A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10: ABE


We waited out the next day as swells rolled, churning the boat this way and that. Tito called it too rough to launch and so we abided by his word, waiting anxiously for the conditions to change. The day was spent puttering about the main lab and reading or doing other leisure activities, and we hovered on every word chief scientist and fellows whispered.

It wasn’t until dinner that the word went out. “Elevator at 5:30. Launch at 6. Be ready.”

We sped through our meals. The elevator crew rushed to the main deck to prepare, donning life jackets and hard hats. Brett coached us through the process of tag lines and crane safety, and within minutes of 5:30 we had the elevator over the side and dropped into the water below. It fell to the bottom, a solitary light blinking from the top to let us know where on the bottom it would eventually lie.

Jason and Medea were next. No one but the Jason crew were allowed on deck now, so we shed our safety equipment and darted two decks above, where the best view came from just above the cargo boxes that housed all our necessary equipment. He dropped into the water and his lights turned on, illuminating the area around him with a bright blue glow. Medea followed shortly after and thus we were off.

The launch complete, I grabbed up my warm clothes and hurried to the control van, where my shift was just beginning. The AC blasted to keep the tens of computers from overheating. The only light came from the glow of computer screens. We watched quietly as Jason and Medea began the descent to the bottom of the ocean.

An hour and a half of blue water and lifeless seas, we began to see signs of habitation. Little creatures scurried in front of our cameras and away. A curious fish came by to investigate the cable connecting Jason and Medea, hovering just inside Jason’s lights. Within minutes of this, we were on the bottom.

Almost instantly we saw what we had come to find. A short, spindly vent rose up in front of us, shimmering water erupting from its top. White bacterial matting covered it from top to bottom. Shrimp, crabs and snails roamed its flanks in search of food, each ignoring the other in favor of the tasty bacterial treat beneath their bodies.

The pilot argued with Annalouise for a few minutes when she immediately wanted a sample. “Let’s do a 360 and see what else we find first,” he argued, and she eventually agreed.

It was well she did. We spun Jason slowly, careful not to knock over our newfound vents. Only a few meters away sat another clump of white vents – these were taller, thicker, and more imposing. They sat together in a group the size of Jason himself, if not greater, and they absolutely teemed with life.

We explored these vents carefully, circling them on the outside. The pilot waited patiently for Annalouise’s word.

Finally: “Let’s stop here. Find a marker and let’s take some samples.”

The control van broke out into grins. A crowd of other scientists not on shift entered the van and gathered behind us, focusing their gazes on the screens as Jason’s arm shifted and reached out, grabbing hold of a chimney structure and tugging. It was friable and broke off its base. Someone let out a whoop, and the pilot dropped the chunk dexterously into a lidded sample tube called a chamberpot.


At the end of the sample-taking it was 8pm and the end of my shift. I stood and let my replacement take my chair, but stayed behind and watched for several minutes more as we took fluid samples, temperature readings, and yet more sulfide collections.

Eventually I headed downstairs to the galley to fill my water bottle and join a group where the AC was not blasting as strongly. Niya, Jess and a few others sat gathered around the tv in the mess hall, watching the same screens as shown in the van. I joined them, and we soon had a healthy dose of entertainment as the new shift pilot, Jimmy, broke off a piece of sulfide far too big to fit in the chamberpot. That didn’t stop him from trying – he spent the next ten minutes trying to manipulate the piece so it would fit. Eventually it broke apart and Jason’s arm stopped moving suddenly, as if surprised. We could almost hear Jimmy swearing from where we sat.

We drifted away from the screens when they began to focus on a single chimney stack without doing much of anything. Niya and I turned to our books and Jessica to her computer. I read for a while, then head to bed. It would be a busy day tomorrow.

Posted by mrh616 17:18 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship dive jason revelle medea rov Comments (0)

Day 9: Kilo Moana


And he’s… out.

I woke up this morning in a rush, knowing that they planned to bring up the elevator full of samples after breakfast. Jessica had a 12-4am shift in the control van, so I had to get ready quietly and in the dark, not wanting to wake her. I ran upstairs to the main lab to see if there were any preparations going on before breakfast.

Only to find out that Jason, Medea, and the elevator were all out of the water, and the ship was steaming on to a new location.

My heart sank. Something must have gone wrong. I left my things in the main lab and trudged to the galley, swaying with the motion of the ship. I found the rest of the science party (the ones who were awake, anyway) sipping coffee glumly.

