ASHES Vent Field is Lit

Today we had a fantastic dive in the ASHES hydrothermal vent field that hosts multiple, small metal sulfide chimneys encased in rich biological communities. The main goal of the dive was to install and recover a high definition camera at the actively venting chimney called Mushroom, as well as a time-series fluid sampler. The original camera, which was installed in 2013, developed a ground fault last year after sending imagery to shore, and so this year we installed a new one.

It was a wonderful sight to be sitting on the seafloor with the ROV ROPOS and see the lights of the HD camera come on. The camera, which  sits on the seafloor >5000 ft beneath the ocean's surface at the top of the volcano, was driven by UW Applied Physics Laboratory engineers at the School of Oceanography in Seattle over 300 miles away. From there, they were able to communicate in real-time with the seafloor camera, telling it to pan and tilt, zoom in, and ‘flirt’ with ROPOS, who was ‘watching’ all of these manipulations from a few meters away. In turn, ROPOS used its manipulators to ‘wave’ at the HD camera and folks in Seattle. There were huge cheers in the ROV control room as the lights of the camera came on – many have been waiting almost a year to see this event! The ROV control room was filled with students for several hours, most seeing hydrothermal vents for the first time.

Much of the dive was spent testing the camera, whose job is to provide stunning imagery to biologists studying the behavior of animals at these remarkable ecosystems. It will also allow scientists to look at the impact of seismic events on fluid flow. Today we also installed a vent fluid sampler inside a 3-D temperature array at a nearby diffuse flow site covered in animals, which will provide time-series measurements of fluid chemistry and temperature. In concert, these data will allow any interested user to examine how changes in volcanic activity, seismicity, fluid flow-chemistry and temperature impact the animals.

There are many questions about the animals that live in on and around the hydrothermal vents, which are perhaps the most extreme environment on our planet – how they interact with each other, how they evolve, migrate around the chimneys, and how the communities evolve with time. With this cabled camera system and other cabled instruments atop the volcano, we will have a long-term presence to address some of these questions, questions that any interested user/viewer can help answer. Live imagery will flow in the fall for all to see through the Cyberinfrastructure component of NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative.