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  • cayoung5 9:10 pm on July 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Amanda’s second log 

    It has been a while since my last post and since Cody had mentioned my feeling ill. I had a bad day, three days into the trip, and suffered from a fever and vomiting. Fortunately, I recovered the day after and have stayed healthy throughout the trip. I’m chalking it up to some strange reaction I had to motion sickness. Since then we have had rougher days and smoother days, but I’ve been well all the same. Actually, I’ve been better than well. I mean, I’m in out in the middle of the ocean, far from land, and no matter what direction I look in, I see blue water as far as the curve of the horizon. I’m literally floating above an entire world, full of mystery and life. That in itself seems wild and amazing, but truthfully, I’m more distracted by this incredible culture that surrounds me. I’ve been plucked from a stationary existence and dropped off in a fast-paced environment where being useful goes hand in hand with being experienced. Upon my arrival, I had absolutely zero experience with nut drivers, hose clamps, electrical tape, pear rings, shackles, and bowline knots, and even less with the incredible hardware and software of the instruments I have been strapping down and sending over the side of the ship into the cold depths below. I’ve used my hands for the first time in years, to actually build and bind and collect and disassemble. In the beginning, I didn’t know the names of the tools, or how to use them, but my determination to be useful combined with the opportunity to help has taught me a great deal in the past two weeks.

    Tim's tripod and camera ready to be sent down.

    Tim’s tripod and camera ready to be sent down.

    The mix of sailors and scientists makes for thorough entertainment. I’m consumed in countless stories from past decades and former jobs. When I really think of what it must be like to be a deck hand, or the Chief Scientist, or an engineer for the Alvin submersible, it’s like dreaming of an exotic life that I will never have as my own. Every detail, every memory in their lives, is unique and beautiful, yet foreign to me. I envy each of these people for their experiences, but more than that, I admire them. They have so much knowledge to share and I could easily listen for a lifetime.

    A few nights ago I was given an orientation and tour of the Alvin Submersible by Jefferson, an engineer, diver, and pilot in training. We walked around the exterior of the large submersible and he explained the purposes of the instrumentation and hardware. One of the most significant features of the sub is its ability to add or subtract weight so that it can become neutral in water. Large slabs of syntactic foam make up the bodice of Alvin, along with tanks that can be filled with air as needed. The syntactic foam is made of microscopic glass spheres making it positively buoyant in water. Toward the front of the sub is a basket which holds any equipment that will be used to conduct science experiments during the dive. For example, metal cylinders were used on a few of the dives to hold samples of water. On either side of the basket are Alvin’s arms. One fairly new and dexterous, with a miniature version inside for pilot control, and the other much older and better at heavy lifting. Two metal spheres are attached to the sub behind the basket. Mercury is stored in these spheres and can be pumped around the body of the submarine to adjust tilt. The mercury exists as a liquid even in the cold depths of the ocean, and since it’s very heavy, it’s an optimal substance for weight adjustments. There are a total of five portholes, three on Alvin’s face with 17” diameters and two on either side with 12” diameters. Surrounding the crown of Alvin is an array of lights and cameras. Two spherical cameras sit on either side with 360 degree views.

    Recovering Alvin after a dive

    Recovering Alvin after a dive.

    After the walk-around, it was time to go inside. We went up to the second level of the garage and walked on top of the sub to get to the hatch. We took our shoes off and climbed down a ladder into the hole. The room was small and dark, lit by dim red LEDs among numerous controls and switches on all walls of the bowl. The pilot sits on a small stool in the middle and on either side of him are slanted floor spaces for two passengers, one port and one starboard. Directly behind the pilot is a stack of oxygen tanks, three of which are responsible for filling the sub during a normal dive. The rest of the stack is there in case of emergency or delayed recovery. Carbon dioxide scrubbers are neatly tucked on either side, along with EBAs (emergency breathing apparatus), just in case. Both passengers have their own display of video feed from the external cameras on their side of the sub. Along with each display is a hand held controller that allows the passenger to switch between multiple camera views. For instance, the starboard passenger can change the direction of a specific starboard camera (say, camera #1), hit record, then switch channels to a different starboard camera (camera #2) and do the same.


