Transiting is getting old
Before I get to the day, here's the photo of the 'seasickness poll' I mentioned in my last post. I'm fairly certain most people lied, because there is no way that many people were smiley during the transit.
The day dawned bright, clouds floating through the sky much like the wallpaper in Toy Story. We reached the Mariner vent site early, but Tito determined the seas too rough to launch Jason and Medea. Instead we steamed on to the northernmost site 240km away, Kilo Moana.
Our transit took the rest of the day. Little needed doing on board, so most wrote papers or read. A few sat down to watch a movie. I spent my hours with my homework and my book, sitting at the picnic table on the deck outside the main lab. The seas stretched to the horizon. One could almost see the curve of the earth above the waves.
Finally, the ship stopped. I saw Tito move to the side to investigate the seas. Apparently, what he saw was suitable, because an hour after dinner, as the sun went down, I joined Jeff, Sean, and several others on the main deck, clad in a life jacket and hard hat. We gripped tielines and ratchet straps until the crane came swinging to the top of our sample elevator and lowered it over the side.
The elevator would drop to the bottom with extra sample containers, which Jason would replace when his own were filled. The elevator would then come up, we would process the samples and replace the containers, and then the elevator would drop down again.
Within a half hour, Jason and Medea were ready for launch. Jason dropped into the water, his lights creating a blue glow around him. Medea followed him quickly after and they began their descent to the bottom.
I joined Wen Yen and Guy in the main lab as we waited for the inevitable sight of the bottom. It took nearly two hours. We gathered in the control van, waiting with bated breath.
At a depth of over 2500m, the rocks loomed up beneath us. Pillow lavas, their rinds still shining, glistened beneath spindly white and orange brittle stars. Jason paused at the bottom to re-equilibrate himself and check his arms and dials. Jimmy, the pilot, mumbled to himself in the front of the control van.
The ROV inched slowly up a shallow slope. In the cameras, a tower began to appear through the gloom, spindling into the waters above. Other towers, some shorter and some taller, surrounded it. No water shimmered around them, nor did we see any bacterial mats. The towers were dead.
Dead as the towers were, life still existed. White crabs that thrived in hydrothermal environments crawled on the lower ridges of each tower and more brittle stars waved at us from all levels. Mussels clung to the higher reaches, and dead shells spread about on the rocks below. In a few places we saw patches of an iron oxide bacterial mat, clinging to the sides of the tower.
Jason inched on, leaving the tower behind to find a new target with more hydrothermal ‘oomph’. I found myself yawning and decided that it was time for me to move on as well, turning from the control van to return to my room, my book, and my bed.
The ship on its transit.
The elevator is dropped over the side.
Medea is launched once Jason is in the water, creating the blue glow.
The control van at work. Note the extinct sulfide chimneys in the screens!
Lots of cameras on board Jason get different perspectives, such as brittle stars in one and a chimney in another.