Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Back in the Game!

AUV-ROV mind-meld. James (left, wearing ABE AUV T-shirt) and Chris (right, wearing Jason ROV T-shirt) deep in discussion during pre-dive deck-tests of the Nereus Hybrid vehicle.

Once more unto the deep. In this photo, Nereus is just visible as a green-yellow blur directly beneath the arm of the crane that it was just released from.
Position at 16h45 EST (Launch of Nereus 019)
Lat: 18° 33’N Long: 081° 42’W
Water depth: 4800m

The last thing that Andy Bowen and I discussed late yesterday was that we would take a look at the weather first thing today and consider our next Nereus launch. So when I was woken from a sound sleep by a flash of bright lightning around 6am – so bright I thought someone had come into my cabin and turned the fluorescent light on, I didn’t consider the omens specially promising.

Which was a shame, because after 36 hours of essentially groping in the dark we had had a major success around 6pm on Tuesday. Then, for the first time since we returned to this area, we managed to pick up sensor signals in the deep ocean that were comparable to what Nereus found on its first science dive here 4 days ago. Really? Was that only last Saturday afternoon? Wow – seems like ages!

Anyway, the good news is that we now think we have narrowed down what we thought was a ~10 mile by 10 mile box to an approximately 3 mile by 2 mile box: not bad for 48 hours’ work - but talk about grinding out a result!

To add to the good news, our forecasts came in on schedule this morning and all confirmed that there is nothing bad expected to happen, weather-wise, until Saturday at the earliest. The passing storm was just one of a series of squalls we are having to contend with, but in between conditions are not too bad now – certainly better than they had been last Sun/Mon/Tues. So we completed a last CTD survey around 3:30pm today and no more than an hour later, Nereus was off the hook and slipping gently down toward the seabed to track down and map out (we hope) a dispersing hydrothermal plume. We’ll hope for good things to come back tomorrow.

Finally, it’s time for you all to put your lungs to use again - Friday this week (23rd) is my wife, Romey’s birthday. This is the 2nd time I have been at sea for her birthday (bad) but the first time in 18 years (not quite so bad). For the record, I also missed each of my older children’s birthdays once each – but they were bad ones: Martin’s 18th birthday and Helen’s 16th (I was in the Antarctic for the latter). When I was growing up, my Dad always told me about his Dad (who was in the Royal Navy) being posted to China for 2 years straight in the 1920s so he didn’t see him from when he was 2 until when he was 4. At least modern day oceanographers only go to sea for a month or two at a time, tops – but even so, the families we leave behind are the ones that have to cope without us (maybe mine does better when I’m not around?). Cumulatively, over the past 23 years, I have spent between 900 and 1000 days at sea. That’s more than most spouses have to put up with so I can genuinely say that Romey takes a large chunk of the credit for any of the discoveries I have ever been involved with: this expedition included.

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