Caleb Flaim Blog Leg 3

A final view of the setting sun through the A-frame on the TGT. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.
Andrew’s samples of worms in ROPOS’ bio-boxes. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

September 1:

Today ROPOS collected biological samples for Andrew and Han’s senior thesis projects. The dive for this was significantly delayed due to unforeseen complications in finding a suitable area for the fourth FETCH to be placed; much of the area that was expected to be suitable for the glass-orb-topped-tripod was covered in rough terrain, deep trenches, cliff walls, and was commonly out of reach of the other FETCH due to higher terrain blocking the acoustic signal.

Once the samples, a variety of worms and protists, were on deck, a rush to process them began. Andrew had an assembly line of ~6 students identifying, separating, and preserving specimens, while Han had one or two helpers, as their work is much more sensitive to contamination. While I did not expect to say this, I had fun sorting through two buckets of worms. It was a needed break from watching ROPOS ascend and descend through hours of snow against a deep blue background.

The view of the setting sun from the aft deck of the TGT. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

Shortly after the humdrum from biological sampling died down, everyone prepared for the 20-hour transit from Axial Seamount to Slope Base: some took Dramamine, some went to bed, some relaxed, and some continued what they were doing. Many of us gather on the aft deck to watch the sunset. After a nice sunset and group conversation, I played Scrabble and Palace, a card game, with two other students and Josh, a Mar-tech; Josh has clearly played many more games of scrabble than the rest of us.

We took a break from games to look at what was quite possibly the clearest night sky I have seen since I was 5-years old. We could see the Milky Way from horizon-to-horizon and shooting stars in the handfuls. After a wet half-hour of laying on the 01 deck, we came inside for snacks and a movie – we actually ended up watching the last episode of Game of Throwns with Woody, a ROPOS navigator.

A top view of El Guapo, a black smoker, from ROPOS. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

August 31:

I had a conversation with Josh, a Mar-Tech on the Thompson, about 3D printers and a large 3D printing project I did last year to build a teaching model of thermohaline circulation; it appears that even while at sea, I cannot escape 3D printing and printers that need fixing. The Mar-Techs have a large printer, like one I’ve owned in the past, that did not work. Around 14:00, Josh asked if I could look at the 3D printer so he and his compatriot could print an octopus.

I started working on the printer after my watch and a quick nap. I quickly realized the printer needed a bit more help than I had hoped. The x-gantry, a cantilevered system, was wobbly; the y-gantry and build plate were almost free floating; the extrusion motor and Bowden tube had filament stuck in it from possibly 6 months ago; no computer in the lab had the proper software to create files for the printer; the auto-leveling transducer and nozzle were barely functioning.

A “skylight” in the sea floor caused by the collapse of a basalt ceiling after the lava retreated. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington; Dive R2245; V22.

I got the printer to be mostly functional after a couple hours of tightening hex-nuts and tinkering. It is now having an issue where it will lay a several layers of plastic perfectly and then shift where it is printing by a centimeter or more. This could be due to a bad motor, my software not being 100% compatible with the printer, or even they roll of the ship. I will see what I can do to fix this tomorrow.

I saw some of my first hydrothermal vents today – I caught glimpses of other vents on the screens scattered around the TGT – and I have to say, lecture slides do not do them justice.

Their scale, beauty, obscurity, and temperature only seems to sink in while sitting in the ROV control room at 3:00 AM after getting four hours of sleep. During the dives around the vents, I’ve discovered that I am more drawn to the geology of the area rather than the biology.

A Feathered Sculpin lying near the RAS-PPS. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington; Dive R2246; V22.

While I find the deep biology to be fascinating and perplexing, I found myself often wondering about the pillow basalts, sheet flows, and sulfide towers rather than the tube worms – the blobfish and spider crabs are a close second. I am very glad I was able to see these vents and organisms first-hand.

