From a mountain to a …..

….. mole hill.

This post could equally be entitled ….. On ….. Off …… On …… Off …… such has been this year.

Its been a while since our last blog and that’s really because its been a funny old year – it started very well with the Boss winning a total of £1 million pounds in three capital equipment rounds.

This money would enable us to expand our instrument numbers even further, up to 65 individual platforms, roll-out several of a recent developments across many of these platforms, expand the number of electromagnetic (EM) systems that we have, and even roll-out our recently developed combined seismic and EM platforms, as well as building another of our vertical hydrophone systems …… but ….. and there is always a but ….. COVID-19 has not only made it really challenging to spend the money, it has also slowed right down the manufacture of the bespoke-built parts, primarily due to swathes of self isolations in the multitude of companies that we buy things from or that bespoke manufacture our in-house designed parts!

A year after we started, we’ve just got the final parts in – the stainless steel lifting frames that are really tricky to weld not only because its stainless steel, but also because they have a complicated 3D shape that has quite specific size requirements – the legs have to fit in slots in brackets on the platform plastic parts!.

Who’d have known it.

We should, by now, also have a set of instruments winging their way to the Pacific for a deployment in January-February.

The container was packed, paperwork done and all ready to go and, literally, within a matter of days of when we had planned for the crane to roll down the drive and the lorry to arrive to take it to the shipping line …… its off!

Cancelled because the research vessel from which the deployment was to be done had a catastrophic port motor failure, and has been stuck in dry dock ever since having its hull opened, motor extracted for repair, repaired motor reinserted, hull welded back up, propellor shaft realigned …… and at some point if it escapes the shipyard, engine trials.

Result for us, cruise cancelled for a year.

Time to do more of the developments though – so there is always a positive.

Then – La Palma in the Canaries erupted – an earthquake seismologists dream – the magma that erupts from a volcano has to make its way to the surface from deep in the inner Earth.

Its migration causes the surrounding rock to heat up and expand, and the magma movement also pulses – all of which create detectable seismic signals.

A natural laboratory for studying how volcanoes work.

The UK funding councils have URGENCY schemes – and as their name implies, these are design to respond rapidly in instances like this to fund studies.

La Palma itself is quite small, so to see what is happening deep beneath it the only place to put instruments is in the sea surrounding it.

“Do you have any instruments available?” was the question we received from both UK and US scientists – yes we do and they are ready to go.

So the last few weeks have seen the preparations for that, with the trickiest thing for the scientists involved being finding a vessel to do the deployments from.

The Principle Scientists of this study have collaborators in Spain so they had originally been tasked with finding a vessel – but to no avail.

Then an opportunity to use one of the UK research vessels presented itself, which would be porting in the Canaries in mid-January.

Everything was readied for shipping ….. and then ….. literally the last minute ……. the cruise that would taken it to the Canaries was cancelled ….. because …… the Captain has COVID-19.

Who would believe it?

So its been an on, off, on, off and now back to the ship time drawing board sort of year.

The good news though is, 2022-23 is looking to be really busy with our biggest deployment ever – 150 deployments and recoveries in 4 weeks, our biggest EM deployment ever, another attempt at the Pacific, and even the at-sea geophysical equipment trials for the Sir David Attenborough.

So instead, putting the time to good use, we have been tackling the assembly of what £1M of capital equipment has bought.

Some very large flotation buoys, to keep both vertical arrays we have upright in the water column – problem now is …… where do we keep them?

The smaller version ….

The version for encasing the dataloggers …….

And the acoustic releases to get the arrays from the seabed ….. these are used in double redundancy so that there is always a back up.

The releases we have fit very snuggly in side the flotation package, their listening heads sticking out the top surrounded by their protective cages.

And we even also have some small ones ….. for attaching to the hydrophone cable string up its length to keep it taut.

As you can see from the label -good for deployment in up to 6000 metres of sea water.

The lab has been full of crates of all sizes and shapes …

Some made of wood, and some made of cardboard.

The pallets will come in very handy for ballast weights, so nothing will go to waste.

Assembly of instruments requires a lot of stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers – this lot is just enough for five platforms.
They are matched in number by nylon equivalents, to electrically insulate electrical components, and in this case, replace as much of the stainless steel equivalents as possible on the platforms when used in EM mode – as even this small amount of metal creates electrical signals big enough to measure.
We have a lot of new transducer heads to test, before they get bolted to their pressure tubes.
There are PCBs that manage the communications that these transducers receiver and convert the “burn” instruction to apply power to the burn wire that holds the ballast on – each with its unique communications codes.
Plastic fixings and enclosures for hydrophones that will get distributed along the cabling.

Metre upon metre of EM receiving antenna arms to drill and insert the fixings to hold the electrodes.
Two deep water release transducers for the bottom of the vertical hydrophone array – these work in tandem, one back-ups the other.
Card cages for the datalogger PCBs – colour coded for generation of design.
Some heavy duty swivels for the vertical array so that any sycamore leaf spinning behaviour of the flotation or ballast doesn’t propagate along the cabling during descent from the sea surface to seabed, or ascent from seabed to sea surface.
Recovery and relocation beacons – both flashing lights and VHF radios.
And more equipment, means more boxes to ship it safely in!

And this is just some of what has been arriving over the last year – but at least we now have the time to assemble it.

But we were hoping that having a set of instruments out and about would give us the space to do that in …… but they are still here!

Let’s hope 2022 is a more on year than off!

Happy Christmas

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