ON THE PACIFIC, Day 2: Dolphins, whales and “mysteries of the deep”

From June 25 to July 9, UO senior physics instructor 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. To read previous dispatches from the Atlantis, visit http://around.uoregon.edu/cascadia-initiative.

Dolphins greeted us early on June 26, as we readied the remotely operated vehicle “Jason” for a recovery mission. They swam around the ship, seemingly curious, surfacing just long enough to frustrate my efforts to get a good picture.

“Pacific whiteside” dolphins, I was told later. There were also reports of whales in the area, visible by the water spouts.

Each recovery mission with Jason, the ROV, also introduced us to more unusual wonders at the bottom of the ocean. The high-definition camera on the ROV is intended to guide its operator to the equipment that is to be retrieved – the ocean-bottom seismometers that are collecting earthquake data.

But the cameras also pick up whatever wildlife is in the area: Pink fish, jellyfish and creatures that defy easy description.

“Mysteries of the deep,” one veteran member of the ship crew said, providing the catch-all description to be used for the countless forms of sea life that only a biologist could recognize on sight.

In the ship’s control room, UO geophysicist Dean Livelybrooks used a joystick – the kind used for any common video game – to control the science camera on the ROV. He zoomed in and out and around as the ROV scoured the ocean floor looking for the seismometer.

“The only thing that’s hard is up is down and down is up,” Livelybrooks said, referring to his control device. “You saw me go the wrong way a couple times.”

Within a few minutes, though, the seismometer had been located and chained to a device that would allow the crew to lift it on board. As the day ended, we finished the recovery of our third of 30 seismometers.

- by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications