Now that we are back on land and not limited by an internet connection that belongs to the 1990s, we are at liberty to share some of the wonderful photos from our successful voyage. Enjoy!

— Zach Eilon, on behalf of the Pacific ORCA science team


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Land ho! The final countdown

It has been a full month since we left our homes to convene in San Diego in preparation for our voyage on the R/V Kilo Moana. A month ago, I vividly recall first looking at the ship, thinking ‘Wow, I have to spend a month on that thing? What have I done?’ A month ago, we had so much time. There was time to work on my own research. There was time to get to know new people and make new friends. There was time to play card games, and read, and write, and think, and just watch the rolling waves on sea, constantly changing but ever the same. There was plenty to do, but there were also just so many tomorrows!

Well, now there is but one more tomorrow. On a ship, it is poor form to count your chickens before they hatch, but we are scheduled to arrive in port tomorrow morning, Monday 7 May, at 0700 Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time. As the weeks have turned to days, and now to mere hours, we have found ourselves almost continuously busy. We have barely any Pacific ORCA work left to do on the ship; our sole remaining responsibility is to process the multibeam data we collected, which gives sonar images of the seafloor topography. But we have been occupied by a Quoits tournament (like a game of horseshoes, but with rings of rope), which wraps up this morning. And, perhaps more acutely, we all are comparing how much of our own work we’ve gotten done versus how much we wanted to finish on the ship. I can tell you that none of us have done more than we wanted, and some still have high hopes for the coming few hours.

We’re also intensely aware that before long, our lives will contain no flying fish or dolphins, no unlimited free ice cream, and no time to gaze mesmerized at the serene blue of the ocean, the brilliant colors of the sunrise and sunset, and the uncountable stars strewn across the night sky. Before long, all of us will scatter to our own countries and institutions. Before long, our lives will return to normal, and our time on the R/V Kilo Moana will perhaps seem not quite real. The tremendous amount that we have learned over the last month, however, will stick with us for years to come.

Mauna Loa has appeared, nestled in with the clouds on the horizon. We have begun receiving text messages. The time is so short, it is almost palpable. Choosing between the unfinished work and soaking in the last gasp of ship life, I think we have almost unanimously chosen the latter.

— William Hawley, on behalf of the PacificORCA team

Lingua franca

{scroll down for the Japanese version!}

The most unexpected thing for me on this cruise was the fact that I am fully enjoying this cruise! There are two Japanese students on this cruise. Both of us have no experiences of studying abroad, and I have never been to English speaking countries. So, the difference of languages was a great concern for both of us. At first, I was really excited about having an opportunity to communicate with foreign students who major in seismology. After the invitation of being on board, I started to refresh my English on the Internet, and I was eagerly looking forward to boarding. However, my English seemed to make no progress, and I gradually started to get tired of the preparation for cruise such as the visa application. As the boarding day approaching, the fear toward the language became a nightmare: on Kilo Moana, I did not meet anyone, and I was staring at the dark rough ocean through a tiny round window. For the rest of the days, I desperately wished that all things would turn out to be just the opposite of the nightmare that I had.

On Kilo Moana, the most shocking thing was that native English is totally different from the radio and CDs that I listened to in Japan. All people have their different accent; moreover, American and British English are totally different languages for me. One of the most relieved things for me was that there were some people who praised my English. Since English is a universal language, I thought that native speakers will expect that all people can speak fluent English. So, I was rather shamed of my poor English, and I never even dreamed that I would be praised with my English. Praise made me realize that struggling with a non-native language is not a shame, but it is a very natural thing. On Kilo Moana, when I talk with someone in person, I try to catch all the words and ask the words that I could not understand (I really appreciate for the patient explanation!). When there are several people, I cannot stop the conversation every time (if I did that, it would take forever to finish the conversation!), so I try to understand the outline of the conversations and do not put too much pressure on myself.

One of my favorite thing on Kilo Moana is greeting. In the narrow boat, we can meet the same person for many times every day. Every time when people run into someone, they will say hi to each other with smiling and ask how they are doing. Though my poor vocabulary does not allow me to say something nicer than “I am good” (Indeed, I am very good.), they keep greeting with me. The greeting with smile make my ship life much happier. I will keep on doing this after I go back to Japan.

Before getting on board, I really worried about my life on board. What should I do if I cannot have any conversations because of the language differences? What should I do if they look down on my poor English? What should I do if they do not want to give me some important works? However, all were just silly ideas, and there is no such a mean person on Kilo Moana. If you do want to know the others, talk with the others, and be friends, the conversation is something endless and the difference of language is a matter that is not worth you to bothering about. I do not know whether you believe me or not, but I think so from the bottom of my mind.

