Part 2: If Science were Music....

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 10:57 PM PDT

Continued from July 30, Daily Log, Part 1: Working at a Submarine Volcano

Sentry on Deck with Software Issues
Upon completing the EM-300 survey about 1700h on Wednesday, we began to prepare for deploying Sentry to map the base of the eastern slope of Axial where the benign little basin named Thompson is located.  The first step in that direction was to lay a couple of transponders (seafloor sonar beacons) to help navigate the AUV on its inaugural run as an AUV-MV – Autonomous Underwater Volcano-Mapping Vehicle. Andy Billings and Al Duester completed this task in a record time.

Then trouble started again. The Sentry Group noted that they could not gain access to the sonar portion of the vehicle’s computer.  After hours of trying to design workarounds, they finally discovered a back-door programming path that made it clear that the Log File of the operating computer from the RESON Company, manufacturer of the sonar system, was corrupted and would not allow normal execution of the operations program.  Rather than launch the vehicle, we decided to place a satellite call to the company early Thursday morning and within half an hour of discussions with the company experts, the bug was removed and the system was “good to go” back into the water, but that is for tomorrow’s tale. 

TowCam Batting Second with a Machine Version of “Vertigo”
The same afternoon and evening, the TowCam group was standing by to follow Sentry into the water.  From an operational point of view, when conducting simultaneous operations with the free-swimming AUV and the tethered TowCam, it makes the most sense to put Sentry into the water first, then follow with TowCam, which is always attached to the ship. After finally concluding that we could not solve the Sentry software problem with information we had on board, we launched TowCam. Operator Eric Horgan quickly discovered that the altimeter was not working properly. Conducting the high-precision “flying” necessary in the vicinity of active volcanoes requires knowing the altitude of the camera in order to take consistent high-quality pictures of the seafloor from a height of only 4 meters above the bottom.

Wisely, Eric quickly recovered the camera system and discovered that the altimeter had suffered a small puncture “wound” when it collided with the steep wall at the Hydrate Ridge tectonic front several days earlier (See the submarine cliff with the Space Needle for comparison).  Once replaced, the entire system was again optimally configured for diving, but by then Sentry was almost ready for deployment late on Thursday morning, so TowCam again waited for Sentry to get wet first. 

If Science were Music, Oceanic Research would be Jazz

Why take you through all this?  In order to share the complexity and interconnectedness of the continuous decision-making required on a 24/7 research vessel attempting to simultaneously balance weather against the use of multiple, interdependent, deep-submergence research platforms. For many reasons, we spent a frustrating period of nearly 14 hours without either mapping platform in the water making the crucial measurements we require. These complexities delayed the initiation of our efforts to survey Axial Seamount for optimal sites to deploy the Regional Cabled Observatory’s high-powered nodes near the base of the volcano and near the volcano summit. 

Success is necessary to deliver the full promise of nearly unlimited power and bandwidth for the next-generation research that has been planned for volcano-ocean system for more than a decade.  We do not, we cannot, always call the tune when we work in the deep ocean… we are constantly adapting to the changing conditions of the ocean, the equipment, the people, and the reality of a constantly ticking clock. Pitting ourselves against these complexities in the pursuit of new approaches to our science is what drives most of us. It is an incredible life!

Contributed by Chief Scientist John Delaney