Return to the Abyss Down Under
After their triumph in 2008 obtaining footage of the deepest fish ever caught on camera, the team behind the Hadeep project, run by the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, are back.
This time they're off the coast of New Zealand, looking to send Alfie, their plucky deep-sea camera-equipped lander, down into the lightless depths of the Kermadec Trench.
Several thousand metres down, surrounded by crushing pressure, the unmanned submersible will attempt to take more film of the deep-dwelling creatures attracted to the bait it carries. This time, though, Alfie will be joined by other, newer equipment, including the top-secret experimental Hadal-Lander C, only recently built by Voyage Leader Dr Alan Jamieson!
The team will be providing regular updates from the New Zealand Research Vessel Kaharoa of what they find. Watch this space!
So it was a pleasure to wake this morning to the back drop of the mountains of New Zealand off the starboard side. Just a few hours and we'll be back in relative sanity of Wellington.
This trip has been intense to say the least, it's had ups and downs in so many ways. It always seems a shame that after a trip like this and everything that's happened that in a weeks time Toyo and I will silently slip back into our office in Aberdeen and this whole adventure will never be spoken of again. My Supreme Commander title will be stripped and I'll go back to being the 'poles n' holes' technician for a while. With any luck, the next time all this will surface will be in a soulless scientific publication full of facts and figures and distinctly lacking in stories. Nature of the beast I suppose.
So what now? Once again it's no rest for the wicked. Toyo and I have just 48 hours to get the gear back to Greta Point and repack what's left ready for its next voyage. Believe it or not we got an email yesterday with the offer of another cruise. Something we were negotiating for 2011 has come around a year early. We have to be in Ecuador by August so there is time for this one little jaunt before then. Where? Well, I leave that as a cliff-hanger but I assure you that it's on the Pacific Rim as usual.
Right now I really, really want to just go home, but things never work out like that for Toyo and I, there's always one last thing to do. After sorting the gear we are high-tailing up to Tokyo where I have to give two presentations that I haven't written yet and attend a suite of meetings regarding organising an international event there next year (watch this space) and the possibility of more ship-time and student exchanges. We, with any luck will be home in about a week.
My last duty as supreme commander was to issue the crew and company of this fine vessel with beer on the last night, however last night was so rough there were only three of us awake and two were on watch. So tonight is the night. We have arranged a little party on the Kaharoa quayside followed by a Chinese meal and a night on the tiles, should be fun. Firstly though I need a shave, a bath, clean socks and to hear the voice of my wife before I go anywhere.
So, blogging has been fun as always, so let's wrap it up. A very special thanks to Tom and Tamara at Planet Earth Online for having to read this nonsense every morning and screen it for swear words (you know it's only a matter of time). We also have to thank our new NIWA friends, Ashley, Malcolm and Fred for being so accommodating.
We give the nod to my mate Rab's mate Tom for showing us around Wellington before we sailed (and having the finest selection of cheeses). The biggest thanks go to the crew of the Kaharoa for working the hardest-working little boat in the southern hemisphere and taking the southerlies like men.
I will always remember this adventure for its success in finding the deepest fish in the southern hemisphere and of course for Alfies last stand. I still can't shake the thought of him lying on his back, his three legs akimbo covered in snailfish. Toyo and I are far from home but at least we are getting to go home.
Until next time, this is Supreme Commander Alan out: "no worries".
Posted on 13 November 2009 | Comments (1)
So, we are still on our way back to Wellington, should get there tomorrow lunch time they reckon. This morning was just about calm enough for me to fulfil my Supreme Commander duties and write the final cruise report.
Then it happened. At about lunchtime, the southerlies hit and we got battered, and pummelled, and thoroughly beaten to a pulp for the rest of the day. Needless to say I didn't see anyone for the rest of the day. It was so bad that rumour has it even the skipper barfed this afternoon for the first time since '94 (he'll hate me saying that).
As we are drawing to a close, let's talk about the Kaharoa itself. 'Kaharoa' is some kind of static fish herding technique used in Maori culture. She was built in 1981 and the reason she is so unstable is that she has a round hull. This is apparently to make it better for acoustic surveys, which to be honest works, I never got one spurious acoustic communication with the landers the entire trip.
Apparently she used to be a lot worse, I can't imagine how. Also, she has no stabilisers, but that's obvious. Next time we come here I'll bring my old man, the marine engineering legend that is John Jamieson and his cronies who used to work on stabilisers on everything from ships with swimming pools to ships with big guns on. We could keep them on speed dial under the name 'The Stabilisers' and whenever we are in trouble we simply 'call in the stabilisers'.
To give you an idea of how small this boat it, to the left is a photo from aft looking forward. The door the left is the wet lab, to the right is the dry lab and on top is the wheel house.
Other than that (and the fact the anchor is loose and thunders off the hull every 15 seconds in high seas) she is a fine vessel. The fact we have just taken this round hulled 28-metre vessel fishing boat with an entire crew and company of just 10 men to the Kermadec Trench and conquered 7500m is an achievement in itself, the only thing stopping us going full ocean depth was time. Also, the crew have been fantastic, every one of them has showed an amazing enthusiasm for what we are doing which is refreshing.
The skipper Simon has incredible skill in manoeuvring the boat and Stave and Dan have been a joy to have spent time 'throwing stuff off the back' with. Always enthusiastic, always professional and always downright good fun.
I have enjoyed my time on here (with perhaps the exception of the loose anchor). Every night everybody eats together and laughs together, none of the fragmented class system or regimented styles of the usual ships we go on. On here, every man is equal, they just have a different jobs to do.
On the right is a picture of the rather cramped dry lab where I have to sit on the floor. The lap top here is actually downloading the CTD sat on the bench. Note the deep-sea cameras and batteries all lashed under the bench where there is no where left to fall off of.
The working conditions have been cramped but so quirky you can't help admire this tough little boat's character. It was with delight that very late in the evening the southerlies decided to give us a break and calm a little.
Just as well, I was about ready to go and whip up a quiver full of arrows and take out every albatross, the dolphins, Marco the Sharko and the Orca from Majorca (I knew we'd get there with the orca) in a bid to bring on the wind stealing curse of old. No need though, no need.
Posted on 12 November 2009 | Comments (0)
The big male orca.
This morning the lander was on the surface by 0730. Our 48 hours of calm seas and sunshine are well and truly behind us. This recovery was by far the roughest yet but at least it was the last.
Despite the heavy seas we managed to haul it in without incident or anyone getting a lander foot in the nad-berries (have been close a few times though). Just prior to bringing it in we noticed another shark following us.
I asked the mate Steve what the name of the shark was; he reckoned 'Marco the Sharko'. You just couldn't get a better answer than that, but what's an Italian species of shark doing this far south?
So, in record time we stripped Jonah down of all essential parts and lashed him down for the transit home.
We are expected some southerlies to give us a good stiff kicking all the way home, so it was a case of lash everything down and brace ourselves for a very rock n' roll 48 hours. Needless to say I haven't seen Toyo or Kota since.
The 4000m images where exactly what we were expecting, no serendipitous findings from us deep-sea charlatans.
No, sir, we are getting a grip on this and beginning to paint a rather nice picture of what is going on. The photos today contained many a hungry grenadier, up to five big ones in one shot I think.
The hungry grenadier at 4000m.
Not much else going except the occasional eel. It's is exactly the 'typical-abyssal' data set we needed to confirm our little story.
So at the end of it all we got the 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000 and 7500m transect of the abyssal-hadal transition zone of the Kermadec Trench.
So just when I was thinking all the fun of the fair was over the boat slowed down and stopped. Somebody poked their head in the door and shouted 'Orcas'. Sweet, in an almost silent drift in the middle of nowhere we sat and watched a family of orcas circle the boat.
A beautiful sight to behold, although we can't think of any names that rhyme with orca as well as Marco does with Sharko, but we'll keep trying.
Me, Kota and Toyo grinning after completing the last deployment.
Incidentally, I was talking to Kota the other day and the word 'Albatross' in Japanese translates as 'Stupid Bird'. Harsh!
Also, he sent his girlfriend a photo of us on deck the other day when it was nice and she replied very surprised to find that Kota was on a pirate ship, the cheek!
So with the job done, we are now battering back to Wellington hoping not to get too pummelled by the southerlies on the way.
Posted on 10 November 2009 | Comments (0)
It was a good for HADEEP today and indeed hadal biology. Today we photographed the second deepest fish ever filmed and indeed the deepest fish ever seen in the southern hemisphere, how's that for you?
'Today we photographed the second deepest fish ever filmed and indeed the deepest fish ever seen in the southern hemisphere, how's that for you?'
Supreme Commander Alan Jamieson
After a busy morning starting at 3am we recovered Jonah to find that he had not only survived a night at 7560m but he came back with about 1000 images of the Notoliparis kermadecensis. It is a very similar result to those we got at 7700m in the Japan Trench from 2008.
The deepest fish ever found in the southern hemisphere, the snailfish Notoliparis kermadecensis in all their pink glory.
