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Sunday, September 30, 2007: Flying to New Zealand
Today we leave for Antarctica! All the months of planning, designing, building, packing, and dreaming come into focus as we gradually converge at various airports. Like so many other things, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the picture, Marcus is giving a big "Kia Ora" greeting to a Maori carving in the Aukland Airport in New Zealand. But to get to New Zealand...


My research associate, Kamille, drives with Bryan from the marine lab to meet Bob and I and our van loaded with our 12 pieces of luggage. She has made us delicious sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies, which we devour as we head to the airport an hour away. BUT - we find traffic on the notorious Highway 17 is dreadfully slow, an accident has closed it down to one lane. Nick calls; he and his mom are waiting for us at the San Jose airport and wondering why we are so late. We get a message from Mindy; her plane out of Flagstaff has been delayed and she is going to miss her flight out of Phoenix, but will still make it to LA in time for us to travel on together. As we crawl on, it gets less and less likely that we will make our plane. Bob starts a contingency plan, we can fly out of Monterey and still make it to LA in time for our international flight. But that would leave Nick with his single piece of luggage going out of San Jose, and we need him to carry 3 more pieces of excess baggage. We gamble that we can make it to San Jose in time, and call Nick and ask him to warn the check-in folks that we will be there – in a big hurry. We get another call from Mindy, her Flagstaff flight has now been cancelled and she is being driven to Phoenix where it is 104 degrees…in a taxi with no air conditioning. Fortunately, we have heard nothing from Marcus coming out of Philadelphia, which I take to mean that at least one of us is flying as scheduled!
Some of our luggage being explained to the customs man in New Zealand. In total, the six of us had 20 pieces, most of it boxes of electronics.

We roar up to the departure lane, explode out of the van, and start running. Nick has staged the huge porter’s carts for us, we fill two with our now 14 pieces of luggage (plus 6 carry-on). We have a truly amazing agent, Randy, whose fingers are flying over his computer keyboard as he races against the 30 minute lock-out for international flights. By some miracle our luggage gets checked, all our paperwork is in order, and we get through security with our 7 laptops (for 4 people) AND all our shoes. Bob calls Kamille to release her from her airport circling in case we needed to move to plan C.
The view of Monterey Bay as we leave on the first flight of 16 hours of flying time. Moss Landing is on the very right edge of the picture.

In LA, we find that our planned meeting point, the Encounter Restaurant, is closed for renovations. But we manage to redirect Marcus to meet us at another restaurant, though Mindy is still missing. A quick meal, and we go to the departure gate, and as they call us to board, Mindy rushes up – barely making it. Yay, we how have our full team of six! And we’re flying to New Zealand!

Thursday, September 20, 2007: Day Cruise with MBARI
I was lucky enough to get out on the Point Lobos yesterday to observe the Ventana ROV in action. Ventana is an 18 year old robot, but it has been continuously upgraded over it's lifetime and has all the latest and greatest gizmos and sensors. It's primary mission for the day was to recover a mid-water experiment left earlier in the week, and then if there was extra time try squirting squid at live squids in the wild to see how they would react.


The Point Lobos is a research ship operated by MBARI, the same research lab that let us use their indoor tank a few weeks ago to test SCINI. The crew and ROV pilots are some of the best in the world and have a very smooth routine worked out, and I learned a lot from watching the pilots balance science goals with fixing any problems that cropped up with the hardware.

The launch and recovery process was an elaborate dance between the crane operator, the skipper, tether manager, ROV pilot, and deck manager. The crew was well practiced and made it look easy; it will take a long time before our SCINI launches go that smoothly, even though the Ventana is the size and weight of a jeep, while SCINI weighs about 15kg (35 pounds) and is just 1.5m (5 feet) long...

This innocent looking attachment is a specimen capture tube; when a scientists sees an interesting looking beastie they can ask the pilot to maneuver this cylinder around the organism and then slide the lids shut. After the robot is recovered to the deck, the scientists stored away the specimens to be analyzed on shore later. We spent an hour or two chasing down small squid and at the end saw a rare vampire squid, but it was too large to be captured. This creepy frankenfish has the tail of a squid or octopus but the head of a normal fish.

This shows the below decks ROV control room. The pilots and scientists need a quiet isloated space to concentrate on the imagry and data streaming back from the Ventana, but it's easy to get sea sick when concentrating on the moving video coming from the ROV while sitting in a rolling ship on the surface... a lot of motion to confuse your inner ear!

During one of the ROV recoveries, a few whales surfaced near the ship and swam right around the Ventana. Close call!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007: All Team Members Met and Checkout Dive
Today everyone involved in Project SCINI had the opportunity to meet one and other. Each one of us gave a short presentation about ourselves and the role we play in this project. After the presentations the team went over to the MBARI test tank for a checkout dive. The MBARI test tank is a 33 foot deep tank that has windows all around so that you can look out into the dry world while SCUBA diving.
For you non-divers who are not familiar with the term checkout dive, it’s a dive that is in a fairly controlled setting where a dive safety officer, Stacy, has the opportunity to observe each of the divers. During a checkout dive various skills are practice and the dive safety officer can see how comfortable a diver is in the water.
Five out of the eight team members are divers. Rusty, Marcus, Stacy, Bob and Nick are the five divers who participated in the check out dive. BLee, Mindy and Bryan provided support for the divers before we entered the water and helped each of us put our dry gloves on.
Once in the water, Stacy had each of us try out some new and fun skills. Some skills involved us practicing taking core samples at the bottle of the pool. There wasn’t any sediment to core in the test tank but it was a new skill for some of the divers to try. Other than taking cores, we had the opportunity to play with our video equipment. We have one underwater digital camera and one underwater camcorder and each device is enclosed in housing that keeps it dry.
Here are some of the pictures that we took during the checkout dive.
Here is a picture of Nick saying hello (with his two fingers that is). He is holding the underwater camcorder in his hand. Notice the red lasers at the bottom, when aligned they can be used as a measuring scale in the video.

Bob is taking a peek out into the dry world through one of the windows at the MBARI test tank. Rarely do you have the opportunity to see sea gulls flying by while you are 20 feet underwater SCUBA diving.

While Bob was busy looking out into the dry world, Mindy was snapping some photos of the divers. Here is another window that looks in/out of the test tank. And why is she wearing a life vest?

After the checkout dive we did an open water dive at about 65 feet where we could play with the digital camera and camcorder. Here are some other pictures that were taken with the camera.

Sea anemone! This guy was pretty big and you can see the red scaling lasers that measure to be 20 cm apart.

This critter here is known as a sunflower star. This sunflower star was VERY big and was much larger than our 20 cm scaling lasers. How big do you think it is?

During our dive Bob motioned us over to a shark egg he found!! The shark egg is the flat round purse looking thing between and above the lasers. This was an exciting experience as some of the divers have never seen a shark egg in the wild. Lucky for us we didn't see the mama shark that the egg belonged to.

Everyone say hello to Marcus the man in all black. Looks like he is being attacked by the scaling lasers on he chest. The green water made it difficult to take clear pictures.

Is it a sea monster, a mermaid, no it's a Rusty! This guy is not shy in front of the camera. Look at him, he even posed for this shot!

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.