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Remembering Bill Normark

Pisces Dive P5-78, Hawai'i

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USGS geologist Jim Moore (now a USGS emeritus scientist with the Volcano Hazards Team) worked with Bill Normark during USGS mapping of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (from the coast out 200 nautical miles) around the Hawaiian Islands. In a tribute to Bill on the occasion of his retirement from the USGS, Jim recalls a submersible dive off the Big Island of Hawaii:

Bottom photograph from Pisces dive
Above: Bottom photograph from Pisces dive P5-78 shows surface of a drowned coral reef at about 150-m (500 ft) water depth off Ka Lae (South Point), Hawaii. Note shells of boring clams and some dissolution of the carbonate rock. Image approx 2 m wide. [larger version]

In June of 1988, Bill Normark and I joined forces for a series of submersible dives off the west side of the Island of Hawai‘i. We then moved to the south cape of Hawai‘i to explore and sample a reef at 500-ft depth. The reef lies atop the South Rift Zone ridge of Mauna Loa Volcano.

On dive P5-78, pilot Al Whitcombe, Bill, and I (all big men) were crammed in the small pressure hull of Pisces descending to the ocean floor. We were suddenly attacked by a school of large kahala fish (also called amberjack). About four of these fast-swimming fish averaging 3 ft or more in length darted erratically around the submersible and rammed the boat, causing it to rock and shudder. Loud noises resonated within, and we feared for the integrity of the sub. Perhaps the fish were alarmed by this strange monster that invaded their domain, and were intent on chasing it away. They destroyed two external lights and broke and bent other light standards and equipment before giving up the attack. Later inspection revealed that the fish suffered more damage than they inflicted on the sub. Blood and fish tissue were lodged in the light standards. Despite greatly reduced illumination, Bill enthusiastically carried on the mission, and we collected several coral and lava samples.

More excitement came at the end of the dive. During the 8 hours below the surface, gale-force winds developed and the sea became angry. This made the transfer by small boat—in heavy seas—difficult from the Pisces back to the mother ship. The small boat rose and fell rapidly on 8-ft swells as it moved adjacent to the larger vessel. The trick was to jump at just the right time, so that the boat wasn't too high above the level of the deck or, worse, below the deck. Two burly deckhands stood by the open gunwale ready to grab the jumper in the swashing water that swept the deck. Bill jumped a bit too early when the boat was too high. One seaman slipped when he tried to break Bill's fall, and they both fell on the deck, where Bill broke his foot. Fortunately, this was our last dive in the program, and we transited directly to Kona for medical attention.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Bill Normark: USGS Marine Geologist, Mentor, Winemaker
June 2008
Tributes to Bill Normark
June 2008
The (Slow) Ascent of the Sea Cliff
June 2008

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cover story:
Water-Quality Monitoring

New Method to Estimate Sea-Ice Thickness

Meetings Airborne Lidar Processing System Workshop

Staff Bill Normark Passes Away

Bill Normark: Tributes

Bill Normark: Ascent of Sea Cliff

Bill Normark: Pisces Dive P5-78

St. Petersburg Office Dedicates New Building

USGS Deputy Director Addresses Downtown Partnership

Publications Coastal-Sediment-Transport Data in Google Earth

June 2008 Publications List

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