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Tug of the Thompson
by Peter Tyson
June 23, 1998

The Thomas G. Thompson The Thomas G. Thompson
The research vessel Thomas G. Thompson doesn't look much like a black hole. But right about now it's acting like one, sucking in people and equipment from great distances away, albeit selectively. The voyage to snare a black smoker chimney or three begins on Friday, when the Thompson is scheduled to depart Seattle for the high seas, and the cruise participants and their gear are streaming in from all corners of the globe.

As I write, scientists and graduate students are on their way from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Penn State University, and the University of Washington. (The Washington guys have it easy: UW abuts the dock where the Thompson is tied up.) Eight teachers, part of the university's REVEL Project, have already arrived from as far away as New York City, as has the NOVA film crew. I'm still stuck in Boston, but the Thompson vortex will have me on a plane to Seattle tomorrow afternoon.

The one to come the farthest is ROPOS, the robot-on-a-leash that will descend to the seafloor to prepare the smokers for removal. ROPOS has just returned, in pieces, from a mission in the Indian Ocean, and her handlers have arrived from their headquarters in British Columbia to reassemble and test her before the Thompson sets sail.

The UW folks may have the shortest distance to travel, but they're probably working the longest hours just now. "Everybody's running around like chickens without heads," one UW scientist confided in me. "We're in cruise mode." Cruise mode consists of a maelstrom of activity: getting final parts, producing extra maps of the seabed, labeling and inventorying equipment. Come Friday, the tug of the Thompson will have sucked that maelstrom—all that busywork, all that gear, all those people—on board, and then things will really pick up speed. Check back on Thursday for an on-the-spot report from the deck of the Thompson.

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)

Photo: Marine Operations, UW School of Oceanography

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