Anna Sulc Blog Leg 3

ROPOS sampling tube worms at the Inferno hydrothermal vent. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

September 1:

ROPOS surfacing from a dive to the ASHES vent field Photo Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

Another exciting (and long) day! Yesterday, we spent the day diving on different hydrothermal sites, as well as exploring various slopes and trenches throughout the Axial caldera. Much of this has been possible due to the smooth deployment of the FETCH instruments. The FETCH instruments use acoustic sensors to determine the rate of seafloor spreading in the caldera. One FETCH is connected to the cabled array to transmit data while the other three instruments run on batteries. Although FETCH deployments were allotted five-hour dive slots, the skilled ROPOS team has been able to streamline the process a little more each time giving us plenty of time to survey the deployment sites.

These exploratory surveys are among some of my favorite types of ship operations. They have taught me so much about the habitats and creatures that live in this extreme environment. On the exploratory survey during my shift, we followed a cliff band and discovered in was covered in brittle stars, sponges, king crabs. It also housed an octopus. Other trenches did not have the same abundance of life. We concluded this difference was due to upwelling and local currents in the area.

As we complete more of these surveys, I find myself increasingly making connections between bathymetry, sediments, currents, and the type of ecosystems we find.

ROPOS approaching Mushroom vent. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

This morning, I chose to wake up early before my shift so I could watch a dive to a hydrothermal vent system. I have always wanted to see the chimney structures and the ecosystems that live on these towering vents. Over the course of the cruise, I have noticed that no vent is ever the same in its community or structure. Additionally, I find it exciting to see these communities full of life emerge from the barren caldera floor. Later in the day, on a final dive to the ASHES hydrothermal vent field, ROPOS collected hydrothermal worm samples and vent fluid from the Inferno vent. The samples were collected for three projects. Firstly, for studies of microbial communities at vent sites we collected hydrothermal vent fluid and froze them in a -80C freezer. Second, a for a project studying the genetics of scale worms (predatory worms), the worm samples taken into the wet lab and sorted. I assisted in the collection of samples for the third project, a study of protists on the external surface of tube worms from hydrothermal vents. While less “messy” the process was more delicate given the need to maintain sterile instruments. Additionally, sampling small pieces of tissues can be precarious on a moving ship! We also filtered the remaining hydrothermal fluid samples to determine whether protists were present as well. Together, all this work took over 3 hours. I went to bed just after 10 pm, tired but satisfied with another long and exciting day.

The Grenelodone octopus on the screen of the ROPOS control center. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

August 30:

Today flew by! From the start of my shift at 4am to the end of my day at 8pm, the day has been packed with exciting dives, activities, and animal sightings. The day started with a ROPOS dive to a hydrothermal system. Compared to previous dives, this environment was filled with life, both big and small.

We saw many different fish, shrimp, and sea stars. My favorite creature was an Grenelodone octopus located near a hydrothermal seep.

Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

Our ship spent most of the 29th in thick fog but this morning, just after breakfast, the fog began to life creating bright patches of light on the ocean. I spent some time on the back deck, watching the fog and an albatross circle the ship.

Later we even saw a shark swim by the ship. With the fog breaking up, bright patches formed on the ocean around the ship making for a peaceful and beautiful morning.

Today may have been my busiest day on the ship yet. After the end of my watch, I helped engineers with instruments on the back deck. ROPOS recovered several instruments on the 29th. As a result, these instruments needed to be cleaned and prepared for transportation. Together with other students, we spent several hours cleaning a junction box (with attached hydrophone and CTD stand) and the recovered hPIES (acoustic instrument) with fresh water to prepare them for storage. Once dry, the hydrophone and CTD stand needed to be unplugged, taken apart and prepared for transport.

Talking to the engineers responsible for the building and maintenance provided additional insight into the reasons behind how and where each instrument was deployed. As new equivalents of these instruments had been deployed on the same dive, I also collected samples from the niskin bottles on ROPOS to compare with the readings of the newly deployed instruments.

While I have no engineering background, the VISIONS cruise has given me the confidence that I can understand and assist with engineering operations. I have also discovered that I enjoy working with instruments something I had not been exposed to previously. Shortly after finishing this work, I heard dolphins had been spotted by the bow of the ship. A dozen of them were playing with the bow thrusters.

Dolphins playing by the bow of R/V Thompson. Credit: J. Fernandez, University of Washington, V22.

In the evening, we went on a tour of the bridge. Our first mate, Todd, was incredibly knowledgeable of everything related to ship operations, ship etiquette and even the law of the sea.

From my perspective, as someone interested in international maritime law, it was a great opportunity discuss details about topics I had always wanted more insight on. One issue I was particularly was the status of the R/V Thompson as both a civilian and government vessel in international straits and territorial waters. Additionally, Todd explained the international agreement under the International Maritime Organization to provide emergency assistance to other vessels. Studying law in theory provides oversight of the rules in place but Todd’s experience demonstrated these systems in practice.

