La Vie en Rose

Written by Carmen Gaina on Wednesday, 03 October 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

Or Science is really fun, enroll now ! (3 Oct 2012)

Rainbow and sunset over Mauritius Island

One has to be careful when making wishes: they may come true, and then you need to deal with the happiness overdose! For many years I was hoping to join a scientific cruise on a French vessel – I suppose the combination of learning from accomplished marine scientists and having French cuisine in the same time was the epitome of cruise experience for me. And voila – my wish was granted when one of the PI of this expedition, Karin Sigloch, kindly invited me to take part not only in a cruise on a French vessel, but also to experience an amazing adventure: peering into the deep oceans and then into the Deep-deep earth!

In less than one week we crossed fracture zones, mid-ocean ridges and volcanic edifices going through the evolution of the ocean floor like a quick tour from Rome, to Verona and than Milano, from ancient history to modern era. OBS deployments are our daily source of joy once they are delivered to the sea by a team of careful parents who want to make sure they prepared their children for their one-year foreign experience. The joy will be even greater next year when these children will come back full of knowledge from their year spent on the sea bottom – and then the mysteries of the Deep Earth will be finally revealed.
But for now we enjoy the rich life on boat –and the French cuisine, and the almost constant 22-23 degrees air temperature (water temperature is even better-but for various reasons we cannot enjoy that), and gorgeous sunsets and a bunch of amazing people.

The Marion Dufresne community is wonderfully diverse: the learned professors and senior scientists are happily playing basketball with the enthusiastic students – that is, of course, when their presence is not required for solving the scientific tasks, the multi-origin crew (among them French, Malgasy and Romanians) try to run smoothly the life on boat, and French (and English, and German, and some other languages) conversations around the table (whether in the laboratories, restaurant or seminar room) revolve around every imaginable subject – from seismology to marine biology, from George Clooney to GO, and from chili to best military airplanes.

My sunny life for the past two weeks had only one shadow: I missed the only lunch that served éclairs for desert!

Working the night shift, 2am – 4am

Written by Heiner Igel, Maria Tsekhmistrenko on Tuesday, 02 October 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

2 October 2012

Night shift in the data acquisition room.

Man, this is a tough one. You don t know whether you sleep before the shift or you try to keep awake somehow ... with coffee, talking, going outside into the wind, playing badminton in the ship's belly.

Indian Ocean time 02:15:00. The scientific room is empty. We are taking the first reading of the data that we are acquiring. The scientist's shift work is dedicated to monitoring the proper working of the basic operations: the scan of the seafloor topography (bathymetry), the magnetometer that is towed on a long line behind the ship. The current values are written into the logbook every 15 minutes. That is done in 30 seconds. In the mean time one can read a book, talk, do guitar-fingering exercises or try a headstand without falling over. The next reading approaches fast.

Indian Ocean time 02:30:00. We are cruising at 15 knots. The seafloor is 4355 m below us. Two large screens show the seafloor in bright colors. The bathymetry is sensational. The Earth is having a party down there and unless we had these sophisticated instruments we would not notice. It would be like flying at night over the Alps or the Rhine graben. Below our ship there are ridges where oceanic crust is created and drifting apart. Hundreds of meters high. Linear features on all scales indicate the consequences of the seafloor dynamics with motions of several centimeters per year. 

In our daily seminar at 5pm in the conference room we are learning and discussing the marriage between such oceanic ridges with plumes. Plumes are (or are they not?) deep Earth features that appear to be static while the oceanic plates and the ridges move over them. Sometimes plumes and ridges attract each other, exchange some warmth ... and yes they do have a ball once they are together, spewing out loads of lava ending up as volcanic plateaus that may create big islands (such as the Azores, Iceland, and others). Sometimes the ridges have enough of the aging plumes, wander on looking for a 2nd spring. Sometimes they retire together.

Indian Ocean time 02:42:16. The phone rings. The bridge is calling. The captains' assistant starts speaking rapidly in French. "Attendez, je ne suis pas Français, lentement!" I am responding. He tells us that in eight minutes he will start slowing down the ship as we are approaching our next target location. We note that down in the log book and the technical assistant is turning on the sonar logging of the seafloor. We look at the screen and we see several flat connected horizontal lines zig-zagging away at the edges. The middle looks like a layer cake and that's just what we want. The sea floor is flat. Chances are good the seismometer will make itself comfortable in a flat position.

Now the place comes alive! The chief scientists and technicians appear to bring the baby safely off the back of the ship. When the final position is found the crane lifts the OBS off the ship. Very very slowly it is lowered down. Sometimes the waves are making problems and if the right moment isn't found the seismometers makes a rough landing on the water surface. The moment has come and it is off the hook. For a few moments one can follow the blinking white light receding into the abyss.

