Endurance

Art 1 Science 0. On a day when science just WILL not go your way, release your inner artist. On ice observation watch today I realized that while worrying about NUI, I had completely lost sight of the fact that today was our first clear day in ages and, what's more, we were being treated to a midday sunrise/sunset. Time to take 5 minutes, bundle up, and take a step out side for a breath of VERY fresh (-13°C; 9°F) air.

Art 1 Science 0. On a day when science just WILL not go your way, release your inner artist. On ice observation watch today I realized that while worrying about NUI, I had completely lost sight of the fact that today was our first clear day in ages and, what’s more, we were being treated to a midday sunrise/sunset. Time to take five minutes, bundle up, and take a step out side for a breath of VERY fresh (-13°C; 9°F) air. (photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Today (Thursday) has been a trying day. There have been moments when I have wished that Star Trek was real and I could just be beamed off the ship. But that isn’t how ocean exploration works. We are here. Some stuff will work, other stuff won’t, and you have to roll with the punches.

Our day started full of optimism: up at 4:30 a.m., third navigation transponder deployed by 6:30 (me on the bridge with Michael while Louis and Andrew were on deck with the crew). By 7:00 it was all systems go and time for breakfast.

At 8:30, it was time to start our launch procedures—the doors to the NUI hangar swung open to the freezing air (-13°C; 9°F on deck and falling) and our heroic beast emerged, ready for deployment. All seemed set, and I was already looking forward to being on the seafloor by 10:00 when a glitch arose.

Although we could still see live video feeds coming from NUI’s camera in the control room, our other system checks showed that not all of the information required to fly the vehicle safely was getting through. There was no option but to bring NUI back into the hangar and diagnose the problem. Knowing that time is of the essence during what little is left of the cruise, we quickly alerted Antje so that the ship could roll into an alternate science program.

At my prompting, that became a rock-dredging station for Alex and Elmar, who would have been key beneficiaries of today’s dive if it had gone ahead, and their dredge turned out to be the scientific highlight of my day: They pulled up rocks that provide clear evidence for active tectonics on Mt. Karasik that look set to disprove a competing theory that this site is purely volcanic.

By the end of the dredge, the NUI team still hadn’t determined what the precise problem was, so we advised Antje that we should abandon any pretense that we would dive today, but that we would try to be ready for first thing tomorrow.

It must be extraordinarily frustrating to be part of the NUI engineering team out here, when such a complex system keeps finding new and different ways to bite them. Despite that, I do envy them. When the vehicle doesn’t work, there is at least something that they can do in each of their respective areas of expertise to work the problem, determine the fault, and glean some satisfaction when they fix it.

By contrast, I am not sufficiently competent to help out. In fact, if I tried, it is pretty much guaranteed I would make things worse.

So, I am reduced to hanging around the lab and thinking positive thoughts until the last chance for success has passed and then calling the chief scientist and captain to let them know the bad news.

At 2:45 p.m., I briefly allowed my hopes to soar again—Mike passed the word that the team had identified and fixed the problem that had plagued NUI this morning. It is still questionable if the weather will be good enough to dive tomorrow, but at least we were in a position that it was worthwhile asking Antje if she could get us back on the ship schedule.

Fifteen minutes later and those hopes were dashed. Faster than we could track down the latest weather updates, a new problem arose with NUI and now the manipulator arm is not working. Time to phone the chief scientist again.

It turns out the weather tomorrow is going to be lousy anyway (up to force 8 on the Beaufort scale, which is not good for a delicate little robot). But that means we now only get one last chance to succeed, on Saturday, October 8.

If NUI works, great. But if not, there is too much science that everybody (our team included) could still accomplish at the deep vent site for us to hang around here an additional 24 hours.

Time to go big or go home.