Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Day 6-7

Weather picked up last night, winds gusting to 35 knots with 15 foot swells, projected to increase throughout the day. Two years ago out here it was sustained 50 knots and 50 foot waves for more than two solid days and about like it is now for nearly two weeks. Someone broke their ribs that year when they got tossed out of their bunk by the motion of the ship. Now though, sitting comfortably inside the hulking 270 foot Atlantis, the fifteen-footers split like hollow logs against our bow. Pitching down the back of the wave produces a feeling not unlike when your car cruises over an unexpected rise in the road. By now we’re hardened to the sensations, but we are none-the-less depressed by them.

Depression sets in because even mildly bad weather like this is a game changer for deploying anything over the side of the ship, especially manned submersibles. Alvin deployment and recovery is perhaps the last ship operation in the world that still requires swimmers in the water. My guess is that insurance considerations will put a stop to this before too long. Watching them out in the sea is looking back in time, a throwback to the days of Jacques Cousteau. The color palette reduced to just five colors: blue, white, black, day-glow red, and sometimes yellow. It so happens that the divers are perhaps the best looking people on the ship and the risk they endure with every dive adds to their mystique.

Alvin operations require swimmers at sea.

Alvin operations require swimmers at sea.

While we did manage to make a dive yesterday (as mentioned by Amanda below), we are now on hold until the weather lays down. Hopefully tomorrow we can get back on schedule. Until that time, I will use this opportunity to bring you up to speed on various happenings:

Amanda Wilber has proven herself a valuable member of the crew. Despite what may be the beginnings of the flu, Amanda continues to work tirelessly in the main science laboratory. I think it’s the flu and not standard sea sickness because her bunk-mate, a tried and tested seaworthy soul, has been down for the count since day one. Amanda keeps busy, assembling components for a high-speed underwater camera. Once deployed, the system will monitor the flow rate from a hydrothermal vent. Amanda is also now in charge of summarizing the daily weather for the final cruise report.

Greg Wells keeps his nose to the grindstone. His mind must form some sort of barrier to the tumult around him as he works two feet from his screen for hours. From the look of him now, you’d think he was still seasick. His pallor is slightly green and waxy and the only reflection in his eyes is the computer screen in front of him. When he does get up, his color returns, he’s all smiles and promises me he’s having fun. I will post again in a few moments a detailed description of the experiments we are conducting.