January 9, 2011
On our second full day at sea, the Mission Blue: Survivors of the Spill team departs Roughtongue Reef for quieter waters near the head of the submerged Desoto Canyon. We drop the marine observatory Medusa to the bottom for the second time. Edie Widder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association discusses what Medusa sees in the sea, and how.
On the first attempt to retrieve the lander, the Medusa slips past tethering hooks, just out of reach.
By EDIE WIDDER
After the first dive yesterday, we were thrilled that Medusa came back, and it’s generally working. There are the usual little tweaks that need to be made, and that was the point of this first deployment. But we can see stuff in the video Medusa captured: fish, a lobster, angelfish…
I always get a big kick out of observing the animal life down there unobtrusively. I think this is the most unobtrusive we could possibly be, so I feel as if I’m really peaking into their world and seeing how they live their lives when we’re not down in the water messing things up.
This morning’s deployment was at the head of Desoto Canyon. That’s where a lot of deep water sweeps up, possibly with some of the oil and dispersant in it. We have adjusted a few things and hope we’ll get a sharper image and the best quality data that we possibly can.
It’s a learning process, learning a new way of deployment from the ship. It was nice when we could take a device down with a submersible and line it up exactly on the area that we were interested in. But the point of this is to find a lower-cost way to have more access to the ocean.
We’re getting a big dose out here of just how difficult access to that environment really is, especially for submersibles, because they’ve got a very limited sea state in which they can operate. But even with a system like Medusa that you basically kick over the side of the ship there are still a lot of limitations, and it’s frustrating.
When we were watching the team recover it yesterday, I was thinking of all these clever ways that we could have to recover it that would be much more efficient, but would require more money. That’s always the problem. If we had the NASA budget, we could definitely have greater access to the ocean.
The retrieval team is set for another try as Edie Widder points toward the Medusa.
The need for monitoring is huge. A lot of the damage that’s been done in the ocean would not have happened if we’d had the kind of monitoring that we need. We have to know how our life support systems are being affected by what people are doing in pulling the very last fish out of the ocean at the same time that we’re filling it up with our toxins and plumes.
Earth is a spaceship traveling through space. If you were going on a long space mission, the first thing you’d want to do is find out what your life support systems could withstand for the length of your trip, and you’d sure want to have the best monitoring possible to know that they were being maintained at peak performance the whole time. We’re not doing that, and we really need to find ways to do it.
The Medusa is another way of trying to see into a world that is very resistant to our seeing into it.
Brandy Nelson, Sylvia Earle, and Edie Widder watch a large amberjack consume a whole mullet off the bait bar on video by the Medusa during its test dive on Roughtongue Reef.
Support for the Mission Blue Gulf of Mexico expedition is provided by the National Geographic Society, Google Inc., the Waitt Institute, and Hope Spots LLC. Follow along in context by clicking on the ship icon near Pensacola, Florida using Google Earth.
Read all Mission Blue expedition coverage here.
Photos by Ford Cochran