Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog, Part 4

Originally Posted on July 4th, 2010 by Stanley Love


This blog is courtesy of Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP)

For more information please visit www.pavilionlake.com


Stan focused during the evening pilots meeting. Photo: Henry Bortman


It’s been a while since the last installment of Dr. Love’s Underwater Blog, for the simple reason that Dr. Love has not recently been underwater…until today. It has been three months since the blustery day in Vancouver when Chris Hadfield and I completed our basic training in the Deepworker submarine. Now it’s time for us to field-test that training.

Compared with Vancouver, Pavilion Lake is remote, dry, and elevated. The nearest airport is Kamloops, a 2-hour drive to the east. There are a few vacation houses clustered along the lakeshore. A sparse pine and fir forest climbs the steep walls of the canyon that contains the lake. The elevation here is about 2,500 feet (800 metres) above sea level.

Despite the elevation and distance from the sea, our friends Deepworker 6 and 7 were here waiting when I arrived yesterday evening. After breakfast I joined the team in once of the chase boats to observe a submarine mission in Pavilion Lake as preparation for the one I would fly myself in the afternoon. From the perspective of a topside observer with no assigned duties, it was pretty sweet: sit in the boat, eat a snack, chat with the guys, eat another snack, admire the mountain scenery, and then eat lunch. Whew! Tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.


Stan in DeepWorker, ready for his flight. Photo: Henry Bortman


After the morning flight however, it was my turn for the hotseat. After a very quick dive brief I found myself back in the none-too-roomy cockpit of Deepworker 6 reminding myself to: keep clear of the bottom, don’t stir up sediment, make observations on the size, spacing, texture, and morphology of microbialites, zoom the video camera to provide both big-picture context and detailed views of interesting features, describe the lake bottom substrate, observe which of the four main species of lake algae were present, keep track of my course and heading to maintain a tight pattern with the video camera so that the images could be stitched together to produce a large-scale map, mention any visible groundwater influx, maintain a constant monologue of what I was seeing so the voice recorder would capture it, estimate the slope of the lake bottom….oh, and drive the submarine according to the instructions from topside! Of all those simultaneous tasks I think I might have managed to do about three.

Although the task loading was significant for refresher dive, the view from the sub more than made up for it. Back in Vancouver harbor, the water was so murky that the first indication that one was approaching an obstacle was often a sharp bump. There was little sea life visible. The flying was strictly IFR, the abbreviation pilots use for flying in clouds where there is no possibility of seeing the ground or anything else. Here, though, the water is beautiful: clear with a slight turquoise tint. With a fine view of the bottom of the lake from as much as 15 or 20 feet above it, it’s a pleasure to move the foot pedals and see the submarine respond and move around. And on my dive this afternoon there were indeed plenty of microbialites to be seen. In the greater depths, say 80 feet, tiny towers poke up out of the white carbonate “snow” that covers much of the lake bottom, looking for all the world like the petrified siphons of clams. As I drove upward into shallower water, I saw structures like big coral heads, up to two or three feet across, covered with small flutes and spires. At still shallower depths, fibrous green algae took over and there were no more microbialites. One of the things we hope to learn with this research is what factors control the sizes and shapes of the microbialites, and why they change so much with the depth of the water.

My dive lasted about three hours and included four or five “transects” from the lake’s deep floor up to the shallows and then back down. I had the video recorders running the entire time and tried to keep a good narrative of what I was seeing. Some time in the next day or so the science team will review the data I brought back, and I’ll find out whether I brought back anything especially interesting or useful. And tomorrow I’ll be back in the sub for my second dive of the season! I’ll write about that when I next have the opportunity.