Inside the RRS James Clark Ross

By Jennifer Clarke on January 22, 2013 in Antarctic, Ocean Acidification
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The Chief Engineer was kind enough to take us on a tour around the engine rooms (somewhere us scientists don’t normally get to see!) and explain why and how the JCR is different from other ships. I thought I would share with you some of the things I learnt!

The ship has been specifically designed for science work- that doesn’t just mean that there are labs on board (although there are), but runs all through the design of the ship down to the hull-shape around the propellers to make the ship less noisy with fewer vibrations, extra pumps to run all the fridges and cold rooms for our samples, and having small thrusters at the front and back of the boat to help us stay in the same place while we are sampling (otherwise the ocean currents would move us off position while we are measuring!).

Duncan, Chief Engineer, starting off the tour in the control room. @Jerremy Young

Duncan, Chief Engineer, starting off the tour in the control room. @Jerremy Young

 The ship’s diesel engines generate a high-voltage AC current which is then is converted to DC to power the main drive motors. As a result of this conversion the primary AC supply is uneven with glitches and imperfections. So, it cannot be directly converted to a low-voltage AC supply to run all the scientific instruments. Instead it is used to drive motors (which don’t mind the glitches) and these in turn drive generators that give a very pure signal to keep our instruments happily running. I work in the carbonate group and we have a lot of instruments that depend on this clean electricity to run.

One of the big diesel engines that generate all the power for the ship. @Jeremy Young

One of the big diesel engines that generate all the power for the ship. @Jeremy Young

The ship also generates its own fresh water supply. It pumps up seawater and then boils the seawater under vacuum to make it fresh. This is then used in cooking and cleaning and is purified further to make ultra-pure deionised water. This is very important for us scientists as we use it to make up chemicals for analysis of seawater, and cleaning all our glassware so it is uncontaminated. However this system gets shut down whenever we go into sea ice (as otherwise it might suck up ice and damage the system). This means the engineers always have enough seawater on board to supply us scientists with the water for our experiments just in case we hit ice unexpectedly.

This water is stored in three tanks around the ship and is used for ballast and in anti-heeling. This anti-heeling mechanism is very appreciated by us scientists (especially me!) as it helps stop the ship rolling too much when the seas are rough (such as the other day). The tanks are filled with valves that open and close as the ship moves through the water, and the water is manipulated from one side of the boat to the other. The weight of the water moving helps counteract the movement of the ship from the waves making the rocking we feel less. A similar trick is used to help the ship wiggle through the ice.

 One of the most used parts of the ship by us scientists is the winch rooms. This where all the cables and wires we use to deploy the CTD’s, Go-Flows, SAPs and Bongo nets are run from and they are filled with hydraulic and electric pumps and big drums containing the wires! There are cameras in the room so the crew can make sure the right wire is being deployed and that everything is working ok.

The winch room @Jeremy Young

The winch room @Jeremy Young

 The most impressive part of the tour (besides all these adjustments to help us scientists) was the engine room itself. There were pipes everywhere and big diesel engines that led into the propeller room where you could see the propellers spinning and moving us forward. It is also one of the few places on the ship where there isn’t a tank of water between you and the ocean.

That concludes my summary of what I found most interesting- I hope this has given you an insight into the thought that goes into designing a research vessel for scientists!

Jennifer Clarke

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