Leg 1 2021 Comes to an End

The Shallow Profiler Mooring at the Slope Base site covered in myriad organisms that include stunning anemones, feathery crinoids (feather stars), sea urchins, and small squat lobsters. The 200 m deep, 12 foot across platform has become progressively colonized since it was first installed in 2014. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI, V21.

Under sunny skies, the R/V Thompson pulled into the NOAA dock in Newport, Oregon the afternoon of August 8, marking the end of a very successful Leg 1 for the 2021 Regional Cabled Observatory operations and maintenance expedition. All goals, and more,  were achieved and the weather gods were kind to us.  The Regional Cable Array team thanks Captain Dave and the crew of the Thompson and the ROV Jason team for playing an instrumental role in this success.

Some highlights of the cruise include turning of all six instrumented platforms at the Slope Base, Oregon Offshore, and Axial Base sites. Turning of the science pod at the Offshore site was particularly “exciting” because, for the first time since the mooring was installed in 2014, there were very strong currents that made it difficult for Jason to latch into the platform for recovery – but the pilots persevered and it was safely brought onboard.  

In addition to the amazing environmental data coming from over 30,000 profiles that the winched science pods have completed since 2015, and from the stationary platforms, the moorings have turned into spectacular biological islands hosting a diverse array of organisms that have progressively colonized the platforms. The most amazing of these oasis’s, at ~ 650 ft beneath the surface, is the 12 ft-across platform at Slope Base, which was installed in 2014. Here, a diverse biological community includes stunning sea anemones that call the platform home, as well as beautiful feathery crinoids (feather stars), sea urchins, and squat lobsters. The closer one looks at the images taken with Jason, the more organisms can be seen.

The “weird fish” [Genioliparis ferox (Stein)] swims in front of the MJ01A junction box at Slope Base (2900 m). Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; V21.

At Slope Base, life also thrives on the seafloor  - 9500 ft beneath the oceans’ surface. Here, in perpetual darkness, large skate came to investigate Jason while it was taking push cores to sample sediments, a squat lobster and venus flytraps colonized one of the RCA tripods, and a beautiful pompom anemone dotted the seascape. Perhaps most amazing, however, was once again our friend, fondly called the “weird fish” (Genioliparis ferox (Stein 1978), came to visit the vehicle.  This fish was filmed by the Canadian ROV ROPOS for the first time anywhere in the ocean on the RCA VISIONS 14 expedition: nearly every year since, at least one of them has come to investigate what was going on while either the ROV ROPOS or Jason worked around the junction boxes at this site. Not a lot is known about this species, as only one has been captured off Oregon (at 2884 m water depth), but it is a predator. Two other species are known to occur in the waters off Antarctica. Seeing our friend weird fish is a gift and one we much enjoy.

Lead Engineer James Tilley, and UW undergraduate students Genevieve Kent, Jenn Willson, and Andrew Paley celebrate success in cleaning a junction box that had been on the seafloor for 7 years. Credit:R. Scott, University of Washington, V21.

The seven VISIONS’21 students were a pleasure to have aboard. They contributed significantly to data collection in the ROV Jason van and were in awe seeing the seafloor for the first time and the life that thrives in the deep. They gained experience sampling and processing ocean water recovered with the CTD, and also shipboard analyses of the seawater. The results are important for verifying data coming from the environmental sensors. For most, this was the first time being at sea and their enthusiasm was contagious, reminding us in part, why we do what we do and how lucky we are to be part of this NSF-funded program.

Mobilization for Leg 2 is complete, and a new cohort of undergraduate students just boarded the ship…please share their adventure through their blogs as they see new sights, and experience life aboard a global class research ship.

We are excited to be underway tomorrow – first stop, Primary Node PN1B where the R/V Thompson will “meet” the I.T. International Telecom Marine cable ship the Intrepid to recover the Primary Node PN1B. Onward we go…..