Secrets of the Gulf

Mission Logs

Careful navigation

Today we said goodbye to Mark Betts and Doug Weaver and said Hello to Kat Cantner from the Institute for Exploration and Jack Irion from the Minerals Management Service. 

We're underway

The SSV Carolyn Chouest and the NR-1 departed from the port in Galveston early this afternoon. It's a nice, clear day and so far the ride is very smooth.

South of Rankin Bank

We passed through a narrow valley in the middle of Rankin Bank and spent some time side scanning the flats on the eastern side of the bank. The good news is that water visibility has improved a great deal, allowing us to get the ship in close and look at individual features. 

NR-1 leaves Connecticut

Today Submarine NR-1 departed Groton, CT for sea. It was a cold day, but at least the temperature was above freezing. We had an icebreaker come in and pulverize the ice around our ship so that we could get out to sea, and even then we had sea ice caught on our topsides as we maneuvered away from the pier.  Our friends and families were there to wave good-bye as we motored down the river.

NR-1 surfacing

Now on the last day of the expedition, we've rounded the eastern side of Bright Bank. We've been maneuvering with Carolyn as they are towing ARGUS along a survey line stretching around the island. 

Transit to Texas

Were now at sea down near the eastern coast of Florida, my home state. It has taken us four days to get this far because our boat can't go all that fast, about 11 knots (12 miles per hour) at top speed.  We typically travel at about 8.5 knots (a little over 9 miles per hour). That's a fast speed for a runner, but not so fast for a ship.

Astronauts visit NR-1

Since my last entry, NR-1 dove near the Flower Garden Banks and took a look at some of the older mud volcanoes. We didn't see much activity because the mud mounds are pretty dormant, but it was good practice for the crew driving around the seafloor. 

Preparing to launch Argus

The skies are clear, but the sea is a little choppier than it was yesterday. Some of us, who are prone to getting seasick, have been relying on medicine to help us. The forecast is for rougher weather tomorrow,  so everyone is anxious to see what we can get done today.

Working out the bugs

Sorry for the long delay between updates. A lot of things were impacted by the weather today. As I write this evening, Argus is finally back in the water, and the crew is gathering in the main lab to watch the live video sent up by Argus' high definition camera. 

NR-1 at West Flower Garden Bank

NR-1 is submerged and exploring the ocean bottom south of West Flower Garden Bank. Up topside, the rest of the expedition team is working furiously to get all the systems  on line to start the live broadcasts on Sunday. Fortunately, all systems are "GO" down here on the submarine. Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said for Argus, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that the Institute for Exploration crew up there on Carolyn will work out all the bugs.  

Inside the NR-1

We're circumnavigating the base of the West Flower Garden Bank, cruising along close to the sea floor so we can see the bottom with our viewports and cameras. The area we are searching was once an ancient shoreline back in the last Ice Age. In the deeper water (about 300-600 feet), we've noted the skeletons of ancient coral reefs that typically live much closer to the surface and sunlight. These old corals show that once long ago the sea levels were much lower than they are today. 

Toward East Flower Garden Bank

We saw the NR-1 again yesterday for the first time in three days. It surfaced so that two scientists could get off and two more could get on. After three days on the sub, G.P. Schmahl and Dave Robinson have joined us again on the Carolyn Chouest, while Mark Betts and Doug Weaver began their dive. 

Morning rendezvous with NR-1

The NR-1 surfaced again at about 6:45 this morning for another crew exchange. Jack Irion and Kat Cantner rode over to the sub in a small boat called a zodiac to join the next dive.

View photos...

NR-1 leads the way

We just made a terrific pass through an underwater canyon on the north face of West Flower Garden Bank. NR-1 led the way with Carolyn and Argus following about 1000 yards behind. We used our sonars to map detailed features of the canyon while Argus used high definition cameras to capture imagery. It was a great team effort and a real feather in the cap for the expedition! 

Exploring mud volcanoes

We've finally left West Flower Garden Bank and cruised east toward a flat muddy plain. In the center of the plain are some curious structures called mud volcanoes. Now, I'll let the scientists tell you all about how mud volcanoes form and why they are there. However I will tell you a couple of things I do know. They aren't hot. That's because they aren't receiving heat energy from deep in the earth like normal volcanoes. But they do look and act a lot like normal volcanoes otherwise.

Mud volcano photos

I just uploaded some cool underwater photos of the mud volcanoes we explored yesterday and of some of the sea life we found nearby.

View photos...  

Tracking manta movements

On Wednesday, we had a visit on the Carolyn Chouest by Emma Hickerson and Rachel Graham who are conducting their research on another boat, the M/V Spree. Between live broadcasts, I had a chance to ask Rachel about the progress of her work on manta rays. Rachel and another researcher, Dan Castellanos, are interested in finding out how and why mantas move from place to place. 

Archaeology update

Exciting news! Last night on the transit from Rankin Bank to Bright Bank, we found what appears to be a paleoshoreline -- the remains of an earlier seashore that existed when the sea level was lower than it is today. 

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic