The Engine Room

Current Position: 49°N, 143°W

We have been steaming all day, targeting a small storm to the east of us for tomorrow morning. In honor of all the work the ship is doing for us right now, I thought I’d show some pictures from inside the engine room. I took these a couple days ago, during a tour that one of the engineers was nice enough to lead for a few of us scientists. The ship is powered by several large diesel generators, shown in yellow in the first photo below. The motors that drive the propellers are actually electric motors, which was a surprise to me. The lights, heat, water desalinators, and all other electronics run off ostensibly the same power as the engines themselves.

Instead of a propellor and rudder system, this ship has several propellors which can swivel on a vertical axis. Each of these is called a “z-drive,” named for the shape of motor-gearbox-propellor system, as shown in the schematic taped on the wall of the engine room. Note: a z-drive is what failed on this very ship in 2012, and prompted our group to scramble down to San Diego to use the R/V New Horizon, but that’s all water under the bridge. Anyway, the z-drive propellors give the ship a special capability called “dynamic positioning,” which basically means it can move in ways that most ships cannot. This has been especially useful when it comes to rounding up our buoys — not usually an easy task with such a large ship.

– Mike

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