By Mark Moline, Ph.D., Director, School of Marine Science and Policy, College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware
July 15, 2018
Not the most exciting topic, but certainly the most important one, is ensuring safe operations and to work as a team in case of any emergencies. The nearest assistance for us would be the U.S. Coast Guard by helicopter from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, or Anchorage, Alaska. Given where we are, it would be about four to five hours before we could expect assistance. You can track our real-time location using MarineTraffic.com and searching for our ship name, Norseman II. We are working in probably the most remote location in the United States.
In case of emergencies, we have to drill for a potential fire on board, for someone accidently falling overboard, and for evacuation of the ship. Crew are trained for all of these cases, and the science team is instructed to meet, or muster as it is called, on the top deck of the ship with our survival suits, which allow someone to survive the cold water. As part of drill, we practice putting on these suits, also called Gumby suits for the animated character from the 1950s (Figure 1).
These suits are super hard to move around in, but it is all about survival. These drills start with alarms going off on the ship and no matter where you are—sleeping, in the bathroom, or taking a shower—you need to grab your survival suit and go to the top deck for additional instructions from the crew. These drills will be done randomly over our entire mission to make sure that everyone 1) knows what to do and 2) can react quickly to any situation.
There are also safety concerns whenever we are working on deck. Whether putting science gear overboard, moving gear, or just sitting on deck taking in the amazing views of the Aleutian Island chain, we all wear our float coats and hard hats. We use this gear every day when we deploy our autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) from the Norseman II off the side using the main crane (Figure 2).
If you need to use the small boats or skiffs, you also wear protective gear for sea spray and bundle up a bit more as you are closer to the water and can get pretty cold if out for more than 20-30 minutes. The weather so far around Kiska Island has been in the mid to low 40s with winds up to 30 miles per hour. We use the skiffs to get close to shore, too shallow for the Norseman II, when we need to pick up the AUVs after their mission is finished. We also use skiffs to bring SCUBA divers out to dive sites (Figure 3). It is easier to get in and out of these small boats and to monitor the divers. With water temperatures at 43° Fahrenheit, we are using dry suits rather than wetsuits when diving.
Working on a ship in this remote part of the ocean is a thrilling experience. To get the most out of our expedition, we all take that extra moment of time to consider safety in everything we do.