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Weeki Wachee 2009 Exploration Season: Week 6

Although the team had a slow start on Saturday, all missions were accomplished! Another radio location was made and a charcoal pack was removed and given to SWFWMD for analysis. Last week we had hoped to extend the exploration beyond The Pit but we changed plans to focus on the validity of our cave survey and performing some scientific tasks.

Historical photo showing surface boilEntry and exit of the cave is getting progressively easier. Unfortunately, this is due to the reduced discharge and overall health of our aquifer (the picture to the right shows a clearly visible boil on the surface of the spring; today there is none).   The spring discharge and visibility inside the cave are directly related. When the discharge decreases so does the visibility. Currently, visibility in the cave is around 80'. Although, this may sound impressive, the cave is over 100' wide. As I write this, the USGS well that we use to extrapolate discharge levels is the lowest since data started being recorded in August 1966.

The team pulled their way in through the Event Horizon for the first time this year wearing their entire kit -- 2 low pressure 121 ft3 scuba cylinders, Kiss Classic Rebreather, argon cylinder and dry suit. Previously, we had tried to have the teams setup their kit inside the cave but we have learned that is not the most efficient use of time.

Last week we were very pleased that the radio location pinpointed the cave right where our map said it should be. We were not so lucky with this week's radio location. This week's radio location proved that our map is off -- that is the power of radio location and is why it has become so important for us this year. These radio location points are major accomplishments that help validate the survey and so us the necessary adjustments needed using the ground truthing. It definitely tops the list of data collection priorities, even though the sample ("speleo-crobe") collections and date sonde results are also impressive. The second radio location was taken at an intersection in the cave to an area named White Death.

The next task was retrieving a charcoal pack that was placed in the cave a couple of weeks ago. When the team scootered into White Death, they came in low and to the south. This route put the team off the line about 40’ but allowed a view of the area beyond the line which the had not seen before. Most of the entire alcove that makes up this section occurs in the white layer that shows up in the video time after time. What the team was able to see does not support the probability of a passage as originally assumed.

We were very excited to learn that the water sample taken of what we thought was the rhodamine dye SWFWMD had introduced into the system last week was confirmed. The KUR dive team was able to find the dye for SWFWMD and illustrate that although the tunnel below the F well is definitely connected, it currently does not discharge to the head spring.

Thanks again to our volunteers, the staff at Weeki Wachee, the Florida State Park system and our sponsors for making the exploration possible.

NEXT:
We will do another radio location at Helm's Deep and filming, in high definition, to that area of the cave.

Weeki Wachee 2009 Exploration Season: Week 5

The KUR exploration team never ceases to amaze! Thursday night of last week was spent portaging equipment into the cave for Saturday's exploration dive and reviewing dive plans. The setup team brought in 4 42AH scooters, 6 cylinders, a video camera and video lights. The Salvo 50W HID video lights make an amazing difference in the cave! I was almost able to see the entire width of the first room (The Witch's Den). 

Brett Hemphill being interviewed by Becky Kagan of Liquid ProductionsSaturday was not the best dive day we have had; the exploration team had to deal with numerous setbacks created by gearing up inside the cave and the clean up team had some issues removing gear from the cave. Although there were issues, we have been able to learn from them and improve our procedures.  The trouble was indeed worth it as there were some exciting discoveries made Saturday!

The first was a successful radio location and the second being a possible location of rhodamine dye that was introduced into the (Weeki Wachee F Well) a couple of weeks ago.  The dye was to be used in a dye trace study of the Weeki Wachee area.  It was expected to exit at the spring but instead is trapped in a dome almost 5,000' back in the cave.

The radio location dive was a coordinated effort between team members on the surface and divers 275' below. A radio location transmitter was placed at the River Tunnel intersection and the surface team carrying the receivers were able to pinpoint the diver -- under a maintenance shed!  The ever gracious Weeki Wachee staff provided our team access to the shed and also moved a golf cart so we could get the most accurate location -- in a maintenance shed and under a golf cart!  Why radio locate?  Radio location allows us to verify our in-water survey and also helps educate others on the importance of knowing exactly what our aquifer travels under and through.

The goals for the exploration team were to attempt to locate a strobe light that had been dropped down F well by SWFWMD, collect safety cylinders from the 2007 exploration and if possible, extend the exploration. As the exploration team approached the end of the 2007 exploration the team began to see what appeared to be thick milky visibility. As they got closer, a white milky layer creating a boundary on the leading edge of a dome room was clearly visible at a depth of 260'. The leading edge of the white cloud a ruby red color appeared. In this layer, visibility dropped to about 15’ and it was noted that the red which had previously been seen looking up into the lens was not present within the majority of the milky portion of the on top of the rock pile/dome room. A water sample was taken at this point and given to SWFWMD for analysis.

While all this was going on, the team was interview by both Bay News 9 and the St Pete Times. Unfortunately, the Bay News 9 interview was only aired at 5PM on Saturday and was not added to their web site. However, The article from the St Pete Times can be found here.

As you can see, last week was very exciting; we are learning from mistakes, improving our procedures and have made some significant findings. For those wondering how the exploration team stays warm for 12+ hours, a Silent Submersion UV26 was modified with a special nose cone provided Silent Submersion that allows the scooter batteries to be used to power a heated vest being work under the diver's drysuit. 

Thanks again to our volunteers, the very patient staff at Weeki Wachee, the Florida State Park system and our sponsors for making the exploration possible.

NEXT: We hope to start extending the exploration through The Pit (407') as this seems to be the main conduit for Weeki Wachee.

Weeki Wachee 2009 Exploration Season: Week 4

Dave Miner passing Event HorizonAs the flow at Weeki Wachee has continued to plummet (as of last week the discharge had fallen below 100cfs), the KUR team has pushed to get more divers acclimated with roles and responsibilities both inside and outside the cave. 

New safety and support divers are becoming acquainted with the fissure and the inherent difficulties that accompany assisting expedition divers through this narrow and flow-intensive area leading to the cave entrance.  In addition, existing team members have had numerous opportunities to reacquaint themselves to the cave via training dives and setup and cleanup dives for Week 3's successful mission dives.

This weekend we were successful in having almost all of this season's new divers learn how to enter and exit the cave safely.  Several of these have learned how to do this in both open circuit (required training) and closed circuit.  The picture above shows Dave Miner passing Event Horizon last year in his Dive-Rite O2ptima FX Rebreather

The new closed circuit divers will be helping the exploration this year by re-surveying cave, near range exploration of new leads, radio location and more.  Week 5's diving will include at least 2 of this year's new divers performing radio location.

In addition to thanking our volunteers, the staff at Weeki Wachee, the Florida State Park system and our sponsors for making the exploration possible we would also like to welcome Amigo's Dive Center as one of sponsors for the 2009 Exploration Season.

STAY TUNED: Week 5 will see the first mission dives that will push the cave beyond the 2007 exploration season.

Weeki Wachee 2009 Exploration Season: Week 3

KUR and SWFWMD dicuss the samplesThis weekend was especially successful and exciting.  We were able to successfully conduct the first closed-circuit mission dives of this year's exploration season.  Just as we expected, everything went exactly as planned.

Many goals were accomplished on this dive.  The first and foremost goal was to retrieve samples of the formations videoed during the last mission dive of the 2007 exploration season.  The samples we retrieved and have been delivered to USF for analysis.  All I can really say is that they look interesting and a lot like decayed wood.  The picture above shows Jeff, Dave and Dave DeWitt (SWFWMD) discussing the formations.  Additionally, the divers (Brett and Paul) were able to collect water samples for a dye trace study being conducted by SWFWMD, carry a datasonde for SWFWMD and retrieve 4 safety bottles that have been in the cave for almost 2 years.  The bottles definitely showed signs of distress but all appeared to be in some phase of a working condition. 

The setup divers from Thursday and clean divers on Saturday are the real backbone behind the mission dives.  If it were not for all of the volunteers, Weeki Wachee Exploration would be impossible.

Next week will be an easy week as there are no mission dives planned.  However, we will be conducting familiarization dives for new divers and getting some our open circuit divers in the cave using closed circuit.

Many thanks our volunteers, the staff at Weeki Wachee, the Florida State Park system and our sponsors for making the exploration possible.

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