This time I have counted to something like 12 in a single shot. They all seem to be quite small though. Beautiful images though, I am delighted. We landed on even more interesting ground, this time a mix of large rocks and pebbles with some nice biological activity going on.
I have to stress once again that these are a different species, although they look similar, and inhabit exactly the same depth range as those thousands of miles away in the Japan Trench.
This and yesterday's results from 7000m, as well as the 2007 videos show that this fish lives between 7000 and 8000m right from the north to the south of the Kermadec Trench, they don't appear to go shallower, they don't appear to go deeper, they just like that long sliver of a contour. The question is, do they live on both the east and the west flanks of the trench?
My guess is probably as we are currently at the join of the two. If they can't go up or down, then it is at this point where they have to decide whether to hang a left and go up the rockier and steeper continental flank or hang a right and go up the smoother oceanic flank. If they do go up the continental flank then their distribution is a rather bizarre thin oval-shaped band, circumnavigating the trench. Interesting.
In this shot you can see why they are called snailfish. This little chap is swimming upside down like a crazy fish but you can see the circular disc on their underbelly that can hold on to stuff, like a snail.
There's not much more to say than that. It's been a hard week but we got there. As much as I really want to push even deeper we have to be sensible. We only have the charter for two more working days and we are here to investigate the scavenging fauna of the abyssal-hadal transition zone. Therefore, scientifically and logistically we redeployed the lander to a meagre 4000m.
Earlier this trip we found an unusually low number of gnarly scavengers at 5000m, so we'll push that bit shallower to see if that is an area or depth related find. All going well, we will have completed a 4, 5, 6, 7 and 7.5km transect across the transition zone. Nice, although it breaks my heart to go as shallow as 4000m (kids' stuff!).
A good day all round although the transit between the 7500m and the 4000m site was pretty darned rough I can tell you. Today we are on top of the world (down under), no worries mate, no worries.
Posted on 10 November 2009 | Comments (1)
Greetings from another beautiful early morning in the South Pacific. We were up at 5am again today to release Jonah from 6000m. Terry the cook attempted to ease our grief by cooking kippers all the way from Aberdeen no less. Terry is an amazing cook.We are of course still gutted about Alfie but I should really stop getting so attached to inanimate objects as my wife has told me before. I should also stop talking to my boots before they lock me up ("come lads, let's go for a walk").
Jonah surfaced at 0830 and the little beauty was packed full of the good stuff. The photos were good but we'll get to that in a minute.
Since I have known Toyo he has been after a 'giant amphipod'. Why? Only he can answer that. With the loss of all the traps yesterday, Ashley and Toyo set about making ones from stuff they've wombled out of the bins, dirty boys. Toyo made one from a washed out bottle of bleach.
As if by magic there was a giant amphipod in there. Certainly the biggest I have ever seen, a real Mr. Darcy of crustaceans. That cheered him up a bit, although he still seems to be suffering from morning sickness and I'm guessing he isn't pregnant, at least I hope not for humanity's sake.
The best photos from 6000m - two prawns and a fish.
The photos, yes the photos. The photos were, let's just say, not very spectacular on the face of it. A couple of different types of prawns and a single rogue grenadier were all there was. This is what we wanted. We have been slowly building up a picture of what is happen at the Abyssal-hadal boundary. At 7000m and great there are liparids and then an immense amphipod domination.
At less than 5000m, the grenadiers and the usual abyssal gnarly scavengers are dominant. What we wanted to see today from 6000m was a whole great big heap of nothing, and that's what we got. The transition of scavengers into the trench is not really much of a transition. Something prevents the trench animals from getting up and out onto the plains and guys on the plain seem reluctant to venture into the trench, leaving this weird 'no man's lander' at around 6000m. This is becoming quite apparent. The reasons why? - we'll need to scratch some chins...
One other point to mention, and this is a stinker: On the very, very last photo from that last dive there was just the end of a fish tail that I don't recognise in the shot. It definitely wasn't a grenadier, or a liparid or an eel for that matter. What on Earth was it? A millisecond later and we would have photographed it. Dammit, I bet Alfie would have bagged it.
Anyway Jonah is now sitting at 7500metres. We have worked so fast (and the weather has been workable) we have finished the original three sites and so we are going to go one deeper (7500) and try a really shallow one on the way home (4500). Exciting stuff.
Posted on 9 November 2009 | Comments (0)
DAY 05 Part 3
It's been a funny old day today, hence the three-part blog. After the success of Jonah at 7202m we quickly turned him around and dropped him off at 6000m. As were deploying him the seas died right down and sun came out (but that still didn't stop the boat from rolling I might add). Alfie's passing has left a large hole in the program so there was only one thing to do: launch a rescue operation.
