Monday, May 30, 2011

Cracking Open the Mysteries

When I stepped into the Jason control van at 0400 David informed me that I had just missed an albino octopus moseying across the screen. My hopes of the eight legged fellow returning were never realized. In the trail of the octopus were never-ending flat plains of the geologists’ least favorite rocks. Even void of dazzling biology and geology, the bottom of the ocean is still a rarely experienced scene so I was consumed by Channel Jason for 4 hours wrapped in my blanket like a crepe – which we had later that morning for breakfast.

After crepes, Roger explained to me the obstacles that this project has dashed in the past, which was more tiring than I had thought. The ACO project started over a decade ago with the first plans to set up this observatory using a copper telecommunications cable – the predecessor to the current fiber optics technology.  The company that was going to donate this cable went bankrupt so could no longer give them the cable.  It wasn’t until AT&T donated a fiber optic cable that the project regained momentum. The next obstacle appeared immediately when the programming prepared for communication with the observatory through a copper cable was not compatible with the code of AT&T’s cable. Someone cleverer than the cable tricked it into speaking ACO’s language and the project took another step forward.  To prove that the cable system to Station Aloha worked, the project installed the predecessor to the observatory, the proof module. Mounted on the proof module was a hydrophone, which remained down there for over a year eavesdropping on whale songs and ships passing by.  Roger let recordings of the whale sounds squeak and moo across the lab for a while. Because Jason wasn’t in the water, the pounding winch noises were absent and you could hear subtle clicks and whooshes from the sea.  To replace the proof module came the first try at a installing an observatory with more instruments than just the one hydrophone.  Faulty connectors prohibited this installation and bad weather cut the time for reinstallation of the hydrophone. The cable termination has been waiting patiently at Station Aloha since then for another try. 

The news from Makaha, where troubleshooting abounds, is that there is nothing wrong with the cable itself between the termination frame and the AT&T station.   This is good news – we don’t have to send someone swimming done to the bottom of the ocean to regenerate a regenerator or patch a fish bite in the cable.  It does, however, mean that the problem lies elsewhere. We’ve yet to figure out where that elsewhere is.  Working at Makaha alongside people from the ACO group is the original engineer of the fiber optic cable who flew into Honolulu to assist in tracking down the rascal errors.

Later in the day I pretended I was a geologist while the ones with degrees in Geology were describing their specimens. John said, “Let’s crack open those rinds,” and handed me a small metal object on a string. Thinking “crack open” meant something like The Mud Slinging Show of the previous day, I swung it around a couple of times trying to figure out how to I was going to exert force with this tiny weapon. “No, no, it’s a hand lens,” John said as he took it from me and opened it to reveal a magnifying glass. Crack open the scientific mysteries, he meant. They held rocks up close to their faces and crouched under the heating lamps with one eye squinting. “20% Olivine,” one says. “There are many vesicles in this one,” says another. If you can use these words in a scientifically accurate sentence, you are further than I. I know that vesicles are different than vessels and Olivine is shiny and green. My own observations – “This one looks like pâté,” – I kept to myself.

Yesterday was the day intended to be Jason’s launch of the signal test to Makaha. Over the past day, Jason’s umbilical cord had been reconfigured to extend out in front of him with a connector the same as those used throughout the observatory and J-box. Jason could then plug his bellybutton into the cable termination, connecting the lab on the KM up to the control van, down the winch wire, in one side of Medea and out the other, passing right through Jason and 100 km of fiber optic cable to Makaha.  A regenerator in the lab would then produce an optical signal that anxious observers on land could receive.  Like the whale songs, this signal would prove that communication is possible between land and sea.  If the signal is not received, this is not necessarily an indication of the impossibility of communication – it just means we need to try something else.  In the event of light seen at the end of the cable or not, the J-box would be retrieved on this dive for reconfiguration and redeployment.

Unfortunately, 0400 brought swell taller than four of my groggy selves standing on each other’s sleepy shoulders – conditions unsuitable for tossing Jason in, even with his remarkable swimming ability.  When I woke for a second time at 0600, the swell was just as tall but now I could see it’s peaks and troughs fluctuate.  The swell hung around for the rest of the day, as did the high 20-knot winds.  Jason with his new protruding bellybutton rocked on the quarterdeck for the rest of the day.

Without Jason, there was little ACO work to be done.  Instead, we prepared equipment for the next cruise. Already experts at switching batteries and cleaning o-rings, David and I flew through prepping a couple ADCP’s and their auxiliary battery packs.   Of course, we couldn't have done it with the help of the Backstreet Boys and a little a cappella. These instruments will be attached to the WHOTS mooring in July. Though we had little to do on the ship to further the observatory installation, the folks at Makaha continued to tinker with their end, finding small errors here and there to correct.

