Sweet Sixteen

NUI bring brought safely home at the end of Dive (Sweet) 16.

NUI managed its first ROV dive to the bottom a completely ice-covered ocean today (Saturday), only its sixteenth dive ever. Half of them have been on cruises that I have participated in aboard the Polarstern, but this was the only one in which we launched into the eye of a Force 9 storm and then recovered before the weather worsened.

It has been a long, long day and we are all tired, but exceptionally happy. I hope you’ll forgive this being a short post, but we are already back on deck and steaming to the vent site, where we expect to have thirty-six hours of non-stop operations. I don’t like to appear greedy, but maybe we can still have it all. What a difference a day makes.

From 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. on Friday, I was in near continuous discussions with, Mike and Louis for the NUI team, and with Antje, the captain and Max, the ship’s weatherman, trying to answer a few questions: Could we or couldn’t we? Should we or shouldn’t we? Was there going to be a chance to get to dive to the seafloor with NUI or had winter already encroached too much on the Arctic and our chance was already gone?

At 5:00 this morning our NUI team was up and delighted to find the wind had dropped, just as predicted (for the first time in memory, the crew’s Friday afternoon emergency drill had ever been canceled because of bad weather). It was still snowing hard and visibility was atrocious, which meant the chief mate, Michael, was having a difficult time on the bridge finding a path through thick ice for the ship to get to our preferred work area.

Max, the weatherman, was up early today and at a meeting with the captain gave us his forecast: The eye of the storm hadn’t reached us yet but it would be passing directly overhead around 10:00 a.m. and by 1:00, the weather would likely begin to deteriorate rapidly again. “If you want to launch,” he said, “launch now!”

We didn’t wait to be warned twice. Instead, we went straight back to the bridge, identified an area of thin ice, and leapt straight into action. It was about two miles from where we had wanted to pursue signs of fluid flow at the seafloor, but that target was clearly off-limits for today because of the thick ice.

So instead, we took what we could and had a fantastic three hours on the seafloor from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and then, as soon as we saw that the winds were beginning to freshen, we ran for the surface with a basket full of samples. I’ll write more about that tomorrow, but for now suffice it to say that we were back on deck by 2:30 p.m. And not a moment to soon—by 3:00 the winds were back up to 30 mph, it was snowing hard and, with the wind out of the north, the air temperature had plummeted back below -10°C (14°F). It was a good time to bring NUI into the hangar, close up the doors and hunker down for the evening.

Vent hunting begins again at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow!