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Life on the Shore-Based Team: the Other Half of a Telepresence Expedition

October 25, 2016 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Jeffrey Marlow / National Geographic Emerging Explorer

The waves of Narragansett Bay break gently on the rocky beach at the University of Rhode Island's School of Oceanography, as vacationing families jockey for prime sunbathing real estate. It's not your typical research cruise environment--I feel a bit guilty about the brief respite out of solidarity for my sleep-deprived colleagues on Atlantis--but such is the life of the shore-side team.

During this 10 day long expedition, half of our crew of early career scientists has been on the Atlantis at any given time while the other half operates a mission control of sorts at URI's Inner Space Center (ISC). We're testing the utility of telepresence technology for sea-going research expeditions, trying to see how decision-making and analysis might be outsourced to get more done and leverage a broader set of expertise.

Climbing the hill back to the ISC, I rejoin the team just in time to watch the Alvin recovery. For the last several hours, the sub has been exploring New England Seep #2, an extensive field of knobby carbonate rocks, mussels, and clams coated in a luxuriant fur of white microbial mats 1100 meters (3600 feet) beneath the sea surface. Because Alvin isn't connected to the Atlantis by a tether, we haven't been able to see what the divers have been up to. Contact with the sub is limited to periodic verbal check-ins and, for the first time on this voyage, the occasional text message. As mid afternoon stretches into the early evening, the suspense builds: has Alvin collected a scientific bounty that will keep the ship-based team sleeplessly giddy into the early morning, processing samples, or are the sampling boxes conspicuously empty?

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