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Mission Log March 5, 2007

by G.P. Schmahl
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent

Argus pilot
Todd Gregory (University of Rhode Island) pilots the Argus inside the control van on the SSV Carolyn Chouest.
David Robinson and I transferred off of the NR-1 submarine this morning at about 0700 hours. It was a great experience, but I must admit I was ready for a shower (did I mention there are no bathing facilities on the sub?) and a real bed. Replacing us on the NR-1 were Doug Weaver (Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) and Mark Betts, a geologist and great friend of the sanctuary who works for Devon Energy Corporation.

Transfer from the NR-1 to the support ship SSV Carolyn Chouest was achieved by a rigid hull inflatable boat. It was a little tricky getting from the sub to the RHIB, but luckily, the seas were calm and things went smoothly. However, there was no immediate rest for us, as we were soon enlisted in assisting with the operations of the Argus. At all times while the Argus is in the water, there are at least five people located in a "high tech" support van to control and manage the ROV. Operations with the Argus are conducted 24 hours a day during most of the time we are at sea, so there is a considerable effort involved in keeping the vehicle exploring. To ensure adequate coverage, everyone "stands watch" two four-hour shifts every day.

My assigned time is from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Every shift includes a watch leader (my job), a ROV pilot, a navigator, a data logger and a video technician. We all sit at control consoles with several computer screens within view, and are in constant communication with each other, as well as with the vessel captain, the NR-1 support crew, and remote control centers in Mystic Connecticut, Silver Spring MD (NOAA), the University of Rhode Island and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (NOAA). Things get quite hectic at times!

Argus launch preparations
Support crew readies the ROV Argus for deployment.
So shortly after getting off the NR-1, David and I were sitting at the control consoles, trying to keep track of what was going on, and helping to direct the use of the Argus to achieve the multiple scientific and education missions of this expedition.

The task today was to utilize the Argus to survey several transects in the deepwater areas of the West Flower Garden Bank. The information obtained on these surveys will help us characterize the habitats of the sanctuary and analyze the populations of various species of marine organisms, such as gorgonians, antipatharians (black corals), sponges and fish. We surveyed a number of areas that had not been previously visited and were able to fill in some of the gaps in our effort to build a comprehensive habitat map for the sanctuary.

Some of the transects were conducted, not just to look, but to collect quantitative data. To achieve this, we must conduct the surveys in a very standard way. We run the ROV in a straight line over a specified area running at a standard speed, while we count and identify all of the organisms of interest. One of the hardest things in conducting these kinds of surveys is not stopping to have a closer look at interesting things! It was great to see new areas of the Sanctuary and observe the wide array of resources located here.

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