||April 2008 issue||
Voyage to the slope of the deep dark sea
A crew of scientists and submersible pilots reveals secrets
of the continent’s submarine margin
By Annie Mercier and Jean-François Hamel
The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Hudson sways to
the rhythm of a lazy North Atlantic swell, its red belly
barely breaking the surface of the water. The sun peeks
through a thin veil of fog. It is a perfect day at sea in July 2007,
especially in these moody waters 250 kilometres south of
Newfoundland, but there is hardly a soul on deck. All the
action is happening deep in the gloomy confines of the
overcrowded forward lab. Fans hum and chairs creak as
10 pairs of eyes focus intently on monitors that, for now,
display only whitish specks on a deep-blue background.
A murmur, a hushed reply and, suddenly, “Bottom!”
Joyous shouts erupt in almost perfect
unison, unleashing a flurry of excitement
that transforms the control room into
a buzzing hive. Nearly two kilometres
below, after dropping for 90 minutes
at a rate of 20 metres a minute,
the unmanned submersible ropos
(Remotely Operated Platform for
Ocean Science) has finally arrived at the sea floor.
Canyons, plains, mountains, coral reefs — most of the
Earth’s large-scale geographical features have remained
hidden in the recesses of the sea, out of sight and out of
reach. But not anymore. For the next 20 hours, the sub will
roam the fathomless night of the abyss, the cameras and
robotic claws helping the scientists above, who are intent
on elucidating the mysteries of this never-before-explored
tract of the continental slope.
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