Deckhand Dan, Ashley and myself took it upon ourselves to personally make a valiant attempt at rescuing our lost friend. So we jumped off the ship. I personally managed to get about 2 meters deep, a mere 7200m short of our target but at least we can say we tried. After all, they say there is no shame in fail if you know that you've tried. It is quite an exhilarating experience jumping off a ship a million miles from anywhere in 7000 meters of water. After the last five days it was just what was needed.
Toyo and I coming to terms with life without 'Alfie'.
Now here's the exciting bit. We were happily diving off the ship for about 20 minutes or so. Just as we decided to call it a day Terry the cook and Toyo saw two sharks approaching 100 meters off the port side. I am not joking. One was about 2 meters long. I thought they were pulling my leg but no. We had inadvertently been swimming in shark infested waters.
All the nicks, cuts and scrapes on my hands probably smell quite nice to a shark. Oh how we laughed at how silly this day had become. I mean really? Losing Alfie, Jonah filming the snailfish and now swimming with sharks in 7000 meters of water. I can assure you that after the word 'shark' not so much as a wee toe was dipped in the water after that.
There was only one thing left to do. The crew came out, cracked open the beers and scoured the galley for every tin of tuna, mackerel and sardines available, stuffed them into a sock a deployed them on a rope over the side in attempt to lure the sharks to the ship. A few beers and a spot of sunburn later all we managed to attract were albatross. With the weather so calm we could actually play tug-o-war with these giant gulls. They're as powerful as dogs I reckon, no manners mind you, not a single please or thank you.
'We took it upon ourselves to personally make a valiant attempt at rescuing our lost friend. So we jumped off the ship. I personally managed to get about 2 meters deep, a mere 7200m short of our target, but at least we can say we tried.'
Supreme Commander Alan Jamieson
So we all lay around on a warm deck, laughing and exchanging stories from the high seas and recounting the events of this last week. We gave Alfie one last acoustic command in an attempt to say our goodbyes and make peace with what has happened. We said "1630+1655, enter" to which he replied for the last time "horizontal: 7198m", a real tear-jerking moment [cue violins]. Alfie's wake continued until sundown.
So to top that off I got some fantastic news from home that'll remain personal, but the events of the last 18 hours on the RV Kaharoa rockin' and a rollin' around in the middle of nowhere have been truly memorable for all sorts of reasons, and with that I dozed off to the sounds of 'Rooting for the bad guy' by the Wildhearts. No worries.
Posted on 8 November 2009 | Comments (1)
DAY 05 Part 2
In the aftermath of this morning's disaster we found ourselves at the mercy of the success of an inanimate object we call 'Jonah'. Doesn't bode well. We released him from 7200m without incident. During the ascent I took back everything I said about albatrosses and fed one two cream donuts in desperation. I'm glad I did.
In absence of Alfie, the position of Alpha-Male or 'Alfie-Male' as I like to put it, rests on the unlikely shoulders of Jonah, who has until now never produced anything other than temperature profiles from >6000m. Lo and behold Jonah finally delivered the goods. We are back in business.
The lander took over 1000 photos from 7202m, showing none other than the endemic snailfish Notoliparis kermadecensis. It has only ever been captured once in 1952 by the Danish Galathea expedition. Since then it has been seen alive just one time: By Alfie. This is truly great stuff.
Here you can see just how soft-bodied these fish are, hence the wrinkles. The dark patch above its fin are its internal organs showing.
Any follower of HADEEP will know that in the Japan Trench in 2007 we filmed a fish related to this chap called the Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis at 7100m. Only one individual arrived which reinforced the theory that fish beyond abyssal depths are in incredibly low numbers. Then in 2008 we popped Alfie down to 7700m and saw 20 of them in one shot, throwing out that theory and suggesting these fish exist in much higher densities than previously thought.
In July 2007, Alfie found none of these Kermadec Trench fish at 6000m or 8000m but saw three individuals at 7000m in the northern Kermadec Trench, again in very low numbers. What we got today was the equivalent of the infamous 'deepest fish ever filmed' deployment. There are no world records this time but Jonah captured images of adults and juveniles in large numbers. Result!
7200 metres down, the only photographs ever taken of the Notoliparis kermadecensis. He's looking at you!
Other interesting points to mention are: 1) in the north these fish were found on soft and fluffy sediment, here they are on hard and gravelly sediment, suggesting that substrate is not a distribution determining factor. Secondly, this finding is uncannily similar to those we found in the Japan Trench, which is thousands of miles away in the northern hemisphere.
