Oil spill site and Rich's dive

Well, we are in the final stretch of the cruise and for the past two days have been on site in the vicinity of the oil spill. Today’s dive was scheduled to be about 2 miles from the Macondo well head, but the weather just did not cooperate. Yesterday’s dive was a success, however, with Mandy Joye and Richard Harris (NPR) visiting the bottom about 8.6 miles from the damaged oil well. They took several sediment cores that had evidence of oil precipitate in a thin layer at the top. It did not appear as the black oily residue that one might expect, but rather was a layer of small balls of oil coated in the light brown sediment covering the seafloor. Since today’s dive was canceled, we are doing some sonar work, collecting cores with a multicorer from the ship and collecting more water with the CTD/Niskin rosette. Very early this morning, the 3.5 kHz echosounder registered a tantalizing water column return. This is somewhat uncharacteristic as the instrument is designed to penetrate bottom. Later today, we will try to collect water from the echoes we saw in the water column.

In other news, I was very fortunate to dive on site GC246 this past Saturday (11/27). I woke up early, excited to finally see the bottom. I was a bit dubious though since we were having an exceptionally bumpy ride to the dive site. When I went upstairs from our bunks to the 01 deck, I was crushed to see 20+ knot winds whipping the Gulf into a mess of confused waves. The conditions were in excess of safe conditions for an Alvin deployment. The dive was delayed hour after hour as we watched the weather. Finally, a decision was made to scratch the dive at noon and collect cores instead. Fifteen minutes later, one final assessment of the current conditions and most recent forecast changed everything. The decision was changed and the dive was on. About 30 minutes later, the sub was in position on the fantail and I was climbing inside with Hanna Weber (a graduate student from University of Southern Denmark) and an experienced pilot named Dave Walter. Since the weather had cut way into our bottom time, and we had a lot of work to do, we needed to move quickly. Thirty more minutes later we were 830 m below sea level and seeing the bottom of the Gulf. Words cannot describe this experience. While we did not have too much time to look around, we were very fortunate to see many amazing sights. We collected 28 sediments cores with Alvin’s mechanical arms, deployed a temperature sensor, deployed and later recovered a high resolution camera, slurped beggiatoa samples, and collected brine from a small brine puddle. We also collected two cores that hopefully will contain thiomargarita and we collected two small chimneys. Before I knew it, we were headed to the surface and the dive was over.

Hopefully we will have at least one more opportunity to update everyone through this blog. If not, we will see you when we get back.

-Rich and Rick

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