Kilo Moana was dead.

The site they had found last night, with Marker D and the extinct sulfides, was only a taste of what we would discover. The rest of the area had much of the same: extinct chimneys, a few galatheid (sp?) crabs, brittle stars, and mussels.

Disheartened, Annalouise made the call to bring up Jason at around 3am, and everything was out of the water by 6am. They had picked up five mussels in an attempt to gain something from the site, but those were processed quickly and the dead shells were soon tossed over the side.

The mood was glum and rather bored throughout the rest of the day. I helped write up one of the dive logs for Gilbert, but most of the morning I had nothing to do but watch a tv show I had downloaded a while back. The afternoon was even less exciting – I took a nap.

Dinner was a bit more animated. We had arrived at the next site, ABE, a couple hours previous and were now just waiting on the word of Tito to see whether we could dive. Sunday dinner on the boat was a lively occasion anyways – the cooks prepared a great meal of ribeye steaks, New Zealand mussels (which I didn’t touch – shellfish haven’t been a part of my menu since dissecting a clam in 6th grade), baked potatoes, and broccoli.

Most of the geochemistry crew (and John, who was biology) sat together and discussed stinging nettles, poison ivy, and urchins. I’m not quite sure how we got to the subject, but I will fully admit that it was entertaining. A story got going about peeing on jellyfish stings, which soon got the entire table rolling in belly laughs.

Annalouise appeared soon after, expression grim. “We’re not diving,” she said quietly, looking at Jeff. “Tito doesn’t like the swells, and there’s a squall moving past.”

Jeff and Sean exchanged glances as the rest of us groaned, anticipating another long night of ‘hurry up and wait’. “Did he say anything about when we might be able to go in again?”

Annalouise shook her head. “No. I think we’re waiting on the next weather report.”

Jeff nodded, and the conversation ceased. Niya and I glanced at each other. After dinner, both of us went for our computers.

I paused in the main lab, looking outside as the sun’s light disappeared over the horizon. I pushed open the door and stepped outside to lean on the rail and watch the waves. A squall created a dark line in the distance, almost blocking out the rest of the sunset. Nick, Gilbert and Rick joined me shortly after, and we stood in quiet companionship until the light disappeared.

I took my computer and charger back to the galley, where I joined Niya and Jessica. Niya sat working on a paper while Jessica struggled with an unfamiliar mouse in a (futile) attempt to play Surgeon Simulator.

I couldn’t help but watch. I had never seen the game played before except in highly entertaining gifs and pictures, so we were all laughing within minutes – especially when the ‘doctor’s’ watch dropped off his wrist and draped itself over the ‘patient’s’ face.

We watched for a while longer. The patient bled out soon after Jessica muttered “maybe I should just go at it with the screwdriver”, and another round of giggles ensued.

I got my chance to play and soon got the hang of the mouse and controls, but not so much the dexterity needed to control the tools. My own patient bled out after I dropped the bone saw into his abdomen – not a particularly kind way of killing someone.

They played Settlers of Catan afterwards and I watched for a little while before turning in. No one knew what to expect for tomorrow. It was time to sleep.

Posted by mrh616 18:28 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship jason transit travel_time revelle medea rov Comments (0)

Day 8: The Dive Begins

Transiting is getting old


Before I get to the day, here's the photo of the 'seasickness poll' I mentioned in my last post. I'm fairly certain most people lied, because there is no way that many people were smiley during the transit.


The day dawned bright, clouds floating through the sky much like the wallpaper in Toy Story. We reached the Mariner vent site early, but Tito determined the seas too rough to launch Jason and Medea. Instead we steamed on to the northernmost site 240km away, Kilo Moana.

Our transit took the rest of the day. Little needed doing on board, so most wrote papers or read. A few sat down to watch a movie. I spent my hours with my homework and my book, sitting at the picnic table on the deck outside the main lab. The seas stretched to the horizon. One could almost see the curve of the earth above the waves.

Finally, the ship stopped. I saw Tito move to the side to investigate the seas. Apparently, what he saw was suitable, because an hour after dinner, as the sun went down, I joined Jeff, Sean, and several others on the main deck, clad in a life jacket and hard hat. We gripped tielines and ratchet straps until the crane came swinging to the top of our sample elevator and lowered it over the side.

The elevator would drop to the bottom with extra sample containers, which Jason would replace when his own were filled. The elevator would then come up, we would process the samples and replace the containers, and then the elevator would drop down again.

