Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Day 1 - The Isis ROV trials begin

Tuesday 14 August 2012 - the Isis ROV trials begin 

Cruise JC076T is what we refer to as a trials cruise and in this case, represents an opportunity for our Deep Platforms Group to trial a piece of equipment called Isis. Isis  is a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV that we use to enable marine science teams to study life in the deepest and most inhospitable places on the Planet, the mid-ocean ridges. Mid-ocean ridges are areas where new sea floor is generated; they resemble long mountain chains under the sea and require Isis  to descend over 2500 m to reach them. Our scientists are interested in mid-ocean ridges because, despite the fact that these areas are beyond the reach of the energy from the Sun, life is still able to exist there. Fantastic species of vent worms, shrimps and crabs have been discovered at the sites of mid-ocean ridges, thanks to the capability of Isis  and her skilled team of engineers, technicians and scientists.

Isis  is based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and maintained by the National Marine Facilities Sea Systems Deep Platforms Group. Unfortunately, during a deployment in the Southern Ocean in January 2011, Isis  was damaged badly in an accident involving the ship’s propeller so for the last 6 months, Deep Platforms Group have been re-building the ROV, a task that was completed at the end of July 2012. Although Isis  is capable of working to depths of 6500m, she is configured only for 2500m on this trial.

Cruise JC076T started in the dock at Southampton during the early evening of Monday 13 August when the ROV team deployed Isis  successfully in a ‘wet test’ for the first time since the accident on January 19 2011.

The next morning, against a backdrop of sunshine and a blue sky, the RRS James Cook  set sail for the Porcupine Abyssal Plain in the mid-east Atlantic. As we sailed past Calshot, we watched the Harbour Master from ABP Southampton collect the pilot once the James Cook  was beyond Calshot Spit. This is Cowes week so there were dozens of yachts scattered about, requiring the James Cook  to sound her horn occasionally, to warn of our approach.

During the first day of the Trials Cruise, the James Cook  undertook some ‘handbrake turns’ to test the autopilot system. Turning the vessel at speeds of up to 11 knots, she turned neatly and smoothly, demonstrating a successful test!

After securing the various pieces of kit, including Isis  firmly to the deck, the ROV team continued in their preparations for the first trial dives at sea.

The key objectives for cruise JC076T:
  • Commission and train deck officers in new adaptive autopilot unit
  • Test the operation and functionality of the ROV Isis  following a substantial rebuild
  • Finalise and confirm procedures for the safe and effective operation of the ROV Isis
  • Test the operation and functionality of TOBI2 in series of medium and deep dives
  • Calibrate the USBL transducer
  • Launch a NOC Seaglider (Coprolite)
  • Undertake familiarisation and knowledge of navigation and DP systems and contingency actions in the event of failure
  • Confirm knowledge and competence of marine staff in emergency procedures through auditing.