Andrew Baird

16 August 2013

Leaving a Climate of Adventure behind at Axial Seamount

This last week on the R/V Thompson has been indeed eventful.  While at the ASHES hydrothermal field earlier in the week, the HD camera was successfully installed where it awaits orders to begin its duty keeping a watchful eye on Mushroom, the vent where it was installed.  Here the purpose of many of the dives was to test a number of cables and other aspects of infrastructure.  Also during our stay, I had the supreme pleasure of authoring the logbook during a dive in which the ROPOS crew enabled a complete image survey of the two major vents present at ASHES; the previously mentioned Mushroom and it’s bigger brother Inferno.  The massive amount of image data collected from the two surveys will be used to create a three dimensional digital model of the ASHES site.

After completing all the work at ASHES with relatively little setbacks, the R/V Thompson steamed two and half kilometers to the vent field ‘International District’ on the east side of Axial caldera.  More cable and primary equipment passed testing, while a few dives were aborted due to technical problems with the beloved ROPOS.  The ROPOS guys are a crack team of engineers that know ROPOS like they built it, and any issues were resolved extremely quickly.  One such instance occurred during a dive on the area surrounding the vents El Guapo and Escargot.  While attempting to retrieve an experiment deeply lodged in the base of El Guapo, the starboard manipulator, commonly referred to as “Snaggletooth”, received a broken claw.  The mission was far from over, however, as ROPOS still managed to take a gas tight sample as well as recovering two other experiments from the surrounding vents before surfacing. Happily, Snaggletooth was returned to working order in no time at all.

As a result of the gas tight sampling, I helped Giora Proskurowski with the gas tight sample extraction  to get a better sense of the sampler itself, as I am currently preparing an article on its function for my class project (stay tuned).  We ended up working late into the night, extracting a number of samples including pH, which I had the opportunity of processing.  The next day ROPOS was back on the seafloor finishing the remaining infrastructure chores, including replacing a seismometer and testing additional cabling.  Yesterday, with the job finished and ROPOS secured on deck, we began sailing east, leaving Axial in our wake and our bows pointed toward Newport. 

9 August 2013

A mutual friend
After supper on our fourth day underway, the student crew converged in the cozy library to hear talks from Charlie and Caitlin.  As we waited for the audience to amass, our collective conscious continued to return to the hollow pounding of the waves outside and the unusual beams of sunlight flooding through the eastern portholes.  Sitting there among the various scientists and students, I was struck by how unique the environment on a research vessel can be.  Although we all hail from such diverse walks of life, we have all managed to converge on this incredibly small platform, brought together simply by our love for the ocean.  We may be scientists, students or engineers, but we are all first and foremost people, people constantly in awe over the sea.  And although we may not share philosophies or preferences on food or music, we can all share a moment on deck and have a silent conversation with the sea rolling by.

Calm Seas and Fog during Leg 4

The first three days of our Visions cruise have been dominated by a dense, still fog and a sea which has continued to match this calm, sending only small, gently rolling swells along the Thompson’s hull.  While parked at Hydrate Ridge, even the wind seemed to wait as ROPOS (our brave, little, remotely operated vehicle) descended to duties on the seafloor.  This sense of calm seemed to have also permeated the inhabitants of the Thompson, for although adversity has been constantly at arms length, each obstacle has been handled with supreme composure.  When, yesterday, a rescue operation was executed to recover a CTD lost to cable failure, the ROPOS control room took on the quality of a Buddhist monastery.  Posed at their stations, each member of the ROPOS team completed their task as if they were simply picking flowers, exchanging only low murmurs of avowal, until ROPOS and it’s liberated baggage were safely on deck.  I soon found that this serene approach was status quo among not only the ROPOS crew, but all on board the Thompson as well.  As a young student and new scientist, it is inspiring to see such precise, delicate work being done with such a casual disposition.   Although the sea has been nothing but cooperative through now, I doubt this ship wide temperament is purely a product of that.