Dispatch 5: Pulling the Ears, Dropping the Eyes
September 4, 2000In the six hundredth year of Noahs lifeÖ
were all the fountains of the great deep broken up
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Enough targets have been identified. Its time to take a look. Last evening, Ballard gave the order to pull bottom-scanning sonar fish and drop Argus the eyes of the expedition.
By 10:00 p.m. DSL-120 is on deck. At 1:50 a.m. Argusthe camera-equipped remotely operated imaging vehicle (ROV)is launched.
Despite the hour theres a palpable buzz in the air: finally a chance to peer into the depths of the Black Sea. It seems as if the entire expedition team is crammed into the mission control room. Three large video monitors that display a live feed from Arguss video cameras. Zooplankton, illuminated by the ROVs lights, drifts like snow across the green-hued monitor display of the sea as Argus sinks slowly toward the sea-floor. What will be revealed?
O.K. Were heading right toward the target. Altitude 40 meters, says ROV engineer Craig Elder.
The team zeroes in on its first target, a nebulous feature barely discernible on the sea-floor. [Institute for Exploration oceanographer Dwight Coleman would later describe the target this way: It was interesting, but we werent quite sure what to make of it.]
The team documents the site with a mosaic of digital images, then moves on to eyeball the next target. The process repeats itself again at a third target.
Sometime around 5:00 a.m. the sonar fails on Argus. Its a significant set-back. Without Arguss 100-meter [110-yard] distance vision, the team is reduced to visually searching for targets through the ROVs video cameras. [ROV engineer Dave Wright later likens it to groping around in the dark with an outstretched arm.] But for now, thats all the expedition team can do.
Eventually the order to yank Argus is given. By 8:30 a.m. the ROV sits on the fantail of the Northern Horizon. (Despite the equipment failure, the concensus among the crew is that Argusfresh off the shelf and relatively untestedhas performed admirably to date.)
Down in the lower-deck mess hall Ballard strides in for breakfast after the long nights work, booming good-naturedly, No sonar? No sonar? That sucks.
I ask Jim Newman, the developer and builder of Argus, what happened to the ROVs sonar unit. It
leaked, he said. Pretty fundamental problem.
At present, the team works to restore its vision.
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