Kevin's a jolly guy, with a bandana on his head, an orange t-shirt that says "Catfish" -- more on these t-shirts later -- and a tattoo of an African mask on his upper arm. He was telling me nicely, but still I felt a little foolish. I had watched Alvin sink into the ocean at the back of the ship, and that is where I expected to see it rise up. But nobody on this ship ever says, "Well, duh." I'm not a member of the crew, I'm not a technician, and I'm not a scientist, and everyone else here is one of those. I've resigned myself to asking a lot of questions. Believe me, I feel sheepish, but everyone -- without exception -- answers thoroughly and considerately. I'm grateful and glad that I have the opportunity to tell people reading the Web site how courageous, fascinating, and downright cool this gang is.
Just before this, I was in the lab, talking to Dr. Astrid Schnetzer about her protist traps, riding to the ocean floor with Alvin. They're like clear, plastic tennis ball cans with the top covered in a fine mesh fabric. Inside is a sponge. (Check out the photograph.)
"The sponge is already saturated when the trap reaches the vents," Astrid told me. "So we will need the protists to crawl through the spaces in the mesh and colonize the holes in the sponge."
Astrid's colleague at the University of Southern California (USC), Peter Countway, was an Extreme 2003 scientist; he deployed two prototype "prototraps" last year. They worked, and Astrid is aboard in 2004 to deploy ten traps in all. Astrid wants the traps placed in a variety of locations -- on 'stumps' where chimneys have broken off, on bare rock, Riftia fields, and so on. That's just one of many jobs the Alvin pilot and observers had today.
We were still waiting for them to return. On deck, some of the scientists -- Ky Hacker, Tom Niederberger, Ian McDonald, and Barbara Campbell -- stood in the bow, hands shielding their eyes.
"About 700 feet off the bow," Kevin had said.
For about 15 minutes, we peered across the water, looking for a glimmer of orange. Soon the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was set down on the starboard side and sped in front of the ship. We watched it, thinking it would lead us to Alvin, but Alvin wasn't up yet. The RIB powered around, Swimmers Jerry Graham and Sean McPeak waiting inside, watching. Barbara was the first person near me to spot the submarine. "There it is!" Sure enough, Alvin's orange sail bobbed into view.
Now the RIB rode up to Alvin, and Jerry and Sean scrambled atop it. Jerry attached a hand-held phone to the jack in Alvin's sail, so that he could talk with pilot Bruce Strickrott, inside. The ship moved forward to bring Alvin astern so it could be hooked onto the A-frame and hoisted back to the deck. Craig Cary, Charles Lee, and Bruce climbed out like Hollywood celebrities emerging from a limousine. It reminded me of that moment in Apollo
13 when the astronauts splash down in the ocean -- back in the sun and fresh air once more. You can read about what happened next in Mike's journal. And don't miss the video of Charles returning from his first dive.
Astrid isn't the only one interested in what comes up from the bottom. Everyone has to stay back while Alvin is on the fantail. But once it crosses the deck on its tracks and moves into the hangar, the scientists crowd around the basket, eager to delve into its treasures: clams, mussels, Pompeii worms, Riftia, and lots and lots of water samples.
At the post-dive briefing in the evening, Craig Cary reported that the prototraps had been placed in a Riftia patch and a mussel bed. Because good sites weren't found to place all the traps, they'd been brought back up and would go down again next time. (Check the Dive Log for exact positions; in the Dive Log they're called proto-traps. Other areas are planned for the four more traps going down tomorrow, for four or five days, or maybe longer, Astrid says. What's she going to do in the meantime?
"I'm going to become a night owl." She plans to help with the large-volume water sampler that Dr. Shannon Williamson and Shellie Bench are deploying tomorrow and with the CTD, an instrument that measures conductivity (a measurement of salinity), temperature, and density. For more on that, see Tools of the Trade.
Yes, there's plenty of serious science going on here, but also plenty of fun. Eric DeChaine stopped by the computer lab to show me what had happened to his Styrofoam cup. Check it out!
For more cups, check out today's Neat Stuff.