Last night was pretty amazing, and I was fortunate enough to be the part of a group that saw environments which has been largely unexplored ever since Earth was formed. After dinner, I go to my shift, and we are informed that ROPOS is going down to the ocean bed to find an unexplored region at Axial Seamount. We had to look for a flat spot to place a FETCH transponder, and that was not easy to find, as most of the places there were rocky and uneven. There were plenty lava collapsed areas and some benthic fishes were hiding into those. Plenty of shrimps, fishes and an octopus greeted us on the ocean floor. Numerous starfish and sea anemones were there attracting our attention, but no flat surface. After dwelling for over an hour, our eyes lit up seeing a flat surface and a marker was dropped. Hopefully no octopus takes it with them thinking of a brightly lit food. After the shift, I went up to grab a snack before bed and met an extraordinary person, Pam. It was her birthday and we talked about over an hour. She told me she does 200 pull-ups a day, which will make any power-lifter rethink if they are working hard enough.
Today (09-01) we are waiting in the Main Lab for our transit to come to an end from Axial to Slope Base and we can start another dive. There is a lot underneath waiting for us. We reached the ROPOS control lab before the dive started. There was some technical difficulty when ROPOS reached 500 meters depth. It was sorted in few minutes and we continued. ROPOS dove to the ‘Hell’ vent which was beautiful, saw a lot of spider crabs and sea spiders waiting for us.
I learned sea spiders’ muscles are singled celled, which is amazing. I can’t think how their muscles can support their body by contracting and expanding, but sure is astonishing. No little octopuses this time. We were looking around for a while and then a temperature probe was installing in a vent that will remain there for a year.
It was a very beautiful day today, and taking advantage of the opportunity, I sat in the sun for the first time in a week. We are preparing ourselves to move so everything needs to be tied down because the ride back is going to be rough. It was very nice of Julie to warn us about the ride we’ll have on our way back. Gave us time to prepare.
Post dive, we had a bunch of worms to deal with. They were so many and were moving. We helped Andrew and Han to collect specimens for their experiments and were very gentle with the worms.
While collecting samples for Han, I saw red stuff coming out of the worm enclosure. I am calling it red stuff because I’m not sure if that was blood. Hemoglobin is seen in blood starting from Mollusca phylum, and these worms are roundworms, or from Annelida phylum. This was learned by looking up stuff online and I learned that benthic worms too have a high concentration of circulatory hemoglobin. This fact was amazing as I’ve never thought of them in need of hemoglobin. This makes me more curious if they need 4 molecules of iron attached to their hemoglobin or do they have any other mechanism or use of their pigmentation. Also, there was a sea spider and it was the center of attraction for everyone.
When the day was over and ship started moving, I got together with other students and started talking about the final research project. We discussed a lot of stuff and I got some new ideas about marking pictures to count. Later, we laid down on the bow of the ship gazing at stars. For the first time, I saw the milky way galaxy and other celestial objects. Living in big cities never gave me an opportunity to see the sky so clear and pollution free. It is so pure, untouched and unexplored. We went to bed late as we’re supposed to be in transit for hours.
It was a good day today. I got up early and went to do my watch shift. We watched ROPOS surface from the deep ocean and most of our shift was spent watching the ROV surface. We had a short little break that was spent in the Main Lab after learning about some rules of the library.
The whiteboard said we were to get a bridge tour, and Todd explained how things work, making sure to answer as many questions as possible. Unfortunately when we were up there, ROPOS was exploring a hot vent. We saw another octopus enjoying hot sauna with his eyes closed. A bunch of crabs lying around some waving their limbs with the current. Todd explained how waterways work, why we use ship horns and who has the right of way in different countries. We wanted to spend more time up there, but he had to go to perform other duties, so the tour ended.
The evening shift was pretty good too. We saw ROPOS dive to the ocean bed and replace a temperature probe in a vent with a new one. There was a tiny crab sitting on top of the old temperature probe and unfortunately we had to move him over, after repeated attempts of intimidation. The new temperature reading showed around 25°C and the instrument was placed. It did not completely go as planned as replacing the temperature devices was inverted. Later pictures were taken and ROPOS surfaced. While we were sitting in the Main Lab, the ship crew recovered some ocean trash from the sea. I saw a little activity in the darkness and went to see what was happening. There was a plastic ball with a rope attached to it and thousands of barnacles were attached to the whole system. Initially I thought we had some barnacles with a sea anemone, but Mike told us this is just barnacles, trying to hang on to something so they can filter feed.
This morning, it was a slow day. We went into our shift hoping to see some good stuff, but by the time our shift started, the ROV was on it’s way to the surface. There was an hour and a half wait for the next dive, so got some work done on the computer. When we went back to the ROPOS control room, ROPOS started going down, and it happened to be an hour and a half long wait. We got a chance to see what is going on 1.5 kilometers horizontally underneath the surface of the ocean and found a lot of hot vents. I was looking for another octopus, but it seems like they figured out we’re not food.
After a delicious lunch, I went back to the ROPOS lab just to see what else they were they doing. A temperature logger was being installed and the team was trying to figure out the best way of doing it using auto temperature readers. They later installed an old style temperature logger and were planning to come up again when I left. It was a pretty educational experience. Now I’m hoping that the next shift will be amazing as well and we’ll get to see a lot of amazing stuff.
