A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18 until the end


The last week or so has been busier than the rest of the cruise put together, hence my prolonged absence from the blog.

We had two more days of unfortunate weather, but on Friday morning we were back in the water as promised. It was a great feeling - we had only a few days until we had to leave again for Auckland, and so we were determined to get as much done as physically possible in the 2.5 dive days we had left.

We started out at Mariner once more, pulling up eight water samples and seven corresponding gas samples. One of our samplers, IGT 1, lost its electronics and we switched over to a different sampler that wasn't as gas-tight - hence the disparity between water and gas samples. The next few hours were busier than I had remembered after eight days of boredom. We formed a tightly-knit machine, managing to process samplers within twenty minutes each (if they weren't clogged). We had brought up the first four right after lunch, and before dinner we were ready to relax and put them back on board. However, Jason came on board right after my shift at around 8pm, meaning that we had four more samplers to process and prep for redeployment.

Mariner was done for the year, and so we moved on to Tui Malila. It was a short transit, only a couple kilometers, but had we left Jason in the water it would have taken him much longer to reach the site. Instead we moved the whole ship and redeployed the elevator at around 12:30am, dropping Jason into the water again at around 1am. I headed to bed, knowing I'd need to be up again bright and early the next morning.

We began at 6am. I assisted once more with the elevator - the third such task in less than 24 hours. My hands were beginning to go raw from gripping the ropes so tightly in an attempt to keep the crane from hitting the other workers in the head. Once on deck, I helped Jeff and Sean process two samples before Niya and Wen yen woke up. We finished both before breakfast at 7:30am and returned to them at 8, which is when Niya joined us. Wen yen had watch and therefore was unable to join us until after noon, when we had already processed all four samplers brought up. We reloaded them onto the elevator and dropped it at 11am.

I entered the control van for my shift at 4pm. It was to be the last portion of the dive - the elevator was to come up at 6, and Jason at 6:30. Once the elevator was released and Jason was off the bottom, I was no longer needed. The control van crew, sans pilot and navigator, left the van for the final time of the cruise.

I returned after dinner to get the last of my things. Since the van was so cold to keep the computers from overheating, I often brought hot tea and a blanket in with me. I had left them for dinner and preferred to return them to my room before we had to start processing again.

The pilot and navigator were blasting music and talking, not needed much while Jason made his ascent other than to keep an eye on the controls and pressure gauges. I watched for a few moments, blanket spilling out of my hands, before Akel (the pilot) glanced at me and smiled. "You wanna play with his arm?" he asked, glancing sideways at the screen where Jason's arms and deck could be seen.

My eyes widened. "Yes!"

He moved from his seat and let me sit, moving the control panel to my lap. He explained the mechanism and gave me a brief lesson in how to maneuver the arm, wrist, and claws, then let me take control. It was exhilarating. Jason's arm responded so quickly to the slightest movement, almost before I realized I had made it. Akel and Scotty, the navigator, watched me carefully to make sure I didn't mess anything up, but they relaxed quickly. "You're a natural," Akel praised. "Go ahead and touch that thing there." He pointed to an empty holder for an IGT, since IGT1 was still malfunctioning.

I slowly, carefully maneuvered the arm to touch the claws lightly to the tip. There was the faintest response from the manipulator at the touch, letting me know that it had come in contact with something. I was delighted.

I returned the arm to its locked position and handed the controls back to Akel, unable to control the grin on my face. I thanked them both profusely and practically skipped out of the control van back to the main lab, completely giddy.

Sean and some of the other guys were playing ping-pong (as usual) before the elevator came up. I don't know if I mentioned the tournament in an earlier blog post, but Jeff was the reigning champion and was waiting for the defining match between Sean and Akel to determine his final opponent. Said match would be happening in a couple days, after the samples were done processing and the lab had been packed away in a small way.

I watched the games for a few little while, working occasionally on notes as I studied for a final, until Brett came in to inform us that the elevator had breached the surface. We dropped what we were doing and the elevator crew (myself, Nick, John, Sean, and Gilbert) headed to the wet lab to get our life jackets and hard hats - the required uniform whenever the cranes were in motion on deck.

