Kaua‘i teacher finds sea floor ‘mesmerizing’

In between discovering dozens of submarine volcanoes in the northern Hawaiian Islands last week, Waimea Canyon Middle School teacher Linda Sciaroni penned a few dispatches from sea and explored the research vessel she temporarily calls home.

“Nobody ever would have dreamed there were so many volcanoes like this around these relatively small islands,” she says in an online post Friday after exploring northwest of Ka‘ula Island that morning.

Sciaroni, who has a science background and teaches English as a second language, has joined an international team of scientists on a 28-day marine expedition aboard the University of Hawai‘i’s “Kilo Moana.”

The crew plans to map the Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau submerged volcanic fields through Oct. 7 to learn more about what, when and how lava erupted in the ocean depths surrounding the islands.

Chief scientist Michael Garcia said in an e-mail yesterday that the crew was in its second day of sampling the ocean floor southeast of Kaua‘i.

“To our great surprise the first thing we saw on the ocean floor stick(ing) up in the mud was a Coke can. Unreal,” he said. “This thing will last a very long time. Weathering is very slow at the 32 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures or colder that exist in this area.”

In Sciaroni’s first dispatch at sea Sept. 10, she says she learned about ship safety and laughed while practicing putting on immersion suits.

“(The suits) are really tall and I am really short, so I looked a lot like the ‘Michelin Tire Man’ but bright orange,” she says. “They sometimes call these Gumby suits.”

The teacher-turned-explorer said she has received questions from fellow educators and students over the past week, mostly interested in what it is like to live on a boat.

“The food is delicious. The crew is lively,” she said in an e-mail yesterday. “The boat is large and clean. The beds are good. The rooms are noisy and we have to whisper everywhere because the sound carries all over.”

Sciaroni, who moved to Kaua‘i five years ago after teaching science at Franklin High School in Los Angeles, describes the inside of the ship in a Tuesday dispatch.

“I found a library with computers … a dining hall, a weight room, a laundry room, some conference rooms and a lounge,” she states. “The lounge has a whole bunch of those giant arm chairs that two kids could sit in. Every night the crew chooses a movie to watch.”

In her room, which she shares with another researcher, the teacher says, “the coolest thing” is a multi-functional monitor.

“It shows you all the vital statistics about today — longitude and latitude of the ship’s location, wind speed and direction, water temperature, traveling speed and other things,” she states. “Change a few channels and you can see what movie someone is watching in the lounge, change a few more and you can watch the work of the boat crew by closed circuit television.”

The Kilo Moana had to return to Honolulu Harbor to replace a cord for the JASON2 remotely operated vehicle, but the submarine robot is now operational.

“The live video from the ocean floor is absolutely mesmerizing,” Sciaroni said.

In a Wednesday dispatch, she says the team — which includes Kaua‘i geologist Chuck Blay — learned more about JASON2, which is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Blay is a sedimentologist and author of “Kaua‘i’s Geologic History: A Simplified Guide.”

“One researcher is measuring the chemicals in the rocks,” Sciaroni states. “She wants to measure levels of the various isotopes of lead.”

JASON2 will also take still images and use its mechanical arms to collect rock samples in water 1 to 3 miles deep.

“So far we have collected about 20 rocks,” Garcia said. “The sub only moves at about 0.2 to 1.0 miles per hour, so it is a slow business.”

On Wednesday, Sciaroni says the Kilo Moana’s bathymetry and side-scan sonar surveys covered areas around Ni‘ihau and Ka‘ula.

“We are discovering many, many young flat-topped volcanoes and young lava flows,” she states. “This area could be the largest mapped submarine volcano field around the islands yet,”

To track the expedition online, visit www.soest.hawaii.edu/expeditions/Kauai.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com.


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