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Today, less than 42 hours before we say goodbye to the Langseth and all its scientific glory, we shot frozen grapefruits and toilet paper out of a Sonabuoy launcher. Hearing the news, I couldn’t help but think I was back at sleepaway camp playing a game of telephone:
“We’re launching WHAT off the side of the ship? Grapefruits, yes, I thought that’s what you said… you DID say frozen toilet paper? Right… and why is it frozen? So it doesn’t light on fire? But didn’t Rob say something about lighter fluid? Ok… and, sorry, one last question… why?”
All these questions were answered either by Donna, our chief scientist (very respectable position, thank you very much) or Rob, the otherwise very authoritative and professional tech in charge. Case in point: his shirt today read “Caution. I have decided to put myself in charge.” Both wore a mixture of guilt and glee as they twiddled their thumbs a la Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.
Instead of toilet paper, the launcher is officially used to shoot buoys off of the side of the ship. Sonabuoys are, in Andy’s words, “the poor man’s OBS” or ocean bottom seismometer. OBS’s were used on the first part of this cruise prior to the undergraduates’ arrival and streamer deployment. Dropped to the ocean floor in a yellow, bulbous box-looking thing, OBS’s use hydrophones to receive waves from the ship’s airguns that have traveled much farther and deeper than can be detected by the streamers themselves. The OBS’s therefore allow us to image much deeper parts of the Earth’s crust, adding on to the more detailed but shallower data from the streamers.
Right, back to the toilet paper. Before OBS’s, sonabuoys would be shot from the launcher, land on the ocean floor and transmit data back to the ship. Naturally, grapefruits and toilet paper don’t quite serve the same purpose. Instead, they make a fabulous BANG, go really, really far, and in the case of toilet paper, make pretty streamers as they fall into the ocean. As Rob prepared these projectiles one by one, the rest of us, mostly PhD’s, veteran technicians, expert mechanics and other such respectable folk, watched with ridiculous amusement like pyromaniacs on the 4th of July.