Dive 440 begins, with ROPOS inside 'garage'.
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
20:12 Room filling up!
Thompson crew helps launch ROPOS from fantail.
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
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
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
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.
00:08 Saw is turned on and is working; cutting begins
ROPOS will lift this cage (using softballs) and place over target smoker before recovery.
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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