Wavechasers condemn gummy bears to crushing ocean depths

Alford/Applied Physics Laboratory    Compared to the Styrofoam cup on the left t

Alford/Applied Physics Laboratory Compared to the Styrofoam cup on the left that stayed topside, the cup sent into the ocean depths collapsed under the pressure to about a quarter of its original size. The gummy bears didn’t compress nearly as much, but look worse for the wear after their trip to the bottom.

Follow the serious science – and the development of novel “Will it crush?” segments inspired by the YouTube hit “Will it blend?” – as University of Washington Wavechasers work in the South Pacific near Samoa.

The expedition Oct. 24 to Nov. 5 is led by the UW Applied Physics Laboratory’s Matthew Alford , with scientists trying to learn more about waves as tall as skyscrapers that roll along unseen thousands of feet below the ocean surface.


These internal waves in other parts of the world have been known to cause submarines to hit the bottom or breach the surface.

The considerable heat moved around the globe by these waves and released when they break, just like waves at the surface except underwater, has profound implications for ocean circulation and climate, Alford explains on the Wavechasers website.

Piggybacked on clusters of scientific instruments lowered as deep as 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) in the Samoan Passage, Alford’s “crush cam” is filming segments of “Will it crush?” The pressure at the bottom of the sea is more than 500 times what it is at the surface and scientists are sending down objects ranging from Styrofoam cups to gummy bears to cell phones to a soda pop can.

“We think this is a pretty intuitive and fun way to get people more involved with ocean research and some of its challenges – as well as to learn about the ocean,” wrote Alford on the expedition blog. “We aim to broaden the concept to allow kids to suggest items to be crushed, and to guess what will happen to them.”


Got a crush suggestion? Send it before Friday to Alford, malford [a] uw (p) edu , for possible inclusion in a segment. (When making suggestions, keep in mind they are on a ship at sea.) Internet connections are slow from the ship so the segments won’t be posted on YouTube until the expedition returns to port, about mid-November. Search YouTube then using terms like “will it crush” and “Wavechasers.”

The expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation , is at the Samoan Passage because that is a choke point in deep ocean circulation, according to the website describing the expedition. A “veritable river” of bottom water all the way from the Antarctic flows into the passage. Six million tons of water flow through the passage each second, which is 36 times more than the world’s largest river, the Amazon. Water pushing through the constricted passage becomes very turbulent, internal waves are generated and temperature and other water characteristics are altered.

Climate models do not do a good job resolving flows like these, Alford wrote. Yet is it well known that model results depend on what happens – the turbulence, internal waves and the resulting movement of heat – in such places. So he and his colleagues went there with their stable of instruments – moored profilers, current meter moorings and shipboard instruments.


“The overall goal is to understand these deep processes and the way they impact the flow, and to develop a strategy for eventually monitoring the flow through the passage,” he says.

Alford is an associate professor of oceanography and is collaborating on the project with James Girton with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, Glenn Carter with University of Hawaii and Jody Klymak with University of Victoria.


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