Brian Lam Blog Legs 2 & 3

5  September 2023

Dives resumed! The weather let up and Jason was able to go back down at Axial Base (2600 m). There is a sense of urgency onboard as engineers and scientists alike rush to get everything done in time for our transit home on late Tuesday. At this point the days and hours are starting to blend together as I my hours of sleep decrease but I’ll try to summarize the last two days.

The first dive of the Leg started at Axial Base, sending down a new HPIES instrument and cables, a process that takes a remarkable amount of attention to detail due to the cable management and geological obstructions.

These dives are grueling taking up to 10 hours. After my shift ended at 0800, I took a quick nap too wake up in time for lunch, a classic hot dog. From there a quick science meeting and informative talk from Han who showed us their senior thesis. From there it was back to logging, the second dive of the day had started, on the way down we were treated to a large jelly fish the biggest yet covering both of Jason’s manipulators, as well as a swordfish on the previous watch.

With new equipment going down, it means old equipment comes up, meaning they need to be cleaned. Alex, Alessia, and I got to work cleaning and coiling cables as well as scrubbing down one of the old camera mounts that not long before, sat 1600 m down at international district. A fun yet disgusting task as the silty mud from the ocean floor tends to have a smell that just sticks to your clothing leaving you no choice but to make a full change.

As night fell, a couple of us students made our way to the lounge and had a Minions movie night. However, half way through, Han interrupted us and exclaimed, “there are stars and bioluminescence of the bow”. None of us had to be told twice and we rushed to the deck, it was the first night we had seen stars due to the clouds and as we looked into the water being churned by the propellers of the ship, green flashes lit the water up.

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.

2 September 2023

The start of Leg 3 was originally scheduled to be on August 31. However, news of 8-12-foot-high waves caused the trip to be delayed a day, leaving now on September 1. Our days in port were definitely a much-needed break from our day-to-day lives on the boat. We had a lot of fun going to visit different restaurants and found a good chowder place in town. The aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science center hosted an assortment of aquatic life that could be found near Newport.

One of the days, we walked our way into town, and looked around the various shops as well as taking a stop on Nye Beach. It was a relaxing few days, but it would become a stark contrast to the first two days on the boat.

On the morning of September 1, we left port at 1400 to begin our journey. It looked like a beautiful day, with plentiful sunlight and wispy clouds overhead. However, the moment we exited port, we were immediately met by strong waves that set our boat into a heavy rocking. Within an hour, even with the adjustments made during Leg 2, the majority of us were feeling seasick. The rest of the afternoon was mostly spent sleeping.

In the evening, I was feeling worse so I headed out on deck to attempt to stave off the worst of it. As our ship moved further out into the pacific though, the waves just got bigger and bigger. Even on the deck three stories up, I was still being splashed by the spray of the ocean.

Eventually, Mariella found me and relocated me to the area where we had initially learned to prep the CTD. It was near the fulcrum, the middle of the ship, so the rocking was significantly lessened. I found Emily and Patrik there already, and by the end of the night was joined by Alessia, Chris, and Mei. Eventually, we felt good enough and hustled to bed.

That night, I forgot to take my seasick medicine, so while I felt fine waking up the next morning, it did not last. I was feeling sick by the end of the science meeting at 1000, and moved back outside. It was a haze of a time, but I eventually ate some food, took some medicine and went back to sleep.

It is now the afternoon of September 2, around 1800. We are still barred from being on deck in any location outside the CTD area because the waves are so hazardous. We are currently on a weather hold so no dives are happening, but the crew will see if there is any chance after dinner. I am glad that I am feeling so much better, and I hope the hardest part of the leg is now over.

The MOSQUITO (fluid flow meter) in the process of being put together. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

28 August 2023

The past couple days have been feeling much smoother as everyone has gotten into the swing of things. The last of seasickness and discomforts have gone, and I have fallen into a regular sleep schedule. Even the dives have become familiar, at least in operation. I no longer need to think about each individual step; it’s all becoming instinctual at this point. I have also seen it in the Jason operators. Dives flow smoothly and quickly, without many mishaps that seemed to riddle the initial dives.

Since the dive to the ASHES hydrothermal vent field, we have been busy. We helped the Sally Ride recover their AUV that had gotten stuck. Afterwards, we made a long transit to Hydrate Ridge, a methane seep area that contains a lot of life. The transit gave us time for some much needed rest and recovery, although things were still happening on board. We were able to tour the bridge of the ship, where the captain helms the ship and brings us to everywhere we need to be.

Whenever a dive is going on, I can always hear the van operators communicating with the bridge, letting them know exactly where the ship needs to be.

The juvenile giant pacific octopus hangs out on a junction box. Credit: A. Jenkin, University of Washington; V23.

I was able to help out with building the MOSQUITO which was later sent down with Jason to take samples. The device uses natural principles of osmosis, with water flowing from low concentrations to high concentrations. Due to being used deep in the ocean, every part of the build had to be meticulously watched. It was a long and tedious building process, but it was cool to see how all the various devices that are placed during dives get made.

Early in the morning of August 27, dives around Hydrate Ridge began. I was most interested in the biology that we saw, as it was quite different from that of the hydrothermal vent fields. There were hagfish, rockfish, sea stars, urchins, crabs, and many other species all dotted around the seafloor or levitating in the water. It was interesting to all the creatures go about their lives, such as watching a crab and hagfish fight over a piece of dead fish. In a later dive at the offshore location, there were giant schools of sablefish, sharks, mola molas, and others, but my favorite thing we have seen so far was a young giant pacific octopus. It was at one of the survey sites and hung on to a junction box that the crew was surveying.

