Retracing Our Steps on a Vagabond Engineering Tour

We are currently sailing north toward Asut Tesoru Seamount, after having spent a day pounding a stuck bridge plug down the 200+ meter cased hole at Yinazao Seamount.  This after several days reaming and casing a hole at Fantangisna Seamount – which we’re going to visit again, to check on how cement in that hole is holding up, after we sort out what’s happening at the bottom of  the cased hole at Asut Tesoru.   So, yes – we’re entirely retracing our steps from the last five weeks here, in about 5 days (if all goes well), all to be sure that the three holes we’ve drilled and cased will be there and usable when, at some undefined point in the future, another (non IODP) Expedition is funded and sails out to place instruments in these holes to monitor the uwelling fluids we’ve documented in each of them (or in at least two of them – the jury may still be out on Fantangisna!).

IF all goes well, then we head downslope on Fantangisna Seamount, to address the one un-visited approved site in our Prospectus – and we stay there and drill and drill until we run out of time at the end of this month, and have to head to Hong Kong!  So, as you might imagine, there is a LOT of rooting for our drillers and engineers to make this all go smoothly!    And so far, so good….

  

  

Now this is not to say that EVERYTHING runs smoothly all the time.  We are, after all, working from an unmoored ship on a rolling ocean, and this is going to produce some unanticipated outcomes – like the casing mount letting loose 5o+ meters too early and sliding down into the hole before they were ready for it, as an example!  However, our drilling engineers have been consistently adroit at taking what the seas give them and making it work out, so, perhaps for everyone but our Co-Chiefs (who, I think, have had more than their share of heart palpitations looking at our video monitors!), it’s seemed like this has all been sort of routine, even though even a moment’s reflection on what is actually happening leaves you certain that it’s anything but.

  

While we’re waiting for all this engineering to be done, we’re getting caught up on both the drudgery and the fun of the science.  Drudgery comes in the form of report writing – all the Sites we visit become Chapters in our Expedition Volume, and the initial versions of these must be completed before we leave the ship.  As we’ve visited three different seamounts at their summits and (so far) two of their flanks, we have five reports to complete for each laboratory on the ship.  In my lab, Geochemistry, we’re always playing catch-up because before we can report we have to analyze our samples and that takes extra time – so the extra down-time is a benefit.   The fun is in sorting out the science we’ll do through our samples – we had a special “sample party” for a unique section of Site U1496 core where we selected the key samples, established a plan for coordinated analysis, and a timeline for getting it all done on a short fuse once we’re home.   The other “fun” is in discussing the science – reporting to each other on our findings from the recent sites (U1496 just got discussed, and U1497 is coming), and in playing with our data some, as several of our number did at a recent crossover meeting to try and develop a reasonable evolution and timeline model for the growth of Asut Tesoru, using our physical property results in interesting and creative ways.

We’re also talking more about Hong Kong, and about home: football playoffs and other entertainments on the satellite feed TV are reminding us all how long we’ve been out here (well, that and the disappearance of lettuce from the salad bar!).  With two weeks or a bit more left in our Expedition, we’re close enough to start thinking about our normal lives, but still far enough away that it’s not quite real, not yet.   I for one am looking forward to at least one more adventure, and a few more shouts of “Core on Deck!” with weird things in the liners to finish this Expedition off properly.