Day 5: Thursday 25 June 2020
On the fifth day, we start the serious work. Around midnight, we (finally) leave the Norwegian EEZ and now we’re officially allowed to map! So obviously, we would be mapping all night long, sitting in the hydroacoustic lab watching beautiful subsea features and cleaning outliers while listening to the Rolling Stones. But, of course, not without having taken a CTD profile first – because that’s what you do when you arrive at a research station: measure the water parameters, which are the basis for any further operation.
The part that everyone has been waiting for since we left the harbour now arrives: The first launch of the ROV (Remotely Operating Vehicle) ‘Kiel 6000’. This vehicle is a 3.5-tonne heavyweight giant able to carry numerous different instruments, among which are cameras, traps, drawers to put samples in, spotlights (it’s pitch-dark at 3000m water depth!) and grasping arms, just to name a few. It’s controlled by two pilots sitting in a container on the deck of RV Sonne, guided by several different cameras on the ROV. One of the pilots, the leader of the ROV team on our cruise, is Fritz Abegg from GEOMAR – Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research.
Since 2008, ‘Kiel 6000’ has been his baby and he has been flying it ever since. Together, they have had countless unforgettable moments. One such moment last year was finding (and retrieving!) a lander which has been lost since 2015 in the deep blue ocean! If Fritz is not working, he can be found on the aftdeck of R/V Sonne chatting with the other seven ROV crew members.
Steering an ROV is a highly delicate matter: it’s a balance between going as near as possible to underwater features such as corals, sea mounts or hydrothermal vents to get a close look or to take a sample, but at the same time be extremely cautious not to damage or destroy them. Manoeuvring along the seafloor by steering one or more of the 7 propeller screws is a challenge in almost complete darkness, especially when curious deep-sea inhabitants approach the ROV. I could write pages and books about the working principle and all the features of Kiel 6000 but I’ll stop here for now. The interested reader might find this paper interesting: F. Abegg and P. Linke (2017).
The best thing ever is that we have a livestream on YouTube for the ROV dives! Bear witness to true deep-sea life and journey down to the deep with us in real time: