ON THE PACIFIC, Day 8: The home stretch?

Waves are worsening, converting Atlantis to a rollercoaster
Waves are worsening, converting Atlantis to a rollercoaster

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 race is on.

The 23rd of 30 ocean-bottom seismometers was plucked from the Pacific at about 5:30 p.m. July 2, putting the research team ahead of schedule.

That’s a good thing, because the waves seem to be worsening by the minute.

After the initial heavy seas leaving Astoria, the Pacific has generally been agreeable, enabling scientists to use the remotely operated vehicle Jason at-will. The multi-million dollar ROV, which is used to fasten a line to the seismometers so they can be lifted to the ship, isn’t called into action once the sea gets too rough.

It’s getting rough now. Winds are picking up steadily and the ship’s usual rock-and-roll is starting to approximate something closer to a rollercoaster. Having been seasick once on this trip already, I opt to skip dinner.

The seismometers we’re chasing now are designed to rise to the surface when signaled, which is easier for retrieval. They’re standard Cascadia seismometers but viewers of our live broadcasts have dubbed them “deepwater floaties” or “duckies.”

If we retrieve them all and time allows, we’ll head well out to sea in search of two monitors left from an earlier trip. The researchers and I are especially excited about this prospect because it could mean the use of Jason at depths of about 3,000 meters – the views of the ocean floor could be fascinating.

But safety is the priority, of course, and there is a concern not to overwork the ship crew in collecting these remaining monitors. Fatigue must be balanced with the possibility that, at some point soon, the waves will be too big for operations.

Whether we’re in the home stretch – or a holding pattern – is a question that the Pacific will answer for us over the next 24 hours.

- by Matt Cooper, UO Office of Strategic Communications