Marisa Gedney's blog

Purple protists
Escargot Dive 1617

Snail-shaped top of the Escargot hydrothermal vent sulfide structure in the Internationl District area. ROPOS Dive 1617, VISIONS '13, Leg 3.

Photo credit NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF

Graneledone Octopus on the rocks

Graneledone Octopus on the rocks, VISIONS '13, Leg 3.  Photo credit: OOI-NSF/UW/CSSF

29 July 2013

Some days you spend your morning dive-logging watch struggling to stay awake as ROPOS does nothing more then descend and ascend through the water column. Other days you’re on the edge of your seat, struggling not to miss a single detail as you excitedly take photos of the hydrothermal vents ROPOS is examining on the seafloor.

So there is a saying on the Thompson: “One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself” (referring to the need to constantly keep yourself steady as the ship is always moving). I have fondly adjusted it slightly to be more applicable to the students: “One hand for the ship, one hand for your coffee.” In short, we’ve been fairly busy doing awesome things. I mean, if wiring up an entire tectonic plate isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is.

Sure it does get rather tedious sometimes. As fascinating as fiber-optic and electric cables can be, one can only stay awake for so long watching it unwind off of a steel drum for hours on end and logging it onto a computer. But that’s what it takes to build an underwater cabled observatory, and the patience certainly does pay off.

For example, this morning I spent my watch using the DSC on ROPOS (see previous blog post) to take many, many images of hydrothermal vents that we were checking out. In other words, I was taking pictures of life on the seafloor on the edge of a volcano that is 1500m below the surface of the ocean. No big deal. For a few hours I played paparazzi to tube worms, purple protists, fuzzy bacterial mats, colorful sulfide deposits, rattail fish, spider crabs, and 300° C water being expelled into the ocean. A sample was brought up, and now I can officially say that I have held a rock that “grew” on the bottom of the ocean. Day well spent.

For those that are not familiar with hydrothermal vents, they are typically found around underwater areas that are volcanically active. This is a result of a magma chamber forming beneath the Earth’s crust, heating up any seawater that percolates down through the seafloor. This heated water then becomes chemically rich and rises back up until it makes contact with the considerably cooler ocean water. The chemicals are then precipitated out, and over time they build up to form chimneys. Because of this, they can also support an abundance of life that draws its energy from chemosynthesis in a world where there is no sunlight.

Also, it has been discovered that scientists have questionable naming capabilities. Sure, “Escargot” for the chimney with the snail shaped top was clever, but “Flat Top” and “Nine Meter Chimney”? I suppose that now I’ll just have to go out and discover my own hydrothermal vent to show them how it’s done. Challenge accepted.


23 July 2013

So there has been an interesting topic of conversation going around the past couple of days. And that topic, ironically enough, is in fact “conversation.” Or more to the point, communication.

I think that it is frequently taken for granted just how valuable good communication is on a ship. How else is one to know what on earth is going on? The scientists and the engineers speak practically two different languages, and the ship’s crew often gets caught in the middle. The students simply never know what’s going on, so they’re encouraged to ask questions. Plans change, bad weather arises, things break, and people need to know when that happens. We’ve got white boards, computer networks, comm systems, and cameras. After all, one objective of this cruise is to freely share ocean science with everyone so being shy is not an option.

But there is one form of communication on this ship that seems to exist only to make life difficult. Acronyms.

Sure, acronyms are arguably quite necessary in the scientific and engineering communities, and in the realm of oceanography the use of the letter "O" is quite common (OOI, IOP, OIP, SOS…). But I can’t say that I was quite prepared for the random letter usage of this cruise. For example, when I was on watch this morning we deployed the ROV ROPOS with ROCLS to lay the ECALW3 at the MJ03E in the PN3B region while I logged events on IRLS using the DSC. At least we didn’t also need the RIB.

