Alex Andronikides Blog

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August 5, 2017

Last night was the second time we had a full watch. Jason and the team were replacing one of the Jboxes (junction box) and recovering the old one. Everything went well, for the most part. My job: log everything that Jason does, important or not (can be tedious at times, or stressful when you must constantly ask what’s happening). The dive ended up being 12 hours long, instead of the estimated 9 ½ . Nevertheless, the team finished up and started the next dive shortly after; the team needed to replace the CAMDS that was on the sea bottom with a new one. To do so, they latched what’s called the Undervator (basically a big basket to carry down the camera and any other materials for their operation).

Our shift was over about half way through the CAMDS dive, then I went to the main lab to call home; it’s good to hear familiar voices, everyone at home is doing well. To think it’s been a week and a half on board already, seems like 2 months. You get used to constantly holding something, or widening your stance for extra balance. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have experienced sea-sickness; I’ve been careful with my sea-sickness patches, even though I’ve had the same one on for 4 days now, and is probably drained of its medicine (3 days is the maximum). Luckily, I’ve been sleeping like a rock. I typically just bury myself in my sleeping bag and rock back and forth until the Zzz catch up. I slept right through breakfast and woke up just in time for lunch; chicken and ham jambalaya with fresh greens, beans, and hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

After lunch, we went out on deck to help clean one of the Jboxes that Jason recovered, the siding covered in thick silt/clay that stunk to high heaven. Fortunately for us, the team was kind enough to lend us their water proof gear, much appreciated. Then, Trina needed some help cleaning the CAMDS frame that was recovered last night. We ended up having much in common; both work/worked in retail, went back to school mid-twenties for a science, etc. She told me how her friend re-ignited her passion for marine biology when she was my age, and went back to school and got a BS in marine bio with a minor in ocean chemistry. Every person on this ship has a story to tell that will inspire a little something in everyone. One and all are in different stages of their life, but anyone can be inspired with just a few words of wisdom. Till next time, over and out.

August 3, 2017

The water was not on our side today; rough currents kept the ship rocking like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. The waves delayed some of the operations planned today/night for Jason, which are now pushed till tomorrow morning, or until the water calms. Looking out into the horizon, it’s hard not to notice the beast that lies beneath our feet. The ocean breaths in and out with little to no concern of who or what moves with it; a power that we all must respect.

The team was able to complete 3 of the 4 dives for the day considering the rough currents. The equipment recovered wasn’t covered with as much organic material as the first, but was still stained with the brutal stench of fermented fish. Tomorrow morning after breakfast the students and I will work on cleaning most of pods and hopefully help with anything else the team needs. I enjoy being around the techs and engineers; it’s fascinating to watch them work and communicate like a well-oiled machine. I don’t feel as intimidated anymore to ask them questions, dumb or in-depth, they understand the curiosity imbedded in us. Next, I’d like to talk to Chris, the electrical engineer, and pick his brain about what he does and his method behind the madness (he also knows dozens of knots and can tie them behind his back, so much so that he might get his hands stuck in a bowline one day).

Besides the algae cleaning, card games, and knot tying, I need to remind myself what I’m doing here; I’m here to study the wonders of the planet, above and below the ocean. With the samples we’ve recovered, I like to investigate their chemical content, vascularity/degassing process, maybe trace element content, and zoning in the crystal cargo. These parameters will give me a good insight on pre-eruption, co-eruption, and post-eruption processes. I also have pre-historic samples from Axial coming my way (I went from having no samples, to having too many, that’s a good problem to have). I’ll first have to run these ideas through my professor back at Queens to see what he thinks, he may even have a better project outlined (which would be awesome!).

One more week and I’ll be home, back to the grind, but with a new mind and more experience. It’s funny how sometimes when returning from an unbelievable trip it almost feels like it never happened, almost like it was all a dream. Moving through space and time does that with its linear sequence of events. Pictures, videos, blogs (sometimes cuts and bruises) is all you’ve got to remember those events, memories can only last so long until they’re replaced with others. Would I have changed anything about this trip so far? No. Is there anything I can do to make this trip more memorable? Yes, and with the few days we have left, that will be my main goal. Till next time, over and out.

August 2, 2017

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, it did. Jason took a dive down to Axial Base to recover some equipment (LJ03A and SN011 with LJ03A and SN007). The transition was smooth thanks to the engineers and techs on board and in the control van. Later that day, we steamed to Axial Caldera where Jason did a naked dive to survey the ocean bottom for future placement of instruments and equipment. From there, Jason traveled towards the International District Hydrothermal Field where we got to see some of the most active thermal vents on the planet. Covered in bacteria and microbial mats, the thermal vents supply tons of nutrients to the local microbiome, in which they oxidize the hydrogen sulfide that vents through cracks and fissures on the ocean floor.  It’s a world that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, or furthermore, something from another planet. And to think all of that is happening 1500-m in the ocean, and in the darkest parts of our planet…let that sink in.

After visiting El Gordo, El Guapo, and Escargot (these are the names given to the hydrothermal vent edifices) Jason traveled over to south-eastern part of the caldera, where the 2011 eruption at Axial emplaced a voluminous amount of lava. Beautiful volcanic formations covered the ocean floor like jet black paint on a painter’s canvas: pillow basalts, lava flows, and rope lava formations occupied by a diversity of living organisms (crabs, worms, fish I though never existed) all whom call the south-eastern part of the caldera home. As Jason was moving over the eruption site, Dr. Kelley gave the ok to the engineers to recover some samples from the area. As I watched from the control room, the pilot extended Jason’s arm, opened its claws, and grabbed a winner. Shortly after, the pilot moved Jason slightly south following the lava flow region, extended its arm again, and grabbed one more.