Within a half hour, Jason and Medea were ready for launch. Jason dropped into the water, his lights creating a blue glow around him. Medea followed him quickly after and they began their descent to the bottom.

I joined Wen Yen and Guy in the main lab as we waited for the inevitable sight of the bottom. It took nearly two hours. We gathered in the control van, waiting with bated breath.

At a depth of over 2500m, the rocks loomed up beneath us. Pillow lavas, their rinds still shining, glistened beneath spindly white and orange brittle stars. Jason paused at the bottom to re-equilibrate himself and check his arms and dials. Jimmy, the pilot, mumbled to himself in the front of the control van.

The ROV inched slowly up a shallow slope. In the cameras, a tower began to appear through the gloom, spindling into the waters above. Other towers, some shorter and some taller, surrounded it. No water shimmered around them, nor did we see any bacterial mats. The towers were dead.

Dead as the towers were, life still existed. White crabs that thrived in hydrothermal environments crawled on the lower ridges of each tower and more brittle stars waved at us from all levels. Mussels clung to the higher reaches, and dead shells spread about on the rocks below. In a few places we saw patches of an iron oxide bacterial mat, clinging to the sides of the tower.

Jason inched on, leaving the tower behind to find a new target with more hydrothermal ‘oomph’. I found myself yawning and decided that it was time for me to move on as well, turning from the control van to return to my room, my book, and my bed.

The ship on its transit.

The elevator is dropped over the side.

Medea is launched once Jason is in the water, creating the blue glow.

The control van at work. Note the extinct sulfide chimneys in the screens!

Lots of cameras on board Jason get different perspectives, such as brittle stars in one and a chimney in another.

Posted by mrh616 17:33 Archived in Samoa Tagged ship dive jason transit revelle medea rov Comments (1)

Day 7: Transit Three?

Seasick - getting sick at sea


I'll put up a picture in my next entry, but someone on board ship has started a seasickness poll on the whiteboard in the main lab. Since so many of the science party have fallen ill, the rest of us took it as a bit of an amusement and we began adding our own touches - in particular, the notions of throwing up. Thankfully I don't think that has happened to anyone as of yet, so fingers crossed it stays that way.

Today we were given the grand Jason tour. Tito took us out and introduced us to Jason and Medea (whose name I butchered in a previous blog entry; note to self: fix that). He showed us the cameras, the tethers, the bioboxes and the other science samplers already installed on board. The waters beneath us were choppy and we struggled to keep our balance without falling into the giant ROV.

After introductions were complete, Tito then brought us up to the control van, where computers and keyboards gave us full view of the area around Jason. Some of the cameras were on, giving us a full view of Korey's posterior as he adjusted a fitting on Jason's deck. Tito pointedly ignored the images and instead focused on what the cameras would view if in the water. "This screen shows the brow cam's view, and this one the butt cam." Thankfully, said butt cam was on the rear of Jason (hence its name) and not on Korey, else we mature scientists would have broken out into very mature giggles.

Midway through Tito's introduction of Scott, who would be showing us the ropes of the control van, I began to feel sick. We had hamburger and potatoes for lunch. Potatoes were my favorite food, but sometimes ground hamburger did a number on my stomach and I feared that its time was nearing. To my dismay, I had to rush out of the control van in the middle of Scott's explanation of the video coordinator, which was to be my task on shift.

A while later I entered the main lab, still feeling queasy and unwell. To my horror, rather than the usual dry computer work everyone did on transit, Jeff was actually attempting to show us something. I knew I wasn't going to be able to pay attention. I felt too sick still, as though I were about to drop where I stood. Unfortunately this was rather common for me when it came to certain foods, so I did my best to ignore it and focus on Jeff's explanations.

He was showing us how to make standards to calibrate the sulfide electrode, which would measure low hydrogen sulfide concentrations in whatever samples we took. I honestly remember only bits and pieces of it. We had to do titrations and precise measurements and do some serious pipetting. Once complete, I sank into my chair with a heavy sigh. Sean looked over at me from his computer, a frown creasing his forehead. "You okay?"

I shrugged. "Not really," I mumbled, seriously debating on whether I should go lie down.

Sean answered that for me. "Go rest up before dinner. They're all done, they shouldn't need you too much for the rest of the time."

I took his advice to heart. I gathered up my things and trudged down to my bunk, where I sank down with a groan. I set my alarm for just after dinner began and curled up for a short nap, hoping I felt better afterwards.

