Posted on March 8, 2012
The media is buzzing today with news of James Cameron’s upcoming solo journey into the Challenger Deep. At 35,768 ft (more than 6.7 miles!) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, it’s the deepest spot on Earth. He broke a solo depth record yesterday during a test dive.
Jacques Piccard and Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh, in the Bathyscaphe Trieste, were the first and last to journey into the trench. That was in 1960! Since then only two robotic missions have made it. Folks, we’ve sent humans to the MOON more often and more recently than we have to the Challenger Deep.
Cameron, however, is not the only one with a bid for the Deep. A handful of wealthy private endeavors have built or commissioned submersibles in the last couple years. Among them is Richard Branson, the billionaire papa of Virgin Records (and Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Airways, to name a few), whose goal is to dive into the deepest point in each of Earth’s five oceans this year – including, of course, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific. I’m not picking teams or anything, but at the very least I’ll say that is sure looks like Cameron’s National Geographic website totally ripped off Branson’s Virgin Oceanic homepage.
At any rate, what interests me most is this: we seem to have arrived at a new age of exploration in which Bazillionaire Private Company 1 and Bazillionaire Private Company 2 race each other to distant frontiers. I’m thinking not only of this quest for the Challenger Deep but also of private spaceflight companies and competitions like the Google Lunar X Prize.
If you think NASA’s Lunar Missions in the 1960s and 70s were for any nobler a cause, you’re fooling yourself. We were in a Cold War with our spacefaring Soviet counterparts, kiddos. So if a Movie Mogul and Bleached-Blond Branson want to spur each other towards the first live video feed from the darkest pit of the sea? I say bring it on, y’all! Scientific discoveries and incredible technological advancements often go hand in hand with competitive exploration.
Read more from the New York Times here.
Posted on December 17, 2011
This is the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research 2011-2012 team – in other words, the friendly folks who, like me, are getting paid to play around in Antarctica. Yeah, okay, technically we are paid as “scientists,” but it’s really hard to call it a job when there are penguins and icebergs out in front of the office. From left to right: Luke, Domi, Travis, Josh, Kim, Kaycee, and me. We had to say goodbye to Domi and Josh last week. It was awful.
Posted on October 25, 2011
When I was a young girl, a snow day was a rare and glorious thing. Here at Palmer Station, it seems like every other day is a snow day – or, more specifically, a snow-and-ice day. It’s springtime, which apparently means: wind. Whiteness. Generally unpredictable yet predictably cold weather. The winter sea ice broke up just a few weeks ago, sending vast fields of brash on its merry way. Every few days, though, strong winds (30+ knots) blow the brash ice right back into our little bay, leaving us quite stuck. Most of the scientists on station rely on little rubber motorboats called Zodiacs to do their field work, and yup:
…doesn’t look like these puppies are going anywhere anytime soon. If the wind doesn’t change and the ice stays like this for another week or so, the sea will be completely cemented over. Rut-roh. But here’s the silver lining: we’ll be able to walk across the ice! WHICH WOULD BE AWESOME! At that point, we can – no joke – take a chainsaw into the middle of the bay and cut a hole for the sake of (a) science, and (b) spying on seals. In the meantime, there’s not a lot to do, so I’m spending the day exploring and working on my Halloween costume.
Posted on April 20, 2011
Hey y’all! I’d like to introduce you to my new project. Everyone, this is SeaMonster. SeaMonster, meet everyone. SeaMonster is a blog about all things ocean-related – from surfing to ecology to politics to submarines – and written by folks from the United States and the UK. We hope you’ll enjoy it, whether you’re already interested in the ocean or you’re just into stuff like cool videos, current events, monsters, sculptures…
Posted on February 9, 2011
Meet Grace. Hailing from Rutgers University, a meter-and-a-half tall and weighing in at just over 7 stones, Grace is ranked No. 1 on the east coast in carbon dioxide purchases this year. A powerhouse package of awesome, she also happens to be doing one of my favorite experiments on the ship. Grace brought most of that enormous CO2 supply with her (check out the oversize golden scuba tanks in the photo below) to investigate the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. For more than two weeks, she had incubators full of seawater connected to the CO2 tanks, all bubbling away at three levels: the CO2 in the atmosphere of pre-glacial Earth, today’s CO2 level, and the CO2 level we’re predicted to reach by 2100. The more CO2 is in the atmosphere, the more CO2 gets dissolved in the ocean (or these little mini incubated oceans, in Grace’s case), and from there she can see how the community of phytoplankton, bacteria, and viruses reacts. These tiny lil guys are at the base of the food chain, and since their tiny lil lives are very sensitive to acidity in the water, increased CO2 (increased acidity) has some big effects further up the food chain. It’s a tedious but elegant experiment and we’ve seen some really cool results so far, but overall I’m just impressed that Grace made the DEA watch list for all that CO2. Congrats, Grace.