Once Jason arrived back on deck, I raced to grab the samples and bring them in the analytical lab to dry and note. This was the moment I’ve been waiting for. I am fortunate to be in this position, to be around some of the most influential professionals in this field of study, and I will not take it for granted. The next day, Mitch helped take pictures and document the samples, then we packed them up and placed them somewhere safe until we reach land. These samples are too big so I’ll have to mail them back home. This was not an ordinary day, it was a day of growth and encouragement; if this is what it’s like to be a scientist, traveling to depths no one has seen before, 300 km off the western coast of the U.S., then I wouldn’t change it for the world.

July 31, 2017

During our transit, a few of us decided to play monopoly (bad idea), I forgot how competitive I get and ended up losing first! Which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing. We also got together and taught eachother how to tie knots using some rope and a book that explained how to tie dozens and dozens of knots (I didn’t know any of these knots existed, and wonder what in the world they’re used for!). But you’d be surprised, there’s a knot for any time, place, and situation.

After our quite day and a 19-hour transit to Axial Base, things started to pick up a bit. The first dive began at about 0330; they deployed a CTD about 2600 m for sampling. The dives continued throughout the morning until the next night. Eager to help, I went out on deck to ask what I can do. Trina, one of the engineers who works for APL (Applied Physics Lab) needed a hand cleaning the equipment Jason recovered during the dives. However, since the equipment recovered was in the photic zone, it was covered in algae and sea creatures, and it smelled "wonderful". Nevertheless, some students got together and cleaned as much as possible. Some of us found crabs, shells, and other little creatures that called the shallow profilers and platforms home.  At that moment, I couldn’t have been happier, whether it was the dirty work or talking to engineers, scientist, or the crew, I was making the most out of it.

It can be a bit intimidating at times wanting to ask a question; everyone looks focused on their work and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I found that everyone on board is willing to listen and answer any questions that come to mind. During the afternoon, the 3rd mate gave us a tour of the engine room. Buried in the basement of the ship are three giant V16 motors generating electricity and propelling the Revelle to our desired destination. The engine noise was ear piercing; I give all the credit in the world to the guys that handle that room because without them, we’d be doomed! We sometimes don’t think about what goes on behind the curtain (or in the basement), but it’s important to know everyone’s role on board and how they help run a tight steady ship.

After lunch, we continued cleaning any packages that Jason recovered, and they all smelled the same, like fermented fish (yum). Some of us used sponges and soap to scrub off any unwanted material, others used tooth brushes, and some just used their hands (with gloves on…of course). After scrubbing all the equipment down and cleaning the deck, we each got styrofoam cups to draw on; we’ll put the cups in a bag and send them done with Jason, the pressures deep down in the ocean will squeeze the cups into small palm size cups. Not sure what to draw on mine but may have people sign it and/or write something on it.

Soon after, I called home to see how everyone was doing. Yesterday was my grandmothers’ memorial and the whole family got together for lunch and dinner. I do miss them, and I do wish I was there with them, but this is something I may never get to experience again and I’m glad I’m not missing out. During my watch shift, about 2 hours was waiting for Jason to unwrap the tether to relieve tension and hockeling. Once the wrap zeroed out, they continued their descent to the bottom to replace one of the J-boxes and move around a hydrophone and CTD. The pilots of Jason are incredible at what they do; apparently, they can tie knots using the arms underwater…I may have to challenge that.

Today, we’re set out to the International District Hydrothermal Field for some exploration, and hopefully make it to the 2011 lava flow shortly after for some sampling. Till next time, over and out.

July 29, 2017

The life of a scientist on board a research vessel is something I thought I’d never experience, but, as they say, never say never. The crew on board is exceptional. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most inspiring/friendly/intelligent people in the field. There’s nothing more liberating than being around people to look up to, challenging your skills and abilities and forcing yourself to evolve with what feels like an infinite amount of information. Everyone here is like one big family, enlightening one another about their studies and experiences. I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier loving atmosphere. The food on board is fantastic, the chefs have done an awesome job keeping our stomachs full and the team going. Any down time is spent playing board games and cards, reading books, chatting with crew members, and/or reading some academic literature for research ideas. Some of the project ideas the students have are very creative; Willem is putting together a time-lapse video of operations around the ship, and Monique is documenting the process of securing everything to the ship so things don’t move around and characterizing the different types of doors onboard the ship (something no one has thought about!). These are just a few of the great project ideas that are in the making.

Our watch shift for the night was very eventful. Kelsy and I were on the 0000-0400 watch at Slope Base. The Control room (or control van) is something out of a spaceship: an entire wall dressed in monitors watching every move Jason makes during the operation, and every step taken by a crew member on deck. The room is pitch black with only the light from the 8 or so monitors in the room.  During the dive, Jason took a 2-3 hour transit  3 kilometers to the ocean floor. Once Jason arrived, the APL engineers, working with the Jason team directed the dive to switch out one of the low power junction boxes (LJ01A) deployed in a preivous year and attach a CTD and hydrophone to the new LJ01A. My job was to document every move the team made (Jason off deck, Jason in water with package, Jason on ocean floor, etc..).

During the dive, the CTD cabled unlatched from Jason and it had to be secured so it wouldn’t become tangled on the way down. Fortunately, Cory, the ROV pilot at the time, secured the loose CTD using one of the titanium arms. Kelsy, on the other hand, took photos, recording any actions taken by Jason during the operation. This way, In the future when/if the scientist and engineers need to back track on previous explorations, they have documents to look back on to verify what has been done and how the operation proceeded. The operation at Slope Base was finished the next morning, and the next 19 hours we’ll be steaming to Axial Base, hopefully on calm waters. In the meantime, the team will be making some adjustments on Jason and prepare for the next dive.