— Yuki Kawano


本航海で最も予想外だったことは,自分が航海を思いっきり楽しめていることです.今回の研究航海には私を含めて2人の日本人学生が乗船しています. 2人とも留学経験はなく,私は英語を母語とする国の土を踏んだことすらなかったので,言語の違いに対する不安は非常に大きかったです.乗船が決定したのは出航日2か月ほど前で,最初のうちは,地震学を学ぶ他国の学生と交流できることに胸を躍らせ,ネットで英語学習をしながら,乗船日を今か今かと首を長くして待っていました.しかし,ネットでの英語学習に微々たる成果を感じることもないまま時は流れ(短期間なので当然ですが),ビザ取得を始めとした航海準備にも嫌気が差し始めました.いよいよ出国日が迫ると,言語への不安は悪夢となって具現化しました: キロ・モアナに乗船した私は誰にも会うことなく自室の小さな窓から荒れた暗い海を眺めていたのです.起きてもしばらくは夢と気づかず,自分の情けなさをぼんやりと責めていました.その後は,逆夢であることを必死に祈りながら絶望的な気持ちで乗船日までの数日を過ごしたことは言うまでもありません.



乗船前の私は,言語の違いで会話ができなかったらどうしよう,英語が話せなくて馬鹿にされるのではないか,仕事の割当てを敬遠されてしまうのだろうか.そんなことばかりを考えていました.しかし,キロ・モアナにそんな意地悪い人はいません!! 話したい!知りたい!友達になりたい!そんな気持ちがありさえすれば,会話なんて尽きることはなく,言語の違いなんて取るに足らない些細な問題なのだと今は心から思います.


— 川野由貴


The Starry Night

Very early in the voyage many of us developed the habit of having some ice cream after dinner (where do they keep so much ice cream?) and going out on deck to watch the sunset. This habit continues, unbroken, through the third week at sea. The sunsets are usually quite beautiful, but this marks only the beginning of our nightly ritual.

Sometimes before the sun even sets, we can see Venus, alone in the brass-colored western sky. Then Sirius, the Dog Star, appears nearly straight overhead. As the sky turns from brass to lavender to cobalt, more and more stars seem to jump out of the sky. Procyon is next, then Rigel, Canopus, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Capella, Castor, Pollux, Regulus… it turns out you can learn a lot of star names when you can’t easily check email or read the news. The satellite internet connection makes it feel like 1995.

Speaking of satellites, we regularly see satellites silently sailing across the evening and morning skies. They have no lights of their own, but they shine in the sunlight. Sometimes they are dim, so dim that we can’t see them when we look directly at them. Sometimes we see them “flare,” when the large, mirror-like solar panels catch the sunlight at just the right angle to reflect it toward us—like using your watch to annoy the teacher. When this happens, for just a second or two, the satellite becomes the brightest object in the sky. Occasionally we see one flash quickly, again and again, perhaps a defunct satellite that is no longer able to maintain its orientation. And a couple of times, we’ve seen the International Space Station. The ISS is extremely bright, and remains so for a few minutes until it disappears into the horizon or slips into Earth’s shadow. The knowledge that there are humans aboard that brightest of stars is truly awesome. The realization that those humans (at only a few hundred miles away) are probably closer to us than any people on Earth’s surface is humbling.

We have seen two ships and just one aircraft since our second day at sea, three weeks ago now. The ship has few lights outside, because those who pilot the ship at night need their night vision to look for obstacles. This near-total darkness makes for perfect stargazing conditions. On clear nights, there are so many stars that it becomes difficult for us to identify constellations! But the night sky is filled with so much more than constellations.

We can clearly see the Milky Way, the spiral galaxy that contains our small solar system. Just as the planets orbit the sun, everything in the galaxy orbits an enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way. If you look toward the center of the galaxy, in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, the Milky Way is absolutely spectacular—a strip of foggy white, partially obscured by dark clouds. These clouds aren’t Earthly clouds, though: they are vast shrouds within the galaxy itself, called molecular clouds. These huge regions of interstellar dust and molecular hydrogen are the fertile grounds where stars are born. We can also see the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy that neighbors the Milky Way, and at ~150,000 light-years, it is one of the most distant objects visible with the naked eye.

With just a pair of binoculars that we found in the ship’s conference room, we can see so much more! Nebulae are either regions where stars are formed (look for Orion’s sword) or where they recently died in a supernova (look for the Crab Nebula). Dozens of globular clusters, tight groups of stars, dot the night sky (the most famous is the Pleiades).