Confused? To clarify:

  • ROV : Remotely Operated Vehicle. These robots are usually tethered to the ship (or wherever the base of operations may be) to receive power and instructions for a given task.
  • ROPOS: Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences. Owned by the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility, this ROV is currently being used to lay down and install parts of the underwater cabled observatory across the seafloor.
  • ROCLS: Remotely Operated Cable Laying System. This instrument is attached to the underside of ROPOS and used to lay cable.
  • ECALW3: The name of one of the cables being placed on the eastern edge of the caldera at Axial Seamount that will be connected to a seismometer used to detect movement in the seafloor.
  • MJ03E: The name of the medium power junction box placed east of the caldera at Axial Seamount.
  • PN3B: Primary Node B in region 3 (Axial Seamount).
  • IRLS: Integrated Real-time Logging System. A system used by the students to log important observations and images from each dive.
  • DSC: Digital Still Camera. One of the cameras attached to ROPOS to take images for the logging system.
  • RIB: RSN Interface Box. Acronym within acronym? I give up. (RSN = Regional Scale Nodes; the RIB is attached to ROPOS and serves as a temporary power source and connector to test instruments underwater)
  • TLA: Three Letter Acronym. Commonly used by scientists and engineers on research cruises. Believed to be mostly used for the sheer pleasure of torturing students, though this theory has yet to be studied.

After reading through all of that, you deserve a photo of an octopus so I made sure to attach one that we spotted yesterday. Enjoy.

July 21, 2013

You know you are meant for a life at sea when:

  • The sound of waves crashing and motors running may cause you to think the ship is crashing, and yet you still manage to sleep through it all.
  • You have mastered the art of putting on pants in a room that is constantly rocking from side to side. In the dark.
  • Staring at ocean waves becomes a necessary pastime.
  • Running into walls is perfectly acceptable. Unless you are holding a mug of coffee.
  • You can accept the fact that there is life without internet (most of the time).
  • Work can happen at any hour of the day for any amount of time, and you’re ok with that.
  • You have experienced all of the above and yet keep going out to sea for more.

A fond hello to everyone back on land that may be reading this. My name is Marisa Gedney and I am a recent graduate from the University of Washington School of Oceanography, back on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson (fondly referred to as the Tommy Thompson) for my second time. I am incredibly excited to finally participate in VISIONS ’13 after more than a year of waiting, and I hope to be able to share many tales of technological adventures and underwater volcanoes by the end of this voyage.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I have already experienced all of the events mentioned above (while just barely managing to successfully hold off seasickness).

For those of you who are not aware yet, and for those who are I’ll keep it simple: the primary objective of this cruise is to lay down the secondary infrastructure of a cabled underwater observatory on the Juan de Fuca plate. Once completed, the entire structure will serve to provide real time oceanographic data to both the scientific community and the general public. This includes seismographic data of any seafloor movement, temperature and chemical sampling of the water column, high definition video of biological activity, etc.

So where exactly do I come in?

Well, I’ve got a background in scientific research, an interest in ocean conservation, and I’m currently sitting on a heavily engineering oriented cruise. So I figured that I might as well combine all three areas. Part of being a student (or recent student at least) on this cruise involves working on an independent project. I have currently proposed to produce a website devoted to the science of Axial Seamount, the underwater volcano that we are in transit towards even as I type this. It will focus on the physical (water movement), chemical (discharge from hydrothermal vents), geological (lava flows), and biological (this one is self explanatory) aspects of Axial and will hopefully be used at some point as a learning tool for young students. Thus I can use science to teach about why the ocean is so awesome and needs to be conserved. In addition, I am taking it upon myself to follow a number of the engineers around and learn what I can about the instrumentation, cables, and the remotely operated vehicle, ROPOS.

Of course ROPOS is quite fascinating and deserves an entry of its own (in addition to the Google search you probably are about to conduct). After a few technical difficulties at Newport and our previous stop at the Slope Base site at the edge of the continental shelf, we are finally steaming on our way to Axial and should be on site by morning, just in time for my assigned watch at 0800 in the ROPOS control room. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a successful dive, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s update.