    Cody inside the Alvin Submersible during his orientation. 

    Jefferson took his time going over the specifics, things every passenger must know before they dive, in case the pilot needs assistance or suddenly becomes incapacitated. After exiting the sub and undergoing a full orientation, the potential passenger (me!) must sign a form to be eligible for a dive. If you can’t tell already, I was more than eager to sign the form, just in case there was some small sliver of a chance that I may be able to dive. I wasn’t exactly high up on the list, but I was glad to have at least gotten my name on the list! And who knows, maybe I will meet the R/V Atlantis and Alvin again, in the near future, and get a chance to travel to the seafloor. After watching Aliens of the Deep, I’m beginning to think that I could shift my career to test instrumentation in our oceans in preparation for a mission to explore Europa’s oceans. Exploring the unknown, whether on our planet or another, is such a tantalizing notion. I feel a deep desire, an intense willingness, to sink to the bottom of the ocean, my eyes open the entire time, to catch a glimpse of the alien universe that lies beneath. It’s too tempting, for goodness sake, it’s right here! Our own home; no space shuttles necessary.

    This cruise will remain a precious memory to share for as long as I live. But more than that, it has changed who I am and has gifted such inspiration. I have fallen in love out here in the Pacific, above an underwater volcano, on a research vessel, hundreds of miles from land…

    Cody, Greg and me!

    Cody, Greg and me!


  • cayoung5 4:35 pm on July 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Alvin Dive 

    “Under the sea, it seems my every gaze is as stolen from some forbidden world; and it triggers an emotional shock that never flags…”

    Jacques-Yves Cousteau, 1976


    Alvin Dive Log: 4742
    Date: 22 July, 2014
    Dive time: 08:00
    Dive Depth: ~1550m

    Pilot: Bob Waters
    Port Observer: Eric Mittelstaedt
    Starboard Observer: Cody Youngbull

    Location: ASHES Vent Field
    Lat: 45.933299
    Lon: -130.013682

    Original Dive Objectives:
    This dive’s primary objective is to deploy the VentCam and the Diffuse Effluent Monitoring System (DEMS) camera at the phoenix vent site and to recover the device that Bill and Kang deployed on dive 4741. Secondary objectives of this dive include taking 5L of bottom water using the small Niskin system, deploying a portable dot pattern screen analog of DEMS, and recovering one coated High Temperature HOBO from the Inferno vent. Tertiary objectives of this dive are to collect rock samples.

    Accomplished Objectives on this Dive:
    All objectives accomplished. The VentCam was successfully deployed, targeted onto phoenix vent focused flow, and confirmed to be operational. The DEMS camera system was successfully deployed, positioned over phoenix vent diffuse flow, and confirmed to be operational. The portable dot pattern screen was deployed, imaged and recovered. 5L of bottom water were sampled with the Niskin system at various locations. The coated High-Temperature HOBO probe was recovered from inferno vent. Rock samples were collected from regions of recent (2011 eruption) flow and old lava flow.

    Dive Log (GMT time)
    14:59 hatch sealed
    15:04 alvin in water
    15:08 swimmers clear, commencing dive
    15:12 70 meters depth
    15:20 passing through layer of bio-luminescent Cnidaria (jelly fish and siphonophores)
    15:51 300 meters off bottom
    16:00 100 meters off bottom
    16:13 bottom sighted
    16:15 approaching southeast landing zone
    16:18 commencing to homer beacon
    16:24 sheet flow formation noted for future drop sites
    16:30 VentCam sighted at drop zone. move to approach.

