JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Cruise diary

Day 3: Saturday 23 June 2007
Position: 39°29.6N 09°55.8W, Nazaré Canyon (Google Earth reference: 39 29' 6"N 09 55'8"W)
Weather: Sunny all day

Richard writes:

"After having been onboard for a couple of days, Tina and I are beginning to settle in to life on board. Unfortunately I am not settling into the sleeping side of things quite as well. Doug (the principal scientist on this leg - see his profile here) informed us of our shifts on this leg in yesterday’s meeting. In a different approach to leg 2, there will be 12 hour shifts: 0000hrs – 1200hrs (i.e., 12 midnight to 12 noon) and 1200hrs – 2400hrs (12 noon to 12 midnight). I have been placed on the night shift, which is fine by me as I am more of a ‘night person’ anyway.


After having tried to grab some sleep before midnight to no avail, I made my way up to the meeting point for my midnight start. I was unable to walk in a straight line as the boat swayed from side to side. This was already making me feel a bit queasy. Anyway, all suited and booted to start some real science, I met the other members of my team (well, Teresa is in charge of it, but you know what I mean) and they told me we were in a force 7 gale and so would not actually be doing what we were supposed to – it was much too rough to retrieve the equipment from the water as it would probably have smashed against the stern of the boat. The plan is reconfigured and we head off to another location to collect experiments placed at an earlier date. This requires several hours of steaming (travelling) time.


I returned from breakfast to hear Isis was just being deployed on dive number 57. I ran to the ROV van to see Isis disappear under the surface of the sea. This was the moment I had been waiting for since I heard I was to be joining the cruise – my favourite pastime is scuba diving and I could not wait to see what lay beneath the waves, at depths of up to 3500m (see how Tina describes how deep this is further down…). Bear in mind, I have never been more than 35m below the surface! Teresa (who became very animated when Isis passed a sea cucumber!) and Sarah showed me what the scientists do in the ROV van and I tried to get involved as much as possible with logging events and capturing images. The ROV crew did a fantastic (but difficult) job collecting some experiments for researchers from Aberdeen University - click here to see how the ROV uses an elevator to send equipment back to the surface. The researchers, Rachael and John, are collecting data so that they understand the flow of carbon in the deep-sea environment.  They were also due to collect some samples using the corer but my shift was over and I really needed some sleep. Tina will keep me informed of what happened as it was to happen during her shift!"


Tina  writes:

"How far is 3.5 km? It is 36 times the height of Big Ben, 11 times the height of the Eiffel Tower. If you travel this far under water, the pressure of the weight of the water above you (351bar) will easily kill you.  In fact, humans can only comfortably swim with pressures of up to 5bar, or depths of up to about 40m.

So today when we went back to pick up an experiment that had been left 3535m below the surface, the skill of the ROV crew was crucial to the success of the operation.  In the ROV control room there are more than 20 monitors of different sizes so that the ROV Team are able to monitor and control what is happening 3535m below them.

At 7.22am the ROV was lowered into the water.  It took until 9.33am to reach the seabed.   Three hours later the experimental equipment was secured on a special elevating platform and ready to lift, but stuck in the mud.  Very carefully - careful not to damage any equipment - the 3 tonne ROV moved in to lift the buried feet out of the mud.  20 minutes later the equipment was free from the floor and starting to rise to the surface.  By 4.10pm the elevator had reached the surface. Just under 9 hours from start to finish.

Just as every one breathed a sigh of relief catastrophe struck.  An unfortunate combination of current and wind at the surface carried the elevator and experiments under the keel to get stuck between the rudder and propeller, taking two hours to free.  Unfortunately when we were finally able to recover the elevator the experiments had been lost. Now the ROV is out searching to find the lost equipment.

Recovering lost equipment

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