Early one morning, we could see through the binoculars all the Galilean moons—the four moons of Jupiter that Galileo saw more than 400 years ago (Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto). The early morning is also the best time to look for shooting stars. The Lyrid meteor shower peaked just a few days ago, so for the last week we’ve been seeing 10 or more shooting stars every morning. A few of us were particularly lucky to catch a large meteor, so large that we saw it break up into smaller chunks as it disintegrated in its descent.

As dawn approaches, we see the Zodiacal Light: sunlight scattering off of dust in the plane of the solar system. This hazy finger reaches upward along the ecliptic, the imaginary circle along which the sun, the moon, and all of the planets move, and where the constellations of the Zodiac lie. Finally, Mercury appears on the horizon, and sunrise is upon us. We will begin the ritual again with ice cream this evening!

— William Hawley

Final deployment

Behold our official experiment logo, courtesy of our resident floating artist, Carlos Gomez

This morning, at exactly 0300, chief scientist Jim Gaherty pulled the pelican release hook for the last time, sending our 30th and final OBS into the water. Last but not least! Almost half of the science party appeared for the occasion, looking sleepy (we’re not all on night shifts!) but providing an appropriate air of pomp and circumstance.

In honour of this being the last deployment of the cruise, Carlos (our resident artist extraordinaire) used electrical tape to fashion a fantastic rendering of our PacificORCA logo – which he designed a couple of weeks ago – on the side of the OBS body. The whole science team added their signatures, and we affixed a spare recovery flag to add extra jauntiness to the whole affair: a fitting totem to a remarkably successful series of deployments. Our enormous thanks for such smooth sailing again go to the tireless ship’s crew and SIO techs; we recognise that a vast amount of work goes into making everything appear so easy.

Although this means we’re heading back to loved ones, fast internet, and certainly a celebratory beer or two, this bittersweet moment also signalled that our expedition will soon be drawing to an end. The novelty and excitement of life at sea has still not worn off for most of us. We are still eager to see new seabirds and now-familiar stars, and to gaze for hours into the hypnotic waves.

Now let’s see if that enthusiasm withstands the 9-day transit back to land!

Zach Eilon, on behalf of the PacificORCA team


Our 30th and final OBS, decked out appropriately, prepares to deploy to the bottom of the Pacific. 


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A Day in the Life (26th April, 2018)


Wake up.  The science party is divided into three shifts to keep a 24 hr watch.  One runs from 6 am to 2 pm, one from 2 pm to 10 pm, and one from 10 pm to 6 am the next morning.  My watch is the afternoon/evening one, so we were the only ones that didn’t have to change our sleep schedules at all.  Still, I’ll take the excuse for a lie-in!  We do often miss breakfast (0715-0815), but given how well we are fed on this cruise, that’s probably for the best.

The first thing I do in the morning is poke my head into the computer lab.  This is where the people on watch spend their time, monitoring the instruments that are constantly recording seafloor topography and (when we have just pushed one overboard) the position of the OBS that we just deployed.  Most importantly, it has a whiteboard with the approximate time of the next deployment.  Now, due to complete coincidence, my shift (self-described as “Team Scurvy”) has fared poorly in actually getting to do any deployments – it takes about 4 hours to do a deployment (of which about 10 minutes is lowering the instrument into the ocean, with the rest of the time spent monitoring to locate it once it reaches the seafloor), and about 4-10 hours to steam between sites, so it is very easy for an 8 hour shift to miss out on a deployment completely.  By the time we got our second deployment, the other teams were on about their seventh.  So although almost all of our 30 instruments have now been deployed, it is still exciting for my team to deploy one ourselves.  This morning, the deployment was scheduled for 16:00 – yes!  Even better, it was my turn to be directly involved in lowering it over the side.  Already, today was set to be a good day.

The second thing I do in the morning is go stand out on the bow and soak up some sunshine.  As an English person, the novelty of good weather never wears off. I may also be the only person left on board still excited by flying fish.  I make sure to see at least one per day.  Granted, normally this is not remotely difficult– but when it’s very wavy, sometimes I have to watch the sea for maybe half an hour.  It’s a tough life!  Today it was very calm, so I could even see the tiny ones jumping without having to wonder if they were just water droplets splashing.

Next, I spent an hour or so knitting and reading.  Being overly paranoid that there would be nothing to do on board, I brought about 6 books I’ve been meaning to read for years and a knitting project that has been in progress for even longer.  It’s amazing what you can get done when internet access is limited!


