Isabella Pomponi Blog Leg 2

The crane onboard the R/V Thompson lifting Jason and the Sheep out of the water during a foggy and smoky sunset. Credit: I. Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.

August 14: Shearing the Sheep

The first encounter that I had with the MJ01C junction box, colloquially known as “the sheep”, was during my morning shift while assisting a ROV Jason dive. As the Jason neared, the murky seafloor and the vast blue empty water horizon slowly became interrupted by a rectangular white shape that seemed to almost “ripple”.

Taking a closer look, it was revealed that hundreds of white and red plumose anemones that were extended and plumed caused the rippling as they swayed with the gentle currents. Through colonization, these inhabitants had transformed the node into a chaotically organized high density housing structure.

The Science Crew before starting the cleanup of the “Sheep”. Credit: Mitch, University of Washington, V21.

Although the Jason team had planned a latching and lifting extraction method for extraction, it seemed that the sheep fought back to stay in its home.

Upon the initial lift, it was found that the anemones had taken over the latching structure that prevented Jason from securing a complete latch. Additionally, upon the initial lift, three of the sheep’s legs had severed due to sediment build up that prevented the legs from coming loose. These challenges resulted Jason employing a different method by utilizing a partial latch as well as a winch to secure the sheep for ascension and extraction.

The VISIONS Team attempting to clean the sheep by removing the many anemones. Credit: R. Scott, University of Washington, V21.

Compared to when in the water, the sheep seemed like a different animal out of water. The anemones had lost their voluminous and majestic forms, and were hanging limply from their place where they had grown. Looking at the screen also protected you from the overwhelming smell combination of ocean and sea creature – imagine a tide pool. The texture of the anemones themselves are hardly quantifiable, but were cold and very slimy.

As the crew looked on, I and the other students were put to work to tackle the daunting task of clearing the anemones so the frame and the parts of the junction box could be re-used in a future VISION’s expedition. By using paint scrapers, we were able to successfully dislodge their “feet” and throw them back into the water – where they may find a new home on a different OOI instrument or node.

I found this to be a once in a lifetime opportunity and offered me a broader perspective of how much preparation and consideration goes into the planning and execution of the research projects being facilitated through the OOI VISION’s expedition. It had opened my eyes to the full circle of science.

The ROV Jason ascending to the R/V Thompson late in the night. Credit: I. Oedekoven Pomponi, University of Washington, V21
August 13: Wildlife at Sea
Growing up, I’d always been fascinated by planet Earth documentaries. I remember how I used to think that the Deep Sea looked a bit ‘extraterrestrial’ with the monumental pillars billowing black smoke and the white-red tube worms swaying in the current. Having experienced a few Jason dives at this point, I’ve now come face to face with the creatures that inhabit these depths.
When descending into the deep, Jason transcends through many layers of ocean, each with their own ecosystem and the fauna that thrive there. In the first few meters, curious salmon can be seen swimming around the ROV, attracted to its beckoning lights.
A pack of Rissos dolphins can be seen in hunting formation from the bow of the R/V Thompson. Credit: I. Oedekoven Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.
As Jason further descends, glowing, red krill, tunicate salp chains, and larvaceans can be seen.
Contrasting the murky and muddy brown seafloor, red rockfish can be seen like a beacon for the eye. Rat tails, groupers, and black cod can also be seen lazily making their way through the water.
The infrastructure that Jason has been sent down to work on have also been integrated into the seafloor ecosystem. BEPs, (Benthic Experiment Platforms), cameras, and other modules have become meeting grounds for fish, spider and king crabs, and sea stars.
A view from within the ROV Jason van on approach to the Junction Box MJ01C “The Sheep.” Credit: I. Oedekoven Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.
One junction box in particular, MJ01C nicknamed ‘the sheep’, has been transformed into a high density neighborhood for hundreds of white and red plumose anemones that softly wave like trees with the watery breeze.
However, the wildlife that is seen isn’t just limited to the Jason control van. If you spend some time out on the deck of the R/V Thompson looking out on the water, chances are high that you will see either a shark lurking around the ship, a pod of rissos dolphins silently making their way through the water in hunting formation, or a giant humpback whale in the distance breaching towards the sun. All around us is life in this seemingly empty, vast watery desert.
Inside the Jason van with a live feed of the ROV unhooking a cable off of the Half frame at PN1B. Credit: Oedekoven Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.
August 11: Complicated Work In the Deep Ocean

