RV Southern Surveyor voyage August 2012

Sunrise on the Southern Ocean from the RV Southern Surveyor in 2011

Sunrise on the Southern Ocean from the RV Southern Surveyor in 2011


For the next ten days, Dr Sebastian Holmes from the School of Science and Health, will be Chief Scientist on board the RV Southern Surveyor, a research vessel mapping and studying the marine life in the Southern Ocean. 

Dr Holmes and his team will be sampling the water at various depths to build a better picture of the marine life in a region stretching from Tasmania to Western Australia.

The voyage from Hobart to Fremantle will also include sophisticated swath mapping to provide detailed images of the Australian continental shelf.

RV Southern Surveyor voyage marked on a satellite image 

The August 2012 voyage of the RV Southern Surveyor will take the crew across the Southern Ocean and Great Australian Bite

Dr Holmes and his colleagues on board the Marine National Facility's RV Southern Surveyor will be posting blog entries and photos here on this webpage throughout voyage number SS2012-t05.

Monday 30 July 2012 - day 1, Dr Seb Holmes

Well that time of year has come round fast and it is time to take a cohort of students to sea to find out what it is like to live and work as an ocean going scientist. This time we have five lucky participants: Amber, Cristin, Lucy, Januar & Grahame All bright eyed and bushy tailed.

We rock up to Castray Quay at 10:30, dump our gear in our cabins and the students go off in search of lollies to sustain them throughout the voyage. I hoping, as I haven't told them about the Tim Tam fridge on board, that they will gorge themselves on party mix and the Tim Tams will all be mine.

Lunch time soon arrives and then Lucy and I are instructed by Dave how not to break the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR). I'm sure we can!

By 14:30 everyone is back onboard and it is time for induction. We have a grand tour of the ship (and I mean a grand tour) followed by a full muster drill with everyone in their hard hats and lifejackets.

Six o'clock comes by, the pilot gets onboard and it is time to set sail.

Nine people (including Don & Lisa) come from CSIRO to see us off and very sadly this is the last departure for the Southern Surveyor from Hobart as the Marine National Facility's research vessel is to be replaced by her big new sister, The Investigator (I still think they should have called it Enterprise).  

Everyone is awed by the lights of Sandy Bay and we retire to the science (DVD) lounge for a briefing. Rod gives his first briefing (we are nice and don't make him cry) and then it is time to deploy the CPR in Storm Bay. The CPR goes overboard and is time for bed in anticipation for what tomorrow brings.

The science crew dockside in front of the RV Southern Surveyor just before departure

The science crew, (left to right) Januar, Lucy, Cristin, Graeme & Amber, dockside in front of the RV Southern Surveyor just before departure 


Tuesday 31 July 2012 - day 2, Cristin (student)

It's the first real day at sea and we are up at 0700 for a nice hot breakfast. I roll, actually it's more like get tossed out of the top bunk with one of the ship's sways. It appears I still haven't gotten my sea legs as I struggle to balance while walking and climbing the stairs to the kitchen. However at least I'm not seasick. We've had our first casualty already, with poor Amber not making it to breakfast for fear of not being able to hold anything down for long.

Today, I have been assigned to swath mapping duty.

So I spend my day in the Ops (operations) room sitting at a computer tidying up the swath data (to a standard 'good enough for science'). This just means I am removing lots of little dots in order to produce pretty 3D images of the seafloor. The others must be bored because throughout the day they come to visit and sit and watch as I continuously click away.

After dinner and pudding it's movie time! We all retire to the science lounge to watch DVD's for the rest of the night (if we can stay awake through them that is).

A picture of my lovely swath mapping efforts:

Swath map image of Australian continental shelf 

An image of a multibeam swath bathymetry of the edge of the Australian continental shelf on the western margin of Tasmania. Slump features are seen at the shelf break. 


Wednesday 1 August 2012 - day 3, Januar (student)

Today we had our first opportunity to help on deck while the engineers hauled in the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) and deployed the plankton net.

Turned out that they didn't really need much of our help after all since the professionals are doing all the hard work but we were soon getting our hands dirty with other responsibilities.

Amber took charge of documenting all our activities onto a logbook. Grahame and I helped Seb replace the cassette in the CPR.

