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Plan C

November 17, 2010
Dark clouds rolled into view as sunset approached.

Dark clouds rolled into view as sunset approached: Photo by Mike Dunn

We had to cancel another dive today due to weather and strong currents. Winds have been up to 30 knots today. We are doing some multi-beam transects to map the bottom while conditions are too rough to send down the ROV. We just completed two safety drills and folks are now back into their routines as we await the next dive. We seem to go from one meal to the next (which at times seem to come at an all too frequent interval) and in between discuss some of the research, what alternate plans can be made, and memories of voyages past. I’ve also spent way too much time watching the progress bar on my laptop, waiting for the internet to upload a blog post or a photo.

Spending a lot of time in the science lab, I forget to get out on deck. But when I do, I am always impressed by the vastness of our watery world. This vastness is in sharp contrast to the times that I feel confined within the boundaries of the 274 ft. ship. I also occasionally experience a disconnect between what I see in the deep blue of the Gulf Stream and what the ROV reveals of the black abyss below.

When staring down into the water, my brain thinks that I should be seeing abundant life, or at least some sort of life. Thus far there have been a couple of dolphins, a pelican landing on the ship, and flying fish, along with undoubtedly numerous small critters in the patches of Sargassum weed drifting by. It turns out the deep blue color is actually a sign of relatively little life present compared to more greenish blue coastal waters. (Clear blue water is indicative of relatively little phytoplankton productivity and thus fewer other organisms in the water column to feed on that food base.) And yet, at the depths of the ROV dives, the cameras illuminate patches of luxurious life; countless types of invertebrates — corals, sponges, crabs — huddled in the darkness, feeding on each other and on the rain of organic debris coming from above or brought to them by subsurface currents. And then there are the larger predators. We’ve seen various fish: rattails, Greater Amberjacks, Almaco Jacks, Boar Fish and others as well as a couple of large sharks. Who would have guessed that this deep-water zone, once thought to be lifeless, is actually more diverse than the inviting blue waters hundreds or thousands of feet above.

It will be good to get back on our dive schedule so some of the mysteries of the depths can once more reveal themselves.

Footnote: I was just out on the deck for another sunset and scanning for signs of life when I saw the dark silhouette of a bird approaching low over the water. I assumed it was a storm petrel or some other bird of the open sea, but was amazed when it turned out to be a Merlin (a small falcon). Fighting the strong wind, the Merlin came up toward the ship, and then angled back to just above the waves and kept going. I hope it makes it to wherever it is headed.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz Baird permalink
    November 17, 2010 12:36 am

    Sorry to hear you have had to go to plan c…. my guess is you will slowly make your way down the alphabet!

    Having enjoyed the bioluminescence on several sub dives, I wondered if you can see bioluminescence with the ROV? I have tried to photograph it but the cameras are not usually sensitive enough, so I wondered if the ROV camera could pick it up and transmit it?

    • ncmuseummike permalink
      November 17, 2010 3:29 am

      The ROV cameras have had their issues….although are working well when on the bottom for the most part. Have not seen it as yet.

  2. Shelia permalink
    November 18, 2010 7:04 pm

    Today I read this blog to my PreCalculus class and we discussed “writing”. As we have followed the blogs in my math classes we have definitely been completing our Reading Across the Curriculum and today we focused on our Writing Across the Curriculum. You did a wonderful job describing the ocean and sea life. As a math teacher I often struggle with the reading and writing, but today we had a wonderful example. Thanks for being the “teacher” today. We look forward to more lessons in science and writing. 🙂 Tell Peyton we said “hello”.

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