Watch NatGeo Scientists Get Caught in an Underwater Avalanche in the Bahamas, and Learn About MBARI’s New Underwater Avalanche Experiment in Monterey Bay

by Owen James Burke

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“…all of a sudden, it just started raining down on top of me. . . . We’ve trained ourselves to take slow, deep breaths and keep your heart rate down.” – Kenny Broad, Environmental Anthropologist and NatGeo Grantee. Screenshot from NatGeo’s video below.

When diving into a maze of caves like the Bahamas’ blue holes, explorers set trace lines so they can find their way out. In the event of an underwater avalanche, it can be as much of a challenge locating the trace itself, let alone an exit route. NatGeo Grantee Kenny Broad and team were in the midst of a dive in one of the Bahamas’ blue holes when, perhaps due to their presence, they were suddenly silted in by a sedimentary flow.

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“It’s lucky that it was a very narrow passageway, because in a giant passageway I wouldn’t have hit the line,” Paull concludes as he surfaces. Screenshot from NatGeo’s video below.

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Meanwhile in the Pacific . . .

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Above: MBARI researchers prepare a BED, or Benthic Event Detector, for its journey to the Monterey Canyon floor where they’ve dug a pit which will hopefully keep the device in place and allow them to recover it later on. Photo: © 2015 MBARI

A first-of-its-kind international experiment to track underwater avalanches led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute (MBARI) is getting under way in Monterey Bay. The computer-generated illustration below depicts topographic and bathymetric data at the depths the researchers will be setting their array of instruments in hopes of recording any sedimentary flows.

This aerial view of Monterey Bay from the south was created by combining computer-generated topographic and bathymetric data. Vertical relief has been exaggerated to better show the Monterey Canyon and mountains on either side of the bay.

The illustration above (not to scale) depicts proposed locations for BEDs in Monterey Canyon as part of the Coordinated Canyon Experiment. Image: © 2015 MBARI

The instruments will be put in place by robots, and while there’s great risk in losing the expensive equipment, “There is always a risk in putting instruments in the canyon,” project leader and MBARI geologist Charile Paull said. “But after many years, I think we’ve learned how to minimize these risks. And if we don’t take risks, we’re never going to be able to figure out what’s going on down there.”

Read more in a MBARI press release here.

–OJB

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