Lucy was the 'plankton girl', and she helped store the samples collected from the lankton net. Later on we watched again as the engineers deployed the refreshed CPR back into the sea.

Cristin had the 'honour' of shooting the XBT gun, which sounded very  exciting (according to Seb), and it probably would have been if not for the fact that the gun wasn't a gun and made no noise whatsoever when triggered. Unless, of course, if it were actually a silent fart gun.

I was on swath mapping duty today and spent the rest of the afternoon in the operations room. While I was busy eliminating dots off a  computer screen, Lucy, Grahame and Amber spent the afternoon whale-watching and saw fur seals, a Greek tanker, and possibly unicorns.

We spent the rest of the night watchings hows in the TV room. Okay, they didn't see unicorns!

Lucy with the CPR

Lucy the 'plankton girl' with the CPR 


Thursday 2 August 2012 - day 4, Lucy (student)

So today we are finally going to get some science action, the only problem is that we have to wait until 22:30 before it starts. Cristin was in charge of the changing of the filters and Januar was on Swath duty. With all our freetime, Graeme and I had a guided tour of the engine room, but unfortunately we couldn't hear much of the commentary due to the huge amount of noise. Later in the day we experienced our first sunset at sea followed shortly by a beautiful full moon. As soon as it was dark enough we all had a few lessons on navigating by the stars as well as how to find the scorpion constellation.

As 22:30 got closer, we put on our steel toe caps and donned our hard hats and life vests. First up on the schedule was to retrieve the CPR.

Next, Cristin was put in control of lifting the CTD to the side of the deck ready for the winch. The CTD was programmed so that it would collect water samples at various depths from 300m. Once back aboard, we set to work 'milking the bottles' for dissolved oxygen, nutrients and salinity. Next we deployed the Smith-Mac grab which gave us a nice bucket full of mud to sieve through with our bare hands. Not much was found apart from a few small shells, one worm and numerous tiny spines that took all night to remove from our hands.

The epi-benthic sled was put out for 20 minutes. This meant that we had a lot more mud to sort through and it was already 0130. This sample had considerably more to sort through. We found brittle stars, sea stars, krill, amphipods, worms, spider crabs, a sea mouse, a few fish larvae and a number of unidentified species. The night was finished off with a quick plankton tow and redeployment of the CPR and by 03:00 we were all more than ready for bed!

Cristin with brittlestars from the epibenthic sled

Cristin with brittlestars from the epibenthic sled. 


Friday 3 August 2012 - day 5, Graeme (student)

This day began a little bit later for most of us due to the late finish of Station 1. Cristin had the record, waking up at 12pm and missing out the swathing action that made up most of my day. I was not alone however Amber was keeping a keen eye on my noise removing skills.

For the rest of the science crew the day was abundant in free time!

Which consists of sitting around either sleeping, reading or talking - needless to say we are becoming professionals at this. The sleeping wasn't as easy this day since the sea was becoming more rampant. Lucy was the exception; finding the big rolling seas quite relaxing. Januar who was up for breakfast at 7:30am slept for most of the rest of the day, a very solid effort.

After dinner it was time for some movies, first up was the original 'Planet of the Apes', chosen by Seb. Cristin and Lucy had never seen it before and were lost for words by the end of it...sheer amazement, or maybe confusion. Next up was a B-grade horror flick called 'Infested' the movie goes for 81 minutes - we only lasted 20 and that's all that shall be said of that atrocity.

Onto something lighter now and it's Black Books to brighten the night skies and calm the swelling seas. It didn't do all that but it was a great improvement. At this time Seb called me up to the bridge to prepare to retrieve the CPR, Lucy stayed to enjoy some more Black Books and Amber and I donned the steel cap boots, hard hats and life vests and went to the stern. We hauled in the CPR and before we knew it the cassette was changed and it was off into the ocean for another day.

Afterwards it was time to hit the hay, it may have only been 10pm but there was no denying the fatigue had kicked in. So it was off to bed with the abrupt rocking of the boat to put us all to sleep.

Graeme and Lucy with the CTD

 Lucy and Graeme with the CTD 


Saturday 4 August 2012 - day 6, Amber-Louise (student)

Today started like most others. I had been on filter duty the day before so I slept through breakfast but made it for morning tea which was some of the best scones I had ever tasted, so I am glad I didn't miss them.

