Atticus Carter Blog Leg 4

At Marker 113 taking samples with the Universal Fluid Obtainer (UFO).
Credit: Carleton College/UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI, J2-1559, V23.

16 September 2023

After we made the difficult decision to make the 18-hour transit back to the Axial caldera, we were hoping to finally have a successful operation of the Universal Fluid Obtainer (UFO) to collect samplers for Dr. Rika Anderson (Carleton College). The device had a ground fault, which led to the cancelling of a Science dive.

Jason dive J2-1559 marked a significant operation with the primary objective of utilizing UFO to procure diffuse flow vent fluid from the site known as "Tiny Towers.". This is one of the first discrete samples taken from the ROV on our Leg, with the rest of the operations being mostly maintenance and RCA work.

The UFO apparatus operates through a network of numerous openings that are intricately connected to sample bags via a complex system of pumps and tubing, all securely affixed to the ROV deck. The operation of these openings is executed by the manipulator arm, which employs a specialized tool to manipulate a titanium module opening color coded valves. The pumps themselves are activated by a computer system under the guidance of Chief Scientist Katie Bigham, stationed at the ‘hot seat’ in the control van.

At first, there was a lot of tension in the control van because the UFO pumps were failing to power on and pull a current. It was not long, however, that the pilot Korey Verhein alerted us that he simply “forgot to power it on”. When the pumps purged a test load at 10 meters there was a huge sigh of relief in the van. The system exhibited the capability to collect high-quality samples, despite the flow rate being somewhat higher than ideal, but any flow is better then nothing.

After the first test, we descended into the bathypelagic, we saw a few ctenophores and jellies pass by but nothing much of interest. As the Tiny Towers sight finally came into view, we began sample collection. As we awaited the completion of the UFO’s processes, we seized the opportunity to study the biology and geology of the Marker 113 site.

In comparison to other sites such as El Guapo and El Gordo, the morphology around Marker 113 presented distinct geological features. It featured a less steep incline and was adorned with a plethora of extremophilic annelids, ciliates and gastropods, offering a stark contrast to other sites biology.

Extremophilic annelids, ciliates and limpids at Marker 113 hydrothermal vent. Credit: Carleton College/UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI, J2-1559, V23.

In the image you can see the heat distortion from the hot fluid coming up directly in front of this unique community. Our observations led us to encounter a small species of pycnogonida, commonly known as sea spiders, which added to the diversity of life observed during the expedition. Furthermore, we were very excited to be visited by a curious grenadier or rattail fish who was checking out Jason and the UFO.

A rattail fish swimming above a vent covered in tube worms, limpets, and scale worms at Marker 113, a diffuse flow site in Axial Caldera. Carleton College/UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI, J2-1559, V23.

In addition to the chemosynthetic ecosystem and successful fluid collection, Dive J2-1559 helped bring up team morale. It was no secret that the UFO issues as well as issues with Jason was bringing many of the crew down. Coming back up to the galley after the shift I could see the Jason crew come up with huge smiles on their faces talking about the dive and the music that they were playing in the van, definitely a step up from early small talk of “when will this cruise end”. As the cruise comes closer to an end, I’m very happy to see that the crew is looking up.

A connector coated in a biofouling community. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1548; V23.

11-12 September 2023

In the course of my shifts within the control room of the ROV Jason, I have been afforded a unique opportunity to observe and study the intricate biology thriving within the deep-sea environments, particularly those characterized by chemosynthetic processes. This endeavor is extra important, particularly in the context of our ongoing research project, in collaboration with my colleague Aakriti, which necessitates a strong comprehension of the organisms inhabiting these extraordinary realms.

One noteworthy encounter occurred during Dive J2 1548, where a diverse community of biofouling organisms adorned the cable terminal. Among the notable inhabitants were branching bryozoans, readily identifiable by their filamentous, brownish appearance. Bryozoans, these colonial filter-feeding animals, are characterized by their affinity for attaching themselves firmly to various surfaces. They utilize a lophophore—a specialized feeding organ—to capture food particles from the surrounding water. Remarkably, these organisms trace their origins back to the Cambrian period, underscoring their persistence throughout geological epochs as well as the phenomena that deeper environments can be a safe haven for taxa that has been outcompeted by post marine Mesozoic fauna.

Another intriguing observation from this dive was the presence of a thin-shelled and sessile pectin—a rather unusual find considering that numerous species within the pectin group typically adopt nektonic lifestyles (freely swimming in the water column.

Jason footage of a fleeting blue shark at 30 meters. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1550, V23.

Amidst this intriguing mosaic of deep-sea life, anemones asserted their dominance over the rest of the cable mini environment. This proliferation of life underscored the rich biodiversity that thrives in these challenging ecosystems. The diverse array of organisms in an environment often characterized by extreme conditions speaks to the adaptability and tenacity of life in the ocean’s depths. Just on this one biofouled cable we were able to observe 3 major genera all coexisting in a very small community.

