ON THE PACIFIC, Day 6: Crunch time

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.

The fog that rolled in June 30 is an unwelcome reminder that our window of opportunity is closing.

We’re at the southern end of our trip – just off the coast of northern California – and below us are clusters of seismometers that are recording vibrations in a very sensitive area of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Sixteen of the monitors – more than half of the total array to be collected on this voyage – are to be plucked up from this area in the next 36 hours. That’s how long we have before winds are predicted to pick up, at which point the sea could get too rough for recovery of equipment.

It can take hours to recover a single seismometer, especially if the job calls for an underwater excursion by Jason, our remotely operated vehicle. That’s a difficult job that requires multiple teams working in unison to deploy the equipment necessary to retrieve one of the earthquake monitors.

One thing working in our favor is that many of the seismometers in this area are “pop-up” instruments that will surface when signaled. UO geophysicist Dean Livelybrooks calls this area the “pop-up patch.”

“This is the start of a busy period for us – every three hours, boom-boom-boom, we’re going after seismometers,” Livelybrooks said, as he watched one of the monitors get lifted on board. “Tuesday we’re going to have some seas banging underneath us so it’s going to get tricky.”

Sleep becomes the critical concern for everyone involved. Livelybrooks and Anne Trehu, a seismologist at Oregon State University, are calling the shots as the lead scientists on the voyage; however, they have to balance the need to collect data with the importance of giving teams a chance to rest and recover.

The ship’s horn is heard as Atlantis throttles up and starts after another seismometer, just an hour or so away. A look out the portals shows only the milky opaqueness of the fog around us.

Some of the researchers around me are already turning in, hoping to snatch a few hours of sleep before the next recovery job.

I should probably do the same.

- by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications