20 October 2005

Hirricane Rita cancelled October Aquarius mission

Hurricane Rita passed south of the Keys before roaring into the Gulf. Although "only" a category 1 storm at the time, wave heights reached nearly 30 feet off Key Largo.

Aquarius is sitting in 60 feet of water, so a thirty foot wave overhead creates significant bottom surge; the type of surge that has been known to tear shipwrecks in two and move them hundreds of feet across the bottom. The surge and constant wind-driven currents from the east-southeast moved Aquarius eight to ten feet, and threatened to tip the habitat over.

The laboratory survived due to solid engineering and planning by the Aquarius operations team. The bow (round bunkroom end) mud mats of the baseplate are buried and one stern mud mat is two feet off the bottom (see pictures). The whole habitat is bow down at about fifteen degrees and has turned about ten degrees. Some of the hold-down anchors were pried from the bottom. Exterior deck frames, battery pods, and the Gazebo were damaged or torn loose.

Work required to re-secure Aquarius to the seafloor and fix damaged components will force cancellation of the October NASA mission. Our partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, US Navy Diving, and NASA have all offered to help.

The good news is that the habitat is intact and if baseplate repairs can be made, we should be ready for the November mission. . .with some help from Mother Nature!

Source: www.uncwil.edu


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