Project Day 6: 4 March 2011

Today was a "service day" for the KoK, which means no sub diving. The rebreather dive team also planned for a day of rest. Originally, we were going to pick up the four new researchers who would be boarding the ship from the airport early in the morning, then meet the ship's launch boat at the harbor in Lahaina, so that we could all go out to the ship and have a meeting to discuss how things had been going so far, and plan for the second leg of the cruise. However, a nasty storm came through the islands Thursday night, and the winds shifted to southerlies, which meant that the southwest side of Maui (where the dive sites have been, and where thet KoK has been stationed, and where Lahaina is) would see some very rough weather (we had heard that gusts of up to 50 knots were forecast). So instead, the ship came around to the north side of Maui, off Kahului (where the rebreather dive team's hotel is) to ride out the bad weather, and we would meet them in the harbor at Kahului. Unfortunately, the KoK had only a limited time to be at dock, so we were not able to have the planned meeting aboard the ship. Instead, after we picked up the new research team -- consiting of Frank Parrish (replacing Brian Popp as chief scientist fo the second leg), Ray Boland (a NOAA diver and fish survey specialist), Derek Skilling (a researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, who will be sampling DNA from tissues of collected specimens), and Kimberly Puglise (the NOAA program officer for our CRES grant) -- we drove over to the pier where the KoK was tied up, and transferred the new researchers onboard the ship, while Heather Spalding, Melissa Roth, and Kim Binsted (all participants on the first leg) departed the ship. The rest of the day was filled with cathing up on emails and missed work, gathering supplies, and generally resting.

One of the observers on yesterday's Pisces V dive was Kim Binsted. We asked her to provide us with a short "blurb" on her experience aboard the sub during yeterday's dive, which she has graciously provided below.

Dispatch from Kim Binstead.

When I heard that HURL, the University of Hawaii, and Bishop Museum were planning coordinated diver-submersible operations to study deep reefs, I knew I had to find a way to observe, not because I'm interested in coral (although I am, in a very amateurish way), but because I'm interested in space. NASA is trying to understand how to send people on long-duration space exploration missions in the safest and most effective way possible, and it would be silly to ignore lessons learned from similar missions conducted here on Earth. Compare these scientific diving operations with, say, a lunar mission. Hazardous environment, with serious consequences if not everything goes as planned? Check. Multiple crews using different technologies working together to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses? Check. Important science accomplished under challenging conditions? Check. This was an opportunity I couldn't afford to miss. Luckily, the Deep Reef team was generous enough to let me be an observer on one of the dives.

The first thing that struck me was how incredibly professional and efficient everyone was. I was told to be on deck at 7:45. At 8:04, we were sealed in, and over the radio came the magical phrase: "Hatch is closed, ready to dive, dive, dive." By 8:22 we were in the water with "towers awash", and by 8:27 we were on the bottom at 89 meters. Nonetheless, none of the steps felt rushed, and every safety check was performed meticulously.

Then there were the divers. Once we'd found and prepped the site (I say "we", but really I was just a third wheel to Terry the pilot and John the scientist), Terry skillfully used the sub's arm to trigger a marker line, which shot towards the surface. Minutes later, the divers were at the bottom, hard at work. I can't think of any other profession in which so much preparation and recovery sandwiches such a short period of intense coordinated activity. In the 20 minutes it would take me to drink a cup of coffee and maybe write an email, these divers whipped through a roster of carefully choreographed tasks, including Finding the coral, photo-documenting it, placing an acrylic dome over the coral, injecting the ink, and collecting samples. They were even able to take a few seconds to unfurl a "Congratulations!" banner, in honor of the Pisces submersible's 1000th dive. Mission accomplished, they started the long, slow trip to the surface, with hours of decompression stops along the way. The sub, meanwhile, had plenty of time to travel to two other sites and collect coral and algae samples, before ascending to the surface after almost eight hours on the bottom.

Over the next few days, I'll go through my notes and try to pull out some concrete "lessons learned" which hopefully can be applied to long-duration space missions. In any case, it is clear that any teams wanting to accomplish challenging scientific tasks in hazardous environments should take a page from this operation.

Click this link for the day's Video Highlights. Video by D.F. Pence and R.L. Pyle.

Images:Click on the small images below to see the the full-size image file.
Submersible pilot Terry Kerby stands by as the R/V KoK prepares to leave the dock and head back out to sea. Photo: R.L. Pyle.
The Pisces V submersible on the stern of the R/V KoK, in Kahului Harbor. Photo: R.L. Pyle.
The R/V KoK heads out of Kahului Harbor back to sea in preparation for the second leg of the cruise. Photo: R.L. Pyle.

Return To Expedition Index Page