Kermadec Trench: A Turn for the Worse

Seafarers have a strange way of describing things sometimes. For example, 1st officer Steve described today as being a “funny old day” and Captain Lindsey described the weather as “freshening.” This translates to being an absolute disaster of a day, mostly due to the fact the weather turned absolutely terrible.

At first light we brought in the hadal-lander in a swell and wind that was really pushing us to the limit. Then there was the fish trap. Oh, the fish trap.

It surfaced okay, but was being hauled around so much in the swell that it could not take it anymore. I had designed it in such a way that if the worst happened, the acoustic release (the expensive bit) could be ripped out of the trap and then the trap would end up suspended below it by two safety lines.

The ripping out of the release happened all by itself, but what I didn’t realize is that in such bad weather one of the safety lines actually sawed through the aluminium frame, leaving the large trap swinging precariously off the stern. We did our best to fight it and managed to get one of the tag lines secured, just in time for the second safety line to saw through the frame as well and we ended up towing the cage behind the frame. It was all going horribly wrong very quickly. After another few valiant attempts by the crew to salvage it, the tag line eventually snapped as the swell was just too much for it and we lost the trap. Having salvaged the acoustic release and all the floats, which account for about 95 percent of its cost, it isn’t too big a deal, just very disappointing given the time I have invested in building it and the fact it had produced such great samples. The main thing was that nobody was hurt during the operation. We are all seasoned professionals and are trained to handle such unfortunate weather.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we decided that we should still recover the abyssal-lander as the chances are the weather would stay the same or get worse. So we did. The next problem, not related to the weather, although ultimately it made the whole situation worse, was that our lazy buoy had imploded at depth, which meant there was no target rope in which to grapple from the surface. Again in the heavy swell, we all did our best to get the lander on board despite the mooring line resembling a bird’s nest. With a bit of luck, and a lot of swearing, it was eventually landed and we scored another good set of data.

Discussions were had, chins were scratched, tea was drank, and decisions was made to end science due to bad weather. In this swell, it is too risky for the gear and those involved in the recovery.

That’s not to say we haven’t completed our task, as we have. Everything from now on was just a bonus. I really wanted a shot at going after some more snailfish and supergiant amphipods at 7,000 meters, but that is not going to happen now. Instead we have two options – try and deploy the gear to 1,000 meters off East Cape, or, if the swell is still too great, head further south to Poverty Bay off Gisborne and try there.

Yeah, been a funny old day.

Also, check out the videos from the trip.

This article is repurposed from the Scientific American -original post.

About the Author: Dr. Alan Jamieson is a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, U.K. His research focuses primarily on the use of novel deep-submergence technology for deep-sea biological research, particularly at hadal depths (6,000 to 11,000 meters deep). Dr. Jamieson is the leader of this expedition, which is his tenth one to hadal trenches.

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