We brought it up with no trouble, realizing this would be our final elevator operation of the cruise. We trickled back to the main lab, samples and samplers in hand, and began work for the half hour before Jason would appear on deck. We had seven samples to process before the night was out.

As soon as Jason was tied down on board, the engines started and we began the four day transit back to Auckland. In between samplers I studied for my final. Niya worked on French and Wen yen was in charge of cleaning and taking apart the samplers after they had been emptied. I was in charge of H2S, and Niya in charge of pH. We weren't busy too often, but we still ran around frequently helping with this or that as Jeff and Sean completed each sample.

Out of the forty-plus samples taken on this cruise, only one sample was lost. IGT8 didn't close all the way after its sample was taken at Tui Malila, and so we lost all the fluid on the way up. It was unfortunate, but it was relieving as well - one of forty isn't half-bad. We finished processing at around 10pm, and then it was bedtime after an exhausting day - 11 samples in total within a 14 hour period.

The next few days we spent cleaning the lab. I took my final and think I did well. Sean sent it off to my professor, and apparently it's legible - a good sign. I gave a presentation for my subduction zones class. We packed up boxes and wrapped glassware in bubble wrap to prepare it for shipping. We held a few science meetings to go over our findings - one of the biologists found a methanogen after all! - and discuss which samples to focus on for future research and possible publications.

Now, less than 24 hours before we port in Auckland, the lab is nearly empty and boxes are piled in corners to be packed on pallets. Sean lost his tournament game against Akel, and Jeff and Akel faced off for the championship play. Once again, Akel won. I bought a t-shirt with Jason's schematics on the back and the Woods Hole logo on the front. I read several books and played Roller Coaster Tycoon. Many people gathered to watch Game of Thrones season 1 in the media room, as Sean and a few others had never seen it.

Now, I sit typing this blog as the ship quietly steams towards our final destination. Tomorrow we remove all the boxes in the lab and give them to our Auckland agent for shipping, then go to a post-cruise party at a small pub near the port. On Friday I leave the ship to pick up my rental car, pick up Hannah, and then begin my trip around New Zealand.

It's been an exciting trip. While the first part may be over, the rest of my adventure is still to come.

Posted by mrh616 19:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged boats ship jason transit samples lab revelle medea rov hydrothermal vents Comments (0)

Day 14, 15, 16, 17: Boredom takes hold

The past few days of swells and wind have prevented Jason from launching, and the boredom is beginning to take its toll on the science crew. Half of us have begun ‘hibernating’, sleeping as much as possible, while the other half has simply devoted themselves to watching whatever tv shows they have downloaded onto their computers. Discussion about Heartland and Once Upon a Time has worked its way into everyday conversation.

We have begun a ping-pong tournament, with sixteen participants and a loser’s bracket. Niya and I were entered against our wishes, but we have been matched together and so have been avoiding the main lab (where the table is set up) whenever one or the other is present. We know full well we’ll be thrown into the match sooner or later, but since neither of us particularly enjoy ping-pong we’re attempting to hold it off as long as possible.

Just because we don’t like playing it, however, doesn’t mean it’s not highly entertaining to watch. Several of the guys have thrown themselves full-tilt into the game. I’ve seen them nearly give themselves concussions going after the ball, and one of them (Nick or John, I can’t recall which) lunged so far that he somehow landed underneath a table ten feet away. I wish I were exaggerating.

The down time has allowed for several board games to take hold. Every night Carlos, Gilbert, Nick, John, Jess and I gather in the mess hall and play Settlers of Catan. I may be a bit addicted now, but unfortunately have not yet won. Carlos is the reigning champion with two wins, but Jess, Nick, and John all have their own victories to gloat over. Poor Gilbert owns the game and brought it all the way from Los Angeles, but has not yet been able to score a victory. Meanwhile, I fumble through it and, when it becomes apparent that I will not win, try my darndest to mess it up for whoever is winning. It becomes highly entertaining.