ROPOS manipulators unclipping the carabiner from the FETCH tether. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

As the day ended, I completed my evening watch. We deployed a FETCH, an acoustic instrument. The dive demonstrated just how precise and delicate ROPOS manipulators can be. To unlatch the instrument, the two arms had to unclip a carabiner. It seemed like a task that would be impossible, but the pilots were able to complete it first try! This together with the spotting of the octopus have been the highlights of my trip.

Today may have been my favorite day of the cruise!

August 28:

The bright blue light produced by ROPOS as it surfaces from the last deep profiler deployment dive. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

After a day of transit through rough seas, I woke up for my 4 am shift this morning to find the R/V Thompson was barely moving. I peeked out on deck and could see the stars.

It seems that we have escaped the storm. My watch team participated in the recovery of the third and final deep profiler. At the end of the dive, we were lucky enough to watch ROPOS surface and the full recovery of the vehicle by crane. Seeing the bright blue lights come up from the dark ocean was incredible.

Shortly after, I also saw my first sunrise on the R/V Thompson. With storm clouds in the east, the sky continuously changed colors as the sun was coming up through the clouds. I was a peaceful moment on the back deck of the ship after several stormy days.

My first sunrise on the R/V Thompson, picture taken off the back deck. The spider-like instrument HPIES. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

Later, I took part in a CTD cast. I was able to experience the whole process from preparing the niskin bottles (used to sample seawater) for the cast to the processing of samples. Following the preparation of the CTD, the instrument was lowered by a crane. Given the depth of our current location (2600 m), it took two hours to lower the CTD to the seafloor. As an oceanographer, it can be difficult to grasp just how deep and vast our oceans are when analyzing data.

ROPOS being lifted on to the back deck of the R/V Thompson. Credit A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

The CTD times together with the duration of the ascents and descents of ROPOS (also over 2 hours) really put the depth of our ocean into perspective. Once samples were collected, we learned about the different methods used to collect samples based on the measurement of interest.

We processed our oxygen samples that day and will move on to chlorophyll samples tomorrow. I enjoyed seeing how the data from our oxygen titrations demonstrated phenomena I had learned about in the classroom: our titrations revealed a clear oxygen minimum zone.

August 27:

A student looks out over the ocean on the back deck of R/V Thompson. Photo Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

Yesterday, I watched the recovery of an instrumented Deep Profiler (DP) vehicle that travels up and down a cable continuously taking measurements of ocean parameters. While the objective of the dive was simple, the DP had a flooded compartment forcing the ROPOS team to adapt in really time. It was impressive watching the pilots and engineers coordinate and re-evaluate in real time to ensure a successful recovery. I also participated in my first CTD cast. Being able to see the full data collection process from the preparation of the instrument to the preservation of samples gave me a better understanding of the measurements I have used in the past.  Just as we completed the CTD cast, several albatrosses began to circle the ship. It is difficult to describe their size and grace without seeing it in person: they truly are the kings of the skies.

Today we are completing an 18-hour transit from the site of our first dives to Axial Seamount. We will be staying in that area for the remainder of the cruise. This morning I woke up to stormy skies and high waves. With a few other students we stood on the bow of the RV Thompson to really experience the power of the waves hitting the bow of our ship. Several of us were even splashed by an oncoming wave. Finally, just as we were returning to the back deck, the sun came out through the clouds making a spotlight on the stormy ocean (see picture). The transit has provided additional free time which has allowed for me to talk to various crew members and science team members to learn more about life on a research vessel. I enjoying hearing about the different paths that each person has taken to be onboard the ship.

I cannot wait for the ROV dives on Axial Seamount to see what we find!

August 25:

Leaving sunny Newport behind. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

My first full day on the R/V Thompson!

We arrived in Newport, OR yesterday afternoon and spent the evening settling into the ship. It was an exciting day spent with tours, briefings and full of questions on how our new “home” functioned. The next morning, I woke up to very low tide and spent part of my morning sitting on the deck watching shorebirds fishing in the muddy pools just across the dock. I was able to observe seagulls dropping clam on to the loading bay to open them or a heron stalking fish.

We left port just after lunch. Although it was sunny along the coast, as soon as we left the shore we were surrounded by thick fog. It was exciting to see the weather changing so quickly and my group was surprised by how quickly the waves grew just offshore. We passed several buoys with several sealions lounging on their sides.

A ROPOS pilot surveys the anemone ecosystem on the float of the Deep Profiler Mooring at Oregon Offshore. Credit: A. Sulc, University of Washington, V22.

This evening, I had my first ROV watch! Our watches on the Thompson consist of two 4-hour shifts separated by 8 hours. Our team of was told we would participate in a short, routine dive to check the systems of ROPOS and locate the float for the deep profiler we would be serviced. However, to our surprise, the float was covered in anemones and feather stars. Along with shrimp and several fish, the float had developed its own ecosystem! I had never seen anything like it. The ROPOS pilots dedicated significant time to surveying the ecosystem. Just when we thought there would be no more surprises, a curious shark circled ROPOS. The shark continued to visit the ROV in later dives as well. I cannot wait to see what else we find on future dives!