At 0400 this morning, the swells were quiet and the wind cut in half.  Jason jumped in as I rubbed my eyes and drank my tea at the event logging station. The events were few on my 4-hour shift – limited to “Jason in water” and “Jason on bottom” with 3 hours of travel through the water column between.  The rest of the dive will bring more information – and fish.  In order to view a bit more biology at the sediment covered flat bottom, Jason brought with him fish carcasses.  John hopes to find scavengers flocking to the smell -- possibly getting video footage of some for the first time. By 0800, when I was relieved, there was already a thin spattering of white in front of Jason – amphipods looking for their meal. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Robot Dances and the Mud Slings

Toss the bucket list overboard; I’ve no need for it anymore. I’m fairly certain that nothing on that list could match manipulating Jason’s left arm. As of 0630 this morning that experience has been checked off the list. While passing over a particularly bland patch of seafloor on the geology survey Akel, the pilot, asked if anyone one would like to try their hand at running Jason’s hand.  A little shocked that this was even an option, I didn’t respond so Deb, a geologist who shares my watch, went first.  Anxiously, I waited at my DVD labeling station until it was my turn.  “Does anyone else want to try?” Yes. The controller for the arm is a mini replica of the arm itself that the pilot holds with two hands. One hand operates the shoulders and elbow, the other controls the wrists – that’s right, Jason has not one but two wrists – the claw, and the on/off switch.  It was harder than I had thought – possibly because of the two wrists but more likely because of the millions of M&M’s worth of titanium resting in my hand.  At first I just swung the arm back and forth out in front of Jason, trying to stay away from anything I could break. I attempted to make him dance but the disco takes more coordination than I could muster and doing the robot meant, well, just being himself.   Then I tried the more daring move of picking something up from the basket. I went for the color palette, which Akel assured me was already broken so I couldn’t harm it further.  Like a blind contour drawing, you have to trust that your hand is doing the right thing as you stare at three different camera angles trying to calculate the depth field. My first try: a swing and a miss.  My second try: a success. I inched the palette out of basket and quickly put it back down.  Having performed this task without breaking Jason’s arm, I decided to quit before I did.  I stowed the arm in defensive position and handed it back over the guys who rip rocks out of the seafloor, stow them in labeled baskets, unscrew shackles and plug in connectors, grasp small loops of twine with expensive equipment dangling from them all while controlling the rest of the vehicle too. Maybe someday they’ll learn to disco.  

After my stint at the helm of Jason’s left arm, the seafloor became rocky again and the geologists became excited. From standing watch with them, I have come to understand why geologists are so picky.  To me, all the lumpy mounds at the bottom of the ocean appear the same. Why not just pick one up every few hundred meters and call it a survey? Because picking up any old rock and analyzing it doesn’t guarantee that those rock characteristics originated in that location. Rocks can be relocated by current or come tumbling down the side of the ridge by gravity. So the geologists look for outcroppings on the ridge of rock solidly connected to the topography. Of course, this makes it harder for Jason to collect these unwilling rock samples but it guarantees for the geologists the original location of the rock. We picked up several rocks and almost got a spiny pair of crabs as the ridge became shallower.  The dive ended at 0730 and Jason and Medea arrived on deck shortly after. With several pounds of rocks to unload from Jason’s baskets, the geologists employed my assistance again, and again rewarded me for my efforts. This time I received two pieces of sponge from the side of Ka’ena Ridge.

In the rock lab, once the rocks were all laid out and drying under heat lamps, the rock team began their processing.  This started with measuring and describing the samples, then came “The Slinging Mud Show” in which Doug sawed the rocks in half to reveal their insides.  Water and rock particles abounded so he wore an apron. During the many years that these rocks have spent at the bottom of the ocean, manganese has built up on their exterior making each rock look like the same coarse black blob in different shapes and sizes.  In reality, each rock is slightly, or in some cases wildly, different.  “Like truffles,” Doug says, slicing them in half shows you the true flavor of the rock. In most cases you can see a difference in color immediately from the black manganese to the green or brown or grey insides.  What the geologists hope to find on the inside of the rock are glass chards because they offer a quick form of analysis. Analyzing the samples that they collect on this cruise in full will last them a couple years.

Over lunch, John was explaining to me his hypothesis for Ka’ena Ridge’s formation and the purpose for his research on this cruise. Ka’ena Ridge juts off of the northwest point of Oahu about 1000 m under the sea at its peak. Many have considered it to be a distal extension of the Waianae volcano on Oahu but John says that there are reasons to believe otherwise – to believe that it was a volcano all of its own.  From the research conducted on this cruise John and his team hope to find evidence pointing one way or the other. When I asked him if it was too early to tell, he said it would take a lot more age and composition analysis of the rocks to determine whether they’re related to Waianae or not.   So the geology dives will continue while things are straightened out for ACO at Makaha.

