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Kermadec Trench: Scuttling your Assets

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Well, as promised, as soon as we get clear of the north island and over the trench, the sea subsided and the day turned out to be a scorcher. So much so I am now red, partly because I always forget how intense the sun is down this way and partly because we ended up working on deck for about 15 hours straight.

Given the early time of arrival and our aim to get into a schedule of deploying in the evening and recovering the gear in the morning, we had some time to do some testing. Testing is not something we often have the privilege of doing in this business.

We popped the abyssal lander down to 1900m after a few minor problems and then we deployed the new large fish trap. The deployments were as smooth as my forearms were covered in extra greasy sun block.

Both systems were recovered a few hours later and all went surprising without incident. Now you might be thinking – why didn’t they test the new hadal-lander, given that it is the new all-singing-all-dancing full ocean depth rated bad boy?

That’s a difficult one, partly psychological. I spent pretty much all of last year designing and building the hadal-lander and never in my life have I been met with so many problems in regards to suppliers, parts not working, parts not being made right, impossible deadlines, customs issues, etc. The fact the hadal-lander is on board is a miracle. After spending so many months shouting at it, kicking it, telling it that it’s lovely and it all be fine, I figured I might as well just throw it in the sea, three feet first and do it for real, no tests. Part of me feels I am cheating it by only putting it to a pathetic 2500 m, when I know it’ll go to 11,000 m, so I decided it should only be used in anger. And that’s what we did. Grrr.

It was an incredibly long day in the sun but in the late afternoon, we deployed the Abyssal-lander to 2000 m, the fish trap to 2250 m and finally, to the backdrop of the sun setting, we deployed the hadal-lander on its maiden voyage to a measly 2500 m. It was funny that a few minutes before we deployed the Hadal-Lander, first officer Steve and I are lying on our backs kicking bits of steel under it. I couldn’t help but think “really?,” given the epic journey it’s had to make to get this far it comes down to two blokes booting it as hard as we can. And it seems that yes is the answer to that.

The funny thing about free-falling these expensive vehicles is the moment the ‘quick release’ is pulled. I am standing there looking at what amounts to a year of hard work on the end of a rope, and with the word – PULL!- it slips quietly into the sea and starts the descent. It feels like we are deliberately scuttling our assets, but that’s what this is all about. Tomorrow will when we know if it all works.

Previously in this series:

Kermadec Trench: Cook, Kermadec and Kaharoa
Previous research in the Kermadec Trench

Alan Jamieson About the Author: Dr. Alan Jamieson is a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, U.K. His research focuses primarily on the use of novel deep-submergence technology for deep-sea biological research, particularly at hadal depths (6,000 to 11,000 meters deep). Dr. Jamieson is the leader of this expedition, which is his tenth one to hadal trenches.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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