The Gathering

The crew for the first leg of the OSMOSIS cruise has gathered in Southampton to begin mobilising for the cruise. While the people have travelled from as far away as the west coast of the US, the instruments to be deployed have travelled even further. Much of the mooring equipment spent the last two years being battered by the intense conditions of the Southern Ocean, while the gliders were last seen in the Weddell Sea off the Antarctic coast.

The ship is docked in front of the National Oceanography Centre. This is a blessing for the staff of the National Marine Facilities team, that has to load so much cable for the moorings that some of the science crew wondered that the ship even remained afloat (though the hundreds of buoys on board should at least give some respite in such a journey to the bottom).

Glider magic

While most of the science crew concentrates on storing their instruments to be reassembled on site, the glider team of Andy and Gillian have their iRobot gliders out on deck. The price of using such advanced instruments is that they are far from the plug-and-play of consumer electronics. Getting them running involves sitting next to them on the deck typing furiously at laptops and beseeching them to speak to satellites while the crew steps over and around them as they roll kilometre after kilometre of cable down into the hold.

The first step in setting up the gliders is turning them on, which requires waving a device called a ‘wand’ ( also known as a magnet at the end of a plastic stick) near a certain part of the device. This interacts with a magnetic field inside the glider which switches it on. It is a process which remains magical to the author, a mathematician-turned-fluid dynamicist for whom electromagentics remains a mysterious force.

Over the course of the day the remainder of the science team arrives. Once convened we begin to tackle the question of how to deploy the gliders to get the most science possible from their battery life. It is a difficult point – with such new technology and an extreme environment no one can say for sure how long they will last. This discussion will continue.

The ship is due to slip away from the docks at 8.30 a.m. Tuesday morning (August 28th). There will then follow a few days of transit to the site, days of busy prep work so that we will be ready to unspool those kilometres of cable and get our instruments in the water and start observing what is happening underneath those waves.

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