    16:35 moving VentCam weights into Alvin basket to compensate weight
    16:38 repositioning Alvin to acquire VentCam
    16:39 VentCam retrieved (small foot stuck in basalt lost)
    16:41 releasing water to compensate weight for ascent to 10 meters off bottom
    16:48 10 meters off bottom. proceeding to phoenix vent 200 meters from current location
    17:05 diffuse flow sighted. hydrothermal activity off port
    17:06 markers #73 and #74 identified. confirmed we are at phoenix vent. white bacterial mats.
    17:09 placing VentCam
    17:11 VentCam on bottom. moving to position VentCam on phoenix vent focused flow
    17:14:14 good video of coated HT HOBO & auxiliary structure
    17:18:20 lens cap removed from VentCam. waiting for confirmation of VentCam function. laser
    emission confirms, VentCam is operational.
    17:25 Collecting Niskin #1. awaiting confirmation from ship on VentCam alignment.
    17:31 leaving phoenix vent to retrieve DEMS from drop site
    17:37 40 meters from DEMS drop site
    17:38 DEMS sighted on port
    17:42 DEMS grasped. Releasing water to lift off bottom
    17:45 moving to collect souvenir rocks
    17:46 rock sample #1. Folds of sheet flow at DEMS landing site.
    17:49 souvenir rock grab complete. moving water onboard. proceeding to return to phoenix vent site
    18:00 verified that DEMS illuminates during transit
    18:06 positioning DEMS on phoenix vent diffuse flow
    18:07 moving water onboard to compensate weight
    18:12 rotating DEMS camera 180degrees to position properly on site
    18:19 DEMS positioned. pulling pin on DEMS to commence leveling. pin retrieved to basket leg
    18:22 DEMS camera leveled
    18:24:00 rotating to check VentCam and confirm illumination
    18:28:39 good views of VentCam. waiting to confirm strobe operations
    18:30 verified VentCam lights come on.
    18:35 placing Portable Random Dot Pattern.
    18:39:22 picture of Portable Dot Pattern crush.
    18:34 high zoom of Portable Dot Pattern with starboard brow cam
    18:46:30 video of Portable Dot Pattern
    18:51:49 camera removed from Portable Dot Cam
    18:55:33 reading temperature on lower portion of Portable Dot Pattern
    18:59:12 reading temperature on upper portion of Portable Dot Pattern
    19:01:58 ceasing temperature reads
    19:02:26 removing Portable Dot Pattern from sea floor and retrieving to basket
    19:06:44 collecting Niskin #2 water sample atop diffuse flow at phoenix
    19:08:17 leaving phoenix. Heading to Inferno for HT HOBO retrieval.
    19:12 arrived at inferno vent
    19:12:42 Coated HT-HOBO #7 Retrieved from cone
    19:15:17 proceeding move to golem vent
    19:16:35 collecting Niskin #3. Proceeding to Marker #21 for Kang’s instrument from golem vent
    19:20:30 imaging Kang’s instrument on golem vent
    19:21:44 Limpit growth on Kang’s instrument
    19:25:20 retrieved Kang’s instrument to basket
    19:26:40 leaving golem vent. heading to examine phoenix vent and to check DEMS and VentCam
    19:30 returned back at phoenix vent and confirmed VentCam and DEMS are operational
    19:31:40 Niskin #4 collected at phoenix vent
    19:32:15 circling phoenix to capture video of VentCam and DEMS in operation
    19:34:02 both VentCam and DEMS in field of view on starboard brow camera


    20:00:00 recording both VentCam and DEMS illuminating simultaneously. odd pulse observed on
    20:07:05 Niskin #5 collection. moving to caldera wall
    20:09:51 arrived at wall. proceeding up wall to retrieve rock sample for Dan Fornari
    20:15:00 retrieving rock sample #2 from 12 meters up on caldera wall from base. bowling ball shaped
    rock sample imaged.
    20:18:23 all objectives accomplished transiting to Ashes south east landing zone
    20:38:50 after speaking topside we’ve changed plans and are now heading to region of new flow for
    additional rock collection
    20:42 following large white skate


    20:48:50 retrieving rock from flow boundary. new flow pillow basalt crust rock sample collection
    20:50:00 focus on rock sample #3 from 2011 flow
    20:56:00 imaging rock sample #4. may not in fact be old flow given the amount of glass present?
    moving to more confirmed old flow site
    20:58:21 at site of old flow. retrieving rock. very brittle. having difficulty.
    21:07:14 finally got rock sample #5 from old sheet flow
    21:08:46 rock sample #5 imaged and placed in basket. proceeding move to region of new flow.
    21:24 transiting west to region of old flow
    21:26:34 retrieving rock sample #6 from old flow
    21:27:14 imaging rock sample #6
    21:28 moving south 100 meters
    21:37 field of yellow bacteria clumps. retrieving rock sample #7 from this location.
    21:38:50 proceeding move onto site of new flow
    21:44:32 attempt a final rock collection. failing in attempt.
    21:47:43 battery low. moving to departure zone.
    21:50 permission to surface granted. dropping weight. heading up.