Transitioning to Dive J 1550, we were treated to yet another captivating sight as we encountered a medium-sized blue shark dart through a cloud of small fish at an approximate depth of 30 meters. This sighting offered a glimpse into the epipelagic realm of the ocean, showcasing the multifaceted nature of marine life in these waters, and how diverse life can be between different stratifications.

A Poralia rufescens viewed from the ROV Jason. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI; J2-1553, V23.

In a subsequent Dive J 1553, our attention was drawn to a particularly striking sight—a large red jellyfish boasting impressive tentacles. It was later identified as a Poralia rufescens. Apart from the animals listed from the dives, we have had ample time to survey image mosaics (large high resolution bathymetric images created from many smaller images taken from other cruises) from the Southern Hydrate Ridge. This area has much biological activity driven by chemosynthetic life from large methane seeps. These unique circumstances lead to important scientific questions about ecology in these areas. In these systems we have seen a huge diversity of benthic fauna and have been able to identify sea stars, hydro and octo corals, anemones, crabs, hagfish and many more species. By identifying and gathering quantitative and positional data from these photomosaics, it makes it possible for us to bring about novel conclusions about life in such a strange environment.

It is impossible to fit the incredible diversity of life that we have seen so far on this trip, from the epipelagic fauna of Mola Mola, Sealions and Short-beaked common dolphins to the Rattail and Black cod of the bathypelagic, we have seen so many unique species all adapted in unique ways to their specific biological niche.

Carter, J. Nelson, V. Kondrat inspect a CTD rosette post deployment Credit: A. Paley, University of Washington; V23.

10 September 2023

On September 10th, myself and fellow visions students, Vivi, Maleen and Cameron found ourselves tasked with a critical operation at the Oregon Offshore site. Our role for the shift was first to cock Niskin bottles on a rosette for a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) cast. The point of cocking Niskin bottles is to hold open the large tubes so that they can close tightly and quickly at depths that are specified by a team of scientists back in the computer lab. This operation is essential for collecting water samples from specific depths in the ocean, providing valuable data for our purposes of verifying instrumentation at precise depths.

As the CTD rosette was traversing downward to abound 580 meters, we were able to see clearly the different values that instruments on the CTD were measuring populate the monitors in the computer lab.

After the CTD reached its final depth, we made the call for it to be pulled up to various depths and sent signals to fire Niskins closed at areas important for our purposes.

Carter inverts a glass Erlenmeyer flask to begin washing it with seawater to fill with an oxygen sample Credit: A. Paley, University of Washington; V23.

At each depth of interest, we fired 2 bottles just in case a backup would be needed for a leaky bottle or some other point of failure. After the CTD cast was completed and the bottles were filled with seawater from various depths the CTD was hauled back onto the deck. Our attention shifted from watching the values change on the monitor to taking salinity, chlorophyll, and oxygen samples from the bottles themselves. While salinity and chlorophyll samples involve a relatively straightforward process of rinsing the receptacles three times with the same seawater that was sampled, and storing seawater in labeled receptacles, the procedure for oxygen was notably more intricate.

To accurately sample oxygen levels, it’s crucial to ensure that the collected water in the sample glass Erlenmeyer flask is free of bubbles during dispensing from the Niskin bottle. To achieve this, I had to connect a glass tube to the Niskin bottle’s opening, loosen the top cap to initiate water flow, and meticulously purge the tube of any bubbles. Once the water was bubble-free, I quickly inverted the flask so that the water sprayed upwards at the base, effectively cleaning the flask from any previous samples with a slow circular motion and a swift inversion to begin the collection of the oxygen sample. This process guarantees that the sample contains no extra oxygen from the atmosphere, providing an accurate representation of the oxygen levels in that specific water parcel.

Carter adding MnCl3 to a glass Erlenmeyer flask with seawater sample Credit: A. Paley, University of Washington; V23

After collecting the sample, the next step was to add a fixative to eliminate any microorganisms that could alter the oxygen levels through respiration or photosynthesis utilizing calibrated dispensettes to ensure a very precise amount of the chemicals were put into each sample. Once the fixative was added, the sample was carefully capped and shaken. To ensure the sample remained uncontaminated, it was placed back into its wooden box, and Milli-Q water was sprayed on top of the bottle to prevent oxygen from entering via gas exchange processes.

Before we transported the samples to the analytical laboratory, we quickly hopped up onto the rosette and reconfigured the flipped pins for our next deployment . At this point, we had gathered all of the useful seawater samples that we needed to, so we went around and emptied the remaining water out onto the deck and retightened the caps on the Niskins.

These meticulously collected samples were then transported to the lab, where they would undergo analysis using the adapted Winkler method by Co-Chief Scientist Julie Nelson. This method involves determining the volume of thiosulfate needed to titrate reagents, which is subsequently used to calculate the percentage of dissolved oxygen (%DO) in the samples. The entire process was documented rigorously, both on paper and through an iPad application, to ensure that all necessary data was collected and stored appropriately.

This day’s work underscored the precision and attention to detail required for collecting accurate oceanographic data. Every step in the process was critical, from sampling to preservation, and the data we collected would contribute significantly to our understanding of the accuracy of the sensors that are deployed continuously in the region.

