Congratulations to Geoff Anderson, captain of the R/V Neeskay and recipient of UWM’s 2020 University Staff Outstanding Service Award.
The much-deserved honor recognizes Anderson’s 13-plus years of work for the School of Freshwater Sciences, both at the helm of our flagship research vessel and in a variety of other roles, including chief science diving safety officer, technical diver, welder and, on occasion, a bit of a superhero.
The Great Lakes are massive, constantly changing and often hazardous inland seas, and Anderson’s work requires a unique combination of expertise, leadership, endurance and fast thinking.
“I suspect that there is no more complex and physically demanding position within the realm of UWM,” says J. Val Klump, the school’s dean.
“I have seen Geoff in action in high stress situations, during some incredibly long hours and heavy weather, dealing with difficult and complex deployments, fouled gear, iffy diving conditions and emergency repairs,” Klump adds. “The quiet and unassuming skill that he brings to our seagoing work makes complex, even risky operations smooth and uneventful.”
Klump recalls one such event that illustrates the demands of Anderson’s job — and how he excels at meeting them.
As part of the school’s partnership in the Great Lakes arm of a national ocean observation program, faculty, staff and students deploy monitoring buoys. The buoys collect crucial data for everything from weather forecasting to maritime safety and climate change modeling. Large and unwieldy (and expensive), the buoys require precise placement and careful handling.
“The Neeskay is just big enough to handle these buoys, and they require anchoring gear that’s extremely heavy,” says Klump. “Lowering this gear involves lines under high load and high tension, and is dangerous work if done sloppily.”
Early on, Anderson created a deployment system that’s both safe and efficient. But on one outing in 2019, Lake Michigan had other ideas. A sudden gust of wind at a delicate moment during deployment caused one of the high tension lines to snag in the vessel’s propeller: a dangerous and potentially costly situation.
“There is virtually no way to extricate the line without diving,” Klump says. “Geoff is a Master SCUBA diver. Without missing a beat, he suited up.”
For anyone whose underwater experience is limited to some tank time in the Caribbean on spring break, think again.
“This is not coral reef diving,” says Klump, describing the cold water and poor visibility Anderson faced. “It is strenuous work. This was already a long day on the water when this occurred.”
He adds: “And the kicker is that, a couple hours later, it happened again. Geoff suited up again as dusk was coming on.”
Anderson’s skills and undaunted attitude saved equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars, and ensured the buoy network’s data collection, a program that safeguards lives and property, continued undisrupted.
Some of Anderson’s less dramatic work is just as important.
“Many if not most of our students have very little seagoing experience, and it is part of their education to learn how to safely and effectively collect samples, deploy equipment, develop a cruise plan, navigate stations and change plans when circumstance dictate it,” says Klump. “In this respect, Geoff Anderson is one of our most valuable ‘instructors,’ patiently showing and training our fledgling limnologists in the tools of their trade.”
Join us for this year’s award ceremony, held virtually via Teams, on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m.