By Edwin Schiele
October 15, 1998. The experience of living and working on a ship takes some getting used to. One can never fully adjust to the strange hours, the floor that rocks constantly beneath us, and the isolation from the rest of the world. Yet our lives have also settled into a pattern. We go on our watches at the same time every day and perform the same tasks. We eat our meals from 7:15 to 8:00, 11:30 to 12:15, and 5:00 to 6:00. Each afternoon we have a science meeting. And through it all, the sonar data roll in slowly but steadily. This daily routine has made the adjustment to life on board easier, but after twenty days, people are ready for a change. Now the routine has come to an end, and it is both exciting and a little disorienting.
This morning, I had the distinct honor to be the last to watch the colorful sonar screen before the DSL 120 was pulled on deck for the last time. Starting tomorrow, we will switch to ARGO II. Our meal times will remain the same, but our watches will change. We will be watching new computer screens and learning new tasks.
The final line was a productive one. The control van was more crowded than usual as Debbie Smith and others monitored the printout as it crept out of the Raytheon printer, millimeter by millimeter. The sonar images clearly showed a long fissure close to the shore and lava that had at one time oozed out. We will be sending ARGO II down to take a closer look.
After we reached the end of the line, I came on deck and watched the waves crashing against the shore of the Big Island. The first major phase of the voyage was done. But we could not savor the moment for long. There is about a 24 hour transition between retrieving the DSL 120 and launching ARGO II. This window presented one of the few opportunities for wax coring.
Jennifer Reynolds had targeted 13 new sites along a small region of the ridge close to the shore. Many of the target sites come in pairs. The goal is to collect samples from what appear on the sonar images to be separate lava flows that are right next to each other. By analyzing these samples, we can learn whether the flows do indeed differ from each other and then determine their ages and possible origins. It will also help us determine whether our interpretations of the sonar images are correct.
Thirteen cores in 24 hours is a lot, so it took a heroic effort on everybodys part to get it done. In the far corner of the main lab, four or five people gathered around a small counter picking and scooping the small pieces of black glass samples from the wax and dropping them into carefully labeled beakers. Others kneaded and packed new wax into the cylinders then hauled the cylinders out to the corer on deck. When the ship reached the proper location, a team guided the heavy and awkward cylinder in and out of the water. The operation went on around the clock.
Meanwhile, Debbie Smith and Frank Trusdell, both masters in the art of sonar interpretation, plotted the first of five ARGO II dives. The trick is to plot a course that includes the maximum number of features in the time allowed. The other trick is to come to terms with the fact that we dont have time to examine everything we want to.
As for the rest of us, it is time to adjust to the new routine.