The only common denominator is that they appear limited to between 7 and 8 kilometers deep. 2) we know they eat amphipods by suction feeding, Alfie proved that. So why then do they inhabit a bathymetric range where amphipod density is at its lowest? We know there are abundant amphipods on the abyssal plains and greater than 8000m their numbers are phenomenal. There is a story here somewhere.
There wasn't anything else in the photos other than these liparids except for some incredibly active brittlestars. We've never seen brittlestars ourselves at these depths so that is interesting in itself. They filter feed which suggests there is a relatively high organic matter content in the water above the seabed. Something to scratch the chin over.
So, Jonah, aka Hadal-Lander B, or should I say 'Hadal-Lander' now, finally delivered something good and has earned his hadal-wings and hopefully a new nickname. I like the New Zea-Lander, but given that he is Scottish, perhaps it should be High-Lander?
So, hot off the press, here are some 'best of' images from 7202m, the only photographs ever taken of the Notoliparis kermadecensis (including a few brittlestars) – enjoy.
Posted on 8 November 2009 | Comments (0)
DAY 05 Part 1
Today the unthinkable happened. A disaster. At 0800 local time Alfie was pronounced officially lost at sea. Dead and gone forever. May he rest in peace.
Something terrible went wrong. We sent the release commands this morning and communications were strong. He was exactly where he is supposed to be, at 7100m. After a frantic few hours trying to call him back I had to send the diagnostic code, which I hate having to do.
It confirmed our greatest fears. He replied with one last cold word, 'horizontal'. This means he's lying on the trench floor on his side. Something had gone seriously wrong, something unforeseen, something that feels like a punch in the guts. I have a feeling I know what happened but that's not for these pages.
The Hadel lander 'Alfie'.
At this depth we are helpless to do anything and so with heavy hearts we had to move to the next station. I am devastated, utterly devastated. Alfie is the sum of nearly 6 years worth of planning and designing and 2 and half years of operations. From the early days of my PhD I worked on his sapphire window and shiny optical balls, and now those, the housings, the CTD, the all-titanium releases and an entire mooring of 17" glass spheres are gone forever.
He had a good run did Alfie. Toyo and I have taken him to Shiogama, Tokyo, Kochi, Guam, Apia, Auckland and now Wellington. He's been to the Japan Trench (twice), the Izu-Ogasawara Trench, the Marianas Trench, the Tonga Trench and the Kermadec Trench (twice).
It was Alfie that found that the crustacean taxa of decapoda do actually inhabit the hadal zone and indeed broke his own depth record for these about 4 times. He was the one and only vehicle to film the endemic liparids (snailfish) Notoliparis kermadecensis and Psuedoliparis amblystomopsis alive and indeed filmed fish deeper than anyone else in the world. He also found the deepest ever macrourid and collected literally thousands of exceptionally rare amphipod specimens from even as deep as 10,000m.
Despite his glittering albeit short career he wasn't without humour. Alfie brought us joy in shuttling various souvenirs beyond the abyss and back, most notable my 10,000m mug, coffee for four, a pair of blue Y-fronts, a zebra-skin thong and countless polystyrene cups.
Toyo and I are in a state of shock. The events of this morning will take some time to sink in. I feel we have lost both an incredible asset to this project and a great friend.
The ramifications of this are quite serious. The immediate expedition will of course suffer greatly. Also, we are still negotiating with a major international documentary maker about using him out here next April, that will surely now be cancelled. And on a personal note, Alfie was the main reason for me to stay in Aberdeen, he was the one thing that made me, and I am sure Toyo as well, feel that we were doing something worth while, something new and exciting: pushing that bit deeper to see what we could find.
There is of course still the other lander, but I've looked in its eye and there isn't any magic there, no history, no laughter and no dried blood on the frame. With any luck, perhaps it'll be its turn to shine, so all is not lost, just our dear old pal Alfie. It seems almost fitting that he was lost at the same depth in the same trench that he made his first great discovery over two and half years ago.
So, to shamelessly plagiarise, Alfie was "loved by the sweetest and hated by heroes". As we move to the next station and leave him behind forever, we salute him for all the stories he has given us. Goodbye old friend.
Posted on 8 November 2009 | Comments (4)
It was a good day today. It would be even better if this godforsaken boat would stop rolling. I got up at 5am, tried to brush my teeth and head-butted the bulkhead. Why, when I know the ship rolls every 15 seconds, do I sometimes just forget to brace myself?
'This is by far the most uncomfortable ship I have ever been on.'
