Alvin diving!

Rick Peterson back at the keyboard for this blog update.  Things have been busy here aboard the Atlantis this week, as expected.  We’ve been on our first station for four days now.  The daily schedule consists of an Alvin dive during the day (during which time nothing else can go in the water), and so water and sediment sampling during the night.  That leaves us collecting samples throughout the early part of the night, then processing and measuring them throughout the rest of the night and the next morning.  Rich has taken over responsibility of mapping the seafloor, so after the water sampler comes out of the water, we transit and map some of the seafloor around our station.

Yesterday, we actually moved about 2 km to the south to visit another brine site.  We had only 1 Alvin dive scheduled for this site, but it was rumored to be the most interesting site of all the ones we will study.  I was honored to be chosen to dive in Alvin for this dive, and it will be a lifelong memory.  Here’s a quick synopsis of the process:  At 6:30 the night before your dive, you attend a pre-dive meeting with the scientists who just got out of Alvin from that day’s dive, the chief scientist, and the Alvin crew.  During this meeting, you make the dive plan and the crew sets out configuring Alvin accordingly.  I woke up at 6:30 am the next morning to prepare for my dive, passed Rich in the hallway as he was going to get some shut-eye, and grabbed a quick breakfast (you want to limit your food and liquid intake in preparation for the less than stellar facilities aboard Alvin…).  Out on deck, the Alvin crew are preparing for your dive, and by 8:00 am, you are in the water and descending to the depths of the ocean.

Our site was in approximately 2300 m of water (almost 1.5 miles deep).  Our dive was the first time anyone has ever been to this location in a submersible.  The remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) Jason visited this site once a few years ago, but it is a really incredible feeling to know that my eyes were the first of anyone to have ever seen this section of seafloor.  Alvin holds 1 pilot and 2 scientific observers – I was accompanied by Dr. Ian MacDonald from Florida State University (it was even his birthday!). 

It took about an hour and a half to get down to the bottom, and a similar time to ascend back up.  We had a rigorous dive plan, as that was the only scheduled dive for this site, so we collected push cores, brine fluids, niskin bottles, macrofauna (mussels and urchins), and measured water composition with a mass spectrometer.  Our 4 ½ hours of bottom time flew by in a blink and before I knew it, we were headed back to the ship.  But, the site was absolutely amazing (see picture below).  You almost feel like you are in a space ship exploring the surface of some other planet.  Words cannot describe the feeling of wonderment just sitting there looking out at this landscape, knowing just how little we understand about how the bottom of the ocean works.

As you get out of Alvin back on deck, it is tradition that your scientific colleagues celebrate your first dive by dumping buckets of iced seawater on you.  I’m pretty sure they enjoyed that particular celebration more than I did…!

Some people wonder whether the expense and safety concerns are worth it to continue with the Alvin program.  I can now say that it is absolutely worth it for the science.  Being able to be on the seafloor with the human eye, watching, observing, and thinking about what is happening is an invaluable commodity to the scientific community.  The conversations we had about the processes occurring at that site while we were on the bottom we quite fruitful, and I certainly learned more about these sites during those 4 hours than I ever thought.  What a wonderful experience, and I absolutely encourage all young scientists out there to work hard to make this sort of dream come true for yourselves.

Field Note Event: