Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two Weeks at the Bottom of the World

Greetings, ye land lubbers!

Well, it's been two weeks, so it's time for a blog update.

After setting sail (ok, it's not a sailboat, but you understand), it took us a few days to pass by the lower parts of New Zealand. These were wonderful days of relaxation and enjoyment. During those happy times, I often reflected upon my good fortune, in securing this excellent job, while sitting on the warm, peaceful decks watching the sun rise, or set.

Once we passed New Zealand, the winds and waves of the open sea struck us, and everything changed in a rapid free-fall descent into the gaping maw of Hell itself. A ice-cold, watery, constantly moving roller-coaster Hell.

I got seasick. I knew this was coming, so I'd prepared for it. I'd brought several different brands of motion sickness medicine, and the on-board doctor had some others for me to try.

I suppose if I'd been in a car going over a few miles of winding road, or in a plane experiencing a few hours of choppy weather, or even spent a whole day at an amusement park, these medicines would have been sufficient to restore my equilibrium. But I was in a ship at sea, in a storm that lasted most of a week!

Yes, it was a storm. Probably most of my experienced shipmates thought it was a minor sqall, but to me it was the very wrath of God poured out. I'm not sure what he was angry about, but I must've done something!

I took a few pictures of the waves while it was still ok to go outside, but they fail to capture the immense terror of the roaring ocean. Some of the waves were high enough to strike the highest decks of the ship. At one point I saw a wave roll over the drill floor (that's the low deck between the poop and forecastle decks) and completely cover it, making it appear for a moment that the ship had split in two. The official report was that the waves reached 40 feet in height. For days, they struck the ship, sounding like bombs going off -- sounding like the ship was coming apart around my ears, as I lay either in my bunk, or in the ship's little hospital, or at times on whatever couch was nearest, or even the floor.

Eventually the storm abated, and calm weather came again. I'm told that we can expect to pass back through high seas and winds again on our return trip to Tasmania, but I'm hopeful that by that time I'll have my "sea legs" and it won't be as bad. We did have a few hours of bad weather one day last week, and I didn't feel anything, so there's reason to hope.

Once we arrived at our first drill site, the real work began. We drill out length after 9-meter length of core from beneath the ocean floor. Currently we're drilling at a depth of about 3 miles below the surface of the ocean (that's three miles below our ship), and about half a mile beneath the sea floor. I'm told we might be here a few more days yet, and get to a depth close to 2 miles beneath the sea floor. Pretty amazing. The hard-packed sediment we're bringing up has been sitting (mostly) undisturbed for 30 million years or so, and now we're mucking around in it, subjecting it to intense light, x-rays, gamma radiation, and all sorts of other tests and experiements. I put my eye to a telescope and looked at little foraminifer shells that drifted to the ocean floor 15 million years ago.

Once we finish at our present site, we'll be heading back to another site that was supposed to be our first, but was surrounded by huge icebergs. We're hoping it will be accessible now. After that, there's a site near the mainland of Antarctica that should offer some beautiful scenery.

That's it for now! Until next time!


At 11:58 AM, Blogger Judy said...

I am so excited for you and I can't wait to see more pics.

Thanks for all the updates!


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