Jason launched with a low voltage junction box latched under the vehicles ‘belly’ to safely take it to the seafloor. Credit: M. Elend, University of Washington, V18.

This has been an interesting Spring – planning for a major 30-day seagoing expedition during a pandemic. The Regional Cabled Array (RCA) maintenance cruise, funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative, will take place July 31- September 1, 2020 onboard the R/V Thompson, operated by the University of Washington. Similar to past years, undersea operations will be conducted using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason, operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Similar to past years, we will be streaming live video of deck operations onboard the ship and during Jason operations. This year Jason will again be diving to depths as great as 9500 ft beneath the oceans’ surface, on the highly active summit of Axial Seamount where underwater hot springs covered in biota emit fluids at >660°F into near freezing seawater, and to Southern Hydrate Ridge where methane ice is often exposed on the seafloor. Along the Cascadia Margin, we will be diving in some of the most biologically productive waters in the world’s oceans.

A large Fried Egg Jelly (Phacellophora cantschatica) hugs the basalts along the floor of Axial Volcano. VISIONS ’13, Leg 4. Credit: NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF.

As always, safety is the major focus when conducting at-sea operations, and this year it is at the forefront more than ever due to COVID-19. Following guidelines set up by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), an organization that works cooperatively with scientists, educators and ship operators to support at sea research, strict quarantine procedures for two weeks before the cruise for all of the shipboard science party and multiple testing of the RCA team prior to the cruise will help insure that healthy folks board the ship. We will also be sailing with a reduced science team this summer to aide in distancing – because of this, we are very sad that for the first time in a decade, we will not be taking students out as part of the RCA science team. Onshore, rigorous protocols are also in place for work in the School of Oceanography and Applied Physics RCA labs to insure social distancing and safe working environments.

A school of small fish visit to this ~ 600 ft deep platform on one of the Shallow Profiler Moorings.  Credit:  NSF-OOI/UW/ISS; Dive R1832; V15.

The team is working long hours to get all the equipment ready for deployment during the cruise. Over 200 instruments will be recovered and reinstalled onto the seafloor and in the ocean waters, multiple small substations that provide power and two-way communications to the instruments will be turned, as well as novel instrumented platforms on the state-of-the art Shallow Profiler Moorings and profiling vehicles on the Deep Profiler Moorings. The instrumented winched science pods have conducted >40,000 profiles providing unparalleled data to investigate myriad ocean processes operating off our coast. In the past two years, the Deep Profiler vehicles located at the base of Axial Seamount have traversed four million meters (~ 13 million feet) of ocean water documenting ocean currents and chemistry at fine scale. To accommodate all this gear on the ship, the back deck of the Thompson will be “packed to the gills” during the two legs of the cruise.

Please join us on this expedition as we continue to maintain this advanced underwater observatory that brings the internet into the ocean and the ocean to all on land.