DAY 22 – Generous pans

Today started with a fry-up eating contest between myself and Ryan.  The rules are to nominate a 6-item breakfast (2 bacon rashers count as 1 item, and 2 rounds of toast are considered ‘supporting items’).  The 6-item breakfast must be finished when the plate is clean and at least a quarter toast slice saved to mop up the remnants.

 

Napkin battle plans: the top napkin carefully details exactly why everything we have done in the Kermadec Trench, South Fiji Basin and New Hebrides Trench makes perfect ecological sense and the bottom napkin shows the battle plan for the 6-item breakfast.

Napkin battle plans: the top napkin carefully details exactly why everything we have done in the Kermadec Trench, South Fiji Basin and New Hebrides Trench makes perfect ecological sense and the bottom napkin shows the battle plan for the 6-item breakfast.

The order was placed with Carol, who has generous pans, and it became a 9 item breakfast for me and a 10 item for Ryan.  This of course meant that he could forfeit the extra egg should he wish.

 

The thing is, Ryan talks like a man but is still a boy.  In less than 10 minutes I was mopping up.  Ryan chose to forfeit the sausage that was raw in the middle and to my astonishment, ate only the yoke from egg and never mopped up, what a dissapointment.  He is as bad at the 6-item breakfast challenge as he is at pool (and tidying up after himself****).

 

Anyway, the weather turned today and it started raining, albeit big hot rain.  We brought in the gear from 5600m and 6500m and got yet another good round of data, so all is looking well.  Before we leave the New Hebrides Trench for good, there is just more site on the transect needing done and that is the infuriatingly shallow 2500m mark.  We steamed for about 3 hours and threw everything off there.  Job done.

 

On the plus side, we are two recoveries away from completing the imaging and sampling transect of the entire trench.  Although the results are entirely valid, they are not especially interesting until it is all worked up, but at least we got it done somewhere in between the constellation of problems we have had to navigate at light speed each and every day.

 

Now we just need to get all the gear and head south before Mrs Rodier’s -80 freezer explodes (or some other random disaster).

 

Ryan and his new girlfriend ‘Lisa’ from Noumea.  Isn’t she adorable?, nice personality apparently.

Ryan and his new girlfriend ‘Lisa’ from Noumea. Isn’t she adorable?, nice personality apparently.

I can only assume that given the incredibly, almost supernaturally good weather we have had that we will almost certainly get annihilated on the way home (rules of the sea), so looking forward to that, especially given that this wee boat of ours handles bad weather as if it were a hippo swimming on its back trying to do the hokey-cokey.

 

Alan – 26th November

 

**** Note to Jess Knight: why have you not house trained Ryan yet?

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Not supposed to wear underpants

I figured the science of the trip so far has been covered (or at least I guessed so, none of us have seen the blog or spoken about our contributions) so I’m going to write about an average day aboard the Kaharoa in the sunny South Pacific.

The Kaharoa isn’t really lacking much (apart from size and stability in the water, but that’s what makes her quirky) however one thing that does seem to have been over looked is air conditioning in the scientist’s bedrooms, and with 4 guys in one room it gets very hot very quickly. The options are then that you either get a sweaty and patchy night’s sleep in the bedroom, or you move to the mess and sleep on the benches where you wake to find the officer on watch or Alan standing over you making coffee. After waking up the landers or fish traps are pinged up in the morning ready for recovery just after breakfast, which is usually eggs on toast in one form or another. The landers are recovered and science is done for a while. Afterwards we normally sit around in the mess whilst transiting to the next site talking about a load of old rubbish interlaced with talk of science and sense whilst eating Carol’s baked goods. Once we get to site the landers are redeployed ready for recovery the following morning and that’s the work done for the day, although recovery and deployment takes up the majority of the day and is no simple task at temperatures hitting over 30 degrees with the stench of rotting fish about your person.

