Easter Microplate Expedition
March 15, 2005 Day 4

Please visit the ChEss website for additional information and translations in Español, Português, and Français.

Alvin_Hanger_640.JPG (64908 bytes)Transit day 4:
We continue to make 12 knots along the same course we've been traveling. Tonight we pass from Alaska's time zone to California's time zone (Tahiti is in Hawaii's time zone; Easter Island will be in Chicago's time zone by the time we get there and they change back to standard time for their winter). We had some squalls during the night but the sun is out again and the dark clouds all seem to be behind us. At night the stars are incredibly bright. There is no light pollution whatsoever. The Southern Cross is high in the sky, and the Milky Way is a bright complicated structure—one also looks toward the center of our galaxy when seeing the south pole stars.

Today we began our pre-dive orientations, even though we have not all been promised to dive. We toured the outside of the sub, learning where the lights, cameras, manipulators, thrusters, dive weights, and other exterior parts are, then spent about 20 minutes inside the sub, learning where the camera controls are and how they operate, finding the emergency equipment and learning about their operation in case the pilot becomes incapacitated, locating where the flashlights, hand-held cameras, lunches, and pee-bottles are stored. Yes, pee-bottles...there are no restroom facilities aboard. The titanium sphere (inside the white fiberglass exterior "skin" of the sub), which keeps the occupants at atmospheric pressure while in the deep sea, is only ~ two meters in diameter, and inside are all the controls, computers, video recording decks, and life support equipment—in addition to three people—for 8 hours at a stretch.
–Jenny Paduan

Jenny_Alvin.jpg (97686 bytes)Looking up at Jenny about to climb into the Alvin's conning tower to descend into the sphere to have her pre-dive orientation. Photo by Shana Goffredi, Cal Tech.

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Looking down through Alvin's hatch to the pilot and two observers sitting in the sphere during the briefing. The yellow and black striped hose forces air into the sub while it is on deck; when underway, the hatch is sealed and gas cylinders supply the oxygen. Photo by Megan Evans.

Another beautiful day in the middle of the Pacific. The moving floors and shifting stairs are starting to feel normal. My Ping-Pong skills are improving as I get used to the swaying motion and the moving table. The crew is pretty good at it, so I guess it just takes practice. The absolute highlight of today was my Alvin orientation. Victor, the Chilean member of the science party, and I stood on the platform next to the submarine and impatiently listened as a pilot gave us instructions on what to wear and what to expect when it is our turn to dive. Finally we took off our shoes and crept down the ladder to join another pilot in the sphere. It is pretty cramped inside—when the three of us sat down our knees touched. The walls are covered with little lights, monitors, switches, and recording equipment. In addition, Alvin has three view ports we can look out of on the dive.  Once safety features and emergency procedures were explained to us, it was time to crawl back into the sunshine. This briefing just whetted my appetite--I can't wait for my turn to dive!
–Megan Evans

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Rainbows at dawn:
Slate skies blur the dawn into the sea.  Squalls create a curtain between the endless reaches of the ocean’s empty expanses, and us. We are in a rain cloud, a momentary capsule of differentiation. Suddenly a rainbow appears, streaks of color against the white thunderheads and the blueness of sea and sky. And then, once again we are surrounded by a vast emptiness that is unexpected, we are in a desert upon the ocean.

One thinks of the oceans as filled with life, and indeed they are, especially in those places closer to land, where things are more familiar. This particular patch of blue however is not one of those places. Not a flying fish in the wake, not a bird in the sky, not a dolphin at the bow, no algae on the water, no schools of fish, no migrating whales, no life what so ever to be seen. Nothing but the hypnotic blue of the water as it is churned full of bubbles and disappears in our wake. I imagine and sympathize with the sailors of the past, feeling as if they were voyaging to the ends of the earth, to the end of their known existence. And it’s no wonder- with their surroundings so devoid of the familiar signs of life. Even the stars of the night sky seem fewer and farther away, from a different and unfamiliar world, luring them farther into the unknown—embarking on a voyage into the realm of nowhere…

We however are beginning the 4th real day of transit, of the 2200 miles to our destination of 38oS, also in the middle of nowhere. But we do know exactly where we are going, and will arrive on that special spot of nowhere-ness to be hovering far above the hot, mantle rich fluids of the hydrothermal vents of the East Pacific rise, on the cusp of the Easter Micro-plate.

In the mean time I keep up my vigilant watch for anything of interest, hoping to catch sight of something else living out here besides us. Including rainbows.
–Karen Jacobsen, Free-lance Illustrator

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Robbie practicing for the ping pong tournament organized by the Captain.

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Our position as of 23:00 March 15. Tahiti is getting smaller and smaller! (For those of you wondering, the longitudes here are shown as degrees east of the Greenwich meridian, whereas we often refer to them as degrees west, so 360 degrees minus this value.)


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This expedition has been made possible by National Science Foundation grants to Dr. Robert Vrijenhoek (NSF OCE-0241613) and Dr. Cindy Van Dover (NSF OCE-0350554)

All underwater photos were taken with the submersible Alvin, and are courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.