Lunch time!  We had a really tasty chicken and cashew curry.  Then back out on deck for another quick half hour lounging in the sun.


Thomas, one of the crew (who is actually one of the original crew members of the R/V Kilo Moana), is heavily involved with Kung Fu and Tai Chi on Hawaii.  He’s paid to teach classes on land; at sea, he offers them free to anyone who wants three times a week.  We are being taught Chi Gong (aka Qigong), which are Daoist exercises pre-dating even Tai Chi.  They are less complex than Tai Chi moves, only focusing on one thing at once.  But they are all about getting your fluids flowing and your joints loose, perfect for the otherwise-sedentary ship life.  A big part of the exercise is finding your balance and being mindful of how you are standing, which becomes much harder to bluff when the floor has a roll of 10°!


Our shift starts.  The deployment has been moved forward to 15:35, so we don’t have long to wait.  We normally go down on deck an hour early to help set up the last few things on the instrument and move it out into position right at the back of the ship beneath the A-frame.  Everything goes very smoothly, so we had time to do an XBT (eXpendable BathyThermograph) before we got “on site”. It being my lucky day, I get to do it.  The XBT is a small probe that gets dropped overboard to measure the temperature of the water column.  It drops about 750 m with a known sinking rate, sending back the data along a very thin copper wire that spools out for what feels like an impossibly long time.  When it finally unwinds to its full length, the wire snaps, and the probe sinks into the deep.  We use this temperature profile to calculate the sound speed in the water (accounting for salinity, which we obtain from a big database). It’s very important to get the sound speed correct, as we use sound waves to map the seafloor topography. This is interesting information in and of itself, but is particularly important before a deployment as we need to check that we are not about to drop the instrument off the edge of a submarine cliff!

The deployment went really well, thanks for asking.


Back in the computer lab while we waited for the instrument to sink to the seafloor.  This typically takes 1.5-2 hours.  I spend the time doing some processing of the multibeam (seafloor topography, or bathymetry) data.  Especially where there is rough bathymetry, or perhaps just a lot of turbulence in the water, you can get back quite a few false returns.  While a lot of this is picked up automatically by the software and thrown out, it is useful to have a person look over the data and tag any of the remaining data that looks artificial.  Now, people who are used to doing this can process data at maybe 3x the speed it gets collected.  We are not so well-practiced (nor so well disciplined!) so we are falling quite far behind the data collection itself.  But I try to do a few hours of processing a day.  There are actually a number of really interesting things we’ve seen in the bathymetry so far, so it’s important to try and clean it up as much as possible so we can see how robust the patterns and features are that we have noticed as we’re passing.


Dinner is corned beef and cabbage. Then back out on deck to watch the sunset.  The sun doesn’t actually set until about 7 pm, but I deliberately assume it’s going to set earlier than that so I have an excuse to stay out on deck and watch for longer.  We have a very official Beautiful Sunset Index (BSI), and I gave it an 8 (one of the highest scores of the trip so far – though the others tell me that this was an exaggeration and I must have been in too good a mood after having the double excitement of XBT and deployment).  I always stay out at least until you can see Venus (the planet) and Sirius (the star), but tonight we ended up chatting until we could see a couple of constellations.


Back in the computer lab for the end of the shift.  I got in a few hours of actual work on my own research.  Supposedly, sea deployments are much better for productivity than land deployments because there is a lot of down time when you can get work done. But as you can see, my schedule had been absolutely packed up until this point!


The Night Watch comes in to relieve us. I immediately go to bed, as everyone who has to be up in the middle of the night keeps telling us about the wonderful constellations at 4 am.  Well, after hearing for the umpteenth time about how beautiful the Swan looks flying up the Milky Way, I was determined to see it for myself.  (I had actually gotten up two or three times before in the last week at 4 am, but it had been overcast every time.  AllI could see was the ethereal green bioluminescence in the waves crashing around the ship… barely even worth getting out of bed for!)


I wake up well before my alarm was set to go off out of sheer excitement.  But when I go outside… Might as well still be in a city!  The moon is only a couple of days away from full, and it is incredibly bright – very few of the stars show up at all.  On the plus side, it’s incredibly easy to find your way around on deck when you’re under its massive spotlight.  It’s still very pretty to see the big beam of moonlight shining bright along the top of the ocean.  It is almost painfully bright to look directly at the Moon through binoculars, but I persevere, somehow.