The Paparazzi Returns

As we are taking a brief intermission today and tomorrow from diving for ACO, I will take the opportunity to update the photo documentary:

The crane doubling as a carnival ride. Step right up for your chance to switch blocks on the A-frame. Must be taller than Jason to ride.

Jason, doing some sun salutations.  There’s no better time than sunset to have your electronics worked on and your oil changed.

The neon green cable with its banana yellow accents sprucing up the quarterdeck’s grey and forest green.

Pondering the upcoming deployment of the camera and the J-box. Medea will have to budge from the center of attention and the center of the A-frame to allow room for the newcomers. 

The giant eyeball steps up to the plate. After John finishes attaching weights to its feet, it will be ready to free-fall the seafloor.

The eyeball takes in one last, long scan of the horizon. It has to last him 3 or 4 years until the observatory is recovered.

Inside the eyeball, the camera can pan 360˚ to see all the shrimp and fish passersby.

And off the eyeball goes.

The J-box then steps up to the plate. The quarterdeck is indeed a party at this point.

The shackle by which the J-box hangs from Medea is specially made with a large handle for Jason to grasp and unscrew. 

The eyeball says ‘Come on in, the water’s fine’ so the J-box follows suit. 

Once the J-box is lowered a safe distance from the ship’s hull, a bridle is attached to the line and the J-box’s load is transferred to Medea and down the party goes to the bottom of the sea.

The next night, when the J-box was brought back on deck, long poles were used to grab tag lines onto Medea while she swings through the A-frame to the quarterdeck.

After a long day at the bottom of the ocean, the J-box is back to rest among familiar friends in the staging bay.  

While he is resting, many will not as they work away on his cables and connectors.

The after-party on the quarterdeck conferencing on the re-deployment of the J-box.

Once the plan is solidified, Jason and the J-box jump right in.

The cockpit. Though the sun is up on the quarterdeck, the only light that reaches the control van travels down through the water column and back up through Jason’s cameras. 

Dave, logging events. A vigilant watch stander, he never lets an event fall through the grasp of documentation, including “Standing by” and “Discussing the possibility of…”

 As always, the equipment anxiously awaiting deployment requires attention here and there.  Cammy and Dave acquiesce. 

Though not diving for ACO, Jason doesn’t get a break as he is now diving for the geologists. I spent my 0400 to 0800 watch imagining what Jason might do in his free time. 

Photo credit to Cammy, the paparazzi responsible for many of these pictures.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How About Papayas and Sunsets?

For the judge’s record, I managed to stay awake long enough to see the end of the bathymetry survey this morning. Luckily the survey ended an hour and a half into my watch. Within the first hour, Trevor, my professor of knots, supervised my completion of a monkey’s fist.  After a half an hour of watching the swath of bathymetric paint appear on the screen at the rate of one inch per century, my eyes were scheming. I was relieved of my duty just in time.

Overnight, many brains on the ACO team got little sleep while working away on the J-box to reduce attenuation. By the time I returned to sleep at 0600, the J-box was ready to go back down to the bottom of the deep blue for a second try. When I awoke for breakfast – you can’t pass up breakfast on the KM or the spread of mangoes, raspberries, strawberries, and papaya may feel lonely – Jason and Medea were ready to go swimming as well.   At about 0800, the whole crew made a splash: Jason, Medea and the J-box.  I played paparazzi on the Jason crew during deployment until Dave caught me grabbing a candid of him and my cover was compromised.

While in the lab I heard over the PA system a message telling the ship’s company to disregard the following horn blasts because they are directed at a nearby fishing vessel. Apparently the fishermen were not responding to communication, running on autopilot and heading straight towards us. I came out to the quarterdeck in time to see the ship motoring away after coming within 100 m of us. Though the fishermen would have to travel the length of a football field to reach us, with Jason in the water the KM can’t move faster than a half a knot to get out of the way. Given the whole ocean, one would think this ship might be able to find fish elsewhere.

With more attention to spend on the observatory, I helped Jefrey and Cammy put bungee cords around the loose cable. These bungee cords need to be secure enough to not let the cables escape on the descent yet easily removable by Jason once on the seafloor. In the afternoon Cammy and I did the same for the cables wrapped around each side of the anchor. Out under the sun for an hour or two, we needed some inspiration to continue cutting bungees and fashioning handles for Jason to pull. James provided that inspiration when he hooked up the speakers to Alpha Charlie Delta Charlie, in acronym form: ACDC. Though the CD only provided 3 working tracks on repeat, it was enough to get us through the task.

