Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Day 11-12

Yesterday I thought our optical experiments were unlikely to get in the water again and I wasn’t going to be able to go down to the bottom of the ocean in the Alvin. Today, the modems are ready to go in and I’m scheduled to dive at 6am tomorrow.

In about one hour, Greg, Amanda and I will be attaching the optical network modems onto the CTD cable. Man did we ever pull that one off the tarmac! What can I say, I don’t want to jinx anything but everything is looking good. You can’t be afraid of jinxing things when you’re a scientist at sea, one because a scientist shouldn’t believe in such things, and two because there is a constant question being asked about your readiness to deploy by other scientists. So that is what this is, and I’m here to report that we are ready.

As far as the Alvin dive goes, I was fourth on the list to go for our team (there are two teams with bottom time) but with all the weather and electronics problems that made us scrap previous dives, I got bumped. Ultimately, two experienced scientists (who had both been in Alvin numerous times in their lives) gave up their seats in order to move me up the list onto tomorrow’s dive. It was a very kind gesture. This is the new Alvin, re-designed at a cost of $41 million dollars and launched for the first time this year. They may not get a chance to go again for years. The only thing that could stop the dive from happening in ten hours from now is a freak storm that appears from nowhere or more unexpected electronics problems. The chances are in my favor and no matter what happens we’re blessed to be part of this adventure.

We have much to do at the bottom which means we have to move stuff around, take sensor readings, collect samples and take video images. We get to bring one pillow case of personal items. I’ll have extra clothes, paper and pen (no electronics allowed), and pictures of my family. I will be sitting starboard side of the ball. Sort of laying on my right side in a partial fetal position with my face pressed to the polymer window most of the time. We aren’t allowed shoes and the walls of the sphere are all padded with cushy black material so it’s really quite cozy. Actually we reside in less than half the sphere because a ladder comes down the middle and behind the ladder on one side are gas bottles (enough for many days of air). On our side of the ladder are all the controls and the three passenger positions. We have five windows to look out. One for the pilot looking out in front and two more on each side for each of the scientists. One of those two are at the small of your back so you have to twist around to your other side to look through it. If I am to ever extend my legs tomorrow I will have to ask the scientist across from me to move and make accommodation.

The only tumultuous part of the journey will be launch and recovery when the Alvin might sit for a long time bobbing about in the waves. We don’t eat breakfast but we do get lunch in the ball and we are home before dinner. The lunch consists of both PB&J and cold cut sandwiches. The cold cuts are back on the menu after a brief hiatus due to policy which forced them off when a pilot got food poisoning. Can you imagine being stuck in a small sphere at the bottom of the ocean and having to do all that in a plastic bag basically sitting on two other colleagues laps? That would have been the worst place to be in the whole ocean.

I can’t possibly end this entry that way. Let me also add that I will be back tomorrow evening to tell you what happened. I’m asking Greg to post something about his experiences thus far and to report what goes on tonight with the modems on the CTD cable too. Keep your fingers crossed for uneventful modem operations and an easy Alvin launch in the morning.