The most important place on the ship isn’t la passerelle (the bridge). It’s not le pont principal (the main deck), not even the Science HQ. It’s a tiny room in the ROV lab with a single porthole, a few temperature sensors lying here and there on the shelves… and an espresso machine.
Work on the boat is divided into 3 shifts (les quarts): The 8-to-12, the 12-to-4, and the 4-to-8. Yes, we mean both daytime and nightime. And that is where the espresso machine comes in handy. For a modest 0.30€, scientists, technicians and crew can get their caffeine fix anytime, and manage to function at any time of the day / night. So far the scientists are behind in overall espresso counts, but they’ll keep trying to catch up, and it’s a tight race between front-runners.
Typically, we launch the ROV (Victor) for a night dive in the early evening. It takes it two hours to reach the bottom of the ocean, where it stays all night exploring and collecting samples. Our longest trip along the seafloor so far has lasted about 12 hours. We recover it the next morning. The AUV (Abyss) is on a similar schedule, with 16 hour dives (plus the time it spends waiting to be recovered at the surface). During the day we collect more rocks by dredging the seafloor.
Of course there is no such thing as a typical day. We often need to make last-minute adjustments to the original schedule to account for delays or unexpected mechanical problems. The goal is to always maximize the time acquiring new data and samples, which requires us to stay alert… and caffeinated.
In the science meeting today two of our geochemists showed unsuspected multidisciplinary skills: Cédric and Antoine both gave short biology talks, focusing on some of the life forms we have encountered on the seafloor. During our dives we have seen numerous deep sea corals and sponges (also fish, shrimp, holothurians, starfish, sea urchins, in addition to hidden creatures under the mud leaving only tracks and holes), of which we know little about as geologists. Coincidentally there is an ongoing biology cruise around the Fifteen-Twenty Fracture Zone, north of us, focusing on these deep sea corals. Their scientists gave us some information about which species we have been seeing. Geologists don’t normally care about living things, but thanks to Cédric and Antoine, we are all now pumped up and ready for deep sea biology exploration.
In honour of our only American crew member, Bobbie, and also for all those of us non-Americans that spent years in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving today, with a special dinner after a gathering in the back deck, with the best sunset so far on the cruise.
For Thanksgiving dinner we had French style pumpkin pie, chicken disguised as turkey and a fruit salad. After dinner (and an intense 20 minutes to get the video system to work), some of us went to the movie room to watch “Moonrise Kingdom”.
The work days have begun. More and more rocks pile up on deck every day, it feels like we are bringing the entire seafloor up to the surface. OK, that might be exaggerated, but still, carrying all that stuff from the deck to the lab is tiring. There is work for everybody, and everyone’s skills are put to good use. Routine tasks include: sawing the rocks, cleaning (the laziest use the hose!), describing the samples, analyzing the hydrothermal fluid samples, supervising the deployment/recovery of Abyss (the AUV), Victor (the ROV), conducting dredges, processing magnetic and bathymetry data....
To recover from our emotions, a break time has been initiated every evening before lunch, allowing us to share a nice time together with drinks, snacks, and a beautiful sunset in the background.
We sometimes enjoy the company of some birds that stay with us for several days before leaving for new adventures. They provide a good incentive to run around the boat trying to photograph them, allowing some short but intensive exercise going up along the infinite staircase of doom…
Now we are in time zone UTC -02:00, three hours ahead of the western part of Europe. We will stay in the same time zone until operations will finish in December. Also: STORM (in the north)! The weather forecast says that were are in 8-9 feet swell (sounds intense). We'll see it if dows move alot!
Tomorrow at around 17:00 - 18:00 we will be on the target site. Arrival time may possibly earlier if the weather is on our side. Deck operations will take place from 06:00 – 18:00, corresponding to when there is sunlight. So if we arrive early enough tomorrow the plan is to get VICTOR into the water.
The topic of today’s science meeting was therefore to determine which features to explore first. Russian scientists that has previously explored the area found several hydrothermal fields. One of these may still be active, and we are hoping to find this field during the dive.
Cameras seem to be the main subject of conversation on board. We will not go into the details, but one thing seems to be certain: the greater the camera, the greater the scientist.