At 1600, like clockwork, I marched up to the cockpit and took my seat behind the event logger for a period of waiting.  Just before I had arrived, Jason had inserted the connector back into the J-box and the cockpit was silent waiting for the verdict from Makaha. Makaha called back twenty minutes later with the same half good, half bad news: the power is on but the optical signal is not. Papers shuffled around desks, thoughts and questions volleyed across the blue-lit, crowded shipping container. Sentences started with “It’s gotta be…”, “Well, but then…”, “How about…” The satellite phone began to have poor reception so the decision makers moved to the bridge.  Yet the volleyball game continued in the van well into dinner passing suggestions back and forth, such as having Jason send an optical signal to Makaha and see how far it goes.  The solution that was arrived at after dinner was to test the cable thoroughly from the Makaha side and eliminate the issues that arise from solid ground. In the meantime we will be heading to Ka’ena Ridge to do some early search for some rocks. Jason‘s rock collection was looking a little lackluster last time I checked.

After dinner, I snuck out of the van “to use the head” just in time for the sunset. The sky was calm and the swell was not.  Where the two met, a yellow blinding ball gave way to shades of breakfast fruit: grapefruit slices and papaya halves then eventually came blueberry blackness. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Innocent Until Proven Drooling

Since Jason wasn’t in the water at 0400 for my watch, I spent it in the computer lab making sure that the bathymetry survey of the surrounding areas of Station Aloha continued as planned.  This meant occasionally glancing at the screen on which the colorful bathymetric data was being painted in wide strokes. This activity was accompanied by curling up in a blanket, this time more like a dumpling than a burrito, in a chair that swung me around with the roll of the ship. If the control van was freezing yesterday then the computer lab was 0 Kelvin this morning.  Trevor, an ocean technician on watch with the same assignment, tried to keep me occupied for a while teaching me knots. By 0600, we reached the point of making up knots and he was attempting the interwoven monkey’s fist. Though I was intrigued to find out how it ended, my eyes were apparently not. They found other ways of passing the next hour, namely remaining closed. Apparently I had several visitors during that hour, all of which decided against waking me up in favor of mocking me later for my dumpling position in which only my face was visible. There is no photographic evidence, thank goodness, nor drool remaining on the keyboard so I will plead innocent if prosecuted for relinquishing my watch responsibilities. My eyes were conspiring against me, anyways. The bathymetry survey painted its picture without hitch, you’ll be happy to know.

The observatory, the anchor and the AMM all require a little bit of attention everyday to remain content equipment. This morning’s attention was focused on trimming. It has apparently been a while since their last hair cut so Cammy and I took the clippers to them and trimmed the ends of the zip ties. The anchor was also feeling a bit monotone with the green cable wrapped around it, so Cammy and I added banana yellow chafe gear to the delicate ends of the cable for a cheery accent.

After reconnecting to the cable termination that was tried yesterday didn’t succeed, the thought for today is that there is a problem with attenuation in the Junction box.  This would mean that there is a loss of signal through the cables and connections. I am told that could be recovered relatively simply through some edits to the system.  The plan, then, is to have Jason recover the J-box and bring it to the KM where it will be worked on overnight and sent back down in the morning.

I stood my watch for Jason from 1600 to 2100 when this operation occurred.  At first, Jason removed the Homer and USBL beacons from the camera tripod. As the camera is now located near enough to the rest of the observatory to be found again, there is no need for these locators.  The next job for Jason was to disconnect the J-box from the cable termination and bring the J-box up to the ship. Though this sounds like a series of simple pushes and pulls with the manipulation arm, everything underwater becomes more complicated.  Jason’s arms are so powerful, and the connectors so fragile and crucial that it takes almost 20 minutes to remove one.  Jason must also be careful not to sit on a cable – for he is no dainty fellow – yet position himself as close as possible to the J-box.  In addition to these technical obstacles, the seafloor was particularly void of current so when Jason sat down, a cloud of silt surrounded him, which didn’t settle for another 10 or 15 minutes.  After disconnection, Jason needed to attach the J-box to the shackle hanging from the end of Medea in order to be lifted up. Remember two days ago when it took 20 minutes to move the J-box suspended from Medea 10 m to the left?  This watch we waited over an hour to position the ship, thus Medea, thus the shackle directly above the J-box. At 2000, when I was supposed to go off watch, the shackle appeared just meters away from position so I waited another hour to see the final operation and ascent of Jason, Medea and the J-box. My watch was filled with much waiting, for the silt to settle and for shackle to hover closer, punctuated by tense moments of operation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Party By Invitation Only

Yesterday I woke up early in anticipation for my first Jason watch in the control van from 0400 to 0800. Unfortunately they did not need my excitement and me because Jason didn’t go into the water until 0800 so I went back to bed.