From there on the night is our own and normally involves drinking our allowance of beer and sitting around a barbeque, sometimes we even get the roll of astro-turf out and sit around on that. For me it has become ritualistic to get changed into my larva larva, which is a sort of skirt, but is very ‘freeing’ in the heat. Apparently you’re not supposed to wear underpants underneath, however I haven’t quite got the technique of tying one right yet and have been grateful I kept boxers on a few times. Alan whilst capable of tying his properly wears it like a mini skirt and I think most of us have been grateful he too kept his undies on. To my mind larva larva’s and kilts are the only skirts men should wear and I won’t have any issues in whipping out my larva larva when we get back to Aberdeen should the sun ever turn up. On a couple of occasions, after it has turned dark, we have turned the lights on the side of the boat and sat watching the bioluminescence aswell as puffer fish, squid, flying fish, weird thin striped fish (or snake) and others with long bills which repeatedly bump into the boat (as you can maybe tell we don’t have an ID book for surface fish on us). We even attempted catching them to photograph them but to no joy, maybe it’s better not to catch them and just watch them (I’m sure Thom would agree). Following that it’s back to bed, or the mess floor for me ready for the next day’s carnage.

Ryan

 

PS Alan is a legend at pool, we played many times in Wellington and he thrashed me every time, I even resorted to accusing him of cheating which of course he would never do being such an unbelievably good bloke.

DAY 21 – The edge of the world

Thom has a theory that we are in fact all dead.  It seems we may have all been killed in the storm off of Auckland and this is just some kind of weird purgatory.  I am starting to believe him (if the concept of an afterlife wasn’t simply screaming lunacy).

 

I strolled out on deck this morning at stupid O’clock and there was nothing.  Not a breath of air, not a ripple in the water and butterflies flying all over the place.  In all my years at sea I have never seen the sea this calm, it was like a mirror, we didn’t even have the engines on, just drifting silently nowhere slowly.  It feels as though we are so close to the end of the earth that the tide has ran out and given up and any day now we’ll simply fall of the edge of the world.  Turns out the world is round, which is ideal.

 

So, hi-ho, off to work we go. We pulled in Frank Trappa in one of the easiest lander recoveries in living memory and were presented with one of the best amphipod catches I have seen in a long time.  Hundreds and hundreds of large specimens of at least 4 major species.  Easy.

 

The crustacean kid gets what he’s after.

The crustacean kid gets what he’s after.

We later released the lander from the bottom of the trench and again brought it on board in such easy condition that frankly it bored me.  However, it is safe to say Thom and I were rather nervous about the result.  This was the big one.  We striped it down, pulled the flash card out and right enough we had indeed taken over 1000 images of the bottom.

 

Image from the bottom of the New Hebrides Trench. Poddies – check – prawns – check – cusk eel – check, snailfish – doh.

Image from the bottom of the New Hebrides Trench. Poddies – check – prawns – check – cusk eel – check, snailfish – doh.

The question is: does the New Hebrides Trench have an endemic snailfish in it?  The answer to that is, well, erm, no.  It doesn’t.  There are fish, but again the usual big ophidiid of the genus Bassozetus, but the images were amazing nonetheless.

 

It is all starting to make sense.  I would go into some great detail about how scientifically interesting these last few weeks of data have become but that isn’t necessarily an interesting read but in a nutshell here it is:

 

In trench research there is a propensity to study the deep ones (10,000m+) and then make large sweeping statement about what we see.  The New Hebrides Trench is a relatively shallow one (7000m) compared with the nearby Kermadec Trench (10,200m).  What we are trying to study is whether the bathymetric trends that we see across deep trenches is the same across similar depths shallow trenches but cease at the shallower maximum, or are the overall trends completely compressed into a shallower trench.  I.e. does what happens at the deepest part of a deep trench also occur in the deepest part of a shallower trench.  If so, that would mean that depth isn’t everything, and that is looking more and more likely to be the case.  It’ll take time to go through all this but it looks like the combination of food supply and topography are perhaps more important than depth.

 

Jeez, now I’ve bored myself and I’m not sure that even makes sense.  Ho hum, deal with it.

 

So after an afternoon of intense advanced level sweating and trying to avoid inhaling butterflies, all gear was redeployed – lander to 6500m, traps to 5600m.  Quickly running out of time now.

 

Heather picking small scavenging amphipods from the eye sockets of a rotten mackerel carcass – she gets all the best jobs because she’s a girl.

Heather picking small scavenging amphipods from the eye sockets of a rotten mackerel carcass – she gets all the best jobs because she’s a girl.

On other more personal matters, Mackenzie and Heather, Thom and Ryan got the chance for a raz about on the boats rib today after the man over board drill (the man over board is a buoy that I spray painted a face on and called Rodriguez).  The late evening was spent watching bioluminescence in the unbelievable calm waters followed by luring in puffer fish, squid and various other wet and pointy animals using torches.  Good fun.

 

I think I might have actually enjoyed today, but it’s been so long I can’t remember exactly what that feels like.

 

Alan – 25th November.

DAY 20 – Plummet

It seems we are back in the game with regards to frozen samples.  The -80 freezer was stripped down and restarted on deck and quickly plummeted back to very sub-zero temperatures.  Turns out it simply over heated in the wet lab like the rest of us.  To maintain this facility we have had to lash the -80 outside on the deck.  How we are going to deal with this on the trip back to Auckland should be interesting.  Anyway, plummet is a great word, and simply switching things on and off does work sometimes.

 

At first light we brought in Frank Trappa which heralded a relatively good catch from 2000m.  Shortly after we had the lander on board which finally produced something other than ophidiids and pennaeids- they were of course there, but we had a more typical scavenging community.  We imaged Chimaeras, Bathyrajid rays, a couple of macrourids including the mighty Coryphaenoides rudis, and various others critters.  This means we have found the bathymetric boundary of this deep oligotrophic system.  Good work, good science, but not quite have-a-go-hero hadal work is it?

 

So we set a course for the deepest part of the New Hebrides Trench and decide to nail this thing once and for all.  Because of our incredible run of bad luck we don’t actually have a fully working system rated to 7000m.  But we think we do now.  I’m not going to explain how we overcame this problem, what happens on Kaharoa, stays on Kaharoa, but it was one of those moments where I was thinking it but didn’t want to say to Thom while Thom was thinking it and didn’t want to suggest it to me.  But in the end we agreed a course of action that would take us to the deep end, and so we did.

 

We shot Frank Trappa down to exactly 6000m followed by the lander to 7000m and then retired to the hot, muggy, filthy deck for a cold and crisp Steinlager and think about what we have just done.

 

Me and the boys shoving stuff off the back of a wee boat.

Me and the boys shoving stuff off the back of a wee boat.

A lot of the day was spent trying to formulate a plan of what to do with the remaining days we have on this charter.  As supreme commander of the Pacific Rim, everyone seems to think that I actually have a plan.  Partly because I did have a plan, but unbeknown to them that plan was jettisoned over a weeks ago and now I am completely winging it.  On the plus side, despite the kinks in the lineage of certainty, the ripples in the ship-time continuum and complete lack of cosmic stardust, we have actually already done a sterling job in this trench.  The deployments today were numbers 32 and 33, that’s a lot of work.  The success rate is in the mid-80% and it looking very much like we will complete an imaging and sampling transect spanning a 5000 m depth range (2000-7000m) at a less than 500m resolution.  With all the problems and stuff we have had to duck, dive and bodge our way through, I didn’t realise we have done such a amazing job.

 

Coryphaenoides rudis – a fat macrourid with a face like a football.  Ideal.

Coryphaenoides rudis – a fat macrourid with a face like a football. Ideal.

Alan – 24th November

DAY 19 – Flicking gold

For a lander that didn’t even exist 4 days ago, Frank Trappa is amazing.  It even recovered a fish from 4700m today – two ophidiids.  It of course also recovered lots of amazing amphipod specimens.  The landers worked well too so we are making good progress again.

 

The problem is the extend of this deep ophidiid-pennaeid community.  We need to know how far it extends bathymetrically and so far every site has been much of the same.  So, with a tear in my eye we set course for a rather pathetic 2000m site.

 

The 2000m site is however very close to one of the Loyalty islands and it was good to cast our optical balls on land again.  The topography at this depth is insane.  The seafloor is so volcanic we spent 4 hours searching for a flat enough spot to deploy on.  After another blistering hot day and a complete lack of breeze, we shot everything down to 2000m.