Supreme Commander Alan Jamieson
Anyway, at 0530 the first release command was sent to Alfie. He very graciously replied "no worries Supreme Commander" and was on the surface in no time, full to the brim with videos and CTD data. The traps were not so full, just a few little amphipods. When we played back the video we found we had landed on a small rock, which is neither here nor there. The bait had been shifted slightly but all was generally well.
The videos showed that yes, the gnarly scavengers are here but in surprisingly low numbers. We had one sighting of the prawns (a big one I might add) some grenadiers (aka rat-tails, but I find that term a bit derogatory) and an eel of some kind, probably a synaphobranchid - one that's unfamiliar to me, but a beautiful swimmer.
A grenadier sniffing out an anemone.
We then gave Jonah the nod and he too was up in no time, again full of images and juicy CTD data if there is such a thing.
On playing back the still images we found we had encountered an anemone: a beautiful pink little guy waving his appendages about like a crazy thing. We couldn't have framed a better shot if we tried. Every time a grenadier comes along it retreats into its tube and then slowly comes creeping out during the quiet spells. Again, a beautiful animal. In the stills we also saw the eel and the prawns and of course the grenadiers. So a good successful day all-round, tons of data albeit pretty shallow.
A deep-sea prawn.
I was impressed that Jonah had finally worked but he still hasn't earned his hadal-wings yet, he only gets them when he makes it back alive from greater than 6000m. And that's exactly what we have done. After nearly a 14 hour day of stripping down, downloading, uploading and redeploying, both landers are now sitting pretty in the vicinity of the 7000m contour of the Kermadec Trench.
But after all that positive talk it would be rude not to have another little moan: this is by far the most uncomfortable ship I have ever been on. It is quirky and loveable yes, but I wish from very my soul that it would give me a break. I have to sit on the floor of a 1x2metre lab with no chairs, being constantly targeted by misplaced hardhats/spanners/deep-sea cameras or indeed anything that can fall or roll in my direction.
If you are wondering where Toyo and Kota are, well, it is with a cheeky smirk of smugness to inform you that they are still sweating it out in their bunks, poor lads...
Posted on 7 November 2009 | Comments (0)
Today really didn't start off well. I don't think I slept at all last night as the ship handles a big swell like an inflatable pig. I have to admit I felt awful until about 2pm when my sea-legs finally kicked in. We had a go at deploying the secret Hadal-Lander C (the 'experimental' one).
But what the hell, I'll tell you what it is: Most ships don't carry enough wire to core at these depths so we've had to think of another way of getting sediment back to the surface. Hadal-Lander C is a free-falling Van Veen grab.
'I will conquer this inflatable pig.'
Supreme Commander Alan Jamieson
These grabs were designed by a guy called Van Veen in the 1920s I think and are a common shallow water sampling device. What we are doing is free-falling one coupled to an acoustic release and floatation.
It made the descent and ascent ok, in fact faster than I have ever free-fallen anything before in my life. The unprecedented speed of it may have contributed to it not working today (although there were signs of sediment having been in it at some point, we need to get the right balance of a slow pull out of the sediment and a relatively quick ascent to stop it being washed out over such a huge depth. This saga will continue I am sure.
Hadal-Lander A and Hadal-Lander B on the deck prior to deployment
After dinner we deployed both Hadal-Lander A (Alfie) and Hadal-lander B (Jonah) to approximately 5100m on the edge of the Kermadec Trench, without incident I might add.
This is by far the shallowest these landers have ever been deployed to. It was a difficult old day trying to get the gear ready, and deploying it off such an unstable working platform. I think I took about three waves today, nothing especially massive but enough to get the cold water running down the back of the old overalls, brrrr.
We just have to get used the motion of this vessel. It is so small it isn't going to get much better than this. Sooner or later you start to subconsciously second guess its motion and I think I'm nearly there. I will conquer this inflatable pig.
So what started off as a drowsy, uncomfortable and hard day ended in being sat on a small and empty deck with beer in hand, toasting the pig. Tomorrow morning we'll hopefully have the first of the three stations under our belts.
Posted on 6 November 2009 | Comments (0)
After a mammoth kip we started early today and assembled the landers. We are not due to arrive on the first station until first thing tomorrow so it was a slow day. Everyone on board is in good spirits and that rubs off. I am feeling very positive about this now. I am finding the New Zealand accent quite contagious though, I am repeatedly finding myself answering every request with 'no worries'.
The weather is nice, so nice in fact I am running the risk of tanning my pasty white skin. It was a smooth and beautiful ride up the east coast today with lots of mountains and coastline to behold.
