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An Unexpected Break

by Erik Olsen  |  March 9, 2018

Time 7:42 p.m. NZDT
Air temp: 21°C (70°F)
Water temp: 23°C (73°F)
Wind speed/direction: NW 10kmh (5 kts.)
Skies: Partly cloudy
Precipitation: none
Waves: 2-3 feet

After a successful day of diving with Jason over the Northwest caldera region of Brothers volcano, the team has encountered a few difficulties, both human and meteorological.

The electrical power supply used to operate Jason is experiencing unusual fluctuations, making it risky, if not dangerous, to operate the ROV. For a while, engineers considered a workaround, rerouting power from other systems to get the machinery to work, but ultimately they’ve decided to take Jason out of the water and to head back to Auckland for a new generator that can be dedicated to Jason operations.

But work had to stop anyway because mother nature decided to intervene. Satellite imagery is showing a massive storm moving into the Brothers volcano area, making further dives in the meantime unsafe. The weather satellite suggests that winds could reach 70 knots or more—not the kind of situation where you want to be conducting deep ocean research.

So, now R/V Thompson, with Jason on board, is headed back to safe harbor in Auckland, where we will get a new generator and wait out the storm. There are worse places to spend a few days. Of course, everyone will remain very busy revising the schedule for the following days and crunching the data they’ve collected so far.

The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday after 8:00 a.m. New Zealand time and, depending on the course of the storm, could remain there for several days.

That said, some significant science was achieved over the last day. A magnetometer was lowered today off the stern of the ship on a 200-meter (660-foot) cable and dragged behind the boat for 170 kilometers (106 miles) at 12 knots to measure the magnetic field of the seafloor. Volcanic rock is highly magnetic compared to, say, sedimentary rock, and that magnetism holds vital clues to understanding all sorts of things about how Earth’s crust in this region was formed and has changed over time.

“Understanding the magnetism of these rocks, really helps us grasp the tectonic setting and history of the region,” said Fabio Caratori Tontini, a scientist with GNS Science on board.