It would be so cool to accompany its way down to the seafloor with an onboard webcam. Have a glimpse of its location for the next year. Meet the shrimps that surround it. Well, that is something for the next generation. If all goes well in a year's time suddenly it is released off its steel case and floats up with exciting earthquake data coming from all over our planet.

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Fully operational

Written by Chris Scheingraber, Maria Tsekhmistrenko on Tuesday, 02 October 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

30 September 2012

Our colleague Olivier makes a quick cell phone call while the Marion Dufresne passes his native island of Rodrigues (500 km east of Mauritius, 33,000 inhabitants). (Photo: Karin Sigloch)

It seems like an endless and beautiful ocean is surrounding us. The last island on our journey (Rodrigues) rolled by hours ago, the last ship this morning. After the release of the first seismometer and a small celebration given by IPEV to honor this moment, we are getting into a daily routine.
Some of the scientists are working on recording and controlling bathymetry, gravity and magnetic data, while a smaller part are preparing seismometers for deployment. 24 hours a day, there is continuous activity. The OBS deployment teams do not care about meals or bedtimes, they have to be ready at all times. Even though we miss out on sleep and only rarely find the time to sit together and have a chat, we are definitely much happier with these circumstances than we were during the strike.

The workshop: ocean-bottom seismometers ready to take a dive. (Photo: Karin Sigloch)

First ocean-bottom seismometer deployed.

Written by Chris Scheingraber, Simon Stähler on Sunday, 30 September 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

29. September 2012

First ocean-bottom seismometer deployed (Picture: Chris Scheingraber).

During the first day spent entirely on the sea, we set up the lab, tested the release mechanisms for the ocean-bottom seismometers, and successfully deployed the first seismometer.


Written by Guilhem Barruol, Karin Sigloch on Friday, 28 September 2012.

28 September 2012

After one week of wait in the port, we are at sea at last, in a ship that actually heaves and sways. The RHUM-RUM campaign can finally begin.

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Over the past days, we went through a rollercoaster of ups and downs, as hopeful moments repeatedly gave way to new hurdles and bleak perspectives. Our days were spent trying to win the support of the island authorities, and trying to keep up a conversation with the striking dock workers and their union leaders. At the blocked harbor gate, they lent a sympathetic ear to our explanations and worries about our failing experiment, but they also wanted to see their own grievances addressed, understandably so.

Yesterday (Thursday) saw dockworker assemblies and meetings with their employers. The situation was tense. We stayed away, not wanting to be perceived as interfering. The news reached us on the ship through a colleague’s friend, a journalist who’d spent his day among the striking workers. At 11 p.m., an SMS: the strike is over. What a relief! We should finally be able to leave.

Today (Friday) in the morning, the dockworkers served us first as they had promised, delivering our containers to the ship around 10 a.m. By noon, everything has been loaded, and at 3 pm., the Marion throws off its ropes. The RHUM-RUM science party is gathered on the forward deck. The sky is heavy with rain clouds, but our hearts are light. The ship tracks the basalt cliffs along the island’s coast for a while, passing Saint-Denis, and then it heads due east, toward the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, where we will deploy our first seismometer. We had to modify the route, in order to leave our engineers enough time to prepare their instruments.

Six lost days mean that we won’t be able to do everything we wanted to do. The priority will be on deploying our 57 seismological stations on the sea floor between now and 26 October. Timing is much tighter now, but maybe it’s still doable. After a few days at sea, we will be able to tell more confidently than now. It’s also clear that we’ll have much less time to gather bathymetric measurements of poorly known areas, but we’ll make do.

On board, we are organizing ourselves for this new work mode, where everybody will have their specific roles to play. We are drawing up schedules for 24/7 shifts, route plans, deployment planning together with the ship crew…but I’ll leave that for another post.


Written by Maria Tsekhmistrenko on Saturday, 29 September 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

28 September 2012

This is what we have been waiting for: 48 ocean bottom seismometers (Picture: Chris Scheingraber).

Anxious waiting, nervous faces all around. But suddenly the tension melts away, gives way to joy. There they are!

Our four containers are finally being released; the harbor workers are pulling up in two big trucks. They have lifted their strike after one week. To say that we are "relieved" would be a gross understatement. After days of forced inactivity, the ship becomes happily busy. Our bulky ocean bottom seismometers are being unloaded from the containers by our technicians, and the ship crew hoists them onto the helicopter deck with cranes. It takes us about three hours, and now only a cyclope could keep us from leaving.

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At 3 p.m. everything is ready for departure. While the pilot is coming onboard and the crew is pulling in the ropes, the scientists are assembling on the superstructure in front, facing the harbor exit and the Indian Ocean. The sky is cloudy, it is drizzling, but nobody minds in the least – we are finally underway!

The harbor episode due to the strike already felt like an odyssey in itself, but now the real work is coming up. Still, we have used to time to get to know each other better and to bond. Our international group should be working together all the better for it.

