DAY 1 | 12 miles off Tutuila, American Samoa
Today makes the first aboard the Expedition Vessel Nautilus, a 1967 German-built ship refitted by the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) with state-of-the-art technological equipment. For those of you who haven’t heard my blubbering over the last year, the mission of the E/V Nautilus is to bring deep-sea exploration right to your living room (or office, if you’re a total marine science geek like myself). Over 95 percent of the ocean is unexplored — that’s less than Mars — with that number coming closer to 100 percent as depths increase. I’ll dive into the logistics of the program in another post, but the short story is that two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus, are tethered to the vessel via fiberoptic cables. As these two dive down to depths between 3,000 and 4,000 meters, the cable runs a video feed aboard the ship that is then beamed up to a satellite and shot back down to your home computer.
Our mission is in search of the Samoan Clipper, a Pan-American Airways Sikorsky S-42B flying boat that was lost off the coast of American Samoa in January 1938. The cause of the plane’s disappearance remains unknown to this day, but a combination of accident reports and one eyewitness account has led archaeologists with the Air/Sea Heritage Foundation and SEARCH, Inc. to determine its likely final resting place.
As I’m typing this we our watch has identified a potential target, characterized by a bright hotspot located along the ocean floor. For the first 24 hours, researchers are towing a side-scanning system outfitted on ROV Argus at between 1-2 knots in order to map the seafloor over an area of about 5 square kilometers. We are looking for any anomalies that might resemble a plane and any of its parts, which are marked by a bright yellow “hot spot” indicating whatever we are looking at has height. We are also looking for straight lines or other unnatural depressions that might indicate the aircraft. Once targets are acquired, ROV Hercules will descend to take images and video.
Yesterday, 19 members of the science/operations teams hopped aboard a plane from Samoa and flew by way of the original flight path of the Samoan Clipper 81 years ago. To call it a nerve-racking experience is an understatement, but it brought to life what the original seven crew members might have seen and experienced. Last night, the E/V Nautilus was docked in the very harbor that the aircraft was scheduled to return to before disappearing.
I will go into more details of the expedition, the aircraft, the crew members, and what future plans might entail in the coming days. In the meantime, I recommend checking out our expedition page and blog. Don't forget: I am also facilitating our dives live every day from 0800-1200 and 2000-0000 American Samoa time. You can also request a live interaction with your school, organization, or local community to learn more about our work and to checking out the ship behind-the-scenes.