Other than that, not much has happened. The swells seem to be getting rougher by the day, but the forecast says that the wind should die down some by Thursday morning. Unfortunately that means that the swells may linger until Friday or Saturday, which cuts into our dive time even more. We may only have two or three dive days left before we’re forced back to port.

Until then, fingers crossed that the weathermen have it wrong. We can only hope.

Posted by mrh616 20:07 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship bored jason waiting revelle medea Comments (0)

Day 13: Back to the lab


We brought up the elevator at 8am, loaded with four more IGT samplers and several rocks and slurp samples for the biologists. We made impressive progress – compared to our first day in the lab with ABE working for nearly 8 hours, we managed to finish in a mere three and a half, just in time for lunch.

After a quick meal of pepperoni and sausage calzones we dropped the elevator at the new site, Vai Lili. After the drop I tried to get a nap in, knowing we’d be making it a late night with a storm coming in. They were talking about bringing Jason back up at midnight, meaning four new samplers full and needing to be processed.

Less than an hour of sleep later, I woke to Wen yen peering through the privacy curtains around my bunk. “They are bringing the samples up,” she said. I thanked her groggily and slowly got up to return to the main lab.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely correct. She had misunderstood the announcement and thought that the elevator was on the way – instead, it had merely just hit bottom. Jason was still in the water column and wouldn’t come down until the dust settled. I still had two hours before I had to be in the van and I was exhausted.

I sat and watched a minor ping pong tournament between a few of the guys in the meantime. Nick kicked Sean’s butt, then continued his reign of terror against Gilbert when Sean yielded. When 3:45pm rolled around, I reluctantly made my way to the frozen control van.

Jason had just reached the elevator and was starting to transfer samplers from one deck to the other. Stephane and I watched quietly, both of us unneeded and therefore rather bored. Annalouise sat knitting in the down time. At 4:40 we released the elevator and watched it slowly rise into the water column. Jason would move away from the area and rise a few meters off the bottom until the elevator reached the ship, which wouldn’t be for another hour.

Seeing the looks of dread on our faces, Annalouise laughed and set down her knitting. “Let’s go get dinner,” she said, smiling. “Then you two will have to process samples. We’ll be just transiting back to Mariner; you’re needed more in the lab than in the van.”

We shared smiles and headed to the mess hall, where the cooks had outdone themselves with roast duck, fried scallops, and apple pie with whipped cream for dessert. Dinner was a rather quiet affair, everyone being tired after a long day of processing. With more samples coming up in less than an hour, however, they couldn’t afford another nap.

The elevator rose to the surface before six and we quickly had it stowed and tied down. Sean and I carried the IGT samplers inside and set them on the table with grunts – each sampler was 40lbs.

The next three hours were spent in another flurry of activity. The biologists usually finished their processing within an hour and were long gone by 9pm when we heaved the last sampler back to its resting place. We envied the biologists a little since they finished so quickly, but they also had to check back on their samples, whereas we were done in one go.

Sean and Jeff began a game of ping pong. Niya prepared the H2S standards for the 12am Jason samples. Wen yen cleaned the most recently completed sampler and prepared it for another dive. I began the 13 vials each necessary for holding the fluid from the four incoming samplers.

The ship rolled beneath our feet more and more with the passing hour. The storm was approaching. We would not be diving for a few days, and the mood began to turn tired and bleak at the realization.

Thankfully, Sean and Jeff made an executive decision to go to bed and leave the samplers on Jason overnight. They would not leak and would preserve the sample as it was until the morning when we weren’t running on espresso fumes. I took the hint and went to bed, relieved to pull the covers over myself once more.

Posted by mrh616 02:37 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship dive jason lab revelle medea rov Comments (0)

Day 12: Oops



I slept in until 11. I have no regrets about it – it was a wonderful nap. I joined the others upstairs for a bite to eat, then headed down to the main lab where a massive ping-pong game was ongoing between Nick and Carlos. Out of everyone on the science team, it was well-agreed that Carlos, Annalouise, Jeff and Stephane were the best. Talk of a tournament was tossed around and agreed upon – later, we nodded, when the boat was rocking more and it was harder for the best players to get an advantage.