After Jason went in, the morning was filled with an assortment of tasks and tidbits. I helped John bring the giant eyeball, the camera mounted on its tripod, down from the 0-2 deck to the staging bay where is could be tested and prepared to be deployed later that evening. I went to a meeting about how exactly Jason, Medea, the junction box and the camera pyramid were all going to be deployed that night. Were it not for the pages of cartoon diagrams showing exactly what extremely expensive mass hung from which line or wire, I would still be trying to figure out step one: put Jason in the water. I helped Jefrey and Cammy mount the grates holding the instruments that Roger had been testing in the lab back onto the AMM. They didn’t want to go, but after a bit of nudging and wiggling, we were able to wedge these in. It’s incredible that everyday someone onboard seems to arrive at a problem that, if not solved, could close the curtains on this show. However, the moment these problems arise the brains start ticking and the fingers start twiddling with zip ties and nuts and bolts until the problem is a thing of the past.

At 1600 I had my first Jason watch, during which they actually did require my presence.  Jason was recovered at 1730 so I only remained in the cockpit, the control van as some may call it, for a short while.  During that time, Mary, one of the geologists, trained me in the ways of labeling DVD recordings of the three main cameras on Jason. It is surprisingly demanding work as you must keep the abbreviations, which are varying combinations of the letters A, B, C, P and W, straight in your head. The real problem is that they all rhyme, so mental repetition is of no use, and they all look the same in the dark.  James, the Jason data processer, trained me in the ways of logging events into the computer, which they call the ‘virtual van’ – as if I didn’t already feel like I’m in a dream world in the dark den of big blue screens and robotic arms.

After my watch I went to sleep though I wanted to stay up for the deployment party to which almost all of the back deck equipment had been invited. Jason was going to be there, and of course his date Meada; the camera tripod would have to come and leave early; and the life – and by that I mean power – of the party, the J-box, would make a guest appearance at midnight.  Though I do love parties – and any chance to wear my hard hat – I had my first full length Jason watch at 0400 the next morning and knew I needed to put my hard hat’s contents to rest. 

0400 came sooner than I’d expected and the cockpit was freezing.  Electronics apparently don’t appreciate the tropical climate as much as most, so the cockpit conditioned out every last drop of warm, humid air.  Wrapped up like a burrito in an extra blanket from the staircase, I mean linen closet, I watched as Jason approach the seafloor along with the J-box. 

My responsibilities were to take pictures with Jason’s cameras if a Kodak moment arose, and to log all events. Herein lies the challenge of logging: what constitutes and event? The obvious ones are laid out for you in a form – Jason on bottom, Jason install homer beacon. But what if Jason leaves the bottom to move 10 m to the left? What if a foot long red shrimp whizzes by? I find foot long shrimp quite eventful and moving to the left quite dull, but those who rely on this log might think otherwise.

As Jason hovered off the muddy floor near the cable termination, he found the imprint of the observatory that this group had attempted to install three years ago.  The navigator spent about an hour inching the ship 10 m this way and that trying to pull Medea, and consequently the J-box, to hover over that imprint. It takes about 15 minutes to move the J-box 10 m because the ship can only move at a tenth of a knot while towing Medea. Then that 10 m at the surface has to be translated down almost 5 km of cable to Medea and the J-box. At 0800, the J-box was almost in place and it was time for the burrito to unwrap and grab breakfast.

By the time I woke up from my post-breakfast nap, there were many items to check off the to do list in the lab.  Jason had positioned the J-box in the imprint of the last observatory and had connected it to the termination cable. Power flowed through the connection as expected however the optical signal from Station Aloha did not reach Makaha, the cable station on Oahu, with the amplitude expected.  As with the other problems that arrive at the party uninvited, this one was met with a flurry of brain cells clicking and fingers fiddling.  A number of solutions were proposed, developed and mulled over for the rest of the day. 

Jason spent most of the day down there, not coming back up until the end of my next watch at 2000. He inspected the termination in more detail than the survey dive of the day before, looking at PMI grips and the connectors again. He tried disconnecting and reconnecting the cables in hopes that the insufficient signal was a result of a faulty first connection. This was not the solution to our problem so the brains continue to buzz.  Jason did however have success in locating and repositioning the camera tripod, which had been tossed out of the party and let free fall to the bottom of the ocean the night before.  John and the rest of us were quite relieved to find it safe and reunited with the J-box after a long journey down.

While not on watch in the afternoon I assisted Jefrey and Cammy in switching the batteries and reprogramming the instruments for the thermistor array that will float above the observatory.  As with everything on this ship except the zip ties, the thermistors are expensive and sensitive so when I’m holding one for Jefrey, I’m gripping it with the full force of my excitement – but not too tightly because the inductors are ceramic and say “Fragile!”  We cleaned the o-rings, which seal the instrument and play bouncer to any water molecules who may want to join the party. Then we removed the old batteries and put fresh ones in to give the instruments the longest possible life underwater—hopefully up to 4 years. Thermistor ID01 decided that everyone wasn’t quite thinking hard enough yet, so spontaneously stopped working. We disconnected and reconnected it. We removed the new batteries and replaced them with the old. We tested Thermistor ID02. Just as we were about to resort to the every popular banging one’s head against the table on which thousands of dollars of equipment lay, Thermistor ID01 decided to function.  Again, with the proper amount of storming in our brains, the show will still go on. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jason's Photoshoot

Jason’s backside.

