Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Connections

We’ve seen them at work in the Arctic for years, but now they’re sounding the seafloor off Haiti, hunting for faults.

UTIG's Marcy Davis waves from the Endeavor's Zodiac as she and a team of geophysicists depart for shallow-water seafloor profiling. Image courtesy of http://www.amishkin.com/.

Scientists with the University of Texas, Austin’s Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) are a familiar presence in the polar research arena.  In the Arctic, they’ve traced the hollows and hills of the arctic sea floor aboard the USCGC Healy as part of the Extended Continental Shelf Project.  They’ve explored the dramatic uplift of the St. Elias Mountains in southern Alaska (read our “breathtaking and formidable” STEEP coverage).  UTIG’s Marcy Davis has written stories for us for years.  Numerous other glimpses of UTIG in the Arctic suggest heir pursuit of arctic research. But Haiti?

Absolutely.

In the aftermath of the January earthquake near Port-au-Prince, UTIG researchers led by Sean Gulik (a STEEP expert), with funding from NSF’s Rapid Response Research Program, joined investigators from City University of New York, Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and the University of Missouri, on the small research vessel Endeavor for a two-week cruise. Marcy sent an update just as they arrived offshore of Haiti on January 27th, the island “green and shrouded in low clouds and fog.”

“By mid afternoon we were right offshore of Port Au Prince, which sits on the delta of a river that empties into the bay,” Marcy wrote. “The day was still gray, overcast, humid and warm, but not terribly hot. Long linear mountain ranges seemed to come straight out of the ocean–a very narrow shoreface. The air smelled like fire and all along the coast we could see smoke. Perhaps there were fires for burning trash or maybe from camps or both.

“We had a rendezvous with a large Naval ship called the USNS Cornhusker to offload some humanitarian cargo we brought from the University of Rhode Island [which operates the NSF-owned Endeavor]. This ship had huge cranes and probably could have plucked us right out of the water.

“All around the harbor are large US ships–aircraft carriers with helicopters buzzing around, vessels that look like they deploy other vessels like landing craft, the large hospital ship  the USNS Comfort, a couple of Coast Guard construction tenders, and a multitude of other smaller craft are anchored. Despite all of this, it was eerily calm and quiet.”

Since reaching the waters offshore devastated Port au Prince, the Endeavor’s science party has been using sonar to map shifted sediments, and seismic sensors to search for and study faults beneath the seafloor. The information they gain will help experts and policy makers understand what happened on January 12th (and in the aftermath of the huge quake)—and to predict what may be coming.

Among the science party aboard the Endeavor is a UTIG student who is posting updates and pictures to http://www.amishkin.com/ . The posts are detailed and informative—check them out for a sense of the research the team is doing.

On Friday, Katie’s post reported that the scientists had found an offshore fault.