R/V Atlantis is many things to us. It is our home, our office, our “car,” our restaurant, our laboratory, our laundromat, and our repair shop during our time at sea.
Alvin can only be launched and recovered from Atlantis, and Sentry requires a ship like this for its operations, as well. Everything we need to explore the ocean and the seafloor is right here.
In particular, the ship’s Captain, and crew are a skilled, dedicated workforce of 22 seagoing professionals who ensure our safety, comfort, and ability to explore the ocean and seafloor. Our work would not be possible without them. In fact, ocean science could not have progressed in the leaps and bounds it has over the last 60 years without research ships like Atlantis and all of the ships in the UNOLS (University National Oceanographic Laboratory System) fleet, together with their hardworking crews.
When repairs have to be made to equipment on the ship, usually the engineers and deck crew can do so with little or no interruption of our research. There are, however, some things that can’t be repaired at sea–and the other day the Captain and ship’s engineers told us that there was a problem with the port (left) Z-drive–one of two rotating thrusters that moves and turns the ship and helps keep us stationary whenever necessary. The Z-drive sits below the waterline, so it can only be repaired by putting the ship into a drydock. Although the timing is unfortunate for all of us (crew, Alvin and Sentry personnel, and scientists alike), this is a common part of working in such a remote part of the ocean.
Because our field area at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is very far (2,200 nautical miles) from the U.S. East Coast, where there are shipyards that can do this type of work, we have had to stop our Alvin and Sentry operations and are heading to South Carolina for the Z-drive to be repaired. We are now moving at about 8 knots (nautical miles per hour) and should arrive at the dock in about 10 days.
In the meantime, we are working hard to analyze the samples and data we collected on the nine successful Alvin dives and nine Sentry dives. The combination of Atlantis, Alvin, and Sentry provides a remarkable view of the seafloor 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet) below the surface. We feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study such a remote part of the ocean, and to accomplish some of our original goals. We are also hopeful that we will be able to return soon to finish the work one day.
More on that in subsequent posts.