 

A pesky natantian decapod from 4800m tickles our bait.

A pesky natantian decapod from 4800m tickles our bait.

Then everything started going wrong again.  Mrs Rodiers -80 freezer decided to have an episode.  After turning Noumea upsides down for this freezer and liquid nitrogen, we are slowing descending back to square one.  It appears it over heated in what so far has been the hottest day.  Heather et al then had to quickly transfer all their -80 samples in the last remaining liquid nitrogen dewer, which means that it is now full and we haven’t finished sampling yet.  This means that to preserve samples from depths we have done yet, we are going to have to sacrifice samples from other depths that we have more from.  They won’t be destroyed as such, but transferred to the -20 but for some analysis it is the equivalent for flicking gold into the tide.  Any scientist reading this will know how heartbreaking it is to be forced into jettisoning samples that span a 5000m depth range across the abyssal-hadal transition zone.  We’ll just have to wait until the freezer has cooled down to see what can be salvaged – you just can’t make this stuff up, but what else can we do at the end of the earth?

 

Alan – 23rd November

One of the deep cusk eels recovered using Frank Trappa.

One of the deep cusk eels recovered using Frank Trappa.

DAY 18 – Volcanoes, tornados and butterflies

Been a funny old day again today, much like every other day I suppose.

 

The remains of a blue mackerel bait after a night on the deep abyssal plain.

The remains of a blue mackerel bait after a night on the deep abyssal plain.

There is something strange going on around here.  There are loads of bits of pumice floating around in the water following the eruption of an underwater volcano a while back.  We see that a lot round the South Pacific so it is not that strange.  We sample it for various reasons and it appears I have a natural ability to fish out pumice with a small sieve on the end of a 5 metre gaff.  Not sure I’ll put that on the CV but I am pretty darned good at it.

 

The strange thing is that there are huge yellow plumes of what look like dust swirling around in the water.  As we pass through them they often reek of sulphur.  The nearest erupting underwater volcano is 100 miles to our east yet these plumes don’t appear to be diffused in anyway and a lot of the look like they are originating from below us, so perhaps there are volcanoes or even vents beneath us.  The other strange thing occurred in the evening.  While watching the sun go down a tornado cloud formed.  Quite spectacular really.  It looks like a normal large cloud on the horizon which a unicorn-style spike emanating from it.  Apparently that it a very rare phenomenon to see.  The final strange thing to mention is the number of butterflies that have appeared on the boat.

 

If you imaging the above, coupled with a day of the calmest seas I have probably ever seen, and the hottest air temperature a Scotsman has ever been exposed to, it is all getting rather surreal.

 

So, anyway, work stuff.  We deployed all our gear to 4700m and then collapsed on deck to spend the rest of the evening basking like seals in lava lavas.

 

A wee amphipod after devouring the bait at the edge of the trench.

A wee amphipod after devouring the bait at the edge of the trench.

Alan – 22nd November

GERRINGER

GERRINGER

1 – Name and Rank

Mackenzie Gerringer, PhD student (1st Year, University of Hawaii), Covert Intelligence Officer.

 

2 – What is your main objective on the voyage?

To sample fish and find out what their eating and how they are connected to the overall system.  Energetics too, should really mention that, oh and to gain experience in hadal sampling but most of all, to spend time with Ryan.

 

3 – What is the most unexpected thing about being offshore on a trip such as this?

Landsickness, looking forward to that.

 

4 – What do you miss the most?

Gum.

 

5 – What has been the most interesting thing so far?

Conversations with Alan Jamieson and games of ‘would you rather’ with Ryan.

 

6 – What is the first thing you’ll do when you get back?

Try to stop swearing in a Scottish accent.

 

7 – What was your vomit count from the first 48 hours on board?

Seven, watery and of low intensity, lady voms.

 

8 – What song is stuck in your head right now?

Rooting for the bad guy by the Wildhearts (Alan approves of this)

 

9 – What have you inevitably forgotten to bring?

Nothing.

 

10 – What do you hope to find in the trench?

Hoping for a new Liparid, but any data would be good.