Exactly how big is the Revelle?

The R/V Roger Revelle is a big ship! Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (https://scripps.ucsd.edu/ships/revelle)

When I tell people that I’m going out to sea, they usually ask: “How big is the ship you’ll be on?” When I tell them (something in the 200 ft range), their response is “I have no idea how big that is, but how do you spend a month at sea on a tiny boat without going crazy?”

So how big does the 277 ft Revelle (the largest ship in the Scripps fleet) actually feel? Here’s one useful way to think about it: At home, if you wake up in the middle of the night and want a snack, how many doors and staircases do you have to go through to get to your kitchen? Probably not more than one or two of each. The Revelle has seven decks (levels) and two main internal stairwells (not to mention 2-3 outside staircases between each deck). The ship is also very compartmentalized to conserve air conditioning and contain potential fires, which means that the main hallway alone is divided into five separate sections. Most of the science staterooms are on the lower deck, which means that a midnight trip to the mess deck (kitchen) entails climbing two levels of stairs and going through five doors. Heavy metal doors. Sometimes tilted sideways in the waves. That part of being at sea could make me go crazy.

Sunset is always worth pausing for – even seven flights up!

Even basic science tasks involve a lot of transit. Getting from the from the back deck, where we do most of our sampling, all the way forward to the main lab can involve four doors and a lengthy hallway, which starts to add up when you’re carrying awkward sample bottles. And with five separate labs plus cold rooms and storage spaces, it’s easy to lose your fellow scientists in the maze!

That doesn’t even include trips up to the bridge, which is the uppermost level where the captain and mates steer the ship and the rest of us spot whales in our sporadic free time, or down to the laundry room, which is an essential destination on a month-long voyage. If you were putting your clothes in the dryer after dinner and suddenly realized that you absolutely must go straight up to the bridge to catch the sunset, you would have to sprint up seven levels and open more doors than I can count. If you forgot your binoculars for whale-watching, you would have to do the whole thing again (or borrow from the bridge). Fortunately the sun doesn’t set until after 8 p.m. these days.

We are grateful for all of the space, though, especially the large labs that allow us to spread out our extensive sampling equipment without bumping elbows. We will be finishing our SeaSoar transects tomorrow morning, after which we will head into Santa Barbara to drop off and pick up several people, before heading back out to sea to begin deploying instruments and sampling. Stay tuned for lots of exciting science!

Another stunning sunset over the California Current


Posted by: Laura Lilly, SIO

The Saga of the SeaSoar

“Sally saw the SeaSoar near the sea surface over the seamount…” – The ‘6 o’clock News’ SeaSoar watch (Sara Rivera, Lauren Manck, Cynthia Martinson). 


One of the funnest parts of oceanography is getting to play with high-tech instruments that help us collect data about the sea around us. Yesterday we deployed something that looks like a yellow toy airplane – the SeaSoar!

The SeaSoar waits patiently on deck for its chance to shine on our cruise

The SeaSoar is a winged torpedo-like instrument that we tow behind the ship to collect a 3D profile of the water column. The instrument ‘soars’ up and down between the surface and 260 m deep in a yo-yo-like pattern, recording water temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll fluorescence from phytoplankton, and  water clarity.


The Ohman Lab and volunteers gather on the fantail of the Revelle to learn about the SeaSoar.

Our goal during this cruise is to sample and track the evolution of a filament of cold, newly-upwelled water that has developed along the Central California coast, extending out into the California Current System. Filaments like the one we are tracking are common upwelling features along our coast, and can be important conduits for moving nutrients, plankton, fish larvae, and other organic matter into offshore waters. The SeaSoar measurements help us characterize the subsurface picture of the filament.


Deploying the SeaSoar requires a large and attentive team.

Our SeaSoar path is a radiator-like grid pattern that traverses up and down between Pt. Conception and Monterey Bay, which means that today’s upwind leg to Monterey brought plenty of large swells, sea spray, and rocking ship decks. The SeaSoar has to be monitored via computer full-time, so our army of grad students and volunteers has been busy standing watch and composing sea limericks. We are all in good spirits after some evening whale-watching and a beautiful sunset – along with a great first day of data!

Classic Central California spring wind-driven upwelling – rough but beautiful.

The SeaSoar saga will be continued by The 6 o’clock News tomorrow…


Posted by: Laura Lilly, SIO

We are finally off!

Where will we fit all these boxes on the ship?!

After much land preparation and several hectic days of ship loading, we finally headed out to sea yesterday on our 2017 CCE-LTER Process Cruise! Our trip out of San Diego Harbor and up to the Channel Islands has been smooth and sunny, allowing us to get our feet under us as we navigate the maze of tunnels and hallways on the 277-ft (aka huge!) R/V Roger Revelle, as well as to test-deploy some of the instruments we will use on our cruise.


Tristan Biard collects CTD rosette water sampled from 800 m deep off San Clemente Island.

Some of today’s tests included: two types of CTDs, which measure water column properties (temperature, salinity, clarity, nitrate levels, chlorophyll fluorescence); two types of plankton nets; and a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP),  a fish-shaped metal instrument that we tow behind the ship to get a 3D profile of the ocean by measuring similar characteristics to CTDs.


This Process Cruise marks the beginning of Phase III of the CCE-LTER program. This phase focuses on cross-shore fluxes in the Central and Southern California Current, which means we are interested in how water masses change and evolve as they move from coastal upwelling regions out away from shore.

Preparing the Trace Metal-Clean CTD for deployment. This CTD measures iron levels in the ocean, which means it must be kept completely iron-free – a hard feat on a metal ship!

Our cruise is a collaboration between multiple groups, with representatives from the Ohman, Landry, Barbeau, Aluwihare, Allen and Goericke labs at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Bishop lab at UC Berkeley, and the Stukel lab at Florida State University. We also have several enthusiastic volunteers, some of whom are at sea for the first time. We look forward to learning from each other and working with the ship’s excellent crew to collect valuable science!

We have already pulled up several interesting organisms in our first net tow! The large pinkish tube on the right is a pyrosome colony, and the small clear triangles are siphonophores.


Posted by: Laura Lilly, SIO