17 April, 1999
Dear Friends and eXtreme Science enthusiasts:
I was sitting on one of the aft decks, watching the swelling of the waves when two trains of thought materialized in my mind:
I was thinking of a night out in Punta Arenas earlier this week where the scientists gathered around the table. I leaned back in my chair and watched them as they shared one of the lighter moments of the trip, these people who have devoted themselves to exegeting the wonders of our world, the passages of God, as it were, written in waves, currents, rocks, and temperature gradients of the sea. They laughed and joked, leaning over the table toward one another, imploring of each other this or that concession, pleasantly unmindful, it seemed to me, of their role, the gravity their calling had, and so perhaps were many, unaware of the implications of the work of so many scientists over time, resulting in safer lives, conveniences, and the pure Socratic pleasure of enlightenment to the functioning of our world.
I was again struck by the will of the water . . . whereas a river is kind, allowing a vessel to rest in her cradle, but the ocean is like a beast, pushing and toying with your craft, testing its strengths, its weaknesses, lifting on a whim, pushing her to the side, washing over her high rails without so much as asking permission. There is no question here as to who is the guest of whom. Yet, weíve come to make requests of this sea, to bide and borrow time on her surface, to ask her for her secrets, to measure densities and temperature differences, to split hairs with her over the differences of a hundredth of a degree Celsius or the difference in the shade of manganese on the order of a billionth of a molar. All of this without evoking her unrest, her impatience. Yet this is what is required to tickle her into surrendering the whereabouts of the vent sites she has hidden for so long, so well. And this is required to gauge our world, to know how much it has to offer, what the limitations of these offerings are, and how well buffered it is against the ongoing stress that humankind puts on her systems, and thus, to learn what is involved in achieving a sustainable life in an ever complexifying world
Our journey from Punta Arenas to our first station off Elephant Island will take 3 days at 11- 12 knots (Does anyone know the historical significance of Elephant Island? What is the relationship between knots and miles per hour? What about distances like nautical miles and fathoms? Why specify "nautical?"), so we have some time to make each otherís professional acquaintances. Today we were treated to a tour of the various lab stations which will be in use during the mission for various analyses (Iíll try to detail each of these in the upcoming days). Following the tour, we met for a talk by Dr. Franz Smith, an ecologist from the New Zealand University of Otago (now at Universidad de Chile). He spoke on the biodiversity that exists on the submarine rock walls of fjords and the interactions with the physical conditions (salinity, current rate, water movement, and rockslides).
Following these talks and lunch, more time was spent ping editing and querying officers of the bridge as to our whereabouts and progress. I learned here from several animal identification books on hand that the type of marine mammal seen escorting the ship yesterday was an hourglass dolphin (or sea skunk).
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