Bing Yu Lees Blog

June 28, 2018

Surprises are astonishing as you can never expect when they would knock on your door…

I was up for my midnight watch as usual, sitting in the control van as a video logger. We are back at Einstein’s Grotto of Southern Hydrate Ridge again, deploying a new digital still camera (CAMDS-2018). After sitting in the control van a couple of times, I am getting a clearer vision of what’s going on with ROV Jason down at the bottom of the ocean. Being a pilot is challenging, especially having to maneuver the arms of ROV Jason to complete all the necessary tasks with only buttons, joysticks and screens on the control counter: latching the gates of undervator, releasing the pins attached to instruments, plugging in connector to the junction box etc. Being an observer at the back of the room, I was amazed by how these tedious tasks were done with hours of patience, skills and teamwork. Why patience? Because new challenges can come up at any time – cables clustering up, connector wouldn’t plug in, latch wouldn’t release etc. These were all surprises, well…in an unfortunate manner.

In terms of positive surprises, how about spider crab, hagfish, pyrosome and rockfish decide to appear at the same location at the same time? how about vigorous bubble-plumes from seeps that occur continuously for ~5 minutes all of a sudden for unknown reasons? These were the moments that took my breath away, and I am so grateful to have been in the control van at the right moment. As a geology-oceanography undergraduate, my favorite moment of the night was definitely seeing the vigorous bubble plumes from the methane seep sites. I couldn’t describe how excited I was when that happened. The bubbles are weird, as they came off without any signals, yet they are so pretty that they fill the silent abyss with hope and questions. How and why did that happen? I have no idea and I guess that will be my homework.

I was in the control van for 6 hours. It was unexpected, yet I unexpectedly drank coffee before my watch, which I had never done before today. Though it was a very long watch, I am happy that I did stay for 6 hours to witness the wonders of the ocean.

June 27, 2018

While I was happy that I escaped from being seasick, it hit me after a few days on the cruise. Because of that, I couldn’t stay in the main lab for long anymore and I would constantly burp albeit I didn’t feel any gasses in my stomach. Now I see what Deb meant about how seasick could go on differently for different people. Due to the bad weather and strong winds last night, the dive did not continue until this morning. As soon as the dive started, I went out to the deck to help recording the launching of ROV Jason.

It was my first time using a handcam. As usual, I was a little nervous trying to figure out how to use this camera even though I have talked to Mitch about the right ways of using it. The whole recording process went fine except that I couldn’t figure out how to take pictures while the recording was going on. Fortunately, Mitch was there taking still images, so I can focus on the recording. After everything settled down, I went to Mitch for help to figure out the ways of taking pictures while recording. I am thinking it would be a helpful skill to have especially that I am on midnight watch – There may not be many assistants available around during midnight, plus it’s hard to predict when the ROV Jason would be recovering.

It’s the 5th day in the ocean, and I am still surviving! I have decided to work on the Wikipedia page for Southern Hydrate Ridge (SHR) as my science and outreach project for this cruise experience. For that, I have downloaded some articles and research paper about the SHR. So far, I have read an article about the geologic history of SHR. With additional input and guidance from Theresa, I have come to understand the geology of SHR better and how we could use geochemistry of the water samples collected from SHR to identify its source. This is getting exciting to read more about SHR! However, it’s been hard for me to focus on the reading with the constant motions on the cruise and the seasick that hit me recently, but I guess that would be a challenge that I have to overcome for the rest on the time on this cruise.

June 26, 2018

It was the deepest one I have seen so far. 2905 m is no joke as it took about 2.5 hours just for R/V Jason to dive all the way down to the seafloor. What came to a surprise is the life at the base of this continental slope – there were fishes! One of the goals of the dive was to capture a video of the “weird fish” that was found in this area in 2014. This “weird fish” has only been seen at 2 places on earth: the arctic ocean and where we are at, the Slope Base offshore of the Oregon coast. What is so “weird” about this particular fish? You will agree when you see its picture. While its discovery has been extraordinarily rare, it has this alien-like jaws that have buds along its jawline.

Unfortunately, I did not get to see the “weird fish” on my watch. Even so, the watch was still satisfying as I get to see other fishes such as the grenadiers living at 2905-m depth. To me, these fishes are still “weird” but COOL at the same time especially thinking about how they have been living in such an environment with no light, under high pressure and low temperature (about 1 degree Celsius).

Today’s experience reminded me of one thing: there is so much I do not know about the ocean. And I believe “fishes living at 2905-m-depth in the ocean” was not the only one. There’s so much more to discover and learn about our mother ocean!

June 25, 2018

My second watch started with an effort to recover the Benthic Experiment Package (BEP). To avoid being late again, I made sure the right alarm was set and I was in the control van 20 minutes before my watch. Things are getting clearer this time, thanks to the dive plan and tips from the students’ meeting the day before.

A problem happened during the dive. The latch on the ROV Jason would not fit perfectly into the BEP. Was it an optical illusion? Probably less likely as there was obviously imbalance between the latches. Discussions filled the room with potential factors causing the issue. There might be some interference between the BEP and the ROV Jason. Maybe the bottom camera was blocking the way? It wasn’t a difficult decision for the crews in the room. To be safe, they decided to recover the old BEP on another dive. Another look at the ROV’s scheme is required to examine any potential geometry factors on the ROV.

