NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer: Tropical Exploration 2015

Surviving on a Ship from the Perspective of a Landlubber

Uncleaned multibeam data. Part of the job of the Explorer in Training is to clean any erroneous data which helps with quality control.

Sunsets on Okeanos Explorer are always one of the highlights of the day. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Download high resolution (382 kb).

June 4, 2015

Jonathan Contungo
Explorer in Training

Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word ‘surviving.’ Surviving implies there is some hardship to overcome. There aren’t many hardships aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

My day begins by waking around 7 am. My roommate is out on his mapping shift, so I have the stateroom to myself. I brush my teeth, dress myself, and head down to the mess hall for breakfast. A breakfast that is already made for me – hot and delicious. After breakfast, I fill up my mug using the espresso machine that is available for use any time of the day.

Once breakfast is over I have a few choices of activities for the next few hours before my shift: shall I get a work out in? Maybe go lay out in the Pacific sun? I’ve got time to watch a movie, but maybe I should be productive and do some research? This is easily the most difficult decision of the day.

Most likely after a short workout, lunch time rolls around at 11 am. Again, another hot, fresh, delicious meal made and ready when I enter the mess hall. Lunch options vary from beef bulgogi, to curried vegetables, grilled cheese sandwiches, and gyro wraps; and there is always a vegetarian option. And always a freshly tossed salad. It’s odd having all your meals prepped for you. There seems to be much more time in the day to be productive, to do more science.

After lunch I head to the mission control room to relieve the morning mapping watch shift. My shift’s duration is from 11:30 am – 7:30 pm, and the night and morning shifts are from 7:30 pm– 3:30 am and 3:30 am – 11:30 am, respectively. I lucked out with my shift by not having to adjust my sleeping schedule. However, the night and morning mapping team remarked that it only took about two days to become accustomed to their new daily routine.


From left to right: Mapping Watch Lead James Miller, Explorer in Training Jonathan Contugno, Expedition Coordinator Lindsay Mckenna, Scientist Julian Schanze, and Explorer in Training Abigail Casavant. Click image for credit and larger view.

During my watch, I am tasked to process data acquired from the ship’s resident multibeam sonar system, the Kongsberg EM302. The Kongsberg EM302 is a high-end mapping sonar system that can collect seafloor bathymetry and backscatter at depths up to 7,000 meters with swaths up to 143°. In other words, the EM302 can map quickly and efficiently, acquiring mass amounts of information of the seafloor.

Processing the multibeam data involves cleaning the point clouds derived from acquisition. Processing is done in real time in one-hour snippets immediately after they are acquired. This is a transit mapping cruise and cleaning the data is a little easier than a targeted mapping mission, so there is some down time during the shift. During down time, I usually conduct research for a cruise project that was given to the mapping interns at the beginning of the expedition. Our project this cruise involves estimating the length of time it would take to map the world’s unmapped ocean with the only the resources on the Okeanos Explorer, and again with unlimited resources. Quite the task.

Towards the latter end of the shift is my dinner break. Dinner is served from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm and is just as warm and delicious as lunch, but with more options. By now, I’ve realized I’ve eaten more on this ship than at any point in my life. And there’s always fresh-baked cookies or other desserts. Lots of pros and cons here.

I come back from dinner to work on the daily cumulative product. The daily cumulative product is exactly what it sounds like: each day, all of the products created from that day are added to the previous day’s products, quality checked, and sent via FTP to shore.

The instant my shift is over, I head to the bow of the ship to watch the sunset. The sun’s majestic display is a fitting conclusion to another remarkable day aboard the Okeanos Explorer. I feel very fortunate to be able to say I was part of a research vessel mapping unmapped parts of the Earth’s ocean – contributing to exploration of Earth’s last frontier as a scientist.


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