The game ended (Carlos won) so Nick and I played for a little while, stopping every so often to watch the screen showing Jason’s movements on the seafloor below. We had gotten to Mariner late last night and launched early this morning, right after breakfast. I had slept through it, which I hadn’t meant to do, but I knew that they didn’t necessarily need me. My presence would not be missed.

Around 1pm, we noticed a shakiness in Jason’s left arm. By 1:30pm, we saw why. Hydraulic fluid was leaking from a joint. The camera stayed on the arm for a few minutes. We knew that upstairs in the control van, the pilot and engineer were in deep conversation about what to do.

And then he was on the way up.

We all knew what that meant. Whatever samples Jason had taken on his travels in Mariner were coming up with him, and we had to be prepared for everything. Jeff instructed Niya and I to prepare the setup for low H2S, which he was expecting due to the low temperatures at the sample sites. This meant doing a titration and preparing six separate standards for the electrode, which meant an hour and a half of work for Niya and myself.

She took on the majority of the work for this part, having done it before. I stood by and recorded mV measurements for the titration. As she prepared the standards, I went and prepared the vials for the two samples we had on the way, then set up several glass vials from the vacuum pump. These took much longer and their level of vacuum had to be recorded before they were filled for CO2 and hydrocarbon measurements.

Jason was up by 3pm and we were immediately at work, trying to finish our work in time for a 6pm drop. The first sampler was clogged, much to Jeff’s dismay. We spent most of the time attempting to unclog the valve, and eventually we had to simply replace it. Once we got started, however, we were in for a surprise.

It must be mentioned that for some reason, Mariner is much different from all the other vent sites we’ve visited or plan to visit. In fact, everything is nearly opposite – all the measurements of gases and elements that were low at the other vents are high at Mariner, and vice versa. Thus it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the pH was so low (2.56 was our lowest of the two) in our samples, or that the H2S was high enough to destroy our electrode. Jeff had to turn to the high H2S method (my method, with phosphoric acid and silver nitrate) much sooner than he expected. Methane and hydrogen were at near-absurdly high concentrations.

It made Jeff, Sean, and all the biologists giddy with excitement.

We finished up the samplers just in time to catch the last of dinner and to replace the samplers on Jason’s deck. The engineers had fixed his arm and saw no further problems with it in his future, so they were confident enough to send him back down.

We finished dinner quickly. I stood with Niya and Rick to watch the launch, then hurried to my shift in the control van, where I watched the descent with a knitting Annalouise. At 8pm my replacement had arrived and it was time for me to depart.

The rest of my night was spent at leisure, reading and watching my tv show. The elevator was scheduled to come up with four new IGT samplers after breakfast the next morning, and so I drifted, reluctant to leave my book, to bed.

Posted by mrh616 17:34 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship dive jason lab revelle medea rov Comments (0)

Day 11: Samples up!!

Time to work


I woke at 7am with a grumble, rolling to put my phone alarm on silent. Jess had the 12am-4am shift and was sleeping in the bunk below me, so I moved about the room as quietly as I could to get ready. It was more difficult than it sounded – everything I touched made some sort of noise just opening, and I was attempting to do it without turning on the light.

Eventually I managed to get dressed and ready without waking her – a monumental feat, in my opinion. I went upstairs to get breakfast, then outside to the main deck to wait with the elevator crew.

By 8am the yellow top of the elevator bobbed into view. Brett directed us to certain places to place the tag lines as the crane moved into place. I stood with an additional tag line ready.

We got the elevator on deck without a hitch. We tied it down and stowed our life jackets and hard hats. It was time to see our samples from the night.

I assisted Sean with the IGT samplers. We took them off the elevator and rinsed them down with fresh water to help avoid any unnecessary corrosion, then carried all four into the main lab to begin fluid collection. As I was the only one available (poor Niya had a 12-4am shift, and Wen yen was on shift until noon) I was immediately put to work labeling 40 vials with the sample name and number. Directly after that, I began pH and H2S.