My first shift started with the Jason descending to the first dive sitePrimary Node PN1B – to “meet up” with a half frame that was deployed by the cable ship Integrity. The operation was a new one; Jason needed to break a series of zip ties holding a cable that would eventually be used by the Integrity to lift out the PN1B node. Since the node was too heavy for Jason to lift, this procedure would essentially be a “swap” where Jason would extract the remaining half frame after the recovery cable was attached to a lifting bridle.

Upon the initial approach to the half frame, the Jason team immediately noticed a concern; due to a surge in the current ‘lifting’ the cable attached, the half frame was strained under tension and as a result had tilted sideways, burying its front legs into the seafloor mud. I ended my first shift after observing some communication between the Jason team and the Integrity, but no solution had yet been found.

The ROV Jason latching a recovery bridle on Primary Node PN1B. Credit: Oedekoven Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.

The next morning, I found out that after a readjustment on the Integrity, the half frame had been repositioned with a mushroom anchor weight (to prevent another surge) and that Jason was ready to disengage the latch and cable. After breaking a series of zip ties, the cable was unspooled and disconnected from the half frame. The cable was then transported to the PN1B node and attached to the frame for transport.

To ensure a clear path for the Integrity’s pickup, Jason then traced the cable to the anchor to prevent a possible cable-line entanglement. A dive challenge arose when it was found that the mushroom anchor had essentially ‘rolled’ over the an extension, which could cause the cables to become ensnared with each other.

After a series of careful maneuverings, Jason had freed the cable and the node was ready for transport. To wrap up the dive, the ROV maneuvered back to the half frame and used a set of underside latches to latch onto the frame for transport to the surface.

After the ascent, Jason was brought back onto the R/V Thompson after a successful mission.

The view of the Newport Bridge as the R/V Thompson leaves the harbor. Credit: Isabella Pomponi, University of Washington, V21.

August 8 and 9: First 36 hours

Describing what I’ve experienced from the past 36 hours seems like I live a different life. I arrived at the Newport NOAA dock at just before noon on the 9th and the sheer size of the R/V Thompson was immediately apparent – even at a distance. I took an additional COVID Test as a final safety protocol and then boarded the ship. I quickly (after getting lost a few times) got myself acquainted with the ship, was welcomed by the crew, and got to know the rest of the VISIONS ’21 Science Crew when they arrived.

After having a delicious dinner on board, I quickly realized that meals were definitely something to look forward to and would become a daily highlight.

After dinner, the science crew took a short walk to the NOAA facility parking lot where we ended up on the beach looking at washed up jellies.

The next morning I met up with some science crew members and headed down to breakfast. We had a bit of down time before the pre-cruise prep excitement began.

UW undergraduates Kenneth Lai and Isabella Pomponi don emergency survival suites during the first day Safety Meeting onboard the R/V Thompson. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington, V21.

Later that morning we had a series of safety drills, science team meetings, as well as additional drills. At 14:45 in the afternoon, the R/V Thompson left the port and we began our expedition.

Those of us who hadn’t fallen ill to the debilitating seasickness from the rough waters had a tour of the ROV Jason and the control van. It was an experience getting used to the unfamiliar swings of the ship took a lot of balance adjustments, concentration, and employing the “three points of contact” technique – a strategic tip from a crew member – as the R/V Thomson made its way through the foggy waters.

As I write this, I’m currently preparing myself for my first shift to help with the first of many Jason dives at Primary Node PN1B. Although having watched the training modules, I’m still a bit nervous to operate the cameras and properly categorize the observation logs. Wish me luck!