Editor's Note: Peggy Delaney is sailing on a newly refurbished research vessel, the JOIDES Resolution, that left Honolulu on March 10 with an international group of researchers on board. The ship, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, conducts scientific investigations beneath the seafloor by drilling the ocean floor and retrieving long “cores” of mud for testing and data collection. This is her third blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."

STEAMING TOWARD THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC (March 11, 2009)—We are moving at a good clip, and seas are relatively calm. We will come out of the lee of the Hawaiian Islands shortly, into the North Equatorial Counter Current, so things will get bumpier. So far, so good. We are headed to the first site, expected to get there Sunday morning (March 18), and may be coring by Monday.

I've had a sinus infection, which has complicated my attempts to get into phase for my midnight shifts. It's a hard place to start, exactly 12 hours out of phase. But the antibiotics seem to be kicking in, so I'm just tired and dopey, not seasick. I did go to sleep last night at 10 P.M., which is really the time I should be getting up to exercise before my shift. So today I'll go to bed in the late afternoon and try to get up for midnight shift.

Several more days until we get to first site, so just trying to learn the ropes in the lab. You know how when you drive an old beater car you dream of the day when you will have a car where the turn signals work and you can leave the radio on when you turn the car off and the clutch doesn't slip? And then, you get the new car, and you realize technology has moved way past you—electronic door locks, lights that fade out, a radio that stays on when you turn the car off until you open the door. Well, the new lab/house area in the newly retrofitted JOIDES (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling) Resolution (JR) is a bit like this. [See this post for some background.]

Even some of the improvements take some getting used to. For example, the toilet system is now a vacuum flush system—low flow, low water usage—into a sewage treatment plant on ship that digests the sewage for the more than 100 people on board for eight weeks. From this, and other changes that made her a "greener ship," the JR now uses less water per day than she used to, even with more people on board.

The adjustment comes in getting the vacuum toilets working reliably. Some of this is just getting all the gaskets and fittings right. Some is attributable to "user error." When a toilet stops working, you have to call the engine room to get someone to come fix it!

This means that the various public bathrooms in the lab areas feature signs to help reduce user error. One, in the bathroom reserved for women, has a useful flow chart explaining steps that one could take: Flush before, to make sure it's working; flush at an intermediate point; flush after. Others have a lengthy posting explaining the workings of the vacuum toilet system, what users can and should not do to help it work. For example, put nothing in but waste that comes out of you—and a reasonable amount of toilet paper.

Plunging won't work on a stopped-up commode, because they're vacuum toilets, with a valve. The essay also let me know that the JR now has a biological oxidation plant for the sewage treatment, with bacteria largely "contributed" by us. So putting anything else down the toilet system can kill off the bacteria and the plant will go septic, inconveniencing everyone, not to mention smelling up the ship.

Things are much quieter many places on the ship, although the hoods in the chemistry lab seem a bit loud. Quarters are quiet enough that you can hear the intercom pages from the lab stack. And the computer room, as I mentioned, is a different place altogether in terms of noise.

I am rapidly forgetting the "old JR" lab and quarters, and since they are completely gone, this is a good thing. In the quarters before, there were some four-person cabins with four people  per shower and head (toilet). (Sinks were in the rooms.) All cabins are two-person or one-person staterooms, most with their own heads. Several two-person cabins share a shower and head, so the max per toilet and shower is four.

These are big improvements. It's fascinating to live in a mostly self-contained world for two months.

Photo of Peggy Delaney at a meeting by William Crawford, courtesy IODP