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  • Writer's pictureNiamh Faulkner

I'm a Scientist on a boat, ask me anything: Q&A 1

We have been asked some excellent questions from some curious school children about our Expedition. These questions came from students from Mrs.Hobart's 2nd Grade class in Detroit Country Day School, Michigan, USA. Lego Niamh & Matt are here to answer their questions.

Our Lego sceintists love getting questions about the Expedition.

How many miles away from shore are you?

At the furthest we are more than 1000 km or more than 600 miles from the coast of Ireland. In fact we are actually out of the Irish marine area and we are actually in international waters.

Have you ever been afraid of sea animals attacking your ship?

Thankfully not! The only sea animals that we have seen have been very friendly. What we are afraid of sometimes is the weather! We have had a couple of big storms so far on our trip, with really high waves and winds, which has meant that we had to stop working because it was too dangerous. We have to make sure that all the crew are safe on board.

We had some really rough weather a few a few days ago and we had to pause work until the weather got better.

What animals have you seen on your trip and what was your favourite?

Great question! We have seen a lot of exciting animals so far, mostly seabirds. We have seen lots Northern Fulmars, which look like seagulls, but shorter & shouter, they have short thick necks and a short yellow bill (almost if you squished a seagull a bit fom both ends). They glide very gracefully over the waves.

Fulmars are very graceful when they fly, the flap very lttle, prefering to fly with stiff straight wings and look like they are gliding or floating over the waves.

At the start of the trip we saw Northern Gannets, which look like they are wearing a yellow cap. We even spotted a Puffin floating on the water taking a little break from flying, but unfortunately we didn’t get photos of either birds.

We have seen quite a few pods of Pilot Whales! They are quite common in the deep waters off Ireland. They can be found in large pods up to 100, but we have seen groups of around 10.

These whales were very friendly, and circled the boat a few times to see what we were up to.

Though they are called whales, they are actually in the Dolphin family- they are the second largest member (Killer Whales are the largest!). The pods can be from 20-100.

Pilot whales are very curious animals and often follow ships to see what they are doing. They lift their heads out straight out of the water to have a good look at the ship. This behaviour is called a "spy-hopping", other Cetaceans (larger group of animals that includes whales and dolphins) also spy hop, such as Sperm Whales and Humpback Whales.

What's the weirdest thing you've seen on the boat?

This is more of a feeling rather than seeing something. The boat it has a gym; there’s nothing particularly strange about the gym, but when you go on the treadmill for a run it’s a very weird feeling. This is because you are running whilst the boat is going up and down, and side to side, on the waves. It makes running really tricky sometimes, and you get butterflies in your stomach, you can get a bit dizzy. You definitely have to hold on while you run!

How deep do you go? How far down is the Earth's crust?

The boat and its crew stay floating on the ocean surface, but the seafloor is over 3000 meters (around 2 miles) below us! We actually have some specialist equipment which drops all the way down to the ocean floor to gather data for us. They are called Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS for short) and they look like an oversized orange football.

We attach an anchor to these machines and drop them off the side of the ship where they slowly sink to the sea floor. The machines listen very carefully for sounds coming from deep within the Earth’s crust.

The OBS's listen to vibrations in the Earth, which can tell us about the Crust.

In our research area the crust is around 5-10 km (~3-6 miles) thick. The thickness varies, as does the thickness of the seafloor mud that is on top of the Crust.

To collect the OBS’s our boat releases a special sound signal that tells the device to let go of its anchor, it then spends the next hour or so floating back up to the surface where we will be waiting to fish it out the ocean and save all of the data and information it has gathered from the sea floor.

How long will you be out at sea?

We’ll be out at sea for just under a month (25 days to be precise!). The ship we are on, the Research Vessel Celtic Explorer can stay out at sea for a maximum of 35 days.

Our trip actually started two weeks before we set sail, because all the team had to quarantine for 14 days due to COVID-19. We had to make sure that everyone didn’t have coronavirus, so that we had a safe journey. We all had a negative PCR test before we came onboard. Safety is very important when you’re on expeditions at sea!

The RV Celtic Explorer is bearthed in Galway, Ireland.

Lego Scientist team (L-R) Haleh, Ben. Niamh, Matt and Erica

We love getting questions from readers, so if you have questions then please send them our way! As always don't forget to follow our social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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