Thankfully, by the time dinner rolled around, I was indeed feeling better. I climbed down and headed to the galley, where I gathered a very small plate for my meal. My dinner companions were particularly rambunctious - we all sensed that our destination was close. Some predictions were calling for a dive the next morning if the weather held. I ate my dinner quietly and smiled at the banter being thrown around, particularly from one of the younger crew members.

"So what're you guys looking to pull up?" he mumbled through a mouthful of swordfish (we ate well on board).

I shrugged, noticing that no one else was paying attention. "Gas samples, fluid samples, and lots of archaea and bacteria."

He raised an eyebrow. "You ever see that X-Files episode? The one where they pull something out of the deep sea and it turns around and infects people? It's some sort of silica-based lifeform."

I hadn't seen it, but I knew what he was referring to and couldn't help a grin. "We're not going to start infecting people, if that's what you're asking."

"Nah, but what sort of precautions do you take against that sort of thing? I didn't see you bringing any hazmat suits on board."

I shrugged again, setting my fork down on my plate. "Um... we wear gloves?"

He nodded sagely. "I feel safer than ever," he said, the twinkle in his eye betraying the seriousness of his tone. "Just so you know, if I get sick with some weird deep-sea disease, I'm putting it on you to protect me from those people at NSF who want to cut me up and do experiments on my disease-ridden corpse."

Jessica sat her plate next to him and seated herself with a soft 'thump' on the padded seat. "Do you have a donor card?" she asked sweetly, having overheard the conversation.

Before he realized where this conversation was heading, he nodded. "Yeah, I'm an organ donor, but - " he trailed off as he realized what she meant, and narrowed his eyes at her. "You science people are going to wrap me in cellophane aren't you."

Jessica and I exchanged glances and giggled despite ourselves. "You've donated your body to science. It's too late, you don't get a choice in this matter," I teased. If you come out of this with a weird deep-sea disease, we'll escort you personally to the CDC and perform the experiments ourselves."

"Yeah, who knows what kind of cultures you'll give us!" Jess said, grinning. She was ever the culture-collector. I'm not sure what the exact name for her field was - I'm not a biologist by any means.

The crewmember (I can't remember his name - most of the ship calls people the ever-appropriate 'hey you' until the end of the cruise) sighed and took another bite of his swordfish. "I knew it. I'm doomed. Curse my luck for coming aboard these science ships all the time."

Another crewmember sat his plate down at the table next to us and smiled, having overheard the conversation as well. "Yeah, well, you and your X-files illness would get us all quarantined in port, so try to avoid it. No sense in losing trip time just for the deep-sea sniffles."

We all shared a chuckle and relaxed back in our seats. I decided to risk it and cut myself a tiny slice of apple pie for dessert, the conversation putting a little bit of life back into my step after not feeling well all afternoon. We'd be diving the next day. Might as well keep my energy up.

Posted by mrh616 21:10 Archived in Tonga Tagged ship transit revelle Comments (0)

Day 6: Transit Too

Continuing our path to the hydrothermal vents of the Lau Basin

Note: Anyone who wants to see details of the research this cruise is doing, check out laugeomicro2015.blogspot.com!

Jessica and I woke up late. I scrambled out of my top bunk at 9:15 and rushed to get ready, thinking that I was perhaps missing some important meeting in the lab. My first stop was the galley, to fill my mug and get an apple (I had missed breakfast), and to my relief all my supervisors were there. They milled about one of the tables, chatting about our imminent arrival at Mariner, the first vent at which we were to dive.

I breathed a sigh of relief and sat nearby with my apple and my computer, deciding to get some work done as I ate. According to Sean and Jeff, it was to be a lazy sort of day.

The hours passed slowly. I finished my notes and sent them off to my professor, officially completing one course of six. Being on the boat meant that I was missing the last month of my final undergraduate semester, so I unfortunately still had quite a bit of work to do.

1pm rolled around. We had originally planned to meet at Jason and go over the details of the ROV, but Annalouise decided to move the meeting to the next day. Too many people were still ‘getting their sea legs’… in other words, only a few of the scientist crew were up and feeling well enough to work. We hadn’t seen a few people since our departure.

The rest of the day, admittedly, was rather dull. I read a book and watched a movie. I chatted with a few other scientists. I ate dinner. Finally, I went to bed – tomorrow would be busy indeed, as Mariner was only a day’s transit away.

Posted by mrh616 17:46 Archived in New Zealand Tagged ship transit revelle Comments (1)

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