Spent the day before the dive running samples, troubleshooting, and doing [tube worm] dissections all day from 8 a.m. until the wee hours and stumbled into bed at around 2 a.m.-ish. Six hours later, one of the grad students came into my room, shook me awake and said, “Hey, wake up, can you go on today’s Alvin dive?”
When I wake up, my ‘reboot screen’ has lots of error messages (I am not a morning person), so my response was mostly expletives with a few prepositions tossed into the mix. Once reality had percolated into the miasma in my skull, I got quite excited.
It turns out the day’s scheduled dive had to be changed because of an equipment issue, and they needed somebody who had directed an Alvin dive before, so there you have it.
Rolled out of bed, scrubbed the worm guts out of my hair and fingernails, grabbed a doughnut and banana from the galley (no beverages; you do not want to have to pee while crammed into the rather tiny Alvin sphere with two other people), jumped in the sub, and down into the blue we go.
We had a great dive, collecting many water samples at the bottom, as well as a bunch of Riftia tube worms. The Alvin has been rebuilt; the new version has five windows instead of 3, plus some amazing high-resolution video cameras, so you can see everything clear as day and it becomes hard to fathom (ha! ha!) that you are almost two miles below the surface of the ocean.
It is very beautiful down there. The water coming up through the rocks is as warm as bathwater, and when it hits bottom water (2 Celsius), it shimmers. Down there you have these massive bushes of giant tube worms with huge red gills extending out of 6-foot tubes… They kinda look like lipsticks. OK, imagine shimmering water around giant lipsticks. Um. This isn’t quite communicating the magic and mystery of nature, but you know how it is. When something is really beautiful, words are crude tools, at best.
So, it’s dark, and silent, and shimmering, with organisms that can best be described as hallucinatory, thriving on deadly gases that are released as the Earth’s crust rips itself apart at the seams… That works.