- Bacon Scramble
- Beef barley soup
- Tuna melts
- Salad bar
- Baked soy chicken
- Boiled potatoes
- Seasoned wild rice
- Salad bar
Seas 17-20 feet, winds around 15 knots.
Steaming to St. Helen’s seamount, 148° 47.17′ by 41° 14.34′
Today was another fairly uneventful day; we got some swath bathymetry of Cascade, and are steaming to St. Helen’s to do some bathymetry there too before our dive tomorrow. It’s been very interesting to see the change in the weather over the past few days – there are two main types of waves that affect the ship. One is the swell, which is consistently around 15 feet during the storm. This is manifested as long periodic waves that are fairly predictable. The second type are the wind waves, that form from the wind whipping up water off the top of the swell. These waves are non-periodic, much less predictable, and also increase the overall height of the swell sometimes as much as twofold. Right now, the wind has all but died down, so there’s nothing to do but heave and roll on the large swells – these swells still make diving with Jason very risky.
So since none of us were really doing much during the heavy weather, I got some time to interview Akel, the lead navigator of the Jason group for this cruise. Akel works for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a contractor, and currently lives in England with his wife. Although Jason is run through WHOI, most of the work is contracted out; of the 10 Jason crew members, “only 3 or 4 of us are actually employed by WHOI,” Akel says. Akel grew up in Massachusetts, and later moved to Hawaii. He got a Bachelor’s in geology and a Master’s in geophysics, completing his thesis under Paul Wessel, the creator of GMT (a very common and powerful mapping program). After his graduate work, Akel stayed in Hawaii as a sonar specialist, working with data systems – UNIX and Linux processing scripts. He first started working as a data processor for Jason 2 when it was first was released.
The job of the lead navigator is mainly to serve as a liason between the Jason crew and the chief scientist about where he wants to go. This includes preparing maps, and, in Akel’s case, do some GMT troubleshooting “if the chief scientist finds out I’ve worked with it before” – as is definitely the case on this cruise. Akel does admit it’s “fun to play with old tools” every once in a while, though. The Jason crew has several ways of tracking Jason once she’s on the seafloor. One way, which isn’t used on this cruise, is to lay down a series of transponders before the dive, and set up a “transponder net”. Once Jason is in the water, the pilot and navigator can triangulate to Jason using this net. Jason is also equipped with a sonar, which gives the van a picture of the sea floor using doppler techniques. A second way to get Jason’s exact position is to use the ship itself. In order to get Jason’s exact bearing, the ship is held on station (in one place), Medea is positioned under the ship, and Jason is positioned under Medea. Now, any inconsistencies in the doppler sonar are reset with the exact bearing from the ship’s GPS.
The main job of the navigator, during a given dive, however, is to drive the ship. The Jason crew is given control from the bridge during a dive to make sure that there are no communication errors, which could lead to Jason getting pulled by the tether, which is very dangerous on an uneven seafloor. Jason, being a *remotely* operated vehicle, is tethered by Medea via a fiber optic cable, and Medea is tethered to the ship via a similar cable that is spooled out of the aft A-frame winch. All data, be it camera feed, position, depth, etc., is all relayed via this tether, so one could imagine that a sever or kink would be disastrous to Jason’s livelihood. To control the ship and prevent Jason from getting dragged around by the ship’s movements, the navigator takes advantage of a glitch in the Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) that the ship uses. Basically, the control van tricks the ship into thinking its actual position is where the navigator wants the ship to go, say, half a degree to the West (this is a large distance, but we’ll use it for explanatory purposes). The ship then recorrects its course, and heads to this new spot, all the while thinking it was just trying to stay at its original position. This way, the navigator uses the DPS to move the ship where he wants it to go, all the while making the ship believe it is constantly correcting its course to stay at the same position – pretty neat!
This is Akel’s third consecutive Christmas at sea, “And definitely my last,” he says. The Jason dive schedule is already set for next year, and thankfully no dives take place over the holidays. Jason cruises take up about 5 months, and are generally well-spaced throughout the year. Some of the most interesting dives Akel has been a part of (other than this one, of course) took place along the Ring of Fire, that is, the Marianna volcanic arc. They got to dive around active volcanoes, see a lake of bubbling liquid sulfur, and one time, witness volcano actually erupting in front of Jason – surely a sight to behold, and to run away from! Vents are also up there on Akel’s list, but become a little more mundane “when you’ve been down to them 20 times”. Akel has also worked on towed sonar systems and commercial Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs).
To provide some backstory here for those who don’t know, there are three basic types of underwater exploratory vessels – the autonomous vessels, such as ABE, are completely programmed and unmanned. This of course sacrifices a lot of flexibility in the vehicle, and these types of vessels are usually restricted to mapping and taking some basic footage. For example, we used a lot of ABE-generated maps from last year on this trip. Then come the ROVs, which are used in all sorts of areas, such as working on oil stations or nuclear power plants or deep submergence scientific work. The nice thing about ROVs is that they are completely controlled, and are very flexible in terms of what they can do and where they can go – Jason is rated to about 6,500 meters depth. The only downside is that they must be physically connected to the ship; there is no way to transfer all of the data necessary to pilot an ROV wirelessly.
Alvin is a manned submersible commonly used in deep submergence work, and can dive as deep as 4,000 meters or so – which is plenty for the kind of work it does (mostly focused around the hydrothermal vents at midocean ridges). There is a large debate right now – much farther reaching than just the deep submergence community, too – about the pros and cons of manned exploration vehicles into inhospitable areas. For one thing, it surely is a thrill to dive down to a hydrothermal vent and see with one’s own eyes the life that surrounds it. But the scientist is limited to a 10-inch glass porthole through which to see; not to mention the danger of being so far removed from help if something were to go wrong on the seafloor. Jason, on the other hand, is completely remote, and is equipped with enough sensing equipment – and in our case, even an HD camera – that a science crew can extract just as much information from a Jason dive as an Alvin one. Also, Jason is capable of being underwater for days at a time, whereas Alvin’s dives are limited to 10 hours. This debate can also be extended to outer space: is it reasonable, or even feasible, to send a manned mission to Mars? What benefits are there from such a mission? There are certainly limitations to the current Mars landers, and I feel that human curiosity will get to the point that a human expedition will be inevitable, but I still wonder if it is necessary to do so. I would love to hear people’s comments about unmanned/manned exploration vehicles! When asked about the Alvin-Jason argument, Akel says that, although physically being 3,000 meters under the sea would be ridiculously cool, “Alvin never seemed to be that enticing,” mainly because Alvin dives 8 months out of the year – a long time to be at sea!
Apart from fooling ships into going where he wants them to and being part of the Jason crew, Akel’s other passion is surfing. In moving from Hawaii to England, Akel jokingly concedes: “I traded in the North Shore for the North Sea,” and admits that the surfing is just okay across the pond. But, the perks of being a Jason crew member is that you get to travel all around the world, and a lot of times leave port from some pretty exotic places – Tasmania, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Galapagos – just to name a few; all of which Akel has surfed. As to the ships that the Jason frequents – the Thompson, Atlantis, Roger Revelle, Ron Brown, and others – the Thompson is definitely his favorite; mainly because of the layout and the great crew on board. It’s good to hear this is the favorite of some Jason veterans – it certainly takes the heavy seas well! Look forward to some more interviews of crew from around the boat – I’m sure we’ll get some more down time as the cruise progresses.