Lights, Camera, ACTION (hopefully more tomorrow too)!
September 17, 2012: Anchors aweigh! After a quiet night docked at the NOAA Marine Operations Center in Norfolk, Leg III is finally under way! Our departure time (originally scheduled for 9:00am today) was pushed back to 13:00 as we awaited the arrival of a back-up still camera for the remote operated vehicle (ROV). Everyone spent the morning and afternoon making last minute preparations. This morning we had a “welcome aboard meeting” with all 15 scientific crew as well as the NOAA crew science liason. We reviewed safety instructions, were reminded to share, help others, and wash our hands frequently (the whole time I couldn’t help thinking of parallels to “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten…”). The washing of hands is very important because we are trying to avoid a repeat of something that happened last leg, when several people got sick with a virus.
As we motored out of the Chesapeake Bay, we had the unique opportunity to briefly follow a Navy submarine also on its way out to sea. I learned from one of the ship’s crew that for security reasons the submarine (and other Navy vessels) do not show up on our ship’s AIS radar receiver. We also cruised above one of the seven engineering marvels of the modern world… any guesses?
It was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel! Originally completed in 1964, the Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel was built to replace an expensive ferry system and to accommodate future higher traffic demands. Measuring 23 total miles (including 5.5 miles of approach roads and 17.6 miles of bridges and tunnels), the Bridge-Tunnel is considered the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex and is unique in the number of different types of structures it contains. Construction even included building four manmade islands in between a combination of more than 12 miles of low-level trestles, two 1-mile tunnels, 2 bridges and 2 miles of causeway (http://www.cbbt.com/index.html). Afternoon views from the bow also included the New Cape Henry lighthouse (http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=449) with its high contrast black and white vertical stripes, as well as numerous other container vessels.
Below deck in the “wet lab”, PhD candidate Esprit Heestand Saucier made use of our travel downtime by transferring the codes from labels within samples of octocorals (taken during Leg II) to the top of the vials so she could more easily sort them in the freezer. Mike Rhode and NOAA survey technicians Samantha Martin and Nick Mitchell spent the afternoon and evening preparing for night-time multibeam mapping of the seafloor. Most of the bottom topography in and around the mouth of the Norfolk canyon has been mapped previously but certain sections have higher resolution than others. Of particular interest are unique sites that contain or may contain shipwrecks (more on that tomorrow). We will arrive at the first of these tomorrow morning and deploy the ROV earlier than normal (in an attempt to get things done before a cold front moves in and brings strong winds/waves tomorrow afternoon).
Back Deck and Fantail
The ROV crew from the University of Connecticut (Dennis Arbige, Joe Mangiafico, Mike McKee, and Rudy Schlepp) are also buzzing around the back deck and the “van” (a swank shipping container rigged-out to be a command center for the ROV) like a swarm of busy bees. They are working their way down a long pre-dive checklist, prepping and double-checking all equipment and monitors for the early morning (06:00) launch. Lights, Camera, Action! As a newcomer to the ship and the rover, at first glance, K2 looks a little bit like Disney’s loveable robot WALL.E . I immediately want to be friends, and hope that K2 will be similarly brave and successful when exploring the shipwrecks over the next few days. K2 is equipped with lights, three cameras, an altimeter, and the “action” is powered by 1500 volts of electricity from the ship. Well actually, the ship only provides approximately 208 volts, but a transformer on board amplifies this and sends 1500 volts towards the ROV. This increase is important because the extremely long length of the umbilical cable (1000m.+) means the voltage drops before it reaches the ROV. Another transformer on the rover ensures that only 120 volts (or less for the sensitive cameras, lights, etc.) reach the ROV fuses and wires. One of many interesting facts I learned today is that the fuse boxes are filled with incompressible, non-conductive, non-toxic mineral oil to prevent pressure changes on the many descents to the bottom. For more specifics on the K2 see Eric’s blog from Aug. 21st.
That’s all for tonight. Hopefully the weather will stay calm enough for an early dive tomorrow morning!