Spring 2011

Our intern, Ali - an undergraduate student from Middlebury College, details her experiences from her summer with the HOT program.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Donning a Hard Hat Always Means Good Things

A flurry is how the office felt upon returning to it after two weeks away.  I received a message from Craig a few days before saying “things have changed” and that I should plan to work outside on Monday.  This easily could have meant that the Marine Sciences Building had come crashing down and now my desk was located under a tree in the courtyard. In reality, the only thing that came crashing down was the A/C, causing problems accessing overheated and grumpy computers. What most significantly had changed was the schedule and personnel for the HOT and Aloha Cabled Observatory (ACO) cruises. The HOT cruise that had been originally scheduled to embark on Monday had already happened while I was away.  Though I missed that cruise, a vacancy had appeared on the ACO cruise for which I was trying to contain my excitement at filling.  Nothing was certain at 0900 so they told me not to get my hopes up. Trying to reel in my helium balloon of hopes was my challenge for the day.

As my desk was still located in it’s normal corner, working outside meant going to Snug Harbor with Jeffrey to help prepare equipment for the upcoming cruise.  Everyone chuckled a bit when I said that I was excited to go down to the harbor because the glass balls are very heavy, as I soon found out, and things are much dirtier than when tapping away at my computer.  New things are always exciting, however, and no one could convince me otherwise.

I started by wheeling around bicycles with flat tires trying to find a way to inflate them. Then I graduated to helping move around glass balls contained in two firm yellow plastic bowls that strikingly resemble yellow hard hats. With moving these you must be as careful as if decorating the Christmas tree with glass ornaments because no one wants chards of glass everywhere but as firm as if hoisting the weight of the whole tree onto the top of the car.

In the afternoon the spool of 200 m of cable, which will be lower to the bottom of the ocean with eleven temperature sensors attached to it, and I had a fine time rolling around the pier. In order to measure out the positions at which the instruments will be attached to the cable, I was supposed to get the cable as straight as possible. A bit like herding an oversized, uncooperative farm animal back to the barn, the spool needs constant nudging and alteration of course in order to unravel in a straight line. As dirty as a farm animal too, the spool somehow covered my legs in black and brown smudges. Had I only perfected my log rolling skills, this process would have been much easier.

The next day I got to participate in the dirty work again, starting with loading the flatbed truck with several instruments and boxes of supplies.  A forklift loaded the heavier items such as the ‘parking station,’ which is used for ‘parking’ wires as they are waiting to be connected to the observatory but which looks more like Snoopy’s doghouse. The forklift also swung the node, a large orange cylinder that Jeffrey described as a bird perch, Woodstock’s perhaps, onto the flatbed. This seems like a perfectly acceptable answer and the only thing that makes me skeptical is the logo stamped on the side of it is that of the Applied Physics Laboratory, not Petsmart. 

When we arrived in the flatbed at the harbor, I was handed a hard hat, which always means good things. It means I get to load with the rest of them and watch the happenings on the quarterdeck, which is hosting a flurry of activity currently.  Jason, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), who will descend with the cable to install the instruments, has his innards exposed to have his wires tickled by engineers.  Swinging overhead at the end of the crane are platforms, weights, and other equipment being loaded.  I am slowly meeting all the scientists, engineers and crew involved in this project by bumping into them with boxes I’m carrying or asking them to hold the door for me.

When not loading boxes, I spent a lot of time with Nicholas in the stuffy beige tent trying to figure out how to attach two glass balls together and string a chain across them. After an hour of wrestling the hard hats together with no success, Jeffrey arrived to tell us that we needed to use the retrofitted hard hat covers shaped to fit together. Easy as pie from there. At least we got plenty of exercise lifting various glass balls.

To make this day even better, we filled the flat tires on the bicycles we were wheeling around yesterday with air enabling us to zoom around the parking lot in with alacrity and style.  Need me to grab something from the warehouse, bring it to the tent, skip over from the tent to the blue van, wait no, the PO van, then meet you over to the KM and head back to the tent? No problem.

At the end of the day, I was handed my second power tool for the day to unscrew the boxes in which some of the instruments are stored.  I helped Jeffrey set up these instruments on the observatory and in a tub of water in order to test them tomorrow.  

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