Yesterday, we landed our first of three CORKs in the ocean floor! As we all anxiously watched via TV, Bubba, Captain Alex and the drill team expertly placed our CORK into our first drill hole of the expedition. This requires great skill because 1) the Captain has to keep the boat in one place despite the wind and currents, 2) the CORK has to be put together properly (which takes days), 3) our scientific team needs to load all instruments and experiments on the CORK correctly, and 4) the CORK has to be lowered and placed inside the hole via the re-entry cone without damaging anything. Whew! With all that tension on board to get it all together, we waited with bated breath as it was lowered into the hole. And WOOHOO! We made it! One down, 2 to go. Oh, and an old CORK to pull up. We're a long way from the edge of the woods but every step counts!
If you're wondering what a CORK looks like and what it does, take a look at the photo to the left. The CORK is essentially a metal contraption with a plug at the top that corks the borehole sealing it off from seawater. The top of the CORK is to the right in the photo. Instruments to measure temperature and experiments to measure water chemistry and biology are fit inside the CORK in a way that they can be retrieved in later cruises. There are valves on the part of the CORK that sticks out above the seafloor that can be tapped with an ROV during later cruises to download data and check up on the health of the borehole. See the black plastic rectangular things in the CORK photo? Those are the valves.
It has taken years to design these CORKs and they've undergone several retrofits. On this expedition, we are pulling up a CORK put down in the mid-90s during Expedition 301. This is an older style CORK and the new ones are WAY better!! Below is an illustration Dinah did showing how the CORK fits in the borehole. You can see the CORK platform (what the octopus is hanging on to) where the ROV lands to do the CORK servicing and data downloading. The part that sticks above the platform is where the valves are . The part below the seafloor is where our experiments are. Pretty nifty, eh?
Beth Orcutt, the other microbiologist on the JR has made a wonderful CORK video that can be seen via YouTube. Thanks, Beth!!