August 29:

The two large tier 3, 16-cylinder, Caterpillar engines that power much of what happens aboard the TGT; two smaller 8-cylinder engines sit to the right of these under the board walk. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

Today began around 00:00 for a shift in the ROV van. I quickly learned the skill of the pilots as I watched them pack up the old junction box and prep the new one; until now, watches in the van were mainly watching ROPOS clean mooring cables for the Deep Profilers with a tool that more closely resembles a jumbo coffee cup rather than a brush. The team very skillfully hung a CTD from a peg on the old junction box via an eyebolt no larger than a few inches; the diameter of the peg was not much smaller than the eyebolt itself. The CTD was then strapped in with a bungee cord found on the old junction box. The team proceeded to spend time managing the CTD cable by hanging and bungee cording it to what appeared to be a metal garden house hanger. This process was repeated with the hydrophone and was all completed with hydraulic manipulators much clumsier than the human hand. As a retired robotics team driver, I was truly impressed by the skill of the ROPOS pilots.

Four dolphins of many, swimming toward the starboard side of the TGT in calm waters. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

While I was not present to witness a fantastic sunset today, the afternoon and evening were still interesting, as they started with a tour of the TGT engine room from a person I did not know was on the ship; he said he can apparently hide away for days down there.

Ben, the engineer who gives very entertaining tours and can answer any and all nautical dooms-day questions, showed the student science team the engines, motors, and pumps that make life on board the Thomas G. Thompson possible. The ship’s engines can produce 1000 amps of current at 600 volts that are used to power everything from the lights to the fridges, to ROPOS, to the omnidirectional propellers powered by 600 Volt DC motors that can move the ship in any direction. This propeller setup, according to Ben, theoretically allows the TGT to sail at 2 – 3 knots in the port or starboard directions; this would be a very bumpy ride.

Sometime after dinner, much of the crew and science team gather on the starboard side of the ship to watch a pod of dolphins play on the waves and propwash of the omnidirectional propellers. T’was a good day.

August 27:

The setting sun brightly illuminating sky and sea. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, v22.

Last night around 04:00 we began the transit to Axial Base after the CTD was safely on deck; we were about halfway through collecting Niskin samples when the roll of the ship from transiting became very apparent; this made walking between the high bay and wet lab while carrying glass containers full of water rather interesting.

I had forgotten how cold the deep-water samples feel. We collected samples to measure the concentrations of oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), nutrients (nitrate, phosphate, iron, etc.), chlorophyl, and salinity.

I experienced my first sunset at sea around 20:00; the sun did not disappoint.

Industrial-yellow ROPOS ‘lemon floats’ directing your eye to the horizon. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, v22.

Later in the day at 00:00, ROPOS was deployed to clean the Deep Profiler mooring cable and recover the crawler. The cable was sporadically spotted with very dense patches of biofouling every ~5 m that sometimes took 10 or more passes to clean. This made for a longer than expected descent time since ROPOS was not able to descend in one pass to the bottom.

An explosion of light from the setting sun casting rays to the deep-maroon ocean surface. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, v22.

After the line was cleaned, the pilots ran into a somewhat comical issue of the crawler slowly sinking down the wire on top of the wire guide as they attempted to clean the docking area. Much to the pilots’ surprise as they attempted to clean the dock the first time, the crawler bounced several times on the wire guide and then came to rest on top of ROPOS. They decided to forgo cleaning the dock, as it was already cleaner than they would likely be able to get it with the toilet brush secured to ROPOS’ milk crate via zip ties. After an approximately four-hour ascent, the deep crawler was back on board the TGT.

August 25:

DJ Oceans spinning on the back deck of the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Credit: C. Flaim, University of Washington, V22.

Today we celebrated the end of Leg 2 and the beginning of Leg 3 with DJ Oceans on the back deck of the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Both the crew and science team danced, laughed, and talked for the better part of 5 hours. I am not often one to stand in a circle and dance for hours with people I have only just met, but I had fun and became acquainted with the team. While no science happened today due to the ship being docked, the evening was certainly eventful.

Much of the time after arrival was spent exploring the ship, getting lost, and enjoying the constantly changing weather. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the beds are much more comfortable than those of UW dorms and apartments.

Looking forward to see what will happen tomorrow!