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12 August, 2003

The forces of nature are all around us. If you think of force as an influence that exerts itself on something to change its movement or shape, then a quick look outside will reveal nature's forces at work everywhere. Up here, in the Arctic, the most obvious example is the wind upon the sea and ice as it shapes the waves and pushes the ice pack.

There are unseen forces at work as well. Every time that the CTD rosette is lowered into the seawater we measure the water pressure at various depths below the surface. (Look at 15 July for evidence of this kind of force.) There are ocean currents too. Certainly the Gray Whale that I observed today breeching the surface is a force of nature of one kind or another. And there is something else about these forces that we are often reminded of: they are largely beyond our control.

There are forces, however, that we do manage to manage. This is usually accomplished by machines. A machine is a device that transmits or modifies a force to do work. Work, to a physicist, is simply force multiplied by distance. Put another way, to do work, something must be moved. And it's the same for our ship.

Curious about just what drives the Palmer, I arranged for a tour of the Engine Room with Chief Engineer Dave Munroe. First stop was the Control Room. It reminded me of the control rooms in hydroelectric dams that I have seen with panels containing rows and rows of lights and buttons. From there we passed by three shiny stainless steel containers that produce all of the ship's water. These water makers distill the salt out of the seawater, so literally, we have been "taste testing" much of what we have been sampling during the cruise.

Next were the four diesel engines (about 3300 horsepower each) and generators that produce the ship's power. It's the force produced by these huge eight cylinder engines that is transmitted to the two, 13 inch diameter propeller shafts that make the Palmer move. Under most conditions the Palmer runs on two engines, but on the few occasions that we have encountered heavy ice, all four were put into action. The icebreaker also has separate side thrusters in the bow (1,500 hp) and the stern (800 hp) for maneuvering, although Dave claimed that the ship could do 2 or 3 knots using the bow thruster alone. Typically the Palmer will go through 7,500 gallons of diesel a day. Of course, breaking ice requires more work, so fuel consumption may go up to 15, 000 gallons/day. The Palmer began the cruise with a little more than 400,000 gallons of fuel. Today, about 236,000 gallons remain.

We completed the tour in the repair shop and spare parts room. This made real for me just how independent the ship actually is during each cruise. Early on in our voyage, for example, the ship's general alarm bells sounded one evening when a bearing in one of the generators seized-up. No big deal for a matter of a few hours, the ship's engineers replaced the bad bearing with a new one. Needless to say, they have spare parts for everything, and if they don't, these highly-skilled engineers and oilers (their helpers) can fashion just about anything as the situation demands.

Which brings up an important point: In the final analysis, it's the people that make all of this complex machinery work. Since the engineers and oilers, work in a restricted part of the ship that we are not allowed access to, they are probably the least visible group of people on board. To correct this, herewith are the names of this ingenious and industrious bunch whose natures' control the forces of the Palmer:

Chief Engineers Dave Munroe and Johnny (JP) Pierce; 1st Engineer Robert Morris; 2nd Engineers Edward Forbes and Gerald (JET) Tompsett; 3rd Engineer Fredy Dela Cruz; Oilers Victor Maskey, Rolly Rogando, Doyle Lee, David Cooley; and, Cadet Tim Kennedy.

Chief Engineer Dave Munroe in the Control Room.

One reason why you need to know what you are doing in the Control Room.


A small portion of one of the Palmer's propeller shafts.

The ship's water makers.

Second Engineer Edward (Eduardo) Forbes inspecting one of the engines.

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