Crossing the Pacific on the way to the Phoenix Islands

This was a day of airplanes and checked bags. Brian Skerry and I left Boston with 19 checked bags between us. Then, after a change of plane in Denver, we arrived in Los Angeles and met up with Craig Cook, Stuart Sandin, Larry Madin, Kate Madin and Jeff Wildermuth. It is now 2:00 a.m. and the glow of my computer screen inside the darkened fuselage of Air Pacific flight 811 is the only light, eerily brightening my face and hands while most everyone else sleeps as our 747 tears across the Pacific at 600 miles an hour up at 33,000 feet.

Birds in flight on the Phoenix Islands (Photo: Greg Stone/2002)

We are as far above the ocean's surface as the seafloor is down from the surface at its deepest point, the Mariana Trench. But on average the oceans are only about 12,000 feet deep. As I look out the airplane window, the sky is dotted with stars that meet the shear blackness of the Pacific Ocean below. You know the Pacific is big because it takes 14 hours to fly across it.

The Pacific Ocean (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Although it could not look more featureless at night from this altitude, the Pacific is the largest most important natural characteristic on Earth. If you put the Atlantic and Indian Oceans together, they are still smaller than the Pacific. And, together, this global ocean, this interconnected pathway of salt water is the primary life support system for earth--moderating the climate, producing most of the oxygen we breathe, providing food for one out of every four people each day and driving the global hydrologic cycle (or water cycle).

Five hours from now we will land in Fiji and spend one day loading NAI'A before heading to the Phoenix Islands, a four-day voyage from Fiji.

-Gregory Stone, PIPA Expedition Leader

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