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Poetic Mud

August 22, 2012

Today was very exciting, my first opportunity to be an assistant in the control room for the ROV during a dive. The control room seats four people and has standing room for a few more. Two people handle the ROV for steering, moving the robotic arm, and communicating with the bridge of the ship to change course or speed. They also coordinate with the tender of the cable tethering the depressor to the ship, to feed out or take in line. All of this is coordinated so that the ROV moves freely and smoothly along the bottom. The lead scientist for the dive wears a headset and describes the dive, noting time, depth, and other pertinent things such as animals seen and physical features of the landscape. The lead also directs where the ROV goes, and what specimens are collected. The assistant writes similar notes about the dive and about any samples taken for study later when the ROV surfaces.

A wall of monitors in ROV mission control. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

A wall of monitors in ROV mission control. Photo by Eric Hanneman.

Today’s dive was in the middle of the canyon and started out at the base of the north slope at a depth of 810 meters, around 9:30am. The other two previous dives started out with a mud/sand/silt bottom, but eventually came upon some hard substrate where corals were found. However, today for nearly 500 meters of vertical landscape there was a fairly barren plain, reminding me alternately of a desert or the moon. For long periods there was little but brown mud with an occasional depression, and then a red crab, Chacean quinquedens. This was repeated often enough that a line from a poem by T. S. Eliot, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (1) began to have a personal meaning for me.

The goosefish, Lophius americanus, also known as the monkfish, blends in well with the substrate. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM, photo by Eric Hanneman.

The goosefish, Lophius americanus, also known as the monkfish, blends in well with the substrate. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

For five hours this continued, punctuated by the appearance of the nearly as common witch flounder, Glyptocephalus cynoglossus. Also fairly common, if you mean seen once in a while, were rattails, hake, cutthroat eel, goosefish, hermit crabs, squat lobsters, and several species of shrimp. Two species of stingrays, one unknown and the other known as the torpedo ray, Torpedo nobiliana, made the viewing more interesting. By the time I added the species up, there were at least 10 species of fish and 7 species of invertebrates, and likely many more that we could not distinguish in the video. The oddest thing was a salp, a planktonic tunicate that looks like beads on a gelatinous string. So although the going seemed slow, there was plenty of diversity. And data is data: now we know that particular slope is a bunch of sediment. That is until the next turbidite strikes.

These red crabs mating were oblivious to the bright lights and presence of aliens. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM, photo by Eric Hanneman.

These mating red crabs were oblivious to the bright lights and presence of aliens. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

As my luck would have it, as soon as I was relieved, a field of pink anemones appeared on the monitors. Until the next time, at least I know that…

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. (1)

(1) The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. lizbaird permalink
    August 22, 2012 9:52 am

    Terrific images. It is hard to tell how big the goosefish is in the photo. Can you give us a size estimate?

  2. Eric Hanneman permalink
    August 22, 2012 12:21 pm

    The goose fish was about 16″ long, 8″ wide, maybe 2″ thick, and weighed 2-3 pounds. It was captured by lowering the suction tube onto his head, lifting him up, and dropping him into to bio box! More pictures soon.

  3. August 23, 2012 5:40 pm

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs and commented:

    By Eric Hanneman

  4. Nonda Hanneman permalink
    August 24, 2012 11:50 am

    awesome dad!!!

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