Friday, August 6, 2010

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done

My First Dive
I spent the morning twirling a nickel around my finger in an attempt to constrain my anxiety to that single action. When the time came I handed the nickel to Elena and climbed the stairs to the top of Alvin. I began to wish I still had my nickel when the cheers of my fellow scientists on the deck below raised my confidence. I posed for pictures without knowing that Korey (an Alvin pilot) was making bunny ears behind me. I settled into my seat on the starboard side and wondered how the almost 7ft Ben would squeeze his way into place in the port seat across from me. 
After we all got comfy, Alvin was picked up by the A-frame and lowered into the water. I had heard that it could get a little rough while Alvin was at the surface so I was already sucking on the Preggie Pop so generously bestowed on me by the members of the Orphan lab.
Preggie Pops! I never leave the dock without them!

Side note: If you get sea sick you should try these things.
The time spent at the surface wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought that it would be. The rocking motion that the waves threw Alvin into was no worse then it was on the ship and being confined to a smaller space seemed cozier to me. I was comfortable and I knew from that moment on that at least I wouldn’t be puking on this dive! Hooray. One more concern I could cross off my list.
I gazed at the bubbles out the porthole as Dave announced that our dive had begun. Less then half an hour later the bottom came into focus. 
Photo op through the porthole at the surface!

What was my favorite part of the dive?
My favorite part of the dive was having the chance to see firsthand the type of environment the samples on which I have been conducting my research came from. Photos, videos, and even looking at samples don’t do justice to the beauty of this world. Things look much different in situ then they do in a bucket of water in the cold room. At one point we had collected a rock with a beautiful flowing “mane” of orange bacterial mat. Dave held the rock in Alvin’s claw long enough for us to take sufficient photo and video footage of it, but I could have watched the orange bacteria sway in the current for a few minuets longer.
A photo from my dive. Can you find the octopus? I almost missed it!
Shrimp, octopus, anemones, echinoderms, crabs, and snails littered the landscape. There were several different types of fish that could be seen at almost any moment during the dive, the smallest of which frequently darted frenetically in front of the camera, lights, or windows drawing a surprised gasp from the observer followed by a giggle when they realized that such a tiny fish was able to give them such a surprise.
A photo from the pilots window.
The bottom was beautiful and I wish that I could have seen further away from the sub. After we finished coring at the second site I looked out my window to see where we may go next and realized that only a couple of meters away the topography dropped off. It was difficult to tell how steep the drop was due to the lack of light, but it was incredible to realize how intricate and varied the world outside my window was.
What, if anything, was different from what you expected?
I think that I expected to be a little less comfortable in Alvin. I’ve heard that it gets cold and cramped, and considering that my dive buddy is the tallest guy on the ship, I thought squeezing in would be a little more awkward. However, I was gladly disappointed. I climbed in after Dave and sat down on the pads next to the starboard porthole and waited for my long-legged companion. Once the sub was in the water Ben stretched out his legs and put them to my left as I did the same. It was surprisingly roomy and I never heard any complaints throughout the dive.
Me and Ben Grupe (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) before the dive. 
I did not have much time to think about how I was feeling because I was so enthralled with what was happening outside the sub. We were able to deploy 3 sets of experiments, complete half of a rock transplant experiment, collect several rocks, release the elevator, and take 9 push cores all in about 5 ½ hours. I didn’t even notice that I was hungry until we had been down for about 3 hours…and no I didn’t have to use the facilities. Although, I thought about doing it just for the experience!  
I was extremely impressed with the abilities the pilots have. Alvin had buttons on almost every surface. Knowing what each button does must take quite some time to learn. On this expedition we are collecting samples from both active and inactive areas of methane seepage and the ability of Dave to visually distinguish active from inactive materials illustrates how well these pilots pay attention to what the scientists are interested in. This makes the dives so mush easier because rather then trying to point out a specific rock you can tell them what you want they can pick one out themselves. When the scientists and pilots are in sync the dives can be less stressful. I felt that our dive was both successful and very low stress. I was thankful to have gone down on my first dive with such a great pilot and well-prepared port observer. 

What did you find most difficult?
As I mentioned in my last blog, there were some issues with the battery that caused our dive to be delayed. After we entered the sub and were preparing to deploy Dave noted a ground on Ben’s external camera. Because of this the pan and tilt features of Ben’s camera had to be disabled. Therefore my camera became the only one able to be manipulated and able to capture video footage of things done during the dive. Finding enough time to man the camera and write notes proved to be a daunting task. Then Dave asked me to hold a button and the next thing I knew we had deployed an entire set of experiments on the portside and I missed logging most of them and had to ask Ben for the info.  Had Ben’s video been working, I would have had a better idea of what was happening on his side of the sub. Regardless, I think that we were able to get good footage and great documentation of what exactly we did.
I think the hardest part about the dive was taking notes. I never seemed to find the time to write every detail of experiments deployed or specimens taken. I often found myself playing catch up with my notes, whether that be a credit to the swiftness of Dave, the amount of information that it is necessary to record, or my lacking speed in legible writing (and yes it should be legible, because the second you get on the ship they copy your notes and make them available to all scientists). I was able to fill in my notes on the way to the surface. 

1 comment: