Lessons (Re)Learned

The Scarlet Knight just flew nearly 15 km in her last 8 hour segment, and our field team has made it back to Faial by air.  Chip just got internet access and logged in with a "Go Scarlet Knight".  We all hope they are getting some rest on dry land and look forward to talking to them in the morning.  The Nevertheless is still transiting from Flores to Faial with just the crew on board with all of our equipment, a much more roomy ride I am sure.  We look forward to their arrival soon in Faial.


We learned much from this trip.  We can now answer the question that we agonized over since the loss of RU17 in October of 2008,  specifically, what was growing on us and where.  Now we can protect ourselves in the future, building better gliders for longer missions for the entire global fleet.  On this trip we also developed new ways to inspect a glider at sea, and, in the short span of a couple hours, how to reballast at sea if necessary.  We also learned a lot about our team and how it works together to problem solve.  Nothing that we did not already know - we are up to about 165 glider missions so far  - but nevertheless, it is worth reiterating. 

Every time we go to sea, we are up against the unknown.  This mission was no exception. We had no idea what to expect when we saw Scarlet for the first time in 4 months, we were in seas we had never before visited, and we were on a boat we had only seen in photos.  But one thing was certain, we had to go now to save this mission, and this was the only way to get there.   Something we have learned and relearned from 165 glider missions is to not swarm the ball.  Each person has to play their own position if the team is to succeed.  In this case, the team set up three lines of defense in our game with the unknown.  Our first line was the hand-picked field team aboard the Nevertheless. They were divers and glider experts, able to get the technical job done, but more importantly, possessing the experience and skills to bring everyone home safe and whole.  Our second line was the shore support team that gathered in the COOLroom where all the real-time data feeds were collected and analyzed.  They had tracked this glider for 4 months, and knew her every move. Our third line was the many experts (Clayton Jones at Teledyne Webb Research, Vince Cardone at Oceanweather, Antonio Ramos in the Canaries, Duncan Sweet in the Azores, ...) located on both sides of the Atlantic that we consulted as needed.  We were using the full depth of our bench, and we would need it to deal with the fatigue that was sure to set in.  By the time the field team was on site, they would be tired from the daily difficulties of living on a small and constantly moving vessel.  The COOLroom team would track their work hours, so we too would be tired, but we would not be seasick.   The third level of distributed experts would be the fresh set of eyes, relieved from the daily pressures, but available when we needed them most. In those critical final  2 hours of the 22 hours that the Nevertheless was on site, Teledyne Webb Research had the experts that provided that third line of defense.  It took real-time communication between all three layers to consider the options, balance the risks, make the right decisions, and produce an outcome that resulted in a glider that was fit for flight. Declaring The Scarlet Knight fit for flight at 11:15 am eastern time on Friday will likely go down as the most critical decision of this entire mission.  It was a team decision made by individuals in all three layers communicating as they applied their diverse expertise to the pieces of information they had. Together we constructed a composite view of a new situation, and developed a response. Thinking broadly, as we close out 2009, and enter our third decade of ocean observatory development in the U.S. and around the globe, the lesson relearned in the 22 hours Nevertheless spent with RU27 should not be overlooked.

One Response to “Lessons (Re)Learned”

  1. Ron Brennan Says:

    What an incredible effort to keep Scarlet on her way! As an engineer, I could not understand why the balast needed to be changed from the original setting after the barnacles were removed. I know sealife likes to find a home on structures. Was there more sealife on Scarlet that changed the balance, or something else that required the mid-course correction? All of you must be exhausted, so respond when you are ready, if you wish.

    Go Scarlet,

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