  • cayoung5 10:20 pm on July 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    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.

  • cayoung5 11:46 pm on July 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Day 8-10 

    Bad news, followed by good news, followed by disaster, followed by insanely good luck, followed by bad luck, followed by a fighting chance. That about sums up the past two days and brings us up to now.

    Bad news first. In the week we’ve been out here, Alvin has been able to dive only twice. From a passenger standpoint the weather is beautiful. Blue skies, sunshine, t-shirt and shorts on deck. Calm seas spread out across earth’s round dais and the sky so blue and flat, the sun’s orb so perfectly hung that the whole world appears as if through a tilt-shift lens. The Thompson (our sister ship) appears in the distance, bobbing on the horizon like a Battleship game piece. Sadly, it isn’t the weather you are experiencing that counts, but the weather that you might experience from which decisions are made.

    The potential loss of life with the Alvin means that the probability of weather must be considered both during launch and recovery operations. Foul weather, or more accurately the threat of foul weather has prevented Alvin from diving twice and an electronic error prevented it from diving yesterday. Most of the experiments on the cruise rely on Alvin’s manipulators to perform. And since our CTD has been down, that left Woods Hole’s Sentry and ASU’s Sensorbots as the only two exceptions on this cruise. This emphasizes the importance of our success. Unfortunately, we’ve faced considerable setbacks, starting with a microscopic soldering error deep inside one of our boards. It wasn’t repairable at sea and forced us to go to plan B early on.

    Now, the good news. Realizing the soldering error we moved to our backup electronics. Our guys on the beach (meaning our lab at ASU), scrambled to finalize some computer code for the backup plan. Their hard work, combined with Greg’s final insight into the memory writing subroutines and we had it working. That much has been true since day 3.

    Now the disaster. After waiting our turn for the winch, which was busy dropping cameras with acoustic release-beacons for Alvin to play with on the bottom the following day (which never ended up happening as explained above) we got on deck with our modems at 4am. The plan was to do a short 200 meter drop and back. Looking back, I should have known something was wrong because the upward facing modem blinked off  a few moments earlier than it should have less than 2 meters underwater. At that point there was nothing to do but control the winch and wait for the modems to return. When they did come up, the top housing was flooded with sea water, battery acid and some sort of congealed yellow material resembling gobs of hardened chicken fat.

    Understand that the housings were specifically Alvin Dive Certified with a pressure test record down to 2-kilometers depth, which was obtained on each housings at some expense. Needless to say, we were crushed and likely everything inside was too. High pressure saltwater and powered electronics don’t mix. Think dropping your $100,000 computer (you’ve got one of those, right?) into the toilet, for an hour, add salt, and extreme pressure, and you’d know what we were thinking when it came out on deck.

    Now for the insanely good luck. Triage in main science begins with getting the modem housing open. Since seawater rushed into the housing at potentially 200 meters, you can’t just open it because the remaining air inside is still under pressure. “But won’t the water just get out the same way it got in?” you ask. No, because holding in water is not the same as keeping it out. Think about how your car door only opens outward. Anyway, the flooded housing was opened as slowly as possible but it still had enough pop to explode in my hands. Breaking some screws and scaring the pants off Greg. If we had gone to 1.5 kilometers the housing would have blown my hand off, a hole in the sink and still had enough oomph to go through the hull.