Not much else to report today except Toyo and I spotted a bunch of happy dolphins confidently on their way to somewhere, and we watched some albatross flying around. Speaking of albatross, I was at sea this summer somewhere else doing something else with some other people and we had some wind issues (of the meteorological kind). It got me thinking.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (I think) wrote a famous poem describing the perils of an ancient mariner (you know, the "water, water everywhere" one). As the story goes, a seaman killed an albatross which brought on a curse. That curse was to take the wind out of their sails, leaving them adrift and helpless. The Kaharoa however has diesel engine propulsion and we don't really want wind and there is a surplus of albatrosses out here.
So, if the weather gets bad, all we need to do is 'take out' an albatross and we are off full steam ahead. The only problem is that apparently, according to Sammy C, "the curse lived on in their eyes", so when we get off, if any of us are wearing dark glasses you'll know what we've been up to...
Posted on 5 November 2009 | Comments (0)
The Kermadec Trench is in about 1200km long and has a maximum depth of 10,047m. It lies to the northeast of New Zealand and joins the Tonga Trench.
The Trench, discovered by the Danish Galathea expedition in 1952, is named after the neighboring Kermadec Islands. The Kermadec Islands became inhabited around the 14th century, however when a bunch of Europeans got there 1788 everybody had gone (where, I don't know).
The name 'Kermadec' comes from a 18th century Breton navigator-chap called Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec (1748-1792), who went there in the 1790s (The Huonville, the Huon Valley, Huon River of Tasmania, the Huon Peninsula and Huon Gulf of Papua New Guinea are also named after this geezer). In 1791 Jean-Michel was given command of the ship L'esperance and embarked on the illustrious Bruni d'Entrecasteaux expedition to find the lost expedition of (the not so good navigator-chap) Jean-François de La Pérouse.
Jean-François de La Pérouse went to Samoa in 1787 and a bunch of angry Samoans attacked his men, killing 12 of them and wounding 20. They high-tailed it to Tonga and then to Australia. He hung around in Oz for a while (apparently the weather was bad, but that's what we all say when we're 'working' abroad) and eventually headed to New Caledonia, Santa Cruz, the Solomons, the Louisiades, and Australia (again). He told his Mrs. he'd be back home for tea by June 1789 but neither he nor any of his men were seen again.
Our man Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec went off looking for him (that has 'Jolly' stamped all over it) and surprise-surprise didn't appear to find him, but did manage to have every nameless island (and plant) on his way named after himself.
It was not until 1826 when an Irish fellow called Peter Dillon, figured it all out. It appeared La Pérouse had gone to an islands called Tikopia and ran both his ships into shallow coral reefs. It wasn't until 2005, that the wreck was formally identified as that of his ship: the Boussole. But what of the crew? It seems that a lot of them were massacred by some more angry locals and others made a valiant attempt at raft-making, paddled off but were never seen again.
Monsieur Huon de Kermadec however, hung around the South Pacific Islands until he died on New Caledonia. How he died, I don't know, but that's the story of how the Trench was named. Also, it might be worth adding the point that the locals currently inhabiting the South Pacific Islands are lot more chilled out these days.
Posted on 3 November 2009 | Comments (0)
Early this morning we packed up our temporary home in the drafty hanger at NIWA and trucked all the gear to the ship. The Kaharoa is a very small but a quirky little devil. I like it, it has everything you need especially an enthusiastic and professional crew. We met all the lads on board and at around 2 in the afternoon began our transit up the east coast of New Zealands North Island on the way to the mighty Kermadec Trench.
On board, the bunk arrangements are; Ashley and I bagged the room with the 'en suite' and Toyo and Kota are in the cabin with the table. Toilet or table, that was the choice. Any public vom-spot gauntlets of shame will be operating out of Toyo's cabin this trip, not mine. Speaking of which, we've all been feeling a bit squiffy since we sailed but I have been feeling like that anyway because my wife gave me a cold as a going away present. Cheers Luv.
A few folk have been asking us what we are hoping to find, and the answer is: I wouldn't like to say. Based on what we already know I can only hope that we find the usual suspects on the abyssal plain (the 'gnarly-scavengers' such as macrourids or ophidiids), at the edge of the trench we can speculate that we'll find our red friends the Benthescymnid prawns and with any luck we'll find some liparids on the trench slopes.
But having said that, every time we think we know what waiting for us, we have been wrong. Not because we are deep-sea charlatans but because nobody really knows what to expect. All our major discoveries have been somewhat serendipitous - I love that word, it can make complete accidents sound within the limits of scientific capability. I shall consider this moment as a prelude to serendipity.
