Alessia Simmen Blog Legs 2 & 3

From left to right – Avery, I, and Mei waiting outside on deck during our night shift. Credit: M. Ettari, University of Washington; V23.

4-5 September 2023

Leg 3 has felt like a complete blur compared to Leg 2. I cannot believe that we are already at the tail end of Leg 3. Because of all the delays and problems popping up, there have not been as many dives, and we have had more free time. The free time has allowed us to all bond more with each other, talking late at night during our shifts, about school, dating, and how we do not think boat life is for us in the future. We are not the quietest when conversing, so some of the crew has overheard our conversations, and have been asking follow-up questions and updates on our situations.

One side of drawings on my Styrofoam cup. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

With all the spare time, I have been drawing on a Styrofoam cup that will be shrunk on Leg 4, by being brought down to the bottom of the ocean. In addition, with Brian, I worked on slides for our presentations about the projects we have been working on. These are supposed to be short presentations to show the progress of our project during the two legs and our plan for during fall quarter.

For one of our last science meetings, we had a presentation by Han about their senior thesis. It was on protists and whether they are endemic or not. Han took tubeworm samples from a dive last year during VISIONS’22 and scraped off sample from the outside of the tube worms to test for protists. Based on the results, it would determine if the endemism previously stated was correct or not.

Because there are more of us available on shift than last leg, I have not been in the control van as much as we swap out. I was finally in the van during my 0000-0400 for dive J2-1546. I keep catching either the descent or ascent of all the dives during this leg when I am on shift. So I end up missing a lot of the biology down at the bottom. Dive J2-1546 was back at the Axial Caldera at International District 1 where they imaged the TRHPH (“Res Probe”) at Escargot and then continued with swapping the old CAMDS with a new one and then deploying the TRHPH at Diva. During the dive I saw another rattail fish.

Top view of engines in the engine room on the R/V Thompson. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23

Following the dive, I helped all the students got to keep some vent rock from Diva. A vent sample was taken for one of the scientists, and there were remaining pieces that we were allowed to put in a small jar to take home with us.

In the afternoon, some of us helped clean the old CAMDS that was brought up in the undervator, and some of its cables.

Today we also got the chance to tour the engine room. I understood none of the terminology that we were told, but it was still cool to see what runs this large vessel. There were so many cables and wires all over, with so many moving parts. It is hard to fathom how all of it functions as one unit in the end. The engine room is extremely loud, so we were given earbuds to wear while walking through the rooms.

In the computer area of the tour I learned that while we are stationary at sites only the two smaller engines are in use, while in transit it is a combination of one small engine and one of the larger engines. At 1830 we are to depart ASHES and head back to Newport, stopping at the Y-buoy to ensure the tide is high enough for the R/V Thompson before entering into port. Let us hope that this transit back will be better than the departure.

Waves crashing above the starboard side of the R/V Thompson onto the deck in the morning. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

2-3 September 2023

Who knew that this 20-hour transit to Axial Base would suck this much. I had thought the night before was bad, but it was worse waking up. I felt a little better waking up, but after an hour, I felt worse than the day before. It was like the world was turning in my head, absolutely horrible.

I forced myself to eat some food because I knew if I did not, I would have felt worse on an empty stomach. Sitting outside in the morning, waves were coming over the side of the R/V Thompson, crashing and flooding the deck.

There was not much to do except wait for the transit to be over, which I honestly in the moment did not think I would get through. I was back and forth between sitting outside and sitting inside in Main Lab for the rest of the day until we had stopped. The nausea and headaches coming and going each time I felt the boat move.

Mei had come up with the best way to explain how we were all feeling, through the 5 phases of seasickness. I wish I could explain each, but she had summed it up best in her 9/1 blog. Once the vessel had come to a stop, the feeling was night and day. All of us, and I mean all of us went from feeling so nauseous, to feeling like we could do somersaults. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but we all felt much better, and at dinner had a much larger appetite. 

