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Dive 440 begins, with ROPOS inside 'garage'. Dive 440 begins, with ROPOS inside 'garage'.
Dive 440
by Peter Tyson
July 1, 1998


This is an abbreviated and annotated version of the actual log of the first successful ROPOS dive, which took place last night and early this morning aboard the Thompson. Time is on a 24-hour clock (e.g., the first time listed corresponds to 3:58 p.m.). Where appropriate, I've included recorded depths (in feet).

15:58 Lost telemetry
At 3,300 feet into the dive, the pilot suddenly can no longer communicate with the vehicle. A failure has occurred somewhere along the 11,500-foot steel cable that, at one end, is wound around a huge Hepburn winch on deck and, at the other, connects to the cage that holds ROPOS. Within this steel cable are optical fibers that handle the telemetry. A fiber has failed along that line, and ROPOS is reeled back in.

16:41 ROPOS on deck
To pinpoint precisely where a fiber failed along an 11,500-foot cable would be, to say the least, impractical. So once ROPOS is back on deck its handlers switch to one of three backup fibers.

18:29 ROPOS returns to water

19:48 Change of watch
My watch has ended. Watches are four hours on, eight off, around the clock. You just have to get used to it. Mine is 4 to 8, a.m. and p.m. I'm in charge of video-taping. Others on my watch enter data in the laptop log and frame-grab images being filmed by the ROPOS cameras.

20:01 (5,280 feet) Still going down

Thompson crew helps launch ROPOS from fantail. Thompson crew helps launch ROPOS from fantail.

20:12 Room filling up!
I count 23 people in the roughly 12-by-14-foot room. They include a few crew members, who pop off their watch to catch a glimpse of the action. There isn't room to shake hands, and every now and then someone has to turn on the air, so we don't suffocate from lack of oxygen breathed by so many excited lungs.

20:34 (7,214 feet) Stopped going down
With ROPOS inside, the cage (or "garage" as some have taken to calling it) is halted about 100 feet above the bottom. Piloted by Keith Shepherd, ROPOS drives out, trailing a tether to the cage, and heads to the seafloor.

20:44 (7,512 feet) First sight of bottom
Three days after leaving Seattle and 15 years after John Delaney first thought of bringing up a smoker, we see a patch of seafloor where, in the coming days, the expedition will meet with success or failure. The seabed gives off a greenish glow, and the water column is filled with debris, living and not.

20:53 Moving ship 200 feet south
In order to keep the ship directly above the cage, which is moving to accommodate the roving ROPOS, Shepherd radios up to the bridge to change position, which is quickly accomplished.

21:04 John kneeling at Marcie's feet
Delaney, who has been hovering in the back of the room, tells more than asks Marcie Charters, one of the REVEL teachers, "Can I kneel at your feet?" as he goes down on one knee beside Deb Kelley near the ROPOS console, at the moment the bulls-eye of activity on the entire Juan de Fuca Ridge.

21:05 (7,323 feet) Nice pillow basalts
You wouldn't want to lay your head on them, but they're appealing in their way: rounded mounds of lava that have welled up from the Earth's interior and solidified in the 35°F water. 21:18 Nudibranch, R440-1
Our first visitor, a pinkie-sized white critter, drifts into view, wriggling as if waving hello. Jozee Sarrazin, a biologist at Woods Hole, says it appears to be a nudibranch and asks the frame-grabber on duty to secure an image, which is labeled R440 for the dive, 1 for the first of countless images to be taken on this three-week expedition.

21:20 Spider crab
"There's a crab!" Kelley yells in her quiet way. No need: everyone has fixed their eyes on a leggy white crab crouched on the seabed. It doesn't budge as the robot's lamps flood its home with light and its propellers churn up sediment. Scared stiff? Or just utterly unaware?

22:01 Heading south to Faulty Towers to look at structures
Faulty Towers is the many-entendre'd name for the hillock of black smoker chimneys, or "structures," that is the expedition's principal target. With my watch beginning at 04:00 (that's right, 4 a.m.), I slip down to Cabin 23 and up into the upper berth. [Hence, annotations below are hearsay.]

00:03 (7,316 feet) Coming upon a structure called Spider, east of Phang
Phang, is one of the chimneys Delaney's team hopes to recover. But first they will test the underwater chain saw on another smoker known as Spider.


ROPOS will lift this cage (using softballs) and place over target smoker before recovery. ROPOS will lift this cage (using softballs) and place over target smoker before recovery.
00:08 Saw is turned on and is working; cutting begins

00:12 Still cutting; harder than concrete, perhaps silica

00:16 Saw stalls

01:30 Vehicle power down; fault in power system
Another fiber bites the dust, and Dive 440 is terminated

Postscript: Tonight, June 30th, if all goes to plan, ROPOS will place one of Le Olson's specially designed cages over Phang and attempt to saw it. If the timing's right, the Tully, the ship that will actually lift the smokers off the seafloor, will arrive tomorrow just in time to break Phang free. Stay tuned.






Peter Tyson is Online Producer of NOVA.




The Tug of the Thompson (June 23)
The ROPOS Guys (June 25)
In the Juan de Fuca Strait (June 27)
Special Report: A Visit To Atlantis (June 29)
Dive 440 (July 1)
Rescue at Sea (July 2)
What's Your Position? (July 4)
Phang! (July 5)
20,000 Pounds of Tension (July 8)
Four for Four (July 11)
Thrown Overboard (July 13)
Was Grandma a Hyperthermophile? (July 15)
Swing of the Yo-Yo (July 18)




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