That was the year that was …..

….. 2017 and hello to 2018.

As we look forward to the excitement that 2018 will bring – it seems timely to reminisce on 2017 given that this year was our 15th as a UK Natural Environment Research Council’ national facility.

The start of the year saw the design and prototype build of a vertical antenna for our electromagnetic (EM) platforms, including a very nice fairing to minimise the impact of ebbing and flo’ing water when the platform is sitting on the seabed, since moving effectively an aerial through the Earth’s magnetic field will alone generate a voltage in the system bigger than the EM fields that we are trying to record.

We always thoroughly test everything before its used in earnest for any data acquisition – test, test and test again.

And this testing involved a dunk in a tank of water to ensure that the whole system not only properly floats, now that its had a significant addition, but also that it floats upright and is stable. And stably float it did.

And the system in “recovery” action – released from the ballast and up it pops. Thanks to the UK’s British Geological Survey for access to their tank.

This year we have completed the build of a brand new brain for our dataloggers and these were manufactured in numbers by a PCB manufacturer – and again, we test, test and test again everything we get built by others as well as ourselves.

One of the 65 made had a little “problem” – the legs on one of the chips were not soldered to the track lines on the board!

This took a magnifying glass and a bright light to find – and the Boss even had to put her glasses on to see it even through the magnifying glass.

The EM project also required us to build a system to measure the tilt, roll and orientation of the platform on the seabed with respect to magnetic north – the scientists of the EM data acquisition wanted to know what degree the vertical antenna was to the vertical as they needed to correct for it, and they also wanted to know which way round the two horizontal antenna were with respect to north. And so TIPSY was born, built in prototype form first and tested, and tested again.

We’ll get back to that.

The scientists also wanted to use a different system in parallel from somewhere else but attach to them our electrodes. And of course the connectors were not compatible!

A bit of cunning thought process from the Boss resulted in a workaround – requiring some pressure vessel end cap inserts.

This requirement was handy as we already needed to do something like it anyway to underpin the new datalogger which we want to feed a multitude of sensors to, which off course, require plugs and sockets with a lot more pins – we got a professional wiring company to wire these as they are very small indeed and required some specialist tooling.

The new evolution of the electrodes turned out better than we imagined – and they are very cost effective to build – its a bit like Lego.

The team member that designed these really did think about it – and got it right first time. Very impressive.

Upside – or downside – depending on your point of view …….. we then had to make loads of them 15 x 6 = 90 in fact.

We wonder what the collective noun for electrodes is? A nestling perhaps – they are certainly nestled in this box.

And then TIPSY evolved into this golden lovely – built in our own PCB facility.

And in our world we “work colours” – or colour code everything. Even to show how a system is working. Even TIPSY has flashing coloured lights.

To deploy anything electronic in the sea requires keeping the water out. So TIPSY required a pressure vessel – we recycled the design of our geophone packages so that we did not also have to build new brackets and had a ready place to mount them already on the platform as geophones aren’t needed for EM data acquisition!

Rather annoyingly the manufacturer got the dater stamp wrong – we didn’t have these made in November!

In addition to colour-coding we also date stamp, part number stamp, design number stamp and even add what its made from – the type of aluminium in this case.

And here she is TIPSY fully built in all her glory ready to be installed in a pressure vessel.

Well done team member – its a thing of beauty and just shows what we can do if we put our minds to it – regardless of how potty we think the requests might be!

So here is January in our retrospective calendar of 2017.

And then it was February D-day for the container going the to second actual data acquisition of the year – in the Caribbean. This one had some travel miles ahead and wouldn’t be home until September.

March saw the Boss take the week of – we are still not sure if a swimming cossie was involved – the Boss isn’t saying.

April saw the start of the first data acquisition – starting in Southampton and on the RV Marion S. Merian.

Fourteen EM platforms with concrete ballast.

And they are a bit of a handful to get in and out of the sea, each having 6m horizontal arms sticking out both sides.

And round, and round, and round we went. Not a byte of data left here once we were done.

May saw two of the team depart for the second data acquisition – to prepare instruments and set-up the lab, whilst also undertaking a scenic island tour.

Some people pay a great deal of money for something like this.

And very nicely turned out too they were – all 25 of them.

And so was our vertical hydrophone array – laid out being prepared on the quayside in Guadeloupe when the second half of the team arrived direct from the North Sea EM project.

So June saw 68 deployments plus the vertical array.

While we were away the Boss had an outing to Cammell Laird to have a look at the new polar research vessel – Sir David Attenborough or Boaty McBoatface as it is better known – being built. And its huge.

This is the front of the stern section with several decks to go above this.

Meanwhile – on the other side of the Atlantic we were fishing out seismic platforms from swaths of weed – the brightly coloured flags made by the Boss’ own fair hands helped to spot them amongst the yellow floating stuff.

And we rolled out our new “battlefield” map with new and improved icons and seabed bathymetry – some very deep water in this work area – >5500m – meaning our platforms took more than 2 hours to get to the sea surface from the seabed.

Back in the lab in July we were joined by an intern who was tasked with making a new design of all singing and dancing test boxes. One box does all jobs.

August saw the top up shipping of additional ballast and batteries for the final seismic acquisition of the year. Its very rare we ship so little equipment in one go, but the platforms were already on their way back to the UK from they journey around the Caribbean.

The very stern-most part of “Boaty” left the Tyne in August too.

And while the Boss went to view that, we were building another 25 platforms up ready for the second visit to the North Sea this year.

The Boss has several mantra including – if a job’s worth doing – and – it needs to look the part – and these do look the part.

September would see us break the 4000 samples per second barrier for the first time on every one of the 25 instruments deployed – and also, as a consequence, break the 10 Tbyte data volume barrier for a single data acquisition.

But the September calendar shot has to be this one – the air bubbling out of the yellow flotation hard hats as each seismic platform sinks to the seabed – caught on a swath bathymetry imaging system.

And the last deployment of the year – the last of 114.

Although a smaller number than 2016, these 114 were underpinned by a great number of technical designs and developments to achieve them.

Our data recording statistic also made it above 98% – not quite perfect, but above the 95% goal we set ourselves, with every byte of this data transferred to standard format, QC’d and copied to archive before we left each of the three vessels – technically it was the Cook twice and Merian once.

Although not October – it was near enough – us on the RRS James Cook rounding the quay coming into Leith.

And didn’t we cover some ground during this one!

And the container returns.

And – for November – the Boss produced this …….. magnetic putty.

We have no idea what she has in mind for us to do with this ………. .

…..or this. The Boss is keeping us guessing into 2018.

Our GPS time tagging system got an upgrade in December and is moving towards its final form. This version is now clocking along using an atomic time source to achieve nanosecond precision.

And December brought the snow to our Durham lab – still magnificent.

Well done team – another year’s data acquisitions done in style and with a flourish – and well done Boss for keeping the wheels on our wagon for another year.

Happy New Year blog readers.

2 thoughts on “That was the year that was …..

  1. Great blog – I have been following since I saw the “boss” on my last trip up to Durham (back up on the 19th). Am I allowed to ask who commissioned the North Sea project and over which field? – check with the “boss”. Keen to see how the industry is looking to evolve beyond seismic. Thanks Ian


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