Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DAY NINE (9/25/12)

As some of you may or may not know, the R/V Falkor was named after a character in the book and movie, “The Neverending Story."  Falkor is a large flying pink luck dragon that assists the great warrior, Atreyu, in saving their world “Fantasia.”  Growing up, this movie was a staple; a story about using your imagination and never letting the reality of life get in the way of that.  The story begins with a boy named Bastien, who awakes from a dream and proceeds to tell his materialistic, realistic father about its contents.  The father represents our left brain, sensible and realistic, with no sense of idealism.  He even tells Bastien, “get your head out of the clouds, and plant your feet on the ground."  While Bastien represents our right brain, the place of creativity and imagination.  Throughout the movie, Bastien is a symbol of the part of us that is filled with hope and the endless possibilities.  He bridges the gap between the reality and fantasy; between the conscious and subconscious. 

As scientists, there is a constant struggle to rectify the gap between reality and fantasy.  We strive to find knowledge, based in fact.  However, each of us still has an ability to be curious, to wonder, and to dream.  Without a thirst for knowledge, scientists would not be successful at research.  It’s easy to see the child-like curiosity of even the most experienced scientists while they look at images of the deep sea; areas beyond any physical human contact.  With widened eyes and big smiles, even while just looking at piles of rubble on the seafloor, it is easy to see the glimmer of excitement in the eyes of all who have the lucky chance to experience exploring the deep sea.

The world of fantasia is a fantastical place filled with all sorts of creatures.  One creature in particular, the “rock biter”, stands out the most.  He is a large stone creature that roams around Fantasia, bulldozing rocks and eating them.   Just like in Fantasia, we have an interesting group of characters on this research cruise of the South Texas Banks.  One of them, Dr. Andre Droxler, a geologist from Rice University, is our official “rock biter” on the cruise.

        Dr. Andre Droxler, Rice University

           Image credit: Mark Schrope

Another day on the high seas with the R/V Falkor finds some of the crew, and some of the science party feeling under the weather.  Starting last night, we have experienced the worst seas thus far on the trip.  Now “worst” is being used a relative term since we are by no means under storm conditions, however the increase of swells has many on board now realizing: we are not in a luxury hotel, we are on a ship.  The rough seas caused the ROV dive to be cancelled, however that was made up for by doing 2 CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) casts. 
Today’s events also included more mapping of the seafloor, aimed to map “East Bank” which is located on the Mexico/USA border in the Gulf of Mexico.  However, after conducting a number of swaths over the proposed location of the bank, we were unable to find any presence of it.  Following this mystery, we decided to go map over a well-known sunken ship, the Texas Clipper.  The Clipper was a merchant marine training vessel that was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Artificial Reef Program.  All hazardous materials were removed from the ship and it was modified to be sunk northeast of South Padre Island.  It was placed in 40 meters (132 feet) of water in 2007.  The multi-beam mapping provided a clear image of what this ship looks like sitting on the seafloor below.

The Texas Clipper being mapped by multi-beam.
Image credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The afternoon was rounded out with our SASS (Science At Sea Seminar) which was given by Dr. Tom Shirley, our chief scientist.  The topic was “Seamounts: Mountains Under the Sea” which was an overview of seamounts in the world’s oceans, and pointing out their importance as a marine biome.  It was another great turn-out by the science party and crew alike.  The crew members are welcome to join us at each seminar, and they take us up on that opportunity since they are eager to learn more about the ocean.
 Dr. Tom Shirley presenting at the SASS
Image credit: Maureen Trnka

And so ends another day on the R/V Falkor.  Our journey is nearing an end with four days remaining, however there is always much more science to be done.  We will continue to ask questions, be curious, and even imaginative while we take every moment we have on this amazing vessel to explore more of the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico.   

Sunset day 9

Image credit: Maureen Trnka

Written by Maureen Trnka for HRI at TAMU-CC.

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