Medea and Jason relaxing on the quarter deck.

Jason’s tag team watching the A-frame lower Medea in the water as Jason floats about (the aqua and yellow blob visible just under the A-frame.)

Live feed in the lab from Jason, exploring Ka’ena Ridge. The white fingers shooting up from the rocks are sponges. 

Jason found a rock he likes. The battle will be to pry it from its fellow rocks.

Jason wins the battle and his fans cheer wildly.

The recovery of Jason and Medea at 2100 for a night’s rest. The tag team is handling the yellow umbilical cord that connects Medea to Jason.

Jason, splashing about at 2100. The reluctant child who doesn’t want to get out of the pool yet.

Presents from Jason: a chip off a rock sample from the bottom of the ocean and an echinoderm larva – a baby sea urchin.

The orange bird perch, called the Aloha Mars Mooring (AMM) node by some, and the observatory and the junction box wait patiently for deployment in the staging bay.

Instruments in the lab being tested before they are mounted to the bird perch. 

The ADP’s hard hats, fashioned by Jefrey Couture.

Sunset on the big blue.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Present from Jason: A Baby Echinoderm

Just after breakfast, Jason and Medea were lowered for the first time over the stern of the KM for an engineering test and rock-collecting dive. The operation to lower both bodies into the water without colliding with each other and the ship is one of ballerina precision on the part of the tag team on the quarterdeck, the Jason crane, the A-frame and the ship.  Every swell made me nervous that Jason would be pushed right under the hull as Medea, attached to Jason by an electrical umbilical cord, was being lowered towards him. Everyone performed their pirouettes gracefully and Jason and Medea were soon on their descent to Ka’ena Ridge.

In the morning, Roger explained to all of us in the lab a phenomenon which HOT cruises have observed at Station Aloha involving unexpected changes in temperature and current at the bottom of the ocean, which they call cold events.  Water coming from the South Pacific traveling north passes around the east side of the Big Island and follows the contour of the Hawaiian Islands to Oahu. Before this water mass reaches Station Aloha, it fills two depressions in the sea floor called the Maui and Kauai Deep.  The cold events occur when enough cold water has built up in the Maui Deep to spill over the sill to the northwest into the Kauai Deep. As a result of this bathymetry, one can periodically see cold water and increased current at the bottom of the ocean at Station Aloha, which is exactly what the cabled observatory intends to observe.

Later in the morning and most of the afternoon, I helped Dave to make a second protective cover for the ADP.  Jefrey designed this cover, an upside-down trash can, to remain attached to the platform while the observatory is descending but be able to be released by Jason once the observatory is in place.  To enable this, he strung two bungee cords through the trashcan with loops at the ends that a metal bar held together under the platform. With this setup, Jason can tug on the loop at the end of the metal bar to release the bungees, then pull off the trashcan by the handle at the top.  All the plastic parts will either remain on the observatory or be carried up by Jason.

When not making small edits to the observatory, I spent a lot of time in the lab watching the live feed of Jason’s HD pilot camera on the big screen television. I found it as engaging as some people do televised sports games, staring at the manipulation arm as it searches for the geologists’ favorite rocks. It took several attempts to grab a rather stubborn specimen and the whole room cheered as Jason dislodged it and placed it into his basket.  Along the survey line over Ka’ena Ridge, Jason skims over the largely rocky bottom happening upon sponges, whip corals, mysteriously mobile white fluffs and the occasional scuttling red shrimp or crab. As Dave described it, it is like watching the Discovery Channel except unedited and live.

At about 2100, Jason was done collecting rocks and swam back to the KM to rest for the night. Similar to the process by which Jason and Medea were lowered over the stern this morning, they were brought up one by one and Jason’s baskets were unloaded of their rocks.  Donning gloves, I helped the geologists place their samples in their labeled positions in the lab. As a reward, they let me kept the tiny white echinoderm caught in the basket of sample number twelve.

M&M tally: half a bag of peanut ones. I was doing so well, about to reach for an apple, when Justin opened up a bag of peanut M&M’s to share with the table. Later Dave, who I thought was on my side, tricked me into eating the last two M&M’s in his bag. Tomorrow is a purely apples day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Last Day on Land, First Day at Sea

As the junction box and the observatory are lowered to the bottom of the ocean, all of their parts will want to vibrate and come loose as water passes around them. For this reason, my day began by helping Kimball secure everything on these two platforms with red twine. In wrapping the twine methodically around the cables, my attention was half to tightness and security, half to aesthetic appeal. As Kimball put it, I was tying macramé bracelets around them.