Then, there came my first camera-shooting experience on the deck at midnight. In fact, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be as the waves decided to be calm that night. Working on the deck was quite intense. The crews have to be alert with the situations at all times while keeping up with the Captain’s instructions. Not to my surprise, the teamwork on the deck was great! Everyone was proactive, and the recovering process went by smoothly. I was especially amazed seeing how the crews work together to remove the floats attached on the string to the ROV. There were about 30 floats and there wasn’t a second that I saw any lack of rhythm between the crews as they systematically took them off and put them away.

Our first ROV tour also happened today. It’s cool to be able to see ROV Jason right up close! Ben, the Jason Expedition Lead, did an excellent job explaining all the wiring, junctions, power supply, sensors and cameras on the ROV. I was surprised to learn about the different modes of the vehicle: science and heavy-lift mode. On the past dives, the vehicle had been on heavy-lift mode to deploy and recover instruments, such as BEP, in the ocean. On a science mode, the ROV would have more sampling spaces with drills, sensors etc., which are required for science action. More facts about the ROV: it can go as deep as ~6.5 km with ~5% depth in terms of navigation accuracy.

Past noon, finally it came the dives at the Southern Hydrate Ridge. Out of curiosity, I went up to the control van to check out the site. Again, I was hit by surprises. Throughout the site, we are seeing microbial mat, hagfish, rockfish, flounders, shells, clams, carbonate cobbles etc. While I was expecting to see microbial mat, the rests are totally out of my expectations. How did the carbonate cobbles end up depositing on the 773 m deep seafloor?

Every day on the ship, new things are popping up. I have learned so much just in 3 days!  And I believe more would come as days pass by…

June 24, 2018

I was 15 minutes late to my first watch in the control van. Knowing that my bunkmate and I are standing for the midnight watch, we ended the day before early hoping to get up at 11 pm to get ready for the watch. However, wrong alarm of “11 am” twisted my expectations. Fortunately, Theresa came down to our cabin to wake us up before we were too late. By the time we were at the control van, the dive had already started. I headed towards Terrie to begin my role as a video logger. Terrie did a great job in explaining the tasks.

Out of my expectation, 4 hours in the control van went by in seconds. In the control van, we have a navigator, a pilot, an engineer and a Hot Seat (a scientist) – all working together to ensure the ROV Jason performs its tasks. More to that, there were constant communication between the control van and the bridge to make sure the ship is a proper distance from the ROV Jason. The main goal of the dive was to recover the Shallow Profiler Science Pod at ~200 m depth.

I was amazed.  Though it was midnight, I did not have any sleepiness in me seeing what happened in front of my eyes. Controlling a robot down at 200m water depth was not easy. It requires more than just great skills from each member in the control van. The chemistry between the navigator, pilot, engineer and Hot Seat in the room was eye-opening: effective communication, instant response and teamwork. Remember the moment when the brush that was used to clean the latch on the shallow profiler almost dropped into the abyss. Everyone was awed by how quickly the pilot responded to save the brush! Shout out to the pilot!

During the day, I was trailing Terrie to see the biology recovered together with the science pod. Brittle stars and scale worms! Some creatures that I had never seen before! Though they were dead, unfortunately, I am excited to see more biology in the upcoming dives! At 1.00 pm, we had our first students’ meeting with Deb and Katie B. Throughout the meeting, they gave us a lot of useful tips to become better loggers in the control van. An addition to the tasks being a video logger is to take pictures of the instruments when they were launched or recovered from the deck. Because of my midnight shift, this additional task has gotten me nervous to be out on the deck at midnight. But I am up for the challenge as I believe it will be a memorable experience for me!

June 23, 2018

Having passion fruit in the breakfast made my morning. It’s been 4 years since I had any and I totally did not expect to have it on the R/V Roger Revelle. More to my surprise, I did not expect passion fruit to be a new thing to some of my mates, which further made the breakfast session a short and fun cultural exchange experience.

Shortly after, we were told to practice putting on our survival suit. I was anxious at first not expecting it to turn out to be fun! The following is a picture of me in the suit! The suit is not a comfortable thing to wear, but it keeps our body warm and the water out if we had to abandon the ship. At 10.30 am, we had the emergency drill. The alarm blasted for 7 times implying all crew members be ready to abandon the ship. I was nervous, but I am glad everything went well by following the mates instructions.

It’s my first time on the ocean and I was very worried about getting seasick. I had my anti-nausea patch by my ear, sea-band on my wrist and ginger gum in my mouth. And guess what? My day went well without having serious seasickness! Special thanks to Terrie, Katie B., Katie G. and Eve on their advice about dealing with sea-sickness.

Also, appreciating the guidance from my friends, I have learned the phrases used for different directions when we are on the ship. For example, “fantail” or “stern” refers to the back of the ship, “bow” refers to the ship-front, “port” refers to the left while “starboard” refers to the right side of the ship. In addition, we went into the control van! It was a little intimidating seeing all the big screens in the room, but I am pumped for my upcoming first watch from midnight to 4 am!