Thank You

To the Captain, crew, and Alvin group of the Atlantis:


The science group in front of Alvin

The science group of AT15-47 in front of Alvin

The science group of AT15-47 would also like to thank our funding agencies:

  • NSF: The Biological Oceanography and RIDGE 2000 Programs

  • NOAA: The Vents Program

Questions or comments about the material found in this blog can be emailed directly to Samantha

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Friday- Dive 4526

The last dive of the cruise.  Jim, Helene, and Bruce dove at High Rise at the Main Endeavour Field.  They took many fluid samples from high and low temperature venting sites and used both the beast and gas tights.

Fairy Castle (There are no real naming conventions for vents, I hope you’ve enjoyed their names as much as I have).

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At Ventnor they measured the high temperature at 332 degrees Celsius and a low temperature between 20 and 21 degrees Celsius.  They also made it to Baltic and Boardwalk, where they took similar samples of high and low temperature diffuse fluid samples.  Here are some great pictures of black smokers.

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After the sub came up from the last dive, the Alvin crew took the “skins” off and we scrubbed them down.  The skins are the heavy white plastic pieces protecting the inner workings of the sub.  They have to be cleaned after the last dive to get all the salt water off of them since the sub isn’t going to be used for a few months.

Alvin sans skins


Sanjoy, Rika, and John scrub down one of the skins.


The Alvin crew scrubs the rest of the sub and the skins that don’t come off so easily.


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The Bridge and Retrieving Alvin

Right before Alvin surfaced from the last dive, I went up to the bridge of the ship to see how the ship is steered, maneuvered, and to take in the pretty views.  This is the highest part of the ship, so it is most affected by the waves.  Even on a pretty calm day, it was swaying back and forth quite a bit. 

There are always two people on watch in the bridge.  Both are qualified to steer the ship if necessary.  Many times, the GPS coordinates of where the ship needs to go are put into a computer and the ship goes to the GPS coordinates on its own.  Other times, the ship requires special maneuvering, which is when the captain comes and steers the ship manually.  You can steer from three places on the bridge, the center, and both side have steering capabilities.  The captain, A.D., has done a wonderful job navigating the ship through the open water.  When the ship makes port somewhere that may require extra navigation or knowledge of the area, a pilot is necessary to successfully navigate the ship into position.  For departure, the pilot is waiting at the dock, and after successful navigation is usually picked up in a smaller boat (although ours was picked up in a helicopter outside of Astoria, none of us are sure why).  For arrival, the reverse happens, a pilot is dropped off in open water by a smaller boat and navigates the ship to port, where someone is waiting to pick up the pilot. 

The Alvin monitoring station called Top Lab is also located on the bridge in the back half of the room.  The submarine is in constant contact with the surface and through coordinates we have a rough idea of where Alvin is at all times.  At least one of the Alvin crew members is always monitoring this station during a dive.

You go up a lot of steep steps (called ladders) to get to the bridge.


Corey at Top Lab


The front of the ship from the bridge.


The back of the ship from the bridge.  The big white ball is the internet.


The bridge itself.  Windows are all around.  You need sunglasses on a sunny day, just like driving a car.


A.D. steering from the starboard side to retrieve Alvin


Steering a ship is one thing, but determining how to maneuver to pick up a submarine is a different story.  While Alvin is on it’s way up, they call their coordinates into the bridge.  The ship tries to be about 100 meters down-wind from the submarine so that the waves will draw the sub closer to the ship.  It’s dangerous to activate the engines and drive while Alvin is in the water.  When the submarine is about 200 meters from the surface, the captain blows a horn, signaling to the crew it is time to release the Avon with the two divers to go locate the submarine and get it ready to be hauled out of the water.  Once the sub surfaces, the Avon drops off a diver, then moves back next to the Atlantis to wait for the water to bring Alvin closer.  One of the divers remains standing on the submarine, the other stays in the Avon until the sub gets close enough to Atlantis.  The second diver then attaches a tow line from the ship to the submarine, which draws the sub close to the back of the ship.  The A-frame is lowered, the divers hook everything up, Alvin is brought out of the water, and the divers dive off of the top of the sub into the water, where the Avon will come pick them up.  The Avon remains in the water until the sub is secured on deck,  Then it is hoisted up onto the deck using the crane on the starboard side of the ship.  A.D. has to steer the ship the entire time during this process and is also on the lookout for large swells that may be dangerous to those operating the submarine and the Avon.

Jerry with Alvin passing by the bridge.


Alvin and divers, Avon and driver Mark, who is taking pictures.


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We’re Back!

We have officially made port in Seattle, Washington, at the University of Washington’s Oceanography building.  We’re busily packing, unloading, and cleaning the ship prior to departure.

I will be uploading a few more entries later this week.  There will probably be a lot of pictures involved, so stay tuned!

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Thursday- Dive 4525

Due to inclement weather, we did not have the opportunity to dive on Wednesday.  It was too windy and the seas were really big.  We had a late start on Thursday, also due to rough seas.  Alvin didn’t get in the water until almost 3pm and was back on the surface around 8pm.  Keith, John, and Mark dove to the Main Endeavour Field.  It was Keith’s first dive, so he got multiple buckets of ice cold water dumped on him and some pranks played on him as well.

Usually, Keith’s 23 inch Mac monitor, keyboard, and mouse live here.  They were replaced by the gnome.  I would like to state that I had nothing to do with any of the pranks, I merely just took pictures.


Keith has been writing a computer program that incorporates data from Alvin and other ROV dives with bathymetry data gathered from multiple other sources.  In his words, it’s a Google Earth for scientists and oceanographers to use so they can incorporate their own data into previously gathered bathymetric data.  While on the cruise he’s been taking the Alvin dive tracks (the information from the navigation system on board) and making dive simulations.  Every dive has now been simulated in 3-D.  He’s also trying to see if he can incorporate photos from the dive when the sub stops in a specific area.  Eventually, he wants to incorporate the live video feed from the dive in a corner, so scientists can watch a dive over and over once they return to the lab.  This would be really useful in case a question comes up about where a sample was taken or