ON THE PACIFIC, Day 11: Back to earth

From June 25 to July 9, UO geophysicist Dean Livelybrooks and a team of national scientists on board the Atlantis research vessel will recover earthquake-monitoring equipment in the Pacific Ocean. Follow tweets and other activity at @uocas and #uoshiptrip. Visit explorationnow.org/atlantis to follow the action live. To read previous dispatches from the Atlantis, visit http://around.uoregon.edu/cascadia-initiative.

I rose at 5 a.m. July 8, regretting the day I had been eagerly awaiting: my last on the Pacific Ocean.

It’s tough living at sea, when the weather is rough and the vessel is in a state of constant rock-and-roll.

Adjusting to the ship’s arrhythmic swaying, you stagger down hallways as if drunk. Showering is done with one hand on a rail, meals eaten with one hand on your glass. I’d begun to daydream about the creature comforts I’ve been missing: a strong cup of coffee, a bike ride or even just the space to be alone.

Now, after two weeks, the day to return to land was here – and I felt mostly sadness, realizing it would likely be a long time before I would again be this close to an ocean. I jumped into my jacket and headed out onto the bow, where I was greeted by various shades of gray coloring sky and water.

The wind, although nothing akin to the 40-knot gusts we’d been enduring, was still so strong it threatened to rip the notebook from my hands and carry it away. It reminded me anew of the powerful forces at play out here – the same ones that are the reason for this research trip.

In geological terms, we’re due for a major offshore earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. The scientists on Atlantis were recovering instruments that measure ocean-bottom vibrations, key for understanding the damage that could be caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

As I looked out into the infiniteness of the Pacific, I felt a sense of humility as I considered what the ocean will one day do.

And then, as if on cue, a shiny black image broke the water briefly and a single fin rose up: a whale-wave goodbye from one of the Pacific’s gentle giants. A reminder that not everything about this ocean is doom-and-gloom – there are natural wonders here, too.

I waved back, and promised to return.

- by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications