Here is a map of the ocean floor north of New Zealand. The different colours represent water depth, red and yellow are shallower than the blue and purple areas. The deep Kermadec Trench that marks the plate tectonic boundary is an obvious feature, with the Kermadec Ridge running parallel to the West (left) of the trench.
The line of arc volcanoes look like pimples very close to the Kermadec Ridge. All of the named volcanoes shown in the second image except for Lillie, are booked for a visit from us on this expedition.
For the last couple of days we have been traversing over the top of the first of these objectives, Clark volcano. Whilst the various science teams have been organising themselves and starting their first operations, I have been adjusting slowly to this new environment and the way things seem to work.
This is my first cruise and, like anyone in a new place for the first time, I find myself amazed by 'everyday' aspects of life at sea, and my perceptions sharpened by things that must be insignificant for regular sea-goers. Things like: the endless changes in the rhythms of the waves, the effortlessness ease of an albatross skimming over the wavetops, flying fish skittering away from the bow of the ship, and the endless, flat, 360 degree horizon.
On board the mysteries are more technical. It seems fantastic that the ship can navigate its way across this featureless ocean and then position itself so that it stays motionless above an invisible volcano deep below. Scientists stare at computer screens and announce that a piece of equipment they have lowered into the water precisely is three and a half metres above the bottom, or devise a solution when the un-manned submarine far below gets 'confused' and stuck beneath a rock overhang. These are things I hope to understand better over the next three weeks.
One of the crew, Russel Jones, has been working on the Tangaroa for the past 10 years. One of his hobbies is to periodically drop a wine a bottle with a message inside, over the side of the ship. Over the years, several of his bottles have been discovered washed up on beaches around the Southern Ocean.
One of them made TV news in NZ and Australia, having been found by Rod Davies on a beach in Western Australia after a five year circumnavigation of Antarctica! Russel showed me a bunch of letters from people in several different countries who had found his messages and subsequently become personal acquaintances.
Yesterday he launched another of his messages as you can see. Keep a look out for this one when you are down on the beach some years from now. Russel will be delighted to hear from you…