Ocean Explorer Team: What are your responsibilities aboard the Atlantis during the Deep East expedition?
Dave Sims: My responsibilities aboard the R/V Atlantis are to take care of all of the computer needs, scientific equipment and any other technical support the scientists need. When the Alvin submersible does a deep ocean dive, besides bringing back biological samples, the on sub camera takes a live video of the dive. I will take that video and make a duplicate in the computer lab aboard the ship. In addition, I have experience with the launch and recovery of Alvin and will assist as needed. I’m pretty much a jack-of-all-trades.
Ocean Explorer Team: Were there any technical problems you had to solve during the Deep East expedition?
Dave Sims: Any problems? Well, one of the special requirements for Deep East is the large amount of data to be sent ashore. It’s not so much a problem; it’s knowing the process and working with the magnitude of information. Much of what is sent is E-mail. But with this expedition, we have had to work with pictures and text for the web site that is updated up to three times a day.
With the communications and computer technology that we have, In the future it may be possible for a scientist on land to receive the data in real time from such things as a shipboard conducted CTD that measures conductivity and temperature. There are only so many places for the scientists collecting data on a ship, and having real-time data transfers to shore could expand the number of scientists that can use a vessel on a particular cruise.
Ocean Explorer Team: What type of background do you have to be the SSSG Technician? What does SSSG stand for?
Dave Sims: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from University of Maryland Baltimore County. In addition, I had experience with electronics while in the Navy. What I have found valuable as well is shipboard experience. You need to know shipboard operations and be used to various computer systems. Even if a scientist uses a microscope, they still use a computer to compile their data.
Well, I would like to say that SSSG stands for “Super Smart Science Guy” but to honestly answer your second question, it really is an acronym for Shipboard Scientific Services Group.
Ocean Explorer Team: What are some of the biggest projects you have undertaken as the SSSG Technician aboard the Atlantis?
Dave Sims: Projects that involve teachers, like Deep East are quite interesting and complex. But I remember one project. It was a hydrothermal vent project, which is the type of expedition we do most often. We had the DSV Alvin, Jason and ABE or the Autonomous Benthic Explorer on ship all at once. The vehicles cannot all run at the same time so we would get Alvin’s dive in first. After that, we would get ABE in the water. ABE can sample throughout the night as we conduct other operations. With ABE working in one area, we could move a bit, and conduct CTD operations, or any other operations that we needed, throughout the night. With sunrise, came the recovery of ABE, and the preparation of Alvin. It was a cruise that required a lot of preplanning, a lot of hands on deck and a large quantity of data to organize. The R/V Atlantis is a 24/7 operation so the crew is scheduled in shifts to cover that twenty-four hour period of time.
Ocean Explorer Team: What will you be doing while the Alvin is diving?
Dave Sims: After the DSV Alvin has been deployed and the dive starts, I do various projects around the ship. There is much to do with the science equipment and technical support of the scientists working in the labs. Because of all of the data collecting and computer operations, I need to be available for technical support. Much of the work is in preparation for when the Alvin returns to the surface and is brought on deck. All of the samples and video are then available for study. That’s the busiest time. If I’m working at night giving technical support, I’ll sleep during the day.
My job is always challenging, and I am fortunate enough to be able to meet a lot of new and interesting people with each change of science groups (about every three weeks).
You don’t have to be a scientist to do this job. An SSSG technician just needs to be resourceful, flexible, and versatile and like to work with computers and new technology.
Interviewed by Caren A. D. Menard