A Race to the Deepest Point on Earth

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.  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 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.

We have perhaps arrived at a new age of exploration, in which Private Company 1 and Private Company 2 race each other to distant frontiers.  Whether you think it a noble motive or not… if a movie mogul and 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.

Team Zissou


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.

Ice Day

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.

SeaMonster

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

serial kriller

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.

DRATS

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:

https://i0.wp.com/www.nasa.gov/images/content/295226main_jsc2008e139397_low.jpg

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.

Spain, Caves, & Canada

On Tuesday I flew to Canada, after a week-long astrobiology course in Spain.  Tomorrow I’ll drive up from Vancouver to Pavilion Lake, to spend the next couple weeks deploying submarines with the Pavilion Lake Research Project.  I’m so pumped to be working with many of the same folks who were at the lake last summer–plus all the new people.  This year’s lineup includes:

1. more astronauts
2. more undergrads

…both of which I’m really excited about.

I’ve spent the last few days helping out with inventory and packing at UBC, and trying not to feel too overwhelmed with the amount of stuff we’re going to cram into this field season.  I’ll keep you posted!  In the meantime, below is a pair of photos from Spain.  In addition to seminars on subjects like microbial metabolisms, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and  Saturn’s moon Titan, we were treated to an afternoon of spelunking.

Here we are inside El Soplao cave:

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…and here are a few of the ladies, posing outside afterward:

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More soon,
Zena