Each IGT (Isobaric Gas Tight) sampler had a thermocouple to determine the temperature of each sampled fluid on site. They sucked up the fluid using a motor and two pistons, which we would later extract using a high pressure pump and a valve.

We did this now, one sampler at a time. By the second sampler, Jeff, Sean and I had become a well-oiled machine. Niya arrived in time for the third sampler, and Wen yen shortly after that. Niya became the ‘gas master’, in charge of the GC, and Wen yen helped Sean clean and turn around each sampler once complete.

Unfortunately, the third sampler we picked up was severely clogged with sulfides from the vent site. Fluid dripped out at an agonizingly slow pace. Frustrated, Jeff and Sean had to stop work and somehow fix the sampler so that it would yield us the samples we needed.

My job during the whole process was fairly simple, but important. We had a station set up specifically for H2S analysis and measurement of fluid pH, and somehow, through some fluke of sleep and shift, I was now in charge. Jeff handed me a lidless vial of fluid, which I placed under a calibrated electrode. It would read off a pH measurement – often between 5 and 3 – and then I had to dispose of the sample, wash out each vial including the mixing rod, and replace the electrode in the ph7 buffer. As I said, simple. However, pH is vital for Jeff and Sean, and even more so for the biologists working only a few meters away. They would often call to us asking what a certain sample was, and would grumble or exclaim to themselves and each other with each answer.

The H2S was a little more complicated. We had a setup that pumped nitrogen gas into a tube of phosphoric acid. We would add the sample to the acid, and the H2S in the fluid sample would drift into another tube, where silver nitrate waited. The H2S would bind with the silver to create silver sulfate, which precipitated out into dark flakes.

The samples for the H2S system were transferred from the sampler to my setup in syringes, which I completed with a needle and injected into the phosphoric acid. It was quite exciting, actually – instant gratification, as the H2S would bind quickly and start precipitating within a few seconds of injection.

I cleaned the needles and syringes (we didn’t have to worry so much about ‘single use’ of needles in this lab) and returned them to Jeff, who would give me a second sample and a second vial of fluid for another pH measurement. In between, he pumped out vials for NO3, NH3, SiO2, and other metals and gases to be measured. On the other side of the table, Niya manned the GC and pumped samples through to measure hydrogen, methane, and other gases.

It was a busy system, but it worked. We finished all four samplers before 5pm, just in time for dinner and to replace them on the elevator for a 6pm drop. We were interrupted, however, by news. Jason was on his way up.

It turned out that the weather was turning for the worse. Thursday evening we were to expect a storm with 40+ knot winds and swells of 10-15ft. No conditions for Jason to be in the water. Annalouise knew this and set her foot down – we would bring Jason up and be at Mariner and ready for launch the next morning.

Jason returning meant one major thing for the scientists in the lab. After a day of labor, we were to begin all over again.

We finished dinner off and re-prepped the lab for new samples. I restarted the pH meter. Wen yen cleared off her table of tools and trash to allow for IGTs to be set down. Niya and Sean recalibrated the GC. By six, Jason was on deck and we were back to work.

Four more samplers had been brought up, each full. Jeff and I took turns playing our music as loud as we dared. The mood was still upbeat, which was good. Everyone was pleased to be working after so many days of languid nothingness. By 9:30 we had everything complete. All four samplers were empty and ready to go. We had been lucky with no more clogs and fantastic samples inside.

By this time we were all exhausted. Jeff handed off his normal 12-4am shift to Rick, determined to get some sleep. Sean was out of sight as soon as we drifted away from the table. Wen yen hung about for a few minutes, then left as well.

Niya and I headed upstairs to the mess to relax and unwind for a few minutes before bed. I got a mug of water, she of sleepytime tea, and we chatted with Jess and Sunshine for a while. Eventually yawns overtook the conversation and we drifted off to our beds.

Posted by mrh616 17:31 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship dive jason revelle medea rov Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 16) Page [1] 2 3 4 »