Free the Marion Dufresne!

Written by Karin Sigloch on Friday, 28 September 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

27 September 2012

Political action. (Photo by Kasra Hosseini)

We are still in port, blocked by the strike of the harbor workers. Now the deal is that we get the harbor to ourselves, while the striking workers, camped in front of the main gate, are ensuring that nobody disturbs our ship on sabbatical.

Science has been all talk and no action so far (daily seminars, dinner discussions, dreams...). But witnessing much political action around us, we got into it ourselves. Our colleagues from La Réunion spent many hours at the main gate, trying to understand the concerns of the workers, and whether a pragmatic solution for our four blocked containers might be found. We also turned to the island's Prefect, since our experiment represents a major investment of taxpayer's money, and pertains to volcanic risk assessment.

The photo shows an earlier outreach effort in the "Free the Marion Dufresne" series: Wave "Good morning and SOS" to the Prefect. We learned that his helicopter was supposed to survey the scene of the deserted harbor early in the morning, so we also wanted to be seen. We chose the parking lot outside the ship, and white towels for good visual contrast, but the helicopter never appeared.

Yesterday we did manage to make direct contact with the Prefect, got a helpful response, and thought our problem solved – until that hope evaporated again at the harbor gate. Five days after our scheduled departure, our cruise leader can still only dream about scientific action on the seafloor...

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Le Volcan

Written by Chris Scheingraber on Thursday, 27 September 2012. Posted in La Réunion

26 September 2012

Many scientists who flew to La Réunion from continental Europe arrived some days in advance to have a look around this magnificent tropical island before embarking (embargoing?) on the Marion Dufresne. La Réunion's active volcanism is owed to its location on top of the mantle plume that our experiment plans to image by means of seismic tomography.

The "Piton de la Fournaise", the active volcano in the south-east of the island has erupted numerous times in the recent past, including an eruption lasting from August 2006 until January 2007.

Another big eruption, which occurred in 1986, increased the island size by as much as 25 hectares. The newly added area is called "Pointe de la table" and lies on the coast about 5 km north-east of Saint Philippe.

"Jardin volcanique - coastal shore line close to the famous 'Pointe de la table'

30 scientists in a golden cage

Written by Heiner Igel on Monday, 24 September 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

24 September 2012

Blogging from a golden cage.

Here we are, ready to fight the open seas and drop down a few dozen seismometers into the abyss of the Indian ocean .... BUT ... the dockworkers decided (after many years for the first time) to go on strike just the day when we were supposed to start loading. And they seem to continue. No end in sight.
Yes. We found "our" four large containers somewhere in the harbor but unfortunately - despite the increasing use of the ship's "gym" (two bikes, rowing machine, running machine, weights) - we do not feel strong enough to carry them to our dock without machine support.
It is day 4 on the ship. With no real task, except waiting. Some sit on the two chairs outside the scientific room with view to the rising slopes of volcanic La Reunion, waiting for the next eruption (Jason), that could be viewed from a comfortable distance. Others go running along the beautiful seashore park after leaving the ports' gate (2 km away from the ship), coming back with ideas for a new seismology rock song (Jean-Paul). It is amazing what the sudden unexpected availability of time can do to you! Marvelous! Inspiring!
What keeps us from jumping overboard in despair are the meals. 12:15 and 19:15. Four courses. Entrée, plats, cheese, dessert. Excellent French cuisine (another reason for the increasing use of the gym). Followed by coffee and discussions on science, the world, our situation, the region. What an opportunity to work with colleagues from La Réunion, Rodrigues, Mauritius, Madagascar, and to learn more about these remote regions!
This situation is dangerous! 30 scientists with lots of time, good food, no internet access? I think there could be some explosive new ideas around the corner!

Ready for departure

Written by Chris Scheingraber, Maria Tsekhmistrenko on Monday, 24 September 2012. Posted in Cruise 2012

22 September 2012

Looking for our containers.

The French and German scientific teams arrived well on the island of La Reunion. Unfortunately, our departure will be delayed (for a few days?) due to a strike of dockworkers that we learned about on short notice. Since they are supposed to load our equipment on board, the Marion Dufresne is still docking in Le Port de la Réunion. Despite the problems we are facing, the crew and the scientists are in good spirits. We just hope that the strike will end soon so that we can finally start our mission.

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RHUM-RUM launched

Written by Guilhem Barruol, Karin Sigloch on Friday, 07 September 2012.

15 September 2012

Indian Ocean seen from Le Port de La Réunion

From Sept. to Nov. 2012, we will be installing most of our instruments: about 30 land stations in La Réunion, Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Seychelles, as well as 57 ocean-bottom seismometers during a month-long cruise aboard RV "Marion Dufresne". The cruise starts on September 22nd, we expect to be blogging regularly from the ship.

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