Deep Sea Diary: In the control room

Paralomis Crab, watercolor, Karen Jacobsen, 2006, Japan, found with whale fall carcass

Yesterday at 4:30 my most awesome experience so far was to enter a container (called a van) which is Jason’s control room. The variety of screens and equipment in the black box look like the star wars Death Star. There are 3 lasers 10 cm apart and a digital still with strobes. The manipulators on the sides of Jason are mechanical arms that are very dexterous instruments because of the pilot’s skill and give a human quality to the unit.

Equipment in the black box includes Sonar, US base line and a manometer. Sitting between Akel, the pilot, and Dara, the navigator, I had a full view of the underwater platform. One screen looked like raining snow, a view from above, and another screen a flurry of mud a view of the back. Each monitor of the inside of the depression of the mud volcano is different. It looks like a sand dune in a blue haze and another light source makes it purple and another makes it green so as an artist I have a lot of latitude for color.

Atalante mud volcano that we landed inside is 30 thousand to 200 thousand years old and was discovered in the 1990s. WOW. The scene is otherworldly. We saw beds of clams, and a ridge of tubeworms. It resembles a low dune by the ocean with wiggly grass in a strange glow. It is hard to imagine how the large ship is only a speck compared to the depth of the sea we are exploring – 4933.8 meters deep. The volcano Atalante is about 1 1/2 thousand meters in diameter and 15 to 20 meters deep. The area we are in is 800 meters across.

Abbe, to my left, negotiates the camera and the 3 artists can ask to her to take pictures or to see if the pilot can maneuver to a more visual area. As we go over the tubewormed dune ridge we come across a rocky material with a squat lobster stark white. It looks like swiss cheese rock with lots of planes. The manipulator (arms that are mechanical pincers) performs a dance to pick up a sample to be diagnosed. It has a lot of mud on it and breaks into a chunk and the pilot deftly deposits it in a box and ties the bungies. Then he uses a tube to slurp up a white squat lobster that does its best not to get sucked into a collection tube, but looses to the power of engineering and pilot persistence.

The Jason came up in the dark at 8 pm, its lights are white but through the sea water a constantly shifting waves are blue hovering near the surface like a space ship under water. I am awestruck. The 2 body system has a unit called Medea which serves as ballast and a decoupler and it is tethered to the Jason. A wench has been operating for hours to bring both up to surface. A 10,000 pound crane brings the Madea up first and then the Jason. Scientists come with buckets of sea water at the appropriate temperature to recover specimens after the machines are secured. Many on board will stay up all night to process the animals.

Only two hours of sleep last night so I am off to bed. Each night I edit the Nikon and Olympus and charge the extra batteries. Each morning I transfer movies and stills to a hard drive and start over with the 32 gig card.

Sleeping in my bottom berth feels like I am floating in amniotic fluid. I fall asleep with the waves rocking me like a baby. Waking only once to a hard rain I sleep solidly refreshed.

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