BLACK SEA 1999
From: David Mindell
David Mindell here, back to the first in the rotation of emailers. Here's the latest news from Sinop: after what we think was some sonar evidence of the ancient coastline, we've been trying to get back there with the ROV (i.e. the robot) to get some video to confirm it. The idea is to drive the vehicle down the old coastline, across the old beach (now about 150 m deep) and into the ancient lake, which happens also to coincide with the depth the water becomes anoxic. Lots of complicated stuff happening here, geologically, chemically, and oceanographically, and lots of potentially interesting pictures to be taken, which will help us figure out if the current hypothesis is correct.
Trouble is, the place where all this has to happen is 20 miles out at sea, and there have been pretty high winds for the past few days, so the water has been quite rough. We've been going out in the morning in a small flotilla (2 sonar boats and an ROV boat), but usually turning back before noon due to high seas (and lots of seasick people on the boats). One day we did get to the spot and manage to put the vehicle in, and we got literally fifteen seconds of video on the bottom before the current swept the tether away and pulled the robot off the bottom (called "kiting" in the lingo). By the time we got back around to trying again, the seas had built further, so it was too rough to work and we headed home. Got back at about 4:30, after seven hours on the boat, and fifteen seconds of time on the bottom. Not a problem really, and pretty much par for the course when you're working on the ocean, but the trouble is nobody gets a rest, even though it ends up not being a work day. And now we're far enough into this trip (11 days) and have enough yet to go (10 days) that people are needing days off. Fortunately, today we realized the weather was bad enough early, and the boats came in by 10:30 or so, so everybody got a real day off, going to the beach, catching up on sleep, and haunting the local pool halls (left over from servicing the now-closed NATO base).
The other interesting event of today was Bob, Cathy, Fred, and I went to visit the local governor to pay our respects. We put on our Wednesday best, accompanied by the local museum director Ismael, our representative from the ministry of culture Tamer (who monitors all our work for compliance with the permit), and Ayse, a Turkish student who helped translate. Well, this was a bit like seeing the Wizard of Oz, as Cathy remarked. Lots of marble stairs, red carpet, receptionists, attendants, air conditioning (a rare thing here), and plush sofas (for us, just the sofas and the a/c made the visit worthwhile). We all said our niceties, had tea and cute chocolates, chatted a bit about how wonderful Sinop is (which is true), and listened to a bunch of conversation in Turkish. The governor was polite , and seems mostly interested in how archaeology is going to boost the tourist business here. We all do think the place is great, so you all should come here; and tell the governor who sent you.
So now we've got our batteries recharged a bit, and are keeping our collective fingers crossed for good weather tomorrow. Everyone is pretty up, there's not a feeling of frustration, not least because everyone gets along quite well and seems to be having a great time no matter what (even when they spend the day heaving over the side). On these trips, weather is a simple problem: there's simply nothing you can do about it.
For me, the best thing about this trip is how well all the MIT students are doing, really taking charge of the scientific part of the operations. Katy is the number one data logger (Bob won't let me switch her around because he wants her on his boat), Sarah is in total control of the data (we call her the "Data Queen") and has even taken to giving Bob direction on finding things in the deep sea (he listens politely), Brendan has been in charge of one of the boats nearly every day (and a wise and cautious leader at that, keeping his crew in line with strange humor) and Justin is much in demand for his technical skills and operations experience.
Oh and by the way, check out the much-sanitized version of the trip on the National Geographic website: http://www.nationalgeographic.com Of course you'll find none of the intrigue, poetry, dirty laundry, or nerdy humor you find here.
All the best from windy Sinop,