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 fourth blog post. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in the Mid-Pacific."
STEAMING TOWARD THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC (March 14, 2009)—After several days on board the JOIDES Resolution, I am most struck by how much communication options have changed, in really quite remarkable ways.
In 1990 there was one exchange of letters with shore per week—Mondays, I think. My family sent letters to an address in College Station, Tex., where they were retyped and entered into a system called "P-mail," for personal mail. I still don't really understand how it worked. There was a satellite burst exchange of material from the ship/shore on the computer system once per week. Material that had been typed in College Station from letters sent there was sent to the ship as one long file, sent to the yeoperson. She separated them into individual letters, put them in envelopes, and walked around the ship delivering them. Michiko, the yeoperson, was one of the sweetest, kindest people you could sail with, and she had the job of handing you your letter or letting you know there wasn't a letter for you that week (a terrible job). At the College Station end, I think they took the letters we sent back, printed them out, put them in envelopes, and mailed them to our family members. It meant you were always reading or writing at about a two-week lag, and it took awhile to get synchronized. So, family members were writing me in response to a letter that was at least a week old, and vice versa.
Then, one day per week, after the shipyard barbeque on Sundays, the doctor set up the ham radio, and you could make collect phone calls to home—if the doctor could set up a patch to a suitable point. You sat in a little tiny room, wearing headphones, next to the doctor–operator, and ham radio operators who were helping listened in to monitor quality. You couldn't discuss finances or business on ham radio, as an FCC rule. I think there was an expensive satellite phone in the library to make private-ish calls on any topic.
News posted on a clipboard each day. I was at sea for the start of progress on the reunification of Germany. I remember how worried the Scandinavians in the science party were about the prospects of a reunified Germany on their countries' safety and security. It was such a privilege to experience history in the making while standing side by side with colleagues from other nations deeply affected by the happenings of the day.
The 1996 trip is kind of a blank, but I know there were regular e-mail exchanges with shore at certain times of day. There was still a lag between what you were writing and what you were receiving, but much more regular contact. It was well before I had a cell phone, but since we were in sight of the California shore some of the time, I think someone had cell phone reception.
There was no regular ham radio operation. I do remember using e-mail to set up a time for a ham radio call (because one of the chemistry techs liked doing ham radio), feeling like I had gotten technology backward.
On the 2002 trip, we had e-mail, and ways to phone, but I really don't remember much difference from 1996. I think e-mail exchanges happened several times a day, but there was still a time lag.
Today is remarkably different. There's ship-to-shore e-mail 24/7, most days. I can get to Web pages to do work, sign time sheets, read the news, and even be on Facebook. Bandwidth is limited and has to be apportioned to highest scientific and ship value uses, but most regular Web use can be accommodated. No YouTube videos or Skype calls—bandwidth hogs be banned.
But everything else seems to work, and work well. I can find a phone that makes a free connection to College Station, Tex., then use a phone card ($5 for 120 minutes of domestic long distance) to make calls to U.S. numbers. Sometime soon there should be a phone set up in a small room with a door you can close to do this. Wow.
I know people complain about missing the old days of isolation at sea, but I wouldn't go back for a minute. I am sad that my iPhone is at significantly reduced capacity—still good as an alarm clock, an audio book player, for playing some games, but no SMS, no Web, no mail, no Google maps.
It's more challenging to have to keep up with work life at home than when I really had to walk away from it for two months. But this really represents modern oceanographic life, and it is a true thing of wonder.
In other news, we took the core barrels out of their quivers in preparation for coring yesterday, and today we did the first complete practice of core flow, sampling and data acquisition. More on coring in future posts—for now you can read how Katrina Edwards described coring in 60 Seconds in North Pond.
Heiko Pälike (Co-Chief Scientist, National Oceanography Centre, U.K.) gives one of the science orientations at the start of Expedition 320. Courtesy IODP.