Monday, October 19, 2009

All we seem to do is talk about the weather

Position at 12h00 EST (CTD 38/Tow-Yo 3)
Lat: 18° 30’N Long: 081° 43’W
Water depth: 5100m

Maybe it’s the curse of being English (as well as Doug and Carla, both Andy Bowen and I are also UK passport holders) but weather seems to have become a key topic of conversation lately. Yesterday morning, after a seriously poor night's sleep, I came down from my cabin to find waves breaking over the back deck. So first order of the day was to get the tool-sled for Nereus (essential for anything we want to do in ROV mode next Leg) moved away from the very back of the ship where it was in danger of getting damaged.

Next job: talk to the Captain about what kind of direction we could move the ship while lowering the CTD (because trying to hold position in this weather was a REALLY bad idea) and agreeing that WSW-ENE was worth a try. So that’s what we did: we picked the shallowest point on the map and lined up a survey that would allow us to pass slowly directly over the top of what we take to be a young volcanic feature (not a stupid place to look for a vent-site) – pushing back the frontiers of science at about 1 mile per hour while lowering and raising the CTD as we went.

For the first 6 hours nothing happened and then, just as we passed over the top of the ridge we saw some small but significant plume signals for about 30 minutes – then back to nothing again. The whole plume cannot have been more than a mile wide and then we were back to seeing nothing else for a few more miles before we quit. By then the weather had changed and so, rather than run a 2nd parallel line, the only option was to choose a new route running from South to North. Happily, that was easy to do – we simply chose a line that ran right across the previous survey and around 10:30 last night that was just getting underway as I headed to bed. Doug, Carla and Koichi had that survey wrapped up by 7am this morning and, teasing through their data today, Dana and I have shown that the one time that THEY saw any plume signals occurred right when their survey line crossed ours – apparently we’re making progress.

But then came more good news – not. Every twelve hours we get our own dedicated weather updates from a team in New Hampshire called Commander’s Weather and this morning’s bulletin started: Must be very careful. (Uh-oh!) Apparently there’s a reasonable chance that a tropical storm could strike up in our area any time Wed-Sat this week. It might not happen but if it does then we’ll be right out of luck. During the course of the morning we also got an update via the ship’s base saying much the same thing based on an 8am dispatch from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL: there is an area of low pressure centered at 11N, 82W (i.e. about 700 miles south of us) that is drifting slowly North over the next few days (i.e. towards us) with a low (30%) chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours. So needless to say, we’re going to be talking about the weather a lot (and checking the email updates soon as they come in) in the next day or two.

P.S. The title of today’s blog coincides with a line from a Blow Monkeys song dating from the late 1980s. It is half of a couplet that continues: “I’m just a man at the end of his tether”. Hmmmm…. Not yet, I'm not - but lets see what tomorrow brings.

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