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MESA Archives: Aleutian Islands Deep Water Corals Cruise, July 23, 2004

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  pre-cruise meeting
Saturday evening at a Dutch Harbor hotel, principal investigators and other science team members discuss their cruise plan, which they must present to the ship’s crew the next day. Even the best-laid plans, however, may change due to weather or other variables. (clockwise, from left: Doug Woodby, Bob Stone, Jon Heifetz, Phil Rigby, Gary Greene, Lena Krutikov, Jennifer Reynolds (with back to camera).

(PLEASE NOTE: These web pages are for archival purposes only and are no longer maintained. For current information please refer to the MESA homepage.)

Mapping out a plan

By science reporter Sonya Senkowsky.

Location:  Dutch Harbor (on land)

In the few hours they spend in Dutch Harbor, most science team members don’t have time to spare for sightseeing. Saturday night, core members of the science team gather in a hotel conference room to discuss the cruise plan.

Perusing the first of many high-resolution maps that will be guiding the team on their mission, geologist Jennifer Reynolds describes the gulleys, ridges and canyons that, to scientists’ practiced eyes, leapt out from the black and white page.

They plan a route that would take Jason II first to the north side of the Aleutian chain, to the “North Atka site,” just to the north of Atka Island. But weather is more fickle on the south side of the islands, notes biologist Bob Stone (who was just there two weeks ago), so the group may want to change direction and go south if the weather there is good as they draw closer.

Wherever they dive first, the team wants to be sure to get video and samples representing a range of habitats in the selected study path, or “transect.”

The scientists also discuss the difficulty of retrieving delicate coral from the ocean floor using the Jason II. The remotely operated vehicle will be perfect for gathering video—but not as ideal for gathering samples, since every sample could require slowing the device drastically, slowing the entire expedition.

To gather the most video and make the most of the Jason II, researchers agree to focus on gathering video most of the time, designates just one or two dives specifically for gathering samples. The rest of the time, they will just grab what they can, sampling “on the fly.” This could mean leaving many discoveries on the ocean floor—a frustrating prospect—but it will maximize the amount of video coming from the trip.

Researchers are excited, however, about how much ground they think they can cover. They’ve heard the Jason II has a maximum speed of 1.5 knots (1.5 nautical miles per hour) and slows to just under a knot while taking samples. Hopes are high for covering much ground, but it won’t be until the orientation onboard with Jason II technicians that they’ll know for sure how their plans will fit in with the vehicle’s capabilities.

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