Posted by: adorsk | June 23, 2007

Reykjanes Ho

As I write this the ship is just West of the Heimaey islands, near the South of Iceland. It’s a bright 50 degree day and the scenery continues to amaze me. We have sailed past mist-shrouded islands, glacier-capped cliffs, and hulking volcanoes.



Science: Reyjkanes Reconnaisance

I’ve had a chance to talk with the new science party, and I’ve found out some more specifics about who they are and what they’re researching.

The principal investigator, Dr. H is from the University of Hawaii. His team’s goal is to conduct a survey of the Reykjanes ridge. This ridge is part of the mid-Atlantic ridge. It begins Southwest of Iceland and gradually rises up, forming the Reykjanes peninsula where Reykjavik is.

This ridge is one of the most geologically interesting places on Earth. It’s one of only two places where a mid-ocean ridge breaks the surface. (The other place is between of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, near Djibouti, where a ridge in the middle of the red sea intersects the African rift valley).

The ridge is also interesting because it has rare V-shaped trench patterns. Dr. H told me that geologists have a few theories about why these trenches form. One theory is that magma pulses up in variable amounts, forming tapering trenches. Another theory is that the trenches are formed by the spreading of the mid-Atlantic ridge. A third theory is that the trenches form from cracks that propagate out from the ridge.

No one knows for sure what is happening, in large part because there aren’t many high-resolution data sets from this region. We’re going to get more data by mapping the sea floor and measuring magnetic and gravity forces. Hopefully this will enable the scientists to test their models.

The equipment we’ll be using includes the magnetometer (Maggie), the gravimeter (Gravy?), and a multibeam sonar mapping system called SeaBeam. Maybe I’ll write more about these later.

Science: Volcanoes

We also have a team of Icelandic scientists and students aboard who are studing volcanic processes. Yesterday we sailed smack into the middle of a volcanic hotbed. Don’t worry, this was all part of the plan. One of the nearby islands is Surtsey. It formed from volcanic eruptions just recently (geologically speaking) in the 1960s.

The scientists wanted sediment samples from the sea bottom near Surtsey to find out more about how the volcanic features around Iceland formed. To get the samples, we used a gravity corer. It’s a 10-foot PVC pipe loaded with weights which we drop off the side of the ship. When we bring it back up, it takes a sample of the bottom with it. I think of it as dropping a giant drinking straw into a layer cake.

The cores don’t always succeed. Sometimes the bottom is too hard and the corer bounces off. Other times the bottom is too mucky, and we can’t pull the core out. We took a couple of cores today around the Heimaey islands. Our record: 2 for 4. Not bad for baseball, ok for cores.

When we bring the cores back up, we drain extra water and mud out with a siphon. One time when I was sucking the tube I ended up with a mouthful of sediment. I guess you could say I’m getting a real taste of Iceland.

Here’s a picture of Surtsey:


Science: Communication

One of the members of the science party is T, who is making a website for the cruise as we go. Check it out! : .

She’s got all kinds of great pictures and even movies. This sort of thing blows my mind, updating a website from the sea.  Imagine Columbus with email:

Date: Thu, 4 October 1492 10:32:43 +000 (UTC)
From: Chris  <>
Subject: Re: India

Hi Your Majesties,
How is everything back in old Espana?  Having ‘moor’ fun now that the Alhambra is all cleared out?
Things are ok here on the Pinta.  The Sargassum weed gets heavy here and there, but otherwise not much is happening.  I’m looking forward to getting in to India.  I hear they make a wicked Vindaloo.
Anyway, just wanted to check in with you all.  I’ll let you know as soon as we touch ground.



Work: Extreme Debugging

The last few days have been very busy for me. Time just flies by and I wonder where the week has gone.

One thing that has kept me and the other SSSG techs busy has been Maggie, our Magnetometer. Maggie looks like a yellow torpedo, and gets towed behind the ship while she senses the local magnetic field. She was working fine until just a few days ago, when her tow cable sprang a leak. We hauled her in and put out our backup Maggie, which took about four hours.

But what a rush! It costs roughly $20,000+ per day to operate the ship, so every hour of data is precious. When something goes wrong, its our job to get it up and running again as soon as possible. Fortunately this time we had already prepared a backup.

More on Iceland

It really is a lovely country. I don’t know if I realize how fortunate I am to be seeing it from the sea. When we’re near the coast often times we’ll see Icelandic fishing boats.

There are still tons of birds around. I saw a few small whales (or their tails at least), the mates on the bridge saw a shark. I was thinking about what a whale sighting would sound like, which made me think of the dialogue below. Remember Abbot & Costello with Who’s on First? It’s kind of like that…

WHOI’s on First
C: Hey Ahaaaab!
A: Quiet, Cook, I’m watching for whales.
C: Oh really. See any yet?
A: No, you’re probably scaring them all away with all the noise you make. Wait…There’s one!
C: What? I don’t see anything.
A: I saw a fluke!
C: If it was just a fluke, then what’d you get me all excited for?
A: No, really, I saw a fluke. Look over there, Blowhole!
C: Hey, watch your mouth! No need to get worked up over it.
A: Humpback!
C: That’s it! One more comment like that outta you, and -wham!- right in the kisser.
A: Fin! Fin!
C: Good, I’m glad you’ve decided to put an end to all this, but couldn’t you at least say you’re done in English?

Away from the Coast

Now we’re heading away from the coast to deeper waters. Things should calm down a bit. That’s all for now, thanks for reading.

Miscellaneous Pictures

Glacier Composite glaciers_rail

When I shoot the wake at maximum zoom, I get an effect like in the shot below. I call it ‘wake needles’


One day there was almost no wind. The sea looked like glass. This is one of my favorite images from that day.



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