Follow Dr. Katrina Edwards, as she explores the microbial life at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean
We finally have our first complete observatory installed! Woo-hoo! It was with great trepitation that we watched the final moments of this operation – when they released the tool holding onto the top of our well-head at the seafloor and pulled away. Of course, like all of our major operations, this took place at 3:30 in the morning (after staying up the entirety of the night prior preparing and lowering the instrument string). Wolfgang Bach – the co-chief scientist on this expedition – and myself were the sole witnesses up in our office watching the “un-J’ing” of the tool from the well-head. Most other scientists were sound asleep. We call this operation “un-J’ing” because the tool latches onto the CORK well-head with two J-shaped slots that are hooked onto large bolts in effect that are on the well-head. Gently turning and releasing is the name of the game – but a trivial game it is not at 4500 meters of water depth (about 3 miles)!
Onward and upward – our job is far from over. We are already at our next drill site prepping for the next hole. This hole is going to be considerably deeper than the last one, extending 500 meters into basement rock, or about 550 meters subseafloor (~50 meters of sediment). Deep holes like this one are a tremendous challenge. There is always the likely possibility of the hole experiencing collapses and blockage by falling rocks, for example, when drilling through rubbly zones. Or in getting the bit stuck in a particularly hard zone. And many other pit falls that potentially exist that could thwart our plans. But we are enthused and optimistic right now, and ready to get on with this next stage of operations that will take about one month – yes, one entire month! Over the next week we’ll be setting in different strings of casing to keep the hole stable as we can to prevent collapses. 3 strings of casing total, nested and cemented in place at the seafloor. Then, more coring – and I mean A LOT of coring here.
One of the other big challenges out here is maintaining the sheer stamina – among the scientific and technical staff as well as among the drillers – to get all this work done. The coring itself will be exhausting, as it will mean bring core up every few hours on a 24 hr basis over about a week. Following rapidly on the heals of coring is the observatory construction and installation. For our last hole, which was only about 100 meters into basement, these operations took only about 16 hours – then we were sending the instrument string to the seafloor. These next operations could take about 40 hours straight. No chance any one of us will be able to marathon straight through these extensive operations, but many will attempt to be present and working for as much of these operations as possible.
But for now, we have a relatively low-key week of casing in front of us – lots of time for some movie watching, working out in the gym, and other activities such as catching up on our writing up of reports. Phew this is a lot of work to study the tiniest and deepest life forms on our planet! Will it be worth it? I sure hope so!!
Oh and I leave you with one final piece of art that the steward who takes care of our room left me yesterday – and I can hardly draw a swan, let alone make one with a towel!