RV Investigator’s tales from the sea: week six

By Mike Coffin

19 February 2016

An update from week #6 (10-16 Feb) aboard RV Investigator from the voyage’s Chief Scientist Prof Mike Coffin
Man wearing red jacket and yellow high vis pants guiding equipment suspended above deck of boat

Deep tow camera system being deployed by ship’s crew and Marine National Facility staff. Credit: Pete Harmsen.

An unexpected turn of events

Our research over the Kerguelen Plateau came to a premature conclusion this week due to the need for medical evacuation of one of our shipmates.

The closest tertiary hospital to Heard Island is in Fremantle ~4,100 km away, or about eight days at RV Investigator’s flank speed. Thankfully, after two days of transit towards Fremantle, the patient had recovered sufficiently for us to alter course to Hobart, albeit on a rhumb line instead of a great circle so as to have the option to visit a port along the Great Australian Bight should the patient suffer a relapse.

Indeed we are fortunate to have a fully qualified emergency medical specialist on board, augmented by the ability to communicate with medical specialists ashore, in this remote sector of the Southern Ocean.

Bubbling up from the floor

Shipboard operations room where acoustic and other data are monitored, edited, quality controlled, and visualised. Watchstanders: University of Tasmania PhD student Sally Watson (left), University of Tasmania graduate Nic Polmear (center), and Australian National University graduate Anna Bradney (right). Credit: Pete Harmsen.

Shipboard operations room where acoustic and other data are monitored, edited, quality controlled, and visualised. Watchstanders: University of Tasmania PhD student Sally Watson (left), University of Tasmania graduate Nic Polmear (center), and Australian National University graduate Anna Bradney (right). Credit: Pete Harmsen.

A research highlight of the week was imaging bubbles emanating from the seafloor north of Heard Island using a deep tow camera system. Although we don’t yet know what gas forms the bubbles, the emanations correspond to the locations of plumes in the water that we’ve imaged acoustically around both Heard and McDonald islands. Just over 100 of these plumes have appeared in our acoustic data.

RV Investigator’s acoustic systems are among the most sophisticated and capable in the world’s research fleet. Medium and full ocean depth multibeam sonars provide bathymetric data with an accuracy of ~0.2% of water depth as well as backscatter data; multifrequency and multibeam echosounders deliver water column data; and a sub-bottom profiler system images sediment and rock beneath the seafloor.

 The first ever live interview from Investigator

Three men standing inside ship looking at camera, video camera on tripod with man on right of photo

Team for inaugural RV Investigator live television interview: University of Tasmania Prof Mike Coffin (left), Marine National Facility’s Hugh Barker (center), and photographer/videographer Pete Harmsen (right). Credit: Brett Muir

Conveying scientific research to the general public has become increasingly important, and we have devoted significant effort to the media on this voyage. Prior to and during the voyage, we have participated in many media interviews and generated considerable content for social media. A surprise ‘hit’ has been an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report with an embedded YouTube video that has been viewed more than 150,000 times. This week also marked a media milestone for RV Investigator, a live television interview with the ABC.

The homeward stretch

As we steam towards Hobart, we’re busy processing, analyzing, and organizing data and samples; writing reports; preparing equipment for off-loading; and planning post-voyage research projects and outputs. The end of the voyage will mark the final time that the 40 scientists, artists, students, and support staff will be together, but the professional and personal relationships and bonds forged during our time at sea together will endure.