Sometime around 5 am, the moon starts to set, and some of the others appear on deck.  Zach, who has been on shift from midnight to noon since before the deployments started, has become an expert on the constellations.  He says he now knows about 40 of them – and he takes me on a tour of the night sky.  As we are so close to the Equator, apparently we can see all of the stars visible from Earth at some point during the night.  So there’s a lot to be shown!  The Swan (and the Eagle, and the Dolphin) is lovely, and there’s one that looks quite like a flamingo that I’m pretty fond of.

By the end of showing me the constellations, Zach notes smugly that over the course of the trip we’ve seen all but one of the Zodiac constellations (Aries, which definitely looks boring in the star charts anyway) and all but one of the planets (Uranus – although Neptune was pretty dodgy too).


Shift change for everyone else, but I stay up on deck and watch as the sunrise very slowly develops.  It doesn’t actually rise until almost 7 am, by which time quite a crowd has gathered again.  We rate the sunrise (on the completely independent Beautiful Sunrise Index) as a 6.5.


For breakfast, I have a cheese omelette, pancakes, and a big bowl of fresh fruit.  Perhaps it is worth getting up for breakfast after all!


Back to bed for a much-needed nap.

— Emily Hopper


{Impatient for photos? Scroll to the bottom!}

I always have my DSLR Camera or my GoPro with me on any trip I take, be it work or vacation.  I truly enjoy documenting everything around me.  I was determined that this expedition would be no different. My GoPro, in particular, has been through a lot of adventures including a sediment coring cruise, videos swimming in glacier water, and time-lapses of the Northern Lights (to name only a few). On this voyage, I planned on taking time-lapses of the sunsets and filming our OBS deployments from the safety of the deck. But during one of the first days of the trip, Zach suggested I use my GoPro (equipped with a waterproof case) to get a shot of the OBS deployment from the ocean’s perspective, in the water.

I have to admit, that after my initial instinct of, “OMG that would be SUCH a cool shot,” I thought, “Shoot. This is the ocean. It would suck if I lost this thing. There’s no way I could get it back.”  But my initial instinct and curiosity took over, and I was determined to try and capture the OBS’s fall into the deep blue of the Pacific.

I wasn’t quite prepared for this type of shot, and hadn’t brought the proper mount, so we had to arrange a contraption that would keep the GoPro secure on whatever we lowered into the water,  ideally reaching 30+ feet below the deck.  One of our OTGs, Rob, had done this before, so he helped me make a device that would help get the shot and settle my fears of possibly losing my precious GoPro.  We got three carbon fibre poles, and lashed them all together to make one very large pole, that I would eventually stick in the ocean.  Rob also drew a line with paint, all the way up the pole so I would know where the camera was pointing.  After running tape around the area that my GoPro would rest (to thicken the pole a bit), Rob used a hose clamp to attach one of my mounts to the pole.  As a secondary recovery, we also attached a rope to the GoPro, and tied the rope to the side of the ship.  If I dropped the pole, or the pole broke, the GoPro would (probably) be fine!

The apparatus was finished, and now it was time to test it out.  As the ship crew and the science crew got ready to lower the OBS, I grabbed the pole and slowly lowered it in the ocean.  The OBS descended, was released, and was officially deployed. Once the OBS was out of sight, I hoisted the pole out of the water, and was relieved to find my GoPro still attached.  With my adrenaline pumping, I quickly rushed inside to watch it.  I ended up getting a great shot… of the propellers and the bottom of the boat…and completely missed the descent of the OBS.  The current was strong and it was difficult to control the long pole from the fan tail. But I also didn’t follow Rob’s directional line on the pole, and forgot to turn the GoPro towards the OBS after I lowered it. Practice makes better though.

Over the next several deployments, I quickly started to get the hang of it.  I got a better idea of what the GoPro could see, and which angle to situate the camera. I developed my routine: go out on deck 20 minutes or so before the deployment, get my hard hat and work vest on, attach my GoPro to the mount/pole, turn on the GoPro, remember to press record just as the winch started upwards, and lower the GoPro level with the OBS.  On several of my subsequent tries, I was actually able to capture the drop and descent of the OBS. I’ve been able to film about 8 deployments now. Sometimes I try to get the OBS hitting the water, sometimes I aim to film the OBS sinking until it’s impossible to see it anymore, and I even attempted one nighttime deployment.

I’m thrilled that everyone can get a glimpse of what we are doing, and that I can contribute a little to documenting our time on board. All in all, the videos and pictures are a pretty awesome perspective on some pretty awesome science.

–Rachel Hatch

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