Date: Fri, 22 Nov 1996 07:07:37 +1200
Mid-point Report of the AESOPS Sediment Trap Mooring Deployment Cruise Weeks like this help to remind me how much human effort it takes to do large-scale, integrated ocean science. This is not a lead in to a "hard times at sea" story. Actually, things have been going very well on the Sediment Trap Mooring Deployment Leg of the N.B. Palmer. We got an early start from our meeting point where helicopters landed on seven feet of ice--Walker Smith and the rest of the Process 1 scientific party with the help of an energetic ASA crew had already pulled vans from the hold and packed up much of their gear by the time we arrived. Despite distractions from a large group of emperor penguins that had adopted the pool of open water behind the ship, this first-ever cruise changeover on sea ice went more rapidly than expected. Initially these curious birds would rush to greet every helicopter load, but they soon learned that they could stay by the water, and the helicopter beings with cameras would come to them. Our penguins watched us pull away on the evening of November 11--more than 48 hours ahead of schedule. This accomplishment required intense work by John Albert's ASA team as well as the scientists, and the two days saved have been critical because the original schedule had no weather days--in fact, my estimates showed that our time allottment of 17 days was a day and a half too short. One week later and we have completed what we hope has been the hardest part of the cruise. Three of the seven total moorings that are planned for AESOPS are done. While that is not the half way point in numbers, it probably is in effort. The first three moorings, being within ice, meant that they had to be done anchor-first instead of the usual anchor-last mooring deployments. Consequently, from the moment the 2000 lb anchor was lifted from the deck and the operation began, the mooring crew was experiencing high tension both mentally and on the mooring line. While the tension-maintaining Lebus winch was absolutely essential to the operation, it did not eliminate all the tricky dimensions to the operation. On the first Ross Sea mooring (76.5 degrees S, 178 degrees W) at the 2/3rds completion point, a link caught while passing through the winch and the wire rope snapped in an instant. The good news was that no one was hurt, although the wire lashed into the back of Larry Costello, who says he felt nothing (another reason for wearing a well-padded "float coat"). The bad news was that we had catastrophically deployed a mooring with only a deep trap, a current meter, and less than optimum flotation. After considering our options, we decided to leave the mooring in place (there was too much ice to risk recovery) and to dip into our spare gear and start over--deploy a second complete mooring with the desired two traps. So once again the mooring crew led by Steve Manganini of WHOI and Chris Moser of OSU began the high tension task of deploying mooring 7. Anyone who has been in this business very long has experienced the heartbreak of seeing the end of a difficult task in sight, only to have to start over. But, this turn of events was accepted with good spirits and even humor. The JGOFS program has brought together a remarkable mooring team! On mooring 6, the northern Ross Sea mooring (73.5 S, 177 E), a new perturbation of the hazards of anchor first mooring deployment was revealed. A rope connector on a take up spool broke causing a loss of tension on the Lebus winch. Again the mooring was headed for an unexpectedly early launch, but Larry Costello saved the day by grabbing the wire before it could snake through the Lebus winch--an act all mooring initiates are taught never to do. Because Larry is a very experienced hand in this work and because he still has his hand, no one has second-guessed his quick response. It seems, however, that Larry has developed a nervous twitch. The deployment of Mooring 5 (66 S, 170 W), the longest of the anchor first moorings with more than 2000 m of wire rope, current meters, and six large sediment traps, went very well. Despite being embedded in rapidly drifting ice, we were able to place the mooring within 0.3 miles of our intended target. Some attributed the smoothness of the operation to the small shrine with a burning candle and some incense that had been set up on the Lebus winch. The rest of our sampling program, although a smaller aspect of our work, has gone very well. Suzanne O'Hara ably runs the CTD operation and provides us with incredible maps that remove the guesswork from our mooring deployments. The underway seawater system continues to have problems in the ice, but David Chipman and Stephany Rubin observed pCO2 values above atmospheric at the first three mooring sites as expected for ice-bound conditions. At this point we are looking at the hand we have been dealt and seeing the necessity of good weather and good luck in the remaining days. With four moorings and many miles to travel before we reach NZ, we have less than 12 hours of contingency time. Given the experience of the last three transits through the Polar Front, even if we play our cards perfectly, the seas will have the last say as to whether we make it to Lyttleton eight days from now. Jack Dymond for the 17 other scientists from AESOPS Sediment Trap Mooring Deployment Cruise, NBP 96-5.