Julia Sandke Blog Leg 1

A Pacific white sided dolphin leaps out of the water near sunset, joined by its surfing buddy on Leg 1 of the VISIONS’23 cruise. Credit: J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.

20 August 2023

We’ve been on weather hold for a few days now. That means that the wind, and therefore the water, is too rough to deploy Jason. Unfortunately, the weather has also prevented us from making the trip out to Axial Seamount. I know that everyone was looking forward to seeing some live footage of the hydrothermal vent fields around Axial. From examining past footage of dives down to Axial, I know there are interesting biological and geological features to study. I would have loved to see them “up close.” But understanding that you’re at the mercy of the weather is just part of the reality of being at sea. Hopefully the weather is more conducive to dives and transit on the next three legs of the cruise.

Although there haven’t been any dives for a couple of days, we’ve still managed to see some spectacular sights. Two nights ago, we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of dolphins jumping and flipping around all sides of the Thompson.  Everywhere you looked, a dolphin was leaping out of the water. They looked like they were having so much fun, with some flipping backwards through the air. Based on some limited research, I think they were Pacific white-sided dolphins. Watching dolphins at sunset is definitely one of the coolest things I’ll ever see.

Last night, some of us got together in the Media Room to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. I’ve seen the movie so many times, but it was an entirely new experience to watch it while on a rocking ship. It was like watching it in IMAX.

We only have two more days after today on the Thompson. Although most of our initial plans had to be cast aside because of the weather, I think we’ve managed to keep spirits up. Being out on the water is always special.

A large sea urchin at Slope Base (2900 m) is adjacent to a small squat lobster. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1523; V23.

18 August 2023:

Last night we dove all the way down to the seafloor at Slope Base with Jason. It was a long dive that lasted for about 8 hours. My shift started as Jason was ascending. Slope Base is a site at the base of the continental slope and has a depth of approximately 2,900 meters. We saw some cool organisms on the seafloor and in the water column as we ascended and descended with Jason. Some of the creatures we saw included a phantom jellyfish (super rare!), a snailfish, a rattail fish, sea cucumbers and sea urchins, Venus flytrap anemones, a squat lobster, lots of krill, fish, and other jellyfish.

Right now, we are back at the Oregon Shelf Site (Endurance Shelf). Unfortunately, Jason lost power on its latest dive, so now we’re waiting to see how serious the issue is and how long it will take to fix. Leg 1 has been a lesson in patience and flexibility. It’s important to be adaptable because plans can change quickly and so much is truly beyond our control out on the sea.

Some good news…I’ve finally found my sea legs! It took a little longer than I was hoping, but it feels great to be on the other side of it. The 12:00-4:00 AM shift is also starting to grow on me. There aren’t too many people awake at that time of night so its peaceful and quiet.

A couple of nights ago, we were able to do some stargazing. The night sky was beautifully clear, and we saw the Milky Way galaxy! Back home in NYC, there is far too much light pollution to spot the Milky Way, so it was a treat to see it. I’ve also witnessed some gorgeous sunsets.

We’ve also managed to spot some charismatic megafauna in the ocean. A small pod of dolphins swam along the ship as we were recovering the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth). So far, I haven’t seen any whales, but I have seen a few waterspouts, or “blows,” from whales just below the surface. I’ve heard that you can identify some whales by the shape of their blow, so the next time I see a whale blow I’m going to be on the lookout for the shape to see if I can figure what whale is hanging out nearby.

A shot on the dock in front of the Thompson. J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.
A view of the Jason ROV control van. Credit: J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.

16 August 2023:

Well, it’s difficult to say if the seasickness patch worked better than the pills. Some choppy, rough waters tested the efficacy of the patch yesterday. I’m still dealing with some lingering queasiness. Hopefully I’ll begin to feel more “normal” soon.

We’ve had a couple rounds of watches by this point. My watch schedule is from 12:00 to 4:00, (both AM and PM). It’s hard to acclimate to such a different sleep schedule, as my watch falls right in the middle of when I’m usually fast asleep. It certainly helps that everyone on board the Thompson is very understanding and patient with the students as we navigate through any new discomfort.

Jason being recovered from a dive during Leg 1. Credit: J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.

My two latest watches involved sitting in the Jason control van. The van is on the aft deck on the corner of the ship. Once you climb into the van, you’re met with a wall of TV and computer monitors displaying videos from various vantage points on Jason. So far, I’ve been on Sea-log duty, which means I log biology seen on video, when Jason is descending through the water column, and other ROV tasks and movements. There have been some beautiful shots of anemones on instruments that have been on the seafloor for a year or so. We’ve seen jellyfish and lots of tiny shrimp around the ROV.

We’ve finished up at the Oregon Offshore Site so now we’re heading out to Slope Base. I’ve heard that there are some really funky sea creatures at this next site, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the control van to view all the video.

I’ve grown up watching footage obtained from Jason on deep sea dives around the world. It’s amazing to be in such close proximity to the ROV; it’s almost like being on board with a celebrity.

Feather Stars Cover the Shallow Profiler Platform at Oregon Offshore. Credit: J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.

Monday, August 14: Today we’re setting sail out of the Yaquina River in Newport, Oregon and into the Pacific Ocean. We arrived at the R/V Thomas G. Thompson two days ago and we were initially scheduled to leave yesterday. Inclement weather at Axial Seamount, however, briefly postponed our journey to the underwater volcano.

Thankfully, we can travel to some closer sites today as we await the news about our trip all the way out to Axial, which is about 300 miles away. The first site we’re heading to is the Oregon Shelf Site, about an hour away from where we’re currently docked. Following dives on the shelf, we’ll travel a little farther to the Oregon Offshore Site.

This will be my second trip on a research vessel. Last year I was fortunate to go out on the R/V Marcus G. Langseth to Axial Seamount with several scientists and students from around the world. That cruise was seismology-based, and we deployed 15 ocean-bottom seismometers around the Axial caldera. For this year’s cruise on the Thompson, I’m excited to see the ROV Jason up close and observe all the fascinating deep-sea biology that we’re hoping to catch on video.

The immersion suit we tried on during our safety meeting. J. Sandke, Queens College, V23.

Yesterday, we had our first safety meeting. Everyone brought their life jacket and immersion suit from their berth to the Main Lab. The immersion suits are always awkward to put on (they’re big and bulky and bright red), but it’s important to practice and experience it, just in case. Following the meeting we walked through an evacuation route from our berths so that we’d know where to go in the event of an emergency. We also received a tour of the engine room and learned about how the ship runs on diesel electric. There are so many moving parts down there, it’s like a maze. The engineers and crew members are knowledgeable, kind, and dedicated to keeping everyone safe.

It was also neat to get a tour of the engine room before the ship was in transit. Once the ship starts moving, it gets very loud, very quickly. I was most interested in the large reverse osmosis system that creates freshwater from saltwater for everyone to use.

With a little extra time docked, all the students have had a chance to get to know each other before our watch shifts begin (we’ll have 4 hours on watch and 8 hours off). We’ve also gotten better acquainted with the ship layout before we start rocking during transit.

Two days ago, it was difficult to remember where my berth was in relation to the main lab or the galley, but I’ve finally figured it out!

As we get ready to head out to sea, everyone is bracing for seasickness. I experienced some sickness on my last ocean trip, so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens this time. Last year I took sea sickness pills, but this year I’m working with a patch. We’ll see which one is more successful after rough waters. Here we go!