Ready... Steady... Science!

This morning, we are still en route to our first sampling site. All day long, we glance at the monitors—which are placed throughout the main deck (where the labs are) and provide a wide array of information—counting down the hours and then minutes to our arrival.

After lunch, we have our first fire drill, followed by liquid nitrogen ice cream making. Eating ice cream has never been so much fun.

Along the way, we are treated to a visit by a solitary juvenile wandering albatross who, true to its name, wanders back and forth about the ship’s bow, seeming simply to do so for the enjoyment of it.

We simultaneously pass our first iceberg. It is about 7 miles away, and the first mate estimates it is about ¼ mile long. (Pics in tomorro

Just after 3 PM, we finally reach the latitude and longitude of our first sampling station, but the sea bottom profile, obtained by sonar-like instrument, doesn’t look ideal. The instrument is sometimes called a Chirp because of the cricket-like sound it sends out that also pervades the ship. So, we move on a little way to find an area that is suitable for us to deploy the instrument that will retrieve our samples. Soon, we find a place that looks flat enough and which may provide the kind of oozy sediment or mud we are looking for. At about 7 PM, we send down a sediment grab, a big metal claw that captures a scoop of the seafloor to see just what it’s made of here. On and off, the bow thrusters roar, keeping the ship in place and steady.

The entire science team, the electrical technicians, and some of the marine technicians gather in the forward dry lab. Over an hour passes as we watch the numbers—indicating depth and tension in the wire lowering the device—increase as the grab is lowered into the ocean. The atmosphere is anticipatory, almost festive. Even the captain visits with us while we wait.

500 meters down… 1000… 2000… 3000… At about 3285 meters deep (about 2 miles), there is a sudden change—a decrease—in the tension on the line. The grab has reached the seafloor and, then the tension increases beyond its previous value just above the seafloor, indicating that we grabbed approximately 100 pounds of… something. Sediment? Gravel? Sand? We won’t know what until it reaches the surface once more, but we hope we have some nice oozy mud full of diatom frustules (the diatoms’ glass skeletons). We have another wait to find out.

Alas, we’re in for disappointment. Something goes wrong with the equipment, and nothing is recovered. We decide to call it a day and keep looking for ideal site locations using the “chirp.”


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