    Once we got the electronics out we followed standard, “electronics rescue procedures at sea”. Boards are scrubbed with a brush in alcohol and deionized water, then hot air dried as you examine them for any corrosion. Let me cut to the chase. The boards still worked! A miracle! Only, it wasn’t…

    And now, bad luck. As we continued to run and test the boards, I resealed the housings with fresh o-rings and grease. In doing so I found the flaw that led to our housing failure; The origin of the problem was that when the housing is screwed shut, the boards could catch on a surface and release pressure on an o-ring while the system was at atmospheric pressure. If this particular o-ring releases from its groove then the high-pressure salt water will push it right through into the can. So we did a pressure test of the now re-sealed empty housings down to 500 meters and they held as they were intended to do. It seemed like we were a go. But, and here’s the thing about salt water corrosion, it continues even once you’re dry. By the time we were ready to deploy again, the boards ceased functioning.

    Finally, the fighting chance. WHOI electronics engineer, Al Duester, has a kit (and a mind for electronics) like no other. Back-ups of back-ups of back-ups of things he might need, ad infinitum. From resistors to oscilloscopes he’s like a turtle – he carries it all on his back. I wouldn’t say it to his face but when it hits the fan, “Let the Dues loose!” So Al gave us a back-up computer of a type similar to the one we lost. The beach team has written new code for it since it required different library files and Greg is busy as I’ve ever seen him soldering new connections and overcoming wiring issues.

    Everyone who reads this to the end, pray for us.

  • cayoung5 5:31 pm on July 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Description of Science and Engineering 

    The theme of this cruise, the common thread that binds all the research going on, is future instrumentation and sensor development. Researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory, University of Idaho, University of Minnesota, Institute GNS Science (New Zealand), and of course, Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration have come together on this cruise to push the boundaries of measurement in the most extreme place on earth, the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.

    The world of the deep ocean is way beyond intuitive experience. The first difference between surface water and deep water is the total lack of light. The last of the sun’s photons having been absorbed nearly 1.3 kilometers above you in the first 200 meters of ocean called the photic zone. It is absolutely pitch dark at the bottom, the only light we see is what we bring and what is produced by occasional marine animals. There are no plants here, only animals. The second difference is the pressure. Seawater is about three times as dense as a skyscraper – no steel beams or concrete but much less empty space. The Empire State Building has a density of about 342 kilograms per cubic meter and seawater has a density of about 1027 kilograms per cubic meter. That means 1.5 kilometers ocean depth is equivalent to having a 4.5 kilometer tall building on your head! Ironically, the only thing that saves you is that it also presses in on you in all directions. Alvin’s small titanium sphere (that three of us squeeze into), “the ball”, is spherical precisely because we exchange structural strength for material strength through the use of the sphere’s basic shape. The third difference is the water itself. In contrast to the approximately 2 to 4 °C ambient water temperature at these depths, water escapes from the vents at temperatures ranging from 60 to 460 °C. Around Axial these days we are hard pressed to find anything much above 350 °C. Due to high hydrostatic pressure, deep heated water can exist in both liquid form and as a supercritical fluid, possessing physical properties between those of a gas and those of a liquid. Realize that it’s not boiling even when it’s 460 °C! Besides being superheated, the water is also extremely acidic, often having a pH value as low as 2.8 – approximately that of vinegar.

    Now let me explain in detail what we are placing on the seafloor and why anyone would want to do that:

    Our project involves two different components. The first component relates to a novel, high-temperature glass material which is being developed for future use as a subsurface fluid flow tracer. The second component further develops a new approach to high-speed underwater sensing and wireless communications networks. Both project components are ambitious experiments that progress the mission of the National Science Foundation by providing foundational engineering research with the long-term potential to transform our approach to ocean science, education and policy.

    The goal of the first component is to test the stability of a new type of non-toxic, chemically-inert fluorescent glass in hydrothermal vent fluid. If the material can withstand the complex chemical environment of high-temperature vent fluid for an extended duration, it could potentially be used as a tracer for mapping subsurface fluid flow in the future. Such tracer studies will help to address some of the most difficult but fundamental questions we have about the Earth, including: How deep within the Earth does life live? What limits the growth of life in these extreme environments? How large is the subseafloor biosphere, and what role does it play in the carbon cycle? We will test this inert non-toxic material by attaching it to temperature probes and placing the probes in direct contact with high-temperature hydrothermal fluid for 2-3 weeks. Probes will be placed into hydrothermal vents using the Alvin Submersible. We will examine the material before and after vent fluid exposure using fluorescence microscopy, and evaluate any changes in its physical and optical properties.

    The goal of the second component is to characterize the range and stability of an optical multi-hop sensor network. Sensor networks employ a spatially distributed array of communicating nodes, in which each node collects and transmits data to its neighbors in a web-like fashion. Sensor networks allow scientists to monitor dynamic phenomena over an extended area simultaneously. Optical multi-hop networks will form an important part of the communication backbone for distributed, underwater sensor data collection to help monitor ocean phenomena over wide areas and volumes. Such networks can be joined by passing Remotely Operated Vehicles ROVs, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles AUVs, or other sensors (like those used to monitor the tracers described above) to relay data to each other or onto a cabled observatory or surface buoy for real-time reporting. On this cruise, we will test two optical modem modules deployed multiple times at varying distances apart along a cable. The data will be statistically combined in order to model and plan for future sensor network missions.

    This was a long one,  not really suited for a blog perhaps. I hope you made it through and maybe learned a little too.


  • cayoung5 3:45 pm on July 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    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.

  • cayoung5 2:00 pm on July 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Amanda’s Log 

    We have arrived above Axial Seamount after 21 hours of transit from the port in Astoria. Yesterday was overcome with spells of sea sickness and drug-related drowsiness, which was difficult to tolerate through all the safety orientation meetings. Pale-faced and dizzy, we mustered to the main science lab with life jackets and inflatable survival suits (reminiscent of Gumby costumes) and were instructed on what to do when we hear certain alarms. Seven short rings followed by one long translates to “Abandon Ship!” – code for grab your survival suits, iPods, cellphones, and anything else you want to bring home and get out on deck. The Alvin divers and team members were then instructed to meet in the library to view a presentation and try on military-grade oxygen masks. To make sure the mask is sealed effectively, all bearded men are asked to shave before diving on Alvin. After a day full of drills, meetings, and vomit, we were able to spend some quality time together watching Troll Hunter in the ship’s theater room. The tasty steak dinner was a pleasing accommodation to our movie night – at least for those of us who could keep it down. Violent ocean waves rocked us to sleep and we awoke feeling rejuvenated and better adapted to the motion.

    Today at 08:00, the first Alvin dive commenced with Chief Scientist Tim Crone inside. Like a seasoned sea dog, Cody stepped out on deck to bid farewell to Tim and watched as the submersible was rolled out on tracks and lifted up and over the fantail of Atlantis. Two Divers stand atop Alvin as it’s launched to secure the hatch and remove the rope. Tim is going down to place a beacon on a mooring left by the Scripps Institute. Unfortunately, the mooring contains glass spheres which pose a threat to delicate exterior of Alvin and the autonomous submersible Sentry. The beacon will emit a signal to create a spherical “do not enter” zone surrounding the mooring. Tim also plans to flag hydrothermal vents (black smokers) within the caldera of Axial Seamount. Once flagged, he can update the coordinates of these features and correct any previous errors. Each smoker is given a name: Hell, Medusa, Anemone, Phoenix, Inferno, Fuzzy Tubeworm Bush, Mushroom, Styx, Marshmallow, Virgin, and Virgin’s Daughter. Pictures of these smokers are currently being taken as Alvin lurks below. When they come back up and download the data, we will be sure to post photos!

    For now, we have time to make programming adjustments to our Sensorbots and help others with finishing details on their equipment. After a long semester of homework and computer screens, it’s quite stimulating to work with my hands on construction projects. I even have a few cuts on my fingers as souvenirs. Walking out on deck is exhilarating as well. The air is fresh and brisk and when the clouds move away from the sun, the deep blue color of the water is revealed. On the starboard horizon, our sister ship, The Thompson, sits in the distance, amidst a hazy fog.

    Ocean Blue

    Ocean Blue


  • cayoung5 11:03 am on July 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    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.

  • cayoung5 10:06 pm on July 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Diving to an Underwater Volcano – NSF Cruise AT26-17A, Day 1-3 

    We arrived at the Astoria, Oregon dock just before sunset. It’s a small unassuming place, as far as ship yards go, reeking of fish, timber and diesel fuel. A complex maze of fences and small buildings delineate the busy activity of sailors and dock workers. Today, huge stacks of logs, harvested from the wild Oregon forest are being loaded onto ships bound for Asia. The small port is easy to miss from the main road, and were it not for Ken’s past work here, we would have had trouble finding it. Ken, a friend and colleague from previous cruises, picked Tim, Amanda and me up in Portland for the hour and half drive here from the Portland airport. Once we arrived at the gate we presented identification which they checked against the manifest and we were directed onward to the vessel. The ship glowed magnificently against the dark backdrop of the Columbia River.

    R/V Atlantis at night.

    R/V Atlantis at night.

    Seven years of development, more all-nighters than we care to count (too many in the past week), and now it begins. Once on-board, we sought out the captain and were assigned space to drop off our gear. Ken bid us farewell and began his lonely drive back to Portland. The rest of us settled in and got dinner at the karaoke bar at the end of the road. The colorful bras on the ceiling are a testament to the wild times had by sailors and locals. Back on the ship that night we slept soundly in our berths, dreaming of the work to be done the next day and the adventure ahead.

    Karaoke bar in Astroria, Oregon.

    Karaoke bar in Astroria, Oregon.

    In just two days we are heading out to sea, 500 kilometers off-coast and 1.5 kilometers down. Research at sea, and on the Atlantis in particular, is a mixture of both tradition and dream. Most of the procedures and equipment on-board were designed decades ago, born of hard learned lessons from the stormy sea – a stark juxtaposition to the advanced technology and robotic cargo we carry. This balance between old and new, sea-worthy and delicate, are part and parcel to everything here, especially the people.

    Alvin Submersible

    The Alvin Submersible.

    Each research group is assigned space on the ship’s main level.  Alvin and crew are permanent fixtures on the Atlantis and they take up the whole fan tail and loading bay. The rest of us squirrel away where we can. While everyone helps each other whenever needed, each group is an island. You carry everything you will need for your research and personal needs, sans drinking water and food. Your research field kit is a source of pride and arguably competition. Of course, organization is key: “the micro-hex drivers are in Pelican case number eight, layer three, fourth row over as listed in the packing log book”. Groups from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have a fifty year head start in the kit competition. Still, I’m proud of ASU’s School of Earth Space Exploration style and we rarely have to ask for anything. That said, we needed a “slotted socket driver” today and the ship’s machinist was kind enough to oblige us by making one.

    We don’t leave port for another 24 hours. In that time we are preparing our experiments, getting to know each other, and coordinating dive plans. For our work, we are busy installing the latest firmware on our microcontrollers, attaching connectors, charging batteries, and preparing lines and cables. At 14:30 hours today we had a meeting to plan the upcoming Alvin bottom time for the next two weeks. Every dive is numbered, and every piece of equipment and passenger to be carried on that dive is accounted for before we leave port. Dates are not assigned to the dives because weather dominates all considerations at sea, except for perhaps considerations of human life. If a dive is delayed (or worse yet scratched), who cares what day of the week it is anyway? None of us have purchased our return tickets home yet for that same reason. We are committed to the mission and are flexible to change and opportunity.

    As luck happens (for us anyway) a member of the science crew got very sick and couldn’t make it. The chief scientist offered the room to another student at the last minute and I took the opportunity to argue our case. I’m happy to say we are flying Greg from my lab out tomorrow morning to join us. He’s been with the project since the beginning and he’s deeply knowledgeable of the instrumentation. That and his calm-under-pressure attitude are just what we need to make things work. Some of the boards are not programming as they should and we may have to go to back-up boards at sea. But with Greg, our chances go way up. Tomorrow we will be welcoming Greg and together we will attempt to finish our preparations.

    We leave port early Monday morning and will be diving in the Alvin on Axial Seamount two days hence. We will keep you updated through this blog on the experience, engineering and discovery to come!

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