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Lost City Expedition: Mission

May 7, 2003 -- Halfway There!

Susan Lang


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Today's Question

Q. When do you think the next exploration for new vent fields will be carried out? (From Bridget H., East Central Middle School, Moss Point, MS)

A. The French will likely be out here within the next year with their submersible, Nautille. We do not know when we will be able to return because we or others must submit proposals to the National Science Foundation to get money to return. This usually takes about a year or more after a proposal is submitted because it is critically reviewed by other scientists, a panel of experts at NSF, and finally the program managers at NSF. There are only two times a year (August and February) when we can submit proposals. After this, the next stepping stone is finding time on a ship when the submersible or remotely operated vehicle is available. This can mean a 1-2 year wait sometimes because of previous grants that have ship time already scheduled. It is a complicated process, but we are used to it and it just means that we have to plan ahead.


Reading the journal entries, you may think that all we do out here is science. Science in the morning, science in the afternoon, science (and science meetings) at night. To some extent, it is a true picture. At any given point in time on our 33 day cruise there will be someone doing some kind of science: working up data, looking at samples, trying to fix instruments. But man (or woman) cannot live on science alone. Even though we may not be able to tell the difference between a Monday and a Saturday, we do have time to do things other than science.

But on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, entertainment options are slightly more limited than in your typical neighborhood. So what goes on when we aren’t doing science? There are the obvious pastimes: a wide collection of DVDs and books goes a long way to passing the time. Card games are another favorite; four of the crew members have been playing an ongoing game of spades since the beginning of the cruise. People spend a fair amount of time writing and reading emails, our primary way of finding out what is happening outside our 250 ft. x 50 ft. world.

Susan tries her hand at running on the treadmill. Because the ship rolls, this is actually much harder than it looks.

There is a weight room, bike, rowing machine, and treadmill if you want to work out, assuming you don’t mind the scenery of boxes while you are running. There are also three punching bags, which are kind of hard to hit when the ship is moving. Some of the most energetic exercise occurs around the Ping-Pong table, where round one of a 16 person double elimination tournament has just been completed.

Mausmi stands in the middle of the freezer room. It's pretty huge!

The high point to almost everyone’s day, though, is mealtime. Meals are served by Larry and Linda three times a day. The quality of the meals makes the Atlantis notorious for sending the scientists off with at least 5 lbs. heavier at the end of a cruise. At day 19 we are still getting fresh fruits and vegetables, a small miracle if you – like me – has ever forgotten a head of lettuce at the bottom of your refrigerator only to find it rotten after a week. At the beginning of the cruise, they loaded 6 pallets 4 ft. high with food to feed all 55 of us for 33 days – and that was only the fresh produce. If everyone showed up to every meal, it would be more than 5,400 individual meals total over the course of the cruise.

If mealtime is the highlight of the day, hump day is the highlight of the cruise (other than those really great samples that we brought back, of course). Hump day occurs in the middle of the cruise, which for us was yesterday. Everyone gathered on the fantail and was treated to a barbecue. Most people took a couple hours off from working to sit out and enjoy the sun. The break means that tomorrow we will be all the more ready to wake up and go right back to the science.

Hungry crew and scientists head over to the food table at the barbeque for some good eats and relaxation. Larry presides over the grill.