Crazy Busy and Alighting the Deep

How can it already be 3 days since we left Newport – we are in a time warp where the nights/days fly buy. On the way out of Newport, we had hoped to install the Benthic Experiment Platform at the Oregon Shelf Site at 80 m water depth. However, the weather gods/goddesses had different idea  – stirring up the winds to 20-25 knts and white-capped choppy seas, which prevented us from diving. Hence, knowing calmer seas awaited us out at Axial Seamount, the R/V Revelle bypassed this site, and began its 21 hour steam out to begin work at the base of the volcano. The angry seas the ship was beating into made for an uncomfortable ride, especially if your cabin is high up in the ship and forward. Here, some tried rather unsuccessfully to sleep by wedging pillows on each side of them to prevent being rolled around. Under much calmer seas and blue skies, the R/V Revelle arrived on site at ~1330 on July 2 – folks who had been seasick slowly emerged from their cabins.

At Axial Base, the first set of operations was to turn the Shallow Profiler Platform Interface Assembly and the winched Science Pod. The dive went well, but there was an issue with one of the connectors, so we will return to the site later in the dive program. The decision was made to steam 2 hrs west to the summit of the volcano. We love working at this site – the volcano erupted in 1998, and 2011. On April 24, 2015 the volcano sprung alive again with an eruption that resulted in a lava flow >400 ft thick!. The eruption was marked by >8,000 earthquakes in 24 hrs, an ~ 7 ft collapse of the seafloor and >30,000 explosions  – all “seen” and “heard” by the live streaming of Cabled Array data from the myriad of instruments installed on the volcano.

The first dive yesterday was in the ASHES hydrothermal field where the medium powered junction box was turned and an instrument that captures hydrothermal fluid (Osmo Sampler) was recovered. ASHES is of keen interest to the scientific community. A multibeam sonar called COVIS will be installed near the hydrothermal chimneys called Mushroom and Inferno to image and document fluid flow in this area. Next year new technology will be installed at the Diva vent designed to explore the possibility of using high-temperature hydrothermal vents to produce energy. The UW-APL engineering team modified the junction box to accommodate these instruments.

Finally, late last night was the ROV Jason conducted one of our annual favorite dives – to turn the high definition camera at the ~ 12-13 ft tall actively venting chimney Mushroom. The dive went very well. First the camera installed last year was moved out of position and stored near the elevator that was used to take the 2018 camera down. Then the new camera was placed in as close as possible position as the old one. Numerous scientists and students are studying the amazing video from this camera to look at how the chimneys and associated life changes over time. The camera is connected to a 326 mile-long fiber optic cable that runs from the summit of the volcano (~5000 ft beneath the oceans surface) to a shore station on the Oregon coast and from there the live video is streamed over the Internet 9 times/day. With anxiousness and excitement, the UW OOI Cabled Array team and UW APL engineers onshore and on the ship waited for the lights on the camera to light up the surreal landscape that marks this amazing, dynamic environment.

As the engineers tested the lights, pan and tilt and commands from shore, the live video from the camera was streamed directly to shore, then onto the Internet where it was sent to a satellite >22,000 miles overhead and back to the ship – the entire route took about 2 minutes. The camera lights came on and illuminated Mushroom – Jason turned off all the robots lights, creating an almost moon-lit environment. The camera ran through its tests, zooming in on tubeworms, scale worms, limpets and small spider-like creatures that thrive at Mushroom. The ROV Pilot, Ben Tradd used the manipulator on Jason to “wave” to folks onshore as the newly installed HD camera turned its’ head to look at the robotic vehicle that comes to visit this site once a year.

We could have watched the eerie scene for hours, but knowing we still had a lot of work to do before leaving this site, we moved on to visit the anhydrite chimney called Diva, which we will work at later in this leg. As many of us had only had 2 hrs sleep in the past >24, we left the control van under the care of APL engineer Trina Litchendorf and the ROV Pilot Korey Verhein to complete the dive – a great dive it was.