Later, Kimball and I did some acrobatics in the staging area trying to string the Iridium cables for the satellite phones from the O2 deck – the upper level – down to the computer setup in the lab.  The hooks on which we were supposed to hang these cables were a couple feet above the reach of my fingertips which required a bit of jumping like a kindergartner, a bit of swinging precariously from pipes and handles, and a bit of help from those taller than I who took pity.

For most of the day I continued doing various tasks mostly involving moving objects from one location to the other with John, the oceanographer who designed the glass sphere contraption in which the video camera is to be installed at the observatory, and others.

By the end of the afternoon, there was just one more neon green cable to be untwisted and wound around the anchor. Though Jefrey, Dave, Nicholas and I employed the same method from the previous afternoon, this run was not as smooth as the last. However after a bit of creative problem solving, the wire spooling went swimmingly.

Then next day, I got to the ship by 0700 without any bus adventures this time as Roger gave me a ride. I found my stateroom, which has a window overlooking the port quarterdeck where Jason sits still with his innards exposed.  Muscle memory has already served me well in finding the galley and the conference room without trying to descend the stairs through a linen closet.  This familiarity however has tricked me already into almost opening the stateroom in which I slept last, which is just across the hall from my new one. 

The gangway went up at 0740 and we left just after 0800 after waiting for a last minute supply to be brought to the ship. Passing by rows of containers being lifted off and on ships, the bustle of the city was left behind for a new kind of bustle – that of a working ship. Oahu quickly became a pimple on the horizon as we headed for Ka’ena Ridge.

 A couple of meetings took place – one to review safety and schedule for the ship and the next to review in more detail the objectives of all parties – the Jason group, the ACO group and the geologists researching Ka’ena Ridge.  Fire and abandon ship drills followed. I managed to narrowly avoid donning the dreaded enormous orange survival suit again.

After a delicious fish taco lunch and the inevitable small handful of M&M’s, Cammy, Dave, Jefrey and I took apart one of the ADP’s, the instruments that measure current profiles, to inspect it and clean the o-rings that seal it tight. Once all clean, we filled the cavity of the ADP with helium gas. The real fun began when we filled our own cavities with the helium and giggled like Oompa-Loompas. Trevor stunned us all by stopping by for a cameo singing an impromptu Tom Lehrer song in a voice that should have belonged to a 4-year-old girl.

At 1600, the engineers and scientists involved in the operation of Jason briefed us about safety during Jason deployments. They explained the functions of the various lights, cameras and manipulating arms.  There are nearly have a dozen cameras on Jason which look down at the shelf on which the rocks will be stored, at his right and left arms, out in front of him, and one which looks aft of the ROV, called the butt cam. With two large video cameras housed in globe like covers centered in the front, I can’t help but see a face in Jason.

We then shuffled up to the control room where we were briefed on the operation of Jason. It is housed in what they call here a van, but to my someone not familiar with the lingo (myself, before my first HOT cruise) it is a shipping container remodeled on the inside to house work and storage space. The van looks like it should be located deep under a mountain in Switzerland with full time guards and a high tech security system. In reality, the crew of Jason share very little in common with intimidating guards but the systems are very high tech.  Half a dozen screens cover one whole length of the van, and three large lounging chairs face them – one for the pilot, one for the navigator and one for the engineer. The pilot sits in the middle with control panels in front of him used to control the movements of Jason’s arms, cameras and other parts.  I went through this training with others because I will have the opportunity to sit in the van while Jason is underwater and help them record video and events.

The first bit of action off the side of the ship happened at sunset when the transducer was lowered to test its ability to communicate with the transponder – a system that enables Jason to locate itself underwater. While engineers from Jason’s crew explained to me the difference between a transducer and a transponder, the sun set and the stars flashed along the horizon with varying brightness.    

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Neon Green Rotini

The day started on the roof of the Marine Sciences Building with Jeffrey, Nicholas, Craig and 200 meters of permed neon green cable. Our intention was to lay the coil of cable out and let the spins unravel themselves in the air off the side of the building. We began by feeding the cable off the roof to Jeffrey below where he strung it out along the grass and around trees.  It is here that the cable changed what had been a concise plan into a three-hour wrestling match. The cable decided against unraveling itself and instead asked us to do it. Using the technique Nicholas taught me, I cranked my arms around as if pedaling a bicycle with my hands to propagate the twists in the cable to the end. After the three of us forced as many twists as possible to the end, we heaved the cable back up the side of the building to flake it out on the roof.  At this point it looked less like rotini and more like spaghetti so we felt nearer to the end. In order to wind it on the spool, the cable had to be sent back down the building to be heaved up once more for tension.  Though I got myself tangled in a bit of spaghetti on the way back up, the spool was tight and uniformly spun by noon.

