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Tuesday, October 23, 2007: Another amazing day and dive!
So I'm in Antarctica AND I'm diving under the ice AND I'm working on underwater robots - WOW!
We start off each day meeting at breakfast to make plans for the day. We still need high resolution still photos of both tomato locations (Road and Transition) so Stacy can do her benthic ecology organism counts. We've had a terrible time getting a strobe working with the digital still camera so we hatch this crazy plan. If we can get Stacy's old Nikonus FILM camera strobe setup, she will use the film camera and I'll use the digital camera with the scaling lasers on manual mode to try to use her strobe. It's a bit far fetched but it might work and at least the film camera will get the shots we need. Also, since we need to cover areas from both locations we will swim from one to the other. It's not that far and we can go back up the other hole so we don't have to swim back to the other location. Sounds like a plan - a bit odd but hopefully we can get both locations done so we can move on to other sites that need to get done. Nothing ever goes according to plan though and I had some other problems on this dive...

So we gear up with a video camera with HID lights, a film camera, digital still camera with lasers and some other lights. I can't put my own gloves on and need help with just about all my dive gear - that's why we need dive tenders.

Nick and Matt put on my gloves.


Here's how we jump in the water (download):

(Get the Flash Player to see this player!)

After I jump in I purge my suit and begin the long descent through the ice. There's a bit of shock involved when you hit the cold water but I immediately notice my right wrist is REALLY cold. I have a leak through my dry gloves and as I reach up, a trickle goes right down my spine! Wow was that cold! Then I notice my left wrist is also cold but not as bad. I continue my descent through the 20' ice hole wondering if I'll have to scrub the dive due to my leaks. It takes a while to purge air out of my suit and hoods as I descend through the ice tube until, suddenly, I'm in "open water" under the ice and easily see the bottom, another 40' below me. I think I just forgot about the leaks as I'm overwhelmed by the incredible view below me. They didn't leak any more and the ice cold water warms up inside my many layers of synthetic insulation. I honestly didn't even think about it again until I was out of the water.

I continue to descend to the bottom where Stacy is trying to get the video camera lights going. After giving up on one and just using the one working light, we video for a bit then attempt to get the still cameras going. It's dark so you can't read the buttons until you shine your light on them. The whole time your working on anything you have to maintain your buoyancy so you don't float up or, even worse, touch the fragile bottom and it's delicate, slow growing organisms. So you get your light in the right spot, look for the right button, press a button, control buoyancy, read the menu, get the light, look for the button, control buoyancy etc... until you finally get the camera set in the right mode with the right settings. Then we tried to make some pictures. Well the plan didn't work out so well but we eventually ended up getting the shots we needed on the film camera. Mission accomplished and me running low on air, we start our ascent up the second hole. I was so focussed on the camera and trying to make some pictures, I was almost overwhelmed when I took a minute to look around. Visibility was probably 800' or more and I could see blue light filtering down through thinner cracks in the 20' of ice. The underwater scene is so surreal and amazing with so much life and color below a frozen, all white and sterile looking ice sheet. You feel like you are flying - floating in air since you can't "see" the water. It's such a cool sensation - pun intended.

I still have remnants of the crud so I was still a bit stuffy. What happens when you go up is all the gas in your dry suit, lungs, eustation tubes and nasal passages expands. For the dry suit you carefully control the expanding air by controlled venting through the shoulder valve. This is mostly automatic - or at least you control it automatically without really thinking about it. My problem this time was with my clogged nasal passages. Basically snot ends up getting pumped into the mask where the fresh water snot freezes very rapidly. This also doesn't feel so good with lots of pressure right between your eyes. I ascended very slowly so this all wasn't a big deal but I ended up with so much frozen snot in my right lens I couldn't see anything out of that eye and I ended up blinking hard to keep the ice out of my eye. Some weird experiences and sensations but well worth it!

Look closely and you will see my right eye is full of frozen snot

Yuck and ouch!

Getting out is quite a chore as the water is about 6 feet below the tomato floor. This is another reason we need dive tenders. We have to take off our tank and clip it to a line. Then the dive tenders can haul up the 60 pound tank on a line.

I'm clipping on the tank with Mindy ready to haul it up.

Next the 43 pound of lead I wear, then my fins, then I can finally climb out.

I jumped down to help Stacy with her fins - not that she needed any help.

In the afternoon we tour the wastewater plant and the drinking water plant. Mindy explained all that so well I won't repeat it here.
Here's what the wastewater "bugs" look like under a microscope

The drinking water plant uses Reverse Osmosis to make fresh, pure drinking water out of sea water. The membranes operate at 850 PSI inlet pressure - some serious pressure!

Cool hand drawn flow schematic

History Eraser button? You see a switch like this and you're just tempted to see what happens if you pull it...

Bryan and Nick are intrigued with a sample of Pteropods. These little things were growing in the salt water intake line and plugging it up.

My roomate Josh is here with the Mayo Clinic studying altitude sickness in people going to South Pole station. He gets to go to Pole so I'm jealous of him. He's jealous of me since I get to dive so I guess we're even. They're setup in the hospital right next to the hyperbaric chamber.

Josh standing next to the hyperbaric chamber

This is what we get to "take a ride in" if we ascend too quickly on a dive and get bent. You don't want to have to use this thing but every diver is really glad we have one just in case something goes wrong.

After dinner Nick and I walk down to the Jetty dive hut to do a pressure test. SCINI is made up of 2 pressure housings - one for the main controller and motor controls and another for the camera. We are building a second SCINI and we wanted to make sure the housings didn't leak. Since we have a 60' hole of our target ice water within 10 minutes walking distance we send an empty housing down on a rope and wait 30 minutes. We bring it up and look for any signs of leaks. We found one, then send it down again, wait, bring it up and so on until we are confident we have a housing that has no leaks. We're still working on one of the housings and as of Wed. night we are doing a 4 hour test since we had some possible very small leaks.

I'm hauling up a housing after it's been at 60' for 30 minutes

The sun no longer actually sets but it does duck in behind the mountains for a few hours. This means we have gorgeous sunsets that last for many hours.

Sunset at 9 pm.

Sunset at 1 am.


I've been following your adventures Marcus. The postings are all very informative and fun to read. I hope your bread turns out OK. I'm afraid if it doesn't, you won't be able to live it down.

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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.