Posted on 3 November 2009 | Comments (0)
HADEEP cruise #6
RV Kaharoa KAH0910
3rd - 12th November 2009
Hello. Welcome to another HADEEP cruise blog where I hope over the next couple weeks we will be able to bring all sorts of exciting deep-sea discoveries to your attention. At the end of the last blog we were about to high-tail it out of Japan and relocate the landers to an undisclosed location on the Pacific Rim.
Well, it is with great delight to tell you all that we are now in Wellington, New Zealand at NIWA (National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research). I have to take a second to thank the NIWA boys (Malcolm and Ashley) for agreeing to harbour our gear and organise ourselves in getting another impromptu cruise on the go.
The HADEEP-Kaharoa team (L-R) Toyonobu Fujii, Kota Kitazawa, Supreme Commander Alan Jamieson and Ashley Rowden.
This time we are on the New Zealand Research Vessel Kaharoa and we're off to the Kermadec Trench just north east of New Zealand: happy days!
We have been in Wellington for about a week now getting the landers all up and running. We have been working our sweaty little socks off in a hanger at NIWA in Greta Point on the shores of Evans Bay. That sounds nice but the weather has been not unlike typical Aberdeen. Speaking of Aberdeen, Wellington is quite similar expect for the locals are happy here and don't fear primary colours like they do at home.
How did all this come about?
This all came about very quickly. Our main funding body in Japan (The Nippon Foundation) seemed a little concerned that we didn't have any cruises planned for this financial year, to which we replied 'sorry'. After a significant chin scratch we proposed that we consolidate all this year's cash and charter a vessel. I would personally like another crack at the Izu-Ogasawara Trench as I am sure it is hiding something from us.
However the landers were at NIWA and so as a long shot we asked if they knew of any open ocean going vessels that are big enough to take two landers for about 2 weeks and happens to available before then end of the year. I nearly fell of my chair when Ashley Rowden from NIWA emailed back saying "yip, you can have the Kaharoa for 10 days in about 2 months time of you want". I picked myself up off the floor and replied "ok", and here we are. It's never been that easy before.
A map showing Wellington, NZ (small circle) and the deployment sites (big circle)
There are four of sciencey-types on board this time: My illustrious travelling companion Toyo and I of course, Ashley Rowden, a benthic ecologist originally from the UK but now with NIWA and a new guy from the University of Tokyo's ORI called Kota Kitazawa who we have never met before. I am quite looking forward to this as I have been given the honour of being 'Voyage Leader', although I would have preferred 'Supreme Commander of the Pacific Rim' but Voyage leader will do. This means I am in charge of this band of merry men and I will insist that each and everyone of them, especially Toyo addresses me as Supreme Commander at all times.
We have three bits of gear with us this time. Of course we have Hadal-lander A or 'Alfie': the big baited video workhorse of HADEEP. Alfie is looking well, I have repaired all the injuries he sustained Japan last time and he's now itching to get back in the water. He has been playing up a little but after a little open-cam surgery he's feeling a lot better. Hadal-Lander B or Jonah as it's been rightfully nicknamed is back and standing tall (2.65 metres to be exact). Last time it was in the water was on the Hakuho-Maru in 2008 and the poor sod nearly melted on the descent.
A close up map of the three deployment location in the southern Kermadec Trench.
He, like Alfie, has been repaired, calibrated, tested and cuddled a little bit and is ready for finally showing folks what it can do. But here's the scoop: we have what has been imaginatively called Hadal-Lander C with us. Hadal-Lander C is a secret right now because it is shall we say 'experimental'. I actually built it last Friday in the hanger and should it work, it'll be great. When I told Ashley what Toyo and I were planning he said something like "Crazy, Gutsy, I like it". So we'll leave that as a surprise and all I can tell you about it is that it is hungry....
We have been to the Kermadec Trench before. The first cruise we did was here in 2007 where we filmed the liparid Notoliparis kermadecensis; a fish never before seen alive, so this trench has been good to us. Last time we were in the northern sector but this time we are staying I the south. Given the time constraints we are not going especially deep. We want to have a look at what we call the abyssal-hadal transition zone to look at the scavenging community that inhabits the seafloor from the flat neighbouring abyssal plains to the steep slopes of the upper trench.
The plan right now is to deploy all the gear to 5000, 6000 and 7000 metres. The one thing I am very worried about is the weather. The Kaharoa is not a big vessel; in fact it's incredibly small, just 28 metres long, so any adverse weather and we are in trouble.
Posted on 2 November 2009 | Comments (1)