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[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.

AUGUST 1, 2004: We're transiting Canadian waters and the British Columbia coast slips by in the distance. There goes the last land we'll see for several weeks. I'm eager to pass over Bowie Seamount, on the Canada/U.S. border. There should be some seabirds and marine mammals around this shallow seamount. Seamounts are magnets for productivity. Upwelling currents concentrate zooplankton and forage fish and the critters that feed on them.

But I'm even more eager to get inside the Alvin. I'm listed as one of the potential divers, so that means I'll be going through some specialized training for scientists going down in the sub. There's an array of media equipment; digital video cameras mounted on the sub with pan and tilt controls that need to be coordinated, high-definition handhelds, digital still cameras, and lighting that needs consideration. There's lots of knobs and buttons, but most are "no-touchy". We discuss the air system, and get the most important info: that there's enough for 3 people for 3 days. The Alvin can dive down to 4500 m beneath the surface, or over 2.5 miles deep. It's one of a few manned research submersibles in the world that can dive that deep. The pressures at that depth are fantastic, but the Alvin was engineered with this in mind. The 2-inch thick titanium hull can easily withstand this pressure and even repelled an attack by a large blue marlin in 1971. It's unlikely there's anything in the Gulf of Alaska with the cojones to tangle with the Alvin, but you never know. Fifteen foot long giant squid have been washed up on the beaches around here before. Giant squid attack... that would be cool... from a scientific standpoint of course.

[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.

JULY 31, 2004: Foghorn blasts and 6 foot seas don't exactly lull you to sleep, so this morning many of us are somewhat groggy. We're gathered in the main lab for safety training; it's a full group, 24 scientists total. We have 2 more days of transit before the first study site, so there's lots of time to get to know one another.

Dr. Tom Shirley, an invertebrate zoologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is the chief scientist on the cruise and organizes a presentation by the principle investigators (PI's). He's interested in deep-sea coral communities as habitat for invertebrates and other deep water organisms. Tom was my advisor in graduate school, my neighbor across the bay in Juneau, and is an all-around good guy.

Dr. Randy Keller, a geologist from Oregon State University, is hoping to gain a better understanding how the seamounts were formed volcanically. He's brought a cadre of multi-beam mapping Gurus and rock jocks to assist in the effort.

Amy Baco-Taylor, from Woods Hole, will collect corals for genetic work and will compare coral diversity on different seamounts.

Peter Etnoyer, sponsored by MCBI, is looking for large monotypic stands of bamboo and primnoid corals.

All are veterans of this kind of work, and they'll be using one of the most unique research tools in the world: the deep-diving submersible "Alvin"... more tomorrow.

[editor's note, by Jason] Jon Warrenchuk is currently participating in NOAA's 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.

JULY 30, 2004: I'm currently in a good-sized computer lab that wouldn't look out of place on a University campus. But Puget Sound is moving quickly past the portholes, and a gentle sway reminds me that I'm actually on a boat.

"Boat" is a misnomer for the 275 foot "Atlantis", a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute research vessel that's equipped to gather data from the bottom of the ocean and everything in between. We left port in Seattle 4 hours ago and we're en route to the middle of the Gulf of Alaska.

I've been lucky enough to be invited along on a project to explore a group of little-known seamounts, which are volcanic underwater mountains that rise up from the ocean floor. There's much more to tell, but I may be reaching the limit of my ship-to-shore e-mail... stay tuned!!