Dispatch 3: The Search Begins
September 2, 2000Like shells one finds among shore rocks,
Only the slightest evidence
Of life survive.
[Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or
copyedit field dispatches.]
Were picking up lineations
again, Bob Ballard calls out, watching a
grayscale sonar image of the sea floor scroll down a
monitor screen. Sitting at Ballards site is Gary
Austin, a gentle bear of a man who grips a joystick with
a big paw to adjust the DSL-120s running depth.
A watch team of six fills the control room, manning
navigation, sonar displays, winch controls, and data-logging stations.
The air is stuffyoverly warm
from the banks of video monitors, electronic equipment,
and human bodies crammed into the small space. But
the mood is relaxed, punctuated by steady banter and
the rolling deck as the Northern Horizon sways
in easy swells.
Its 2 p.m., two hours since the team began their
first sonar run in the prime search area.
Earlier this morning, the crew lowered and adjusted the
DSL-120, the bottom-scanning sonar
fish. It now skims 50 to 60 meters [55 to
66 yards] above the sea floor, dragged by the
Northern Horizon via an armored cable wired
with fiber optics and electrical power. The
Horizon is following the first of five 30-mile
[48-kilometer] track lines that run in parallel, east to
west across a search area 10 to 15 miles [16 to 24
kilometers] off the coast. Creeping along at a steady 2.5
knots, the teams sonar fish is scanning about
one square mile per hour. It will take 13 hours more to
complete the initial track. The Horizon will
pace back and forth along these track lines,
mowing the lawn, until the bottom scan
is completedor something piques the
Ballard calls out again, this time to Craig Elder, a sonar
specialist whos manning the bottom scan sonar
computer display. See that little grape pile
above the last one? Thats interesting. Can you
blow that up?
[Later, I will ask Candace Major, the watch data-logger
and a geologist from Columbia Universitys
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the significance of
the linear target spotted earlier.
Lines generally dont occur in
nature, she tells me. Barring obvious trawl
marks or sand dune crests from the pre-flood landscape,
linear features suggest walls, she says.]
Back in the control room, Ballard offers a synopsis of the
two-hour-old effort: Weve seen a
number of interesting targets. Two appear to be
amphorae-carrying ships. They looked like grape
clusters. So were just settling in.
Then with mischievous glee, More to
Go to 1999 Dispatches
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