Mei and I putting our gloves on before starting to take samples from the niskin bottles on the CTD. Credit: A. Jenkins, University of Washington; V23.

Today was my first night shift from 0000 – 0400, where I got a pleasant surprise of seeing a blood red moon. The shift ended up being quite short as we only helped take samples from the CTD that was deployed at Axial Base. Different to Leg 2, the CTD went deeper during this deployment, down to 2600 m. Samples for oxygen, nutrients, salinity, chlorophyll, and RCA sample were taken again from each niskin similar to before.

Midway through taking samples we started our transit to the Axial Caldera. I started to feel nauseous and have a headache again during the transit. Fortunately, we were allowed to go to bed after an hour into our shift because no dives were going to be occurring until later in the morning.

 Starting today as well, if we test negative for COVID-19, we do not have to wear masks indoors anymore, only in the ROV control van.

There was a dive halfway through my second shift from 1200 – 1600, J2-1543, the first dive of Leg 3. The dive was originally scheduled for 1300 but was delayed because of the weather, so it started at 1442. Being up in the control van, I started to feel extremely nauseous again and have a migraine from being so elevated on at the stern of the ship, and I don’t think having to wear a mask in the van still helped my state.

This dive was back at Axial Base to locate the 2023 HPIESA301 instrument and recover the old HPIESA301. The depth of the dive was at 2611 m, but my shift only covered the initial descend of Jason going down. There was not much action occurring, with only a few shrimps, siphonophores, ctenophores, jellies, and random unidentifiable green blobs seen throughout the descent to 1400m. It felt weird to be back in the van after a few days of no dives but I at this point of the trip I feel confident with knowing how to log for Jason.

Chlorophyll filtering setup – pipette for acetone on the left, and vacuum pump for samples on the right. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

After my shift had ended some of us were recruited to help filter the chlorophyll samples that we took from the niskin bottles earlier today. Using a vacuum pump in a dark room, 500ml of each chlorophyll sample was filtered with a glass microfiber filter, I specifically did sample chl-039. Once all the sample is filtered, the filter is folded into quarters using forceps and placed at the bottom of a vial, where 10mL of acetone is added to preserve the chlorophyll and stop it from degrading. The vial is then stored in a dark place to keep any light out to prevent more chlorophyll from being produced. The filter will then be analyzed later, on shore. 

I woke up to shocking news before my shift. Mei and I could not fall asleep between our shifts, so we decided to go to the gym. Emerging and entering main lab, we found out that ROV Jason’s cable had a hockle, and it had to be re-terminated, which would take 8-12 hours to complete. Because of this setback, all dives are postponed, and all we can do is wait patiently for Jason to be fixed by the team of engineers working with Jason before commencing any work again.

Leg 3 crew outside on the 03 deck of the Thompson at the beginning of the departure out to Axial Seamount. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

31 August – September 1 2023

When I woke up, no one else was up, so I got to help with wrapping a cable with felt for equipment that we would be deploying during Leg 3. I learned that wrapping the cable in felt was to keep the cable from breaking because of the high temperatures that the vents produce.

Everybody woke else up in the morning mentally prepared to leave port at 1400 and to be ready for the seasickness, and then we got told that transit was being postponed to the following day at 1400 because of how bad the weather was.

With another day in port none of us knew what to do. Nobody wanted to walk across the bridge again, so we looked at what was on our side of the bridge and saw that the Hatfield Marine Science Center by Oregon State University was open.

Topography interactive activity at OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

The science center was not very big, but it had a lot of interactive activities to do like wave simulators, and some computer games. In addition, we saw the octopus feeding at 1400, and there were also some tanks with different fish from around the world. Compared to the aquarium, these tanks were much better kept, and the water was clear, and each tank had plenty of space for all the animals inside to swim around. Returning from the science center, we all watched Madagascar and Madagascar: Escape to Africa in the lounge after dinner.

I decided to sleep in today, so when most of us were up, we all went out on deck after lunch while we were still in port. The weather was a huge improvement from yesterday when it was gray and gloomy; today the sun was out. We were all starting to feel restless ready to leave port; however, none of us realized what was to come. Before leaving port, with the hour or so I had, I decided to hit the gym for the second day in a row. It felt good being able to move for the hour I did.

The R/V Thompson ended up leaving port around 1430. You could find everybody out on deck watching the departure. Initially it seemed calm until suddenly it was not. From where I sat in Main Lab, I could see the stern rocking up and down in the water. I tried staying in Main Lab to regain my sea legs, but my stomach was flipping upside down along with the strong waves. Most of the students all got struck with seasickness much more than last leg. I attempted to go down to my stateroom and try laying horizontally but being down in the bunks only felt worse. Because my room is forward, you can feel the motion of the boat moving much more. I felt like my whole body was being pushed around each time the vessel rocked forward and then back again. When I woke up from the short nap I tried taking, I found out that the only way we could access going outside was through the wet lab doors. By the time I stumbled my way through the passageways and through the wet lab doors, there were already three other students outside where the CTD is stored on deck.

From right to left – Patrik, Chris, Mei, Brian, and I out on deck by the CTD at night during the rough transit to Axial Seamount. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

Two more students joined after some time, and we all sat out there for a few hours trying to not throw up. A highlight to sitting outside was that we saw a blood red moon.

I have never felt this type of nausea and mix of migraine before, but I wish this feeling on no one. Just writing this blog post is a struggle because of the constant movement. I am hoping I feel a little better tomorrow, but we still have a long transit ahead of us with continued strong winds and high waves.

From left to right – Chris, Brian, Avery, Alessia, and Mei, in a model of a Megalodon Shark’s jaws at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

29-30 August 2023

The last two days we have been back in port at the Newport NOAA Facility, unloading old equipment, and loading new equipment, as well as supplies for Leg 3. When I woke up for breakfast, I discovered that we had to take daily COVID-19 tests for the rest of the cruise. While another small inconvenience, it is nice to know that the scientists are doing everything they can to prevent a spread of COVID-19.

We arrived in port yesterday around 1230 and most of the students decided to go into Newport, but it was raining a bit so we changed plans and decided to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium. It was not a large aquarium, but it was still fun to get off the vessel and walk around. There were only a few exhibits, and when we walked through the deep-sea area, you could hear all of us identifying whatever we saw. However, walking through some of the exhibits I felt sad, because the tanks were so small, and there were so many fish, anemone, and other marine life confined in the little area. I felt conflicted knowing I was supporting their small environment by visiting, but I hope that the aquarium will be able to change their exhibits to allow for more free space for the animals to roam around. Despite the slightly depressing environment, we all moved onto dinner at the Rogue Brewery, where I ordered a macaroni and cheeseburger.

Mei, Brian, and I on the second platform/tank top deck of the R/V Thompson waiting to move supplies arriving into the storage room and fridges. Credit: M. Ettari, University of Washington; V23.

To end the night, I made a couple calls home, and then all of us went into the lounge and watched ‘Surf’s Up’. It was my first time watching the movie, and I was honestly surprised with how clear the message was even if the plot itself was quite cheesy.

Today, we had a full day in port, so I woke up and got to help with unloading gear being craned onto deck after breakfast, and then later also helping with moving supplies into the fridge and storage room. The students all formed an assembly line to pass down the packages to make the process move faster.

Because we had more time, and it was sunny today, we took the 51-minute walk according to Google across the Yaquina Bay Bridge into town. It felt like a much shorter walk, but we initially went to explore Bay Street Pier as recommended by Liz the Steward. It is a simple street with a few candy shops, restaurants, and small shops with the pier on the other side of the street. We stopped for some soft serve ice cream, and then proceeded across the street to see the California Sea Lions making a ruckus and fighting for space on the floats to dry in the sun. The males were much more aggressive about their personal space and made it known to those invading their territory.

From left to right – Chris, Avery, Alessia, and Brian sitting on a log at Nye Beach. Credit: M. Ettari, University of Washington; V23.

Some of us split off to walk to Nye Beach, which was also recommended to us by the cook staff, and it was worth the walk across Newport. Nye Beach is a wide stretch along the coast, but it was empty and calm. The five of us that went to the beach kicked off our shoes and were running into the cold water. It took us all a minute to adjust to the temperature, but then we played around and walked along the beach doing some tide pooling along the way before sitting on a log where I found a small bag with some trinkets from Oregon Coast Treasure Hunters. Small sculpin were swimming in multiple of the tide pools with a couple of crabs and sea anemone.

For dinner it only made sense for us to get clam chowder by the beach, before making the ~2 mile walk back to the R/V Thompson. Getting to adventure on shore for the past couple days have been fun, and I have gotten to bond with others in the group much more. A few of us ended the day by playing Monopoly, where I managed to become completely bankrupt and lost the game.

Leg 2 has been a blast with calm waters, but we were told that the weather for the beginning of Leg 3 tomorrow when we transit back to Axial Base, will be rocky with rough waters, waves around 8-12 ft high. I am hoping my seasickness will not be too bad, but I will have to wait and see. Nevertheless, I am exciting to see what Leg 3 has in store for me.

A Hagfish and sea urchin spotted with the Jason 4K camera during Dive J2-1537 at Southern Hydrate Ridge. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1537; V23.
Other students and I on the bow of the boat during sunset on Leg 2. Credit: C. Kornblum, University of Washington; V23.

27 – 28 August 2023

Our third dive site was at Southern Hydrate Ridge (SHR), where dives started first thing in the morning at around 0700. I had decided to wake up to try and catch the beginning of the dive, but ended up going back to bed after 30 minutes because not much was occurring. Nevertheless, when my shift started J2-1536 was still going on, so I helped finish logging this dive discovering lots of ctenophores on Jason’s ascent and followed with logging J2-1537 in the control van at SHR 2. It seemed like there was much more marine life at this site than the others we have been at. J2-1537 consisted of replacing the CAMDS (digital still camera) at “Einstein’s Grotto” going down to 775 m depth. On the descent at 70-90 m we caught a glimpse of a shark in the 1080HD camera, but it swam too fast to catch a picture from my phone. At the bottom we did see quite a few rockfish waiting for prey to pass them and multiple hagfish swimming around in addition to a flat fish, spider crab, sablefish (aka black cod), sea urchin, and shrimp. This was my first-time seeing hagfish not in a lab class, so it was fascinating to see them swim around using their jawless mouths.

In the middle of my shift, rather than a science meeting, we got the chance to have a tour of the bridge. I was always hearing in the control van someone radioing to the bridge, but never knowing who, where, or what it was. Having been on boats like cruise ships, this was my first time entering a bridge. For some reason, it was a lot simpler than I had imagined.

Most movies make the bridge seem chaotic with lots of people driving the ship, but on the R/V Thompson there is only one to two people in the bridge. Victor who was in the bridge at the time, was super informative in explaining each computer that was in the bridge, and the different radars in place to notify when other fishing boats were coming too close. It was interesting to learn about how the different azipod thrusters are adjusted according to where the wind and current is coming from so the vessel does not move in a different direction.

Jason latched onto the new 2023 Benthic Experiment Package going over the side of the Thompson for Dive J2-1541. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

After my shift ended, some of us played a game of trivial pursuit for almost 4 hours, where my knowledge was questioned as I struggled with so many answers, taking a pause for dinner. We then decided to go outside to watch the sunset on the bow, and just hang out and have some laughs, talking about the progress of the week so far.

These moments have made Leg 2 quite special, because outside of all the running about around the ship, getting a moment to step back and reflect with everybody has been incredibly fun. On the flip side, we have had to revert to wearing masks as there were a couple COVID-19 cases. This situation has put a damper on a lot of us students because we forgot how uncomfortable the N95 masks are to wear, and we cannot go into the control van anymore if we are not on shift – which is where most of our entertainment outside of working came from.

Today I woke up to try to see the stars around 0230 but it was too cloudy and overcast to see any so I went right back to sleep. The next time I woke up it was already lunch time and I had 15 minutes before my shift to eat quickly and be down in the Main Lab.

Phone screenshot from a control van monitor of a Juvenile Giant Pacific Octopus on new junction box during survey on Dive J2-1541. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

When my shift started, some of us students got called to help clean the old junction box recovered during J2-1536. It had a lot of mud on its feet, and while I started to scrape it off, my partner and I got called to go to the control van for our shift as a new dive was about to start.

We moved to a new location for this dive, J2-1541, EA Offshore where Jason was latched onto a new Benthic Experiment Package (BEP) to replace the existing one at the site. The dive was only to ~580 m but it was one of the harder visibility ones I have had to log, because Jason kept kicking up the sediment every time it moved positions. There were some cool biological finds; a school of sablefish that were constantly swimming in and around the new and  BEP deployed in 2022, along with some lantern fish following the descent, a sea anemone on the old BEP, and a giant pacific octopus that was sitting atop the new junction box placed during J2-1536.

Fried Egg jellyfish floating over mooring at Axial Base Shallow Profiler Mooring with a couple fish alongside it. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1532; V23.

26 August 2023

Voluntarily waking up bright and early before dawn was one of the last things, I thought I would ever do. Yet, I found myself in the computer lab at 0430 listening to the CTD descend to 220 m depth at Axial Base where we had just arrived hours earlier after being deployed minutes before. Other students were up, in addition to those on duty, and we all got turns getting to talk through the radio to say, “wench up to 120 m one two zero please”, followed with firing niskins at their predetermined depths. The CTD was pulled out an hour after it was initially placed in the water, and different samples for oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), nutrients, salinity, and chlorophyll, were taken from each niskin bottle. Oxygen and DIC samples were taken first, and different chemicals, one being MgCl2 was added to help retain the gases before they were tested and measured later.

As students we were allowed to assist in taking the nutrients, salinity, and chlorophyll samples, utilizing the techniques they taught us the day prior to take the water samples.

While we were finishing taking the samples the ROV Jason was deployed for its first dive of Leg 2 to cut the cable of the Shallow Profiler Mooring cience pod that was attached to the mooring.

During my shift from 1200-1600 there were two more dives. I felt very fortunate to have everyone around willing to help as I struggled through learning how to do the sea log for Jason on each dive.

Scree shot of a rattail at ASHES during J2-1534. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

The first dive of my shift J2-1532 at Axial Base Shallow Profiler Mooring consisted of deploying PIA (Platform Interface Assembly) onto the existing platform at 200 m and recovering the shallow profiler assembly (SPA) from the same platform.

At one point in the dive, we saw an egg yolk jelly that got itself entangled in the mooring and SPA that was gorgeous to see on all the video screens from the different camera angles. Seeing marine life “in person” out in the wild is a different sensation than seeing them at aquariums.

The last dive of the day J2-1534 was at a new location ASHES at the Axial Caldera. One of the deepest dives we have had yet, it took an hour and a half to reach bottom at 1533 m at around 2330. I stayed up to watch this dive because I really wanted to see the hydrothermal vents and the marine life that lived down there. I had never had this opportunity before, and forfeiting some sleep was worth all the marine life we saw. In addition, there were some problems that came up mid-dive with the new OSMOI that was replacing the current one. The immediate problem solving and teamwork that I witnessed under the time constraints demonstrated how important these skills are when it comes to this type of work involving one chance and expensive equipment.

CAMHD cleaning on deck by VISION’23 students. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

While yesterday was quite a chaotic day, and the dive at ASHES did not end until around 0800 today, today there was less to do because we are in transit to the Southern Hydrate Ridge. Nevertheless, there is never dull moment on the R/V Thompson.

When I woke up, Jason was in the water recovering an AUV belonging to the R/V Rachel Carson from the Monterey Bay Research Institute that was drifting at 40 m water depth. The professional team was under pressure to ensure that the AUV could be recovered and floated to the surface with the lack of equipment they had for this dive. Fortunately, the AUV was recovered by Jason attaching syntactic floats to it.   I saw the AUV being pulled up into the R/V Rachel Carson from the deck of the R/V Thompson.

Following this random event, some of the other students and I during my shift helped to clean the CAMHD, recovered from the dive at ASHES, as well as clean another SPA. It ended up being a tedious job because some of the gunk would not come off the machine and required multiple scrubs and power washes. Although it’s on the less fun side of this experience, it is all a part of the job and life on a research cruise.

R/V Thomas G. Thompson docked at Newport NOAA Facility prior to transiting to Axial Seamount. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

24 August 2023

Yesterday we arrived at the Newport NOAA Facility where the R/V Thomas G. Thompson was docked and waiting for us. The 6-7 hour drive to Newport from Seattle starting at 0700 was long and tedious, but finally getting to see the R/V Thompson in front of me made the whole drive worth it. Around the port and dock area there were quite a few seagulls squawking with some sea lions calling in the distance. Near the dock there was also a harbor seal swimming around, greeting us as we arrived.

Walking onto the R/V Thompson and towards the main lab it hit me that this exciting journey was about to start. VISIONS’23 would be my first time on a research cruise, so I was filled with anticipation for what was to come.

Once we had settled into our staterooms – I was assigned a room located in the forward science berthing, we had a safety training in the main lab. We brought up immersion suits and life jackets from our berths and met the chief mates as well as some of the other crew like the marine technicians on board. Trying on the immersion suits was an interesting experience; they are these big red thick suits, a mix between a dry and hazmat suit, with hand holes like oven mitts. The suits are supposed to be watertight to keep us warm and buoyant in the water in the case of an emergency,

Following the safety briefing, the other students and I on Leg 2, decided to explore around the ship and find our bearings. We got lost a few times through all the staircases and different doors; however, today I was able to remember better which direction certain rooms are in.  Although many of us did not meet prior to joining this cruise, everybody gets along very well, and we ended our night with multiple rounds of uno in the library.

Upper deck facing towards the bow of the R/V Thomas G. Thompson leaving Newport in the morning with other students, scientists, and crew. Credit: A. Simmen, University of Washington; V23.

Today, we woke up early to watch the R/V Thompson leave the dock at 0700. I walked outside to the deck about 5 minutes after we departed and was in awe of the sunrise and seeing the ship in motion. We are in transit to Axial Seamount, which will take just under 24 hours. During the transit, after breakfast we had a fire drill at 0900, and then were given an exterior tour of the ins and outs of how the ROV Jason functions and aids in research. It was fascinating to see how much thought is truly required for Jason to run smoothly, and I thought how difficult it would be if just one of those wires broke or malfunctioned. Nevertheless, the Jason team has put in place quite a few precautions to ensure the best functionality. One of these precautions is filling the tubes that hold the wires, and Jasons systems with oil to cause positive pressure. In the case of something breaking, the oil will leak out of the system rather than sea water seeping in. We were then brought up to tour and learn the logging and computer functions in the Jason Virtual Control Van. It was hard to keep up with all the information that was being thrown at us, but I was excited to be able to learn and take part in this task later in the week.

The afternoon consisted of us learning how to rig the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) which will be deployed tomorrow morning when we reach Axial Base. The niskin bottles all had top and bottom caps connected to strings that placed and hooked correctly into the correlating rosette would allow the bottles to be fired closed at particularly water depths once in the water column.

We also were taught how to take samples from the niskin bottle and the importance to repeat information when sampling to not make a mistake. Our final event in the schedule for the day was a presentation about the deep-sea biology and the work he has done by Mike Vardaro.

Everybody has been super nice and understanding on board, and all the help has been extremely appreciated. Being at sea for the last day has gone better than I anticipated. Unlike some other students, I have not felt too seasick with only a little nausea and small headache. I am ready for tomorrow morning when the first CTD and ROV Jason deployment occurs once we arrive to Axial Base.