Lucy was on Swath duty and after lunch I joined her for support and helped out clearing up some data collected in the Antarctic Ocean during Buoy checks. After dinner we all watched a couple of episodes of Black Books.

The weather had been turning progressively bad all day and the swells were picking up. We got a little worried when we were asked to go down below and make sure all the port hole covers were fully secured in our rooms...luckily this was a precaution just in case the weather turned really bad not that we were in for a really bad night.

We arrived on station at 20.00hrs and all got to work. Graeme and Januar helped set up the CTD and Cristin drove the hoist to get it out all under the supervision of Lucy. I got all the paper work ready and went down to the Ops room to monitor the deployment and testing from there. Once the CTD was safely on board, which was a little tricky due to the moderate swells, I went back up to the Cat house for the Plankton net was deployment and the gathering of the water samples. 

Some interesting things were captured in the plankton net, a clear fish or glass eel (official ID yet to be made) was the best capture so far and many photos were attempted, but due to the swells this was near impossible but we did finally get some.

After all the excitement of the evening, we then retired to the mess room for some biscuits, Milo and ice-cream and a chat till the wee hours of the morning.

This is Amber signing off for Day 6, hope you're enjoying our blog.

Plankton haul
 Plankton haul 

Monday 6 August 2012 - day 8, Cristin (student)

One week down Hmm, how to sum up today in a couple of words... FREE TIME!! That seems to be all our time recently. We are now heading against the current which is slowing us down meaning that most of our 'sciencey' activities are getting postponed/cancelled so that we can make it to Fremantle on time.

Januar is the victim, I mean lucky person, who gets to be on swath duty today. Amber also joined him in the ops room working on some swath data from some moorings in Antarctica from a previous journey.

While they slave away in front of a computer Seb sends Lucy, Gramey and I upstairs to the Bridge for some whale watching.

The breaking waves mean it's near impossible to spot any whales or dolphins and we feel like we've been tricked. Similar to when you're a little kid and your parents make up some pointless 'game' just to keep you quiet. We spend our time chatting with the cadets, while still on look out of course. Reid, one of the cadets, tells us the story of Esmeralda, the ghost who haunts the ship. Apparently she died quite a gruesome death and so her ghost is all disfigured and cut up. At night she wanders the corridors and he has heard her footsteps before. Well now, I'm going to sleep well tonight...

At lunch Seb tells me if I ask Mick (the First Mate) nicely he will make me a bracelet. So after lunch we head back up to the Bridge and I ask. However I am told before he can make it I have to find the string to make it out of first. So Lucy, Graeme and I set out on a quest to find string. We search high and low and ask the crew but are unsuccessful.

We give up for the day and we all settle into our usual spots in the TV room for what is now our ritual nightly movie session. Showing tonight is Watchmen which turns out to be a very long movie. Oh well, it's better than Deadwood.

Keep reading tomorrow as our quest for string continues...

Tuesday 7 August 2012 - day 9, Dr Seb Holmes

Well here we are, 3 days left to go and we are making very slow progress in the face of strong head winds, a big swell (10+m) and 1 knot current.

We are all a bit nervous about making the 3 pm deadline to meet the pilot into Perth and we have to abandon the Esperance station (bah, one of the most exciting). Cabin fever has set into the students, despite whale watching and they are late giggly risers this morning. They are even laughing at my 'dad' jokes so it is serious!

Amber has been wooed by the swath and is doing extra processing of data from Antarctica and Crisitin has taken to blow drying hair with her pink hair dryer!

Despite the lethargy we have some excitement this afternoon as we pass over a site thought to have methane seeps which may be responsible for increasing local productivity, i.e. a chemosynthetic derived food chain which may be of significant regional importance (see there is some science in here somewhere).

With baited breath we look at the water column acoustics and yes, we can see what we think is a methane plume. Smelly but very exciting and a cross on a map for a future trip. Dinner arrives, it is beef olives and/or Carbonara and then it is movie time and bed to dream of seeps.

 Acoustic map showing the methane seep

The acoustic map showing the methane seep site - circled.


Media contact: Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer