Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Day 4-5

This is the first moment I’ve been able to look at a computer screen since we left port 22 hours ago. That’s not because we’ve been busy, although we have been, what with getting our experiments working, helping other researchers, and the various training and planning meetings. No, the reason I haven’t been able to look at the computer screen is because I physiologically have not been capable.

Here’s the thing about sea sickness. Imagine the entire world is spinning without cessation. Massive, inescapable, juggernaut undulations. Asynchronous with varying amplitude. Any attempt you make to anticipate the next wave only makes it worse. The constant slamming, shuddering waves against the ship, like a knock on your brain stem and a rancid pulse in your stomach. That and the foul pockets of diesel odor and you don’t stand a chance. About five hours in and I started to crack. Six past cruises and I’ve got a system. No, not drugs (I’ve tried them all), no pressure point wrist-band nonsense either. For me, it’s nothing but saltine crackers and bug juice, that sweet red sugar-water the galley has in constant supply. That’s the only stuff that tastes and smells about as neutral going down as it does coming back up. A confident willingness to pray before the porcelain god and slowly, but surely, one emerges on the far side, a salty sea-dog, an iron-gut sailor.

There are two experiments we are conducting here. One involves using the Alvin submarine to place a new type of fluorescent material we have developed directly in the orifice of a hydrothermal vent. The second experiment is conducted from on deck, sending optical modems over the side of the ship by instrumented cable.

We have arrived onsite now. 1.5 km above Ashes Vent Field. It’s 6:00am, the sea is calm and the sky is grey and misty all around. I’d much prefer a grey morning as I’ve found the old adage to be true – “Pink sky at night, sailors delight. Pink sky at dawn, sailors forlorn.” Ashes is a hydrothermal vent field located within the Axial Seamount caldera. Alvin’s first dive has been selected as a Pilot in Training (PIT) dive. PIT dives are mandated to keep the Alvin pilots certified in good standing. Doing the PIT first will give us three certified pilots for the rest of the cruise and make their rotations easier.

One final note for this post, our internet connection is the worst I’ve experienced out here. Past cruises I’ve been on were with a Chief Scientist who paid an extra $15k per day to provide additional dedicated bandwidth. This time, we share the satellite link with five other ships in the UNOLS fleet. We are limited to 10 kilobytes per transfer. That’s okay for text, images are near impossible and video is totally impossible. Even loading the web interface I’m using to post this is a burden. I’ll see what I can do, but for now, it’ll have to be image free.

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