Posted on August 24, 2009
Just when I was beginning to wonder why I’d renewed the domain for this blog…
T-minus 10 days until I head out to NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS). I’ll be helping with a 14-day mission on the Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona, testing the Lunar Electric Rover, which looks like this:
Check out the website for the 2009 Desert RATS field season. You’ll find links to the D-RATS Youtube channel, Twitter page, blog, and Flickr page.
Posted on May 15, 2009
edit: I deleted this video when the audio stopped working. I’ll upload it again as soon as I can!
Here’s another short video I put together in the Antarctic. The footage is mostly of the scientific equipment we used. It’s less exciting than the last video I posted, but I hope it gives you an idea of what it was like on board the ARSV Gould, constantly deploying and retrieving scientific equipment. The first couple of scenes show some rough seas while crossing the Drake Passage; the last few scenes show us taking the Zodiacs out on the water, which was always incredible. Those orange coats you’ll see everyone wearing are nicknamed “float coats” (sort-of a cross between a life vest and a parka… really toasty, but unfortunately not entirely waterproof).
You can click the “HQ” button in the bottom right corner of the player to see the video in higher quality.
Posted on January 12, 2009
In honor of Inauguration Day, we decided to name an upcoming sampling site OBAMA (Ocean Biology and Antarctic Marine Analysis, or something cheesy like that).
Turns out, one of the scientists on board is friends with Obama’s new science advisor, and sent him an email about OBAMA. The response was as follows: the President will love this. Send us more info.
We are all completely dorking out, fretting over what to say in our must-be-perfect one-page memo to the Obama Administration. Suggestions?
Posted on January 11, 2009
Days tend to run together on board ships. Down here this has been
especially true, since the sun never sets. Here’s a recap of my last day:
0030, January 10th: on the back deck of the Gould. The back deck is
barely five feet above the water, so waves are constantly coming over the
railing and sloshing back and forth across the deck as the ship rocks.
It’s foggy and wet. We’re waiting to deploy the “Mocness,” a fancy
plankton net with nine several-meters-long, automatically-closing nets, a
fluorometer, and a number of other gadgets.
0200: half sitting, half napping in the electronics room, waiting for the
net to come back up. It’s still 1500 meters below the surface.
0245: back on deck, wearing waterproof bib pants and a “float coat” (a
lifejacket/parka hybrid). The Mocness is surfacing. We hook it to an
enormous crane, haul it on deck, and begin unloading the contents into
0330: huddled around the buckets, picking plankton out of the
0750: drowsily grab breakfast and climb the stairs to the bridge, where
everyone has gathered to try spotting the sediment trap, which has been at
the bottom of the sea for exactly one year. Usually I’m only on duty from
1600-0400, but today presence is mandatory for the sediment trap recovery.
At 0800 a button will be pushed, the trap will float to the surface, and
the first person to sight it wins 50 dollars.
0803: Rick and I spot the trap. I win 50 bucks.
0830: The next hour is spent hauling the giant trap, along with its radio
transmitter and floats (which look like enormous yellow hard hats) on
deck. The back of the ship opens up to more easily drag equipment aboard.
Some of the marine techs have to tether themselves to the deck to keep
from falling in as they operate the crane. Waves keep rolling on deck.
0930: a few of us are decked out in foul weather gear, scrubbing mud,
hydroids, and other sea gunk off of the old trap and floats. The swells
have picked up to about 15 feet.
1030: I’m on deck mousing shackles for the new sediment trap which will be
sent down for another year.
1600: in the “rad van” (a trailer which has been bolted to the back deck
to contain all radioactivity) getting some samples ready for the
scintillation counter, which will determine the radioactive content in
about 90 tiny vials.
1800: I try running on the treadmill. This proves pretty difficult with
the 15-foot swells. After being thrown into a wall, I opt for the
stationary bike instead.
2000: in the MT (marine tech) shop helping Dan build stairs for the
birders, who we are going to leave on an island for a few days to study
penguins. Why do they need stairs on an island? Beats me. Miraculously,
I survive the evening without chopping a single finger off with a power
2330: midrats (“midnight rations”). This is always my favorite meal of
0005: seven of us climb into the bunk of an unsuspecting marine tech, who
0130: there’s not a lot of science going on tonight, so three of us are
back on deck scrubbing stuff. The sky isn’t exactly dark, but thanks to
the fog it’s an eerie shade of purple. A few petrels are bobbing in the