In the afternoon down at the ship we were presented with the same challenge at half the magnitude. A 100 m neon green cable needed to be untwisted and coiled around the anchor of the mooring.  Faced with an unfriendly cement surface on which to lay out the somewhat delicate cable and an unwillingness to wrestle for another three hours, Dave and Nicholas got creative. They devised a plan in which we rolled out the cable along the surface of the water holding each water-sensitive end above the water and slowly pulled it back around the anchor’s spool.  The twists in the cable willing sent themselves to the end this time without the friction resistance caused by contact with the ground.  Jeffrey, holding the end of the cable, easily let the turns off the end and the whole operation took under and hour.

At the end of the day, I worked for a while with one of the engineers, Kimball, to secure parts of the observatory with twine and wrap protective plastic around connecting cables.  Kimball explained to me some of the ways in which the observatory is built to accommodate installation by Jason. The shackles, for instance, are hard to unscrew for a ROV so they have extensions with handles that Jason’s digits can grasp.  The instruments that for the last couple of days have just been weights in boxes needing to be moved from flatbed to basket to ship storage are now starting to arrange themselves in my head as parts of a bigger whole – the observatory. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cruise Prep!

Everyone chuckled a bit when I said that I was excited to go down to the harbor because the items to be prepared are very heavy, as I soon found out, and things are much dirtier than when tapping away at my computer.  New things are always exciting, however, and no one could convince me otherwise.

I started by wheeling around bicycles with flat tires trying to find a way to inflate them. Then I graduated to helping move around glass balls contained in two firm yellow plastic bowls that strikingly resemble yellow hard hats. With moving these you must be as careful as if decorating the Christmas tree with glass ornaments because no one wants chards of glass everywhere but as firm as if hoisting the weight of the whole tree onto the top of the car.

In the afternoon the spool of 200 m of cable, which will be lowered to the bottom of the ocean with eleven temperature sensors attached to it, and I had a fine time rolling around the pier. In order to measure out the positions at which the instruments will be attached to the cable, I was supposed to get the cable as straight as possible. A bit like herding an oversized, uncooperative farm animal back to the barn, the spool needs constant nudging and alteration of course in order to unravel in a straight line. As dirty as a farm animal too, the spool somehow covered my legs in black and brown smudges. Had I only perfected my log rolling skills, this process would have been much easier.

The next day I got to participate in the dirty work again, starting with loading the flatbed truck with several instruments and boxes of supplies.  A forklift loaded the heavier items such as the ‘parking station,’ which is used for ‘parking’ wires as they are waiting to be connected to the observatory but which looks more like Snoopy’s doghouse. The forklift also swung the node, a large orange cylinder that Jeffrey described as a bird perch, Woodstock’s perhaps, onto the flatbed. This seems like a perfectly acceptable answer and the only thing that makes me skeptical is the logo stamped on the side of it is that of the Applied Physics Laboratory, not Petsmart. 

When we arrived in the flatbed at the harbor, I was handed a hard hat, which always means good things. It means I get to load with the rest of them and watch the happenings on the quarterdeck, which is hosting a flurry of activity currently.  Jason, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), who will descend with the cable to install the instruments, has his innards exposed to have his wires tickled by engineers.  Swinging overhead at the end of the crane are platforms, weights, and other equipment being loaded.  I am slowly meeting all the scientists, engineers and crew involved in this project by bumping into them with boxes I’m carrying or asking them to hold the door for me.

When not loading boxes, I spent a lot of time with Nicholas in the stuffy beige tent trying to figure out how to attach two glass balls together and string a chain across them. After an hour of wrestling the hard hats together with no success, Jeffrey arrived to tell us that we needed to use the retrofitted hard hat covers shaped to fit together. Easy as pie from there. At least we got plenty of exercise lifting various glass balls.

To make this day even better, we filled the flat tires on the bicycles we were wheeling around yesterday with air enabling us to zoom around the parking lot in with alacrity and style.  Need me to grab something from the warehouse, bring it to the tent, skip over from the tent to the blue van, wait no, the PO van, then meet you over to the KM and head back to the tent? No problem.

At the end of the day, I was handed my second power tool for the day to unscrew the boxes in which some of the instruments are stored.  I helped Jeffrey set up these instruments on the observatory and in a tub of water in order to test them tomorrow.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Meeting Adjourned!

Our research group just adjourned from our final preparation meeting before we depart on the R/V Kilo Moana to install the ALOHA Cabled Observatory (ACO); one week from today.  We have accomplished many amazing tasks to get this far, but the largest piece to this engineering marvel lies ahead.

One month from now, we will be transmitting oceanographic data directly from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to the University of Hawaii and then on to the world to see what happens on the ocean floor in real time.  The excitement of such a feat is tempered by all the work that will need to be completed within the next few weeks to place the observatory 15,000 feet below the sea surface within (relatively) just a few feet from the fiber optic cable that awaits it.

I'm excited for the challenges that lie ahead, and I'm excited about sharing everything that happens on this blog.