Wow! What an amazing day. The morning started with the 4 hour shift, most of it was just watching the ROV surface. There was a hour long break, where Andrew showed us what benthic worms look like and let us touch them. He even gave us one as a gift, which was pretty generous. Afterwards, he taught us how to tie a knot for ROPOS. Going back to the watch, the ROV was ready to be launched and it took it’s sweet time to reach the bottom. Until then the next group took over.
Later, I was told that I’m missing my research proposal, which indeed I was. I had many ideas but none of them seemed to be successful until population density was proposed. Mike said that could totally work and I started giving final shape to my proposal in the library. After putting in a few hours, Mike gave a green signal to the proposal and I uploaded it on the server for Deb. COVID PCR testing was carried out throughout the vessel and finally we took our masks off today. It was worth the wait.
Adding to the excitement, we were told that we’re getting the engine tour today, and I started watching the clock hit 5:15 pm. The amazing crew member came in and took us with him for a tour. For the first time in my life, I saw a ship engine. There were two mammoth size V-16 engines, with a couple of V-8s behind them. I took multiple videos and photos. A lot was explained and I learned a lot.
We went for dinner and then to the library again, to finish some other work. By the time it was 8:00 pm and it was our time to go to our shift. Luckily, the ROV just landed on the seafloor and we’ve to take pictures of the thermal vents. It was the most amazing scenario around me. I saw a very pretty, beautiful and untouched world, which was pure and far from even a speck of flaw. We saw an octopus staring us with his bulging blue eyes asking why did we show up without an invitation. Hot thermal vents were situated on top of a big boulder, and we took many photos. I was on the picture taking duty and I must’ve at least clicked more than 400 photos during that session. There was a white lining of microbial mats going along the cracks of the rocks lighting it up and showing the way in the darkness. One of the vents was issuing out water at around 150°C. There was a white colored crab too, hanging out on a corner, waving at us. My shift was over by 12 am and I left as soon as replacements arrived. I was lucky to be on that shift and it is a memorable night for me.
The day started with ship rocking back and forth, so it was hard to get out of the bed and stand straight. Later, I learned that we are in transit to another location, and it happened to be a very long transit. Most of the students were nauseous and they were not feeling great. We were told that our shift is cancelled as we’re moving and can go back to bed, which helped. We set up a little ping pong table in the library, which was a nice distraction from moving ship. At around 10 pm, we arrived at the destined spot, and I went to watch ROV launch, and log timings. It was an amazing experience, and I was there until they started cleaning the cable. My shift was over and since I wasn’t feeling great, went straight to bed. Not a very eventful day.
Today, when I woke up, the ship was stable as a rock and I felt pretty energized. Rolled out of the bed and went straight to the ROPOS room to monitor what’s going on and being there early helps in aligning oneself with what is next to come. We took away a beacon, which was tough as the right hand ripped off the rope on which it is supposed to hold on. But they managed it by holding the beacon manually and mission was accomplished. ROV surfaced and footballs were taken off. Later we went prepping the CDT rosette for a dive, but one of the knobs malfunctioned. After fixing that, it was put into the deep ocean for exploring the water quality. Our Styrofoam cups and a ball was thrown in too to get shrunken by pressure, and it looks beautiful. We took samples from the CDT rosette under Julie’s supervision. Later, we did titration and collected values under her supervision. I tried working out, but doing bench-pressers on a constantly moving ship is next to impossible as pressure keeps on changing. I’m yet to do my second watch and am very excited for that. I’m spending quite my time in the ROPOS room just looking at benthic animals, and of course searching for weird fish, but no luck so far. Hopefully I’ll see her eventually.
The day started with breakfast rush and everyone was excited to see each other. Few initial hellos were said and we were introducing ourselves to others. After that we went down to the Main Lab for further instructions and to see the ‘Board of Lies’, which provides the evolving schedule of operations.
We had a ship tour after taking the COVID test and all the safety standards were enforced. Life jackets, hard hats and emergency immersion suits were tried on by everyone, and their importance was taught with examples. Later, we had a fire drill, and evacuation instructions were passed showing the secure escape routes.
The ship left the shore around 12:45 PM and we waved the shore goodbye, pictures were taken and smiles were all around. Going into the offshore waters was fun and the hip was moving over the waves, felt like a roller coaster. Initially we had to hold on to something so that we didn’t fall, but as time passed, we grew into the motion and it was fine. While going out of the channel we saw some sea lions basking in the sun and raising their heads as our vessel moved by them (probably waving at us). Another NOAA ship was sailing back to port while we were going in and they too waved us goodbye.
The first shift about logging was amazing. Initially I saw these screens around me and was a little startled as if we were in a sci-fi war room. But after everything was explained, I got a hang of it and started watching closely, even anticipating what is coming up next. They changed the deep profiler vehicle and cleaned the mooring cable and we took pictures and logged timings. There was a very interested shark which kept coming too close to the ROV, sometimes even hitting one of the extended limbs. Unfortunately, one of the lights was dislodged from it’s initial position by the shark and the ROV had to be pulled up for a fix. Eventually mission was accomplished and we went to bed after finishing our shift.