Carter holding a brush and a dustpan full of Giant Plumose Anemone Biofouling. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington; V23.

9 September 2023

As our research cruise continued into its second day, my fellow VISIONS students Aakriti, Vivi, and I started the day off with the physical removal of biofouling from the buoy we had been servicing in my last post. This task is important to keep the correct buoyancy and clear connection interfaces. We set out to remove giant plumose anemones, brittle stars, worms, scallops, and a plethora of other deep-sea organisms that had encrusted the Deep Profiler float, impeding its operations. The entire float was coated with these animals, and it took quite some time to get it cleared and in a functional state.

Footage of recovered beacon at depth 580.1 meters, a school of Sablefish behind ROV Jasons’ Basket Dive J2-1550. Credit: UW/NSF-OOI/J2-1550; V23.

Following the successful biofouling removal, it was time for another ROV Jason watch shift, Dive J21550, from midnight to 4 am. This watch shift started with the recovery of a dropped beacon. The beacon, crucial for knowing the position of the mooring, was carefully retrieved, and was placed into a box affixed to Jasons’ front deck.

During the shift, we also took the opportunity to conduct a survey of instrumentation, to understand how the cable on the mooring laid in the way that it did, as well as nearby moorings condition and status. This data were essential for maintaining and optimizing the RCA research equipment for future dives, insight into how equipment has been holding up to the engineers at the Applied Physics Lab, as well as a biological insights into the sablefish, crabs, ctenophores, jellies and other organisms inhabiting this area.

As the ROV ascended from its mission and my shift ended. At around 30 meters below the surface, we had a quick encounter with a blue shark, Its always nice to see the crew get excited after looking at a lot of empty water column.  

Jason footage of a fleeting blue shark at 30 meters, Dive J21550. Credit: UW/NSF-WHOI; V23.

Our next stop is to the Slope Base, this site is 2 hours west from our current location of the Oregon Offshore site.The first dive will include cable maintenance and crawler replacement for a Deep Profiler mooring. This area is at a much deeper depth (2900 m), and the dive will most likely take around 12 hours to complete.

As our cruise progresses, me and Aakriti Vijay have decided to team up on a computer vision project that will be analyzing image mosaics at Southern Hydrate Ridge and ASHES. We plan to use an annotation style CNN (Convolutional Neural Network) that will be able to correlate geological and biological features.

We hope to be able to find ways to connect biological density with features such as methane seeps and hydrothermal vents to obtain quantitative understandings of biogeological correlations and it could lead to Astrobiological research as we can gain an understanding of how primordial life can radiate in conjunction with these unique features.

ROV Jason Control van. Credit: A. Carter, University of Washington; V23.
Biofouling community of crinoids, plumose anemone and fish on the Offshore Deep Profiler Mooring being serviced by the ROV Jason. Credit: A. Carter, University of Washington; V23.

09 September 2023

After we set sail from the NOAA facility in Newport, Oregon around 8:00 pm I was able to get in just a bit of sleep before it was time to get to work. My first shift on the VISIONS’23 cruise was from 12 am to 4 am in the ROV Jason control van (a very expensive modified shipping container that has a vast array of connecting instruments out to the ROV. My role was an event logger at one of the computer stations in the van. My responsibility was to document every significant event that unfolded during our underwater operations. This record-keeping was critical to ensuring that no detail was overlooked and everything was documented, so when someone else wants to review the footage captured by the ROV they would know where any areas of interest are (ie; Biology, Geologic processes, Ship navigation, Mission ops and issues).

Our night began with an encounter with a dense cloud of sardines drawn to the lights from the ROV right at the first few meters of the Epipelagic zone. As we ventured into deeper waters, there was a brief sighting of a blue shark that came up to pick off a few of the slower fish. At this point, we spent about an hour descending the water column for our next objective. As the ROV sank deeper, we saw many Squid, Jellies, Ctenophores and Siphonophores floating past the cameras. When we approached our target depth for the buoy that was being serviced, we could see a community of biofouling Plumose Anemones, Crinoids and fish clustered around the mooring float . The purpose of our maintenance was to remove a few of the Anemones blocking a hole in the float so that we could install a beacon that would provide important positional data for future dives.

Biofouling community of anemone and scallops, taxa unspecific. Credit: A. Carter, University of Washington; V23.

In addition to that task, we oversaw the detachment of a cable from a deep profiler mooring dock and secured a dummy plug to prevent sediment intrusion before the next dive. This cable was covered in scallops and anemones, however not many were in critical position, so they didn’t have to be removed via the manipulator. This work occurred into the Mesopelagic Zone and was at a depth of 580.6 meters, at this depth the sediment was extremely cloudy and huge schools of Sablefish (A few of which had the misfortune of being shredded in Jason’s thrusters, which was noted in the log of course.) 

As the ROV was being pulled up to relocate a few meters for its following dive, my attention shifted to preparing a CTD rosette for instrument verification. In order to do this, me and a shift partner Maleen headed to the deck to cock the niskin bottles so that they would be ready to capture samples to compare to the automatic instrumentation.