Sunday, October 11, 2009

We’ve only just begun…

Up at dawn. The Nereus team were up and prepping the vehicle today long before the sun came up.

Over the side. One quick pull of the slip pin and Nereus was off to the bottom of the ocean.

Deployments 1, Recoveries 1 = the sign of a good day with any AUV. Nereus is snared and then lifted back on board using the ship’s crane.
Position at 11h00 EST (Launch of Nereus Dive 16)
Lat: 19° 17.6’N Long: 081° 37.9’W
Water depth: ~1000m

Busy day for Nereus today. By the time I got on deck, just before 7am, the entire Nereus team were already up and prepping the vehicle. So while I helped out with Louis and Andy, working with our Chief Mate Bobby and Captain Dale to run echo-sounding surveys to find ourselves a sweet (flat) spot for our trials – about 15 miles West of Grand Cayman, the rest of the team continued working through all the various vehicle subsystems until it was time to launch. Just after 11am we were good to go and Nereus was lifted outboard, lowered into the water from the ship’s crane and then, with a quick tug of the pull-pin it was off and down to the seabed.

Right around midday the data coming back acoustically from the sub confirmed that Nereus had completed its descent and was sitting tethered to its anchor line just a few meters above the seabed at around 1080m. So far so good and time for lunch.

I won’t pretend I know exactly what happened next – that’s for our engineers to decipher, and also why we have so many of the smartest on the planet out here (they out-number “mere-mortal scientists” like me nearly 2 to 1). Suffice it to say that things didn’t go 100% as planned but at the end of the afternoon we had Nereus safely back at the surface where our radio beacons helped us track it down in short order and lift it back aboard.

Tonight, Nereus is safely back in its cradle and our engineers are busy downloading its data and setting to work on the forensics of what happened when: CSI Cayman Islands? To paraphrase James: in real life it may take longer than a one-hour show to find out the truth - but they’ll be ready to get Nereus back in the water before long, I don’t doubt.

And in the meantime, it is time for the CTD team to roll back into action: talk about coiled springs! This evening we have a 35 mile steam to get to the top end of the Mid-Cayman Rise but by midnight the systematic search for hydrothermal vents will finally have begun.

P.S. Captain’s Dale’s saying for the day (He seems to have plenty but we’re going to be checking for repeats between now and the end of the cruise): “Robots are like dogs: they’ll do their best, but neither one is any better than the person who trained them.”

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