is vastly different from laboratory or classroom work. Field research requires creative problem solving, quick thinking, and clear communication – all practical skills refined through experience. Through this two-part cruise I hope to improve both my technical skills (through familiarizing myself with equipment I have never used before) and my soft skills (by learning from and working with the wonderful crew to make the science happen). I hope to spend a large portion of my future career working on a research vessel, whether as a member of the science team or a member of the crew, and I think my time on the Falkor will help me make strides towards this.

The entire crew is hard at work, making sure everything is set for the next scientific voyage – a search for meteorites.

Headed out to sea for more trials and exercises before the science cruise.Elisa Aitoro / SOI

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