Dispatch 4: Hard Targets

September 3, 2000

The past was close behind…
Tangled up in blue

—Bob Dylan

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The hard work of prying secrets from the sea has begun. Following yesterday’s launch of the side-scan sonar “fish,” the DSL-120, the mission has been thrown in high gear. Three watches—working four-hour shifts every 12 hours—man control room operations 24 hours a day.

Photo of a side-scan sonar 'fish'

It’s now 8:45 a.m. The third watch monitors sonar sea-floor map data. Bob Marley grooves on a stereo (with Civil War era folk songs, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley to follow).

Photo of the winch/crane

Yesterday, the team intercepted precisely the kind of geologic feature they were looking for—fragments a meandering river channel. “There were three geologists on the watch,” Ballard says. No doubt about it. (Ballard believes such topographic features would be a natural choice for pre-flood Paleolithic peoples to settle.) But only a few pieces of the river channel’s topographic mosaic were glimpsed as the Northern Horizon dragged the side-scan sonar “fish” along the parallel track lines of the designated search. A goal now is to map as much of the channel as possible—to follow this ancient river inland and to its outflow to the shore of the ancient lake.

Photo of winch spools

Meanwhile, targets continue to rack up. By 1:10 p.m., there are 83 and counting. Hits vary in shape and size from squarish blocks about five meters [16.4 feet] long to jagged and peaked linear features up to 20 meters [65.6 feet] long.


At mid-day Ballard offers that the team has identified “our best shot…a real hard target.” It lies at the convergence of two river channels that he believes.

Photo of remote operated Argus

The mission plan presented on the first day is now out the window—a move that’s not unexpected. “That’s why you have a plan,” Ballard says. “So you can throw it away. You’ve got to be reactive.”

The new plan is pull the “ears,” the DSL-120 side-scan sonar, later this afternoon then launch the “eyes” of the expedition—the camera-equipped imaging vehicle ARGUS.

Ballard sums the present mood in the mission control room. “Alright. Let’s go get ‘em.”

—Sean Markey

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