[editor’s note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA’s 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.
August 14, 2004: Tomorrow will be my first dive in the Alvin, so it’s time for an equipment and safety briefing. I’m getting very excited. This is the same Alvin that photographed the Titanic, the same Alvin that discovered the explosion of life around hydrothermal vents, the same Alvin that’s made immeasurable contributions to our knowledge of the deep-sea. And now I get to make a voyage in that same Alvin to the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska.
Safety is important when you are descending into the depths of the ocean in areas never explored by man. Three miles of ocean water pressing down can crush just about anything other than a 2-inch thick titanium sphere. Good thing Alvin happens to be built around a 2-inch thick titanium sphere. Alvin has made thousands of dives with nary a hitch, but we learn what to do if the pilot becomes incapacitated (drop the weights and shoot to the surface). We’ll only be staying at the bottom of the ocean for a few hours, but there’s enough air and life support for 3 people for 3 days.
The first thing you notice when you get inside the Alvin submarine is how much larger it seemed from the outside. Inside, it’s definitely close quarters. If one person moves, everybody knows it. The pilot sits hunched on a box, surrounded by switches, lights, buttons, control levers, and computer screens. The two observers lie in kind of a prone position on either side with a small 12 inch porthole to peer through. The observers also control 2 pan and tilt video cameras mounted on the outside of the sub. These will come in handy tomorrow while we document life on the rocky slope of Pratt Seamount, 3/4 of a mile beneath the sea.