Tomorrow will be the last day of Leg 2 and I am excited to go back to land for a bit. Despite that, I also am greatly looking forward to Leg 3 of the VISIONS’23 cruise.

Jason preparing for a dive. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

26 August 2023

On our second and third days of the VISIONS’23 cruise, we began doing the dive work that we had set out to do. Around 0330, the ship arrived at Axial Base, right as I began my shift.

We started our day by preparing the CTD to be launched and were able to help from the control room as it gathered samples. After it came back, we watched as Andrew and Mariella collected gas samples. It involved chemicals we were not familar with and a rather complex process, so without training, we were unable to help. However, Andrew showed us the steps to do a gas collection so if we need to do one in the future, I am sure I would be to.

After the CTD.s, the first Jason dive commenced. It was a short dive to cut free a science pod on the Shallow Profiler Mooring installed in 2022. The instrumented pod originally passed through the water column from 200 m to ~ 5 m beneath the surface, collecting data, but the shallow profiler cable had gotten stuck.

That was my first experience sitting in the van, the heart of these dive operations. It is where all cameras of Jason are displayed and the ROV is controlled. Watching the crew delicately position Jason’s arms to do controlled tasks was an incredible experience.

After the first dive, I was off shift, but three more dives took place, which brought a new science pod down, installed it, and retrieved the old science pod back on to the ship.

Later in the day, we were able to help with various tasks. We learned to isplice, which is a specific kind of knot for polypropylene rope. The rope itself is buoyant and tough, but also hard to work with, and it took a couple tries to get the hang of working with it. We also cleaned the old science pod and saw all the algae that grew on it during its deployment time.

Rattail at the ASHES vent field, ~1500 m below the surface. Credit: B. Lam, University of Washington, V23.

After four dives, the ship made a short one-hour transit to the ASHES vent field in Axial Caldera. A dive to the vents began around 2130 and we made it to the bottom around 000 on August 26. At 1500 m below the surface, the world looks incredibly different. With the bright lights on Jason the depths turn from an impenetrable darkness to a vibrant world of blues, browns, reds, and greens. We saw many instruments that had previously been placed around the hydrothermal vents and the goal of the dive was to replace some of them. Jason brought in a new HD camera (CAMHD) and osmotic fluid sampler (OSMOI), which were for video recording and fluid sampling, respectively.

My favorite part of the dive was seeing all the exotic life at the bottom of the ocean. We saw mountains of various worms that had made their own tube homes around the vents and fed off the chemosynthetic bacteria that lived there. There were some seastars, jellyfish, and we even saw a rattail and a skate.

Watching the dive at ASHES made me realize how different the timescale was for Jason and these operators. A few meter journey was expected to be a “quick” 20 minute journey and the ascents and descents on their own took hours to complete. Yet the operators continued to stay patient and calm, even when mishaps and delays occurred.

I look forward to continuing to see these dives over the course of the next two weeks.

Trying on the immersion suits for the safety meeting. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

24 August 2023

At 0700 the morning of August 24th, leg 2 of the VISIONS’23 program officially began its journey. We arrived in Newport, OR yesterday and spent the rest of the day getting to know each other and the boat. Our first meeting was a safety training where we learned about our various boat crew members, the drills, and how to use our immersion suits. The suits were bulky and clumsy, but they are important to help save lives in case of emergencies. Afterwards, our group of students walked around the boat and trying to navigate it, although I still got turned around once or twice. We wound down at night with some uno that we found in the lounge of the ship. Many of us were already tired from the long 7-hour drive down from Seattle, so we settled down early.

Bright and early the next morning, we gathered up on the deck to watch a beautiful sunrise as the boat left the dock. Although we were still tired, the view was something that I won’t easily forget. Afterwards, we went to get breakfast. That was where we began to feel the rocking of the ship that was unfortunately accompanied by nausea and queasiness – early signs of seasickness.

The morning was mostly spent fighting off adverse effects and adapting. We were fortunate enough to have a tour of Jason to take our minds off things. We were told about the working of the ROV, most of which I did not understand. I still learned some interesting facts, such as how Jason has its systems filled with oil at positive pressures so any issues would cause leakage of the oil out, and prevent sea water from getting in. The vehicle has an aluminum chassis, which has a layer of zinc on it so that the water will first oxidize the zinc, giving the aluminum a longer lifespan. Even with that, the metal is replaced frequently, and in October of 2023, Jason will return home for the first time in three years for maintenance.

The Thompson departs Newport for the start of Leg 2. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington

Afterwards, we were taken into the van for a tour and taught about the monitoring. Jason has many cameras and sonars attached to it, and in the van, people monitor what is being seen.

Our main duties will be to help record important events, log them, and write notes for scientists to be able to track what went on if needed later. This means that a professional tone should be maintained at all times. It all seemed quite complicated, but I am glad that there will be more experienced people there to guide us and answer questions we might have.

The last Leg saw a short instance of a phantom jellyfish – one of only 8 recorded sightings – so I hope that we will see some cool things.

In the afternoon, the students were led to a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) where we learned to prepare it. Afterwards, we were taught to take samples and empty the CTD. It’s a good thing we were taught so soon too, since the first CTD will be happening tomorrow morning around 0400, and I will be helping out for that. Afterwards, Chief Scientist, Mike Vardaro, gave a fascinating presentation on deep sea biology.

I am excited to finally be nearing our first destination; the transit has not been the most pleasant for me, and I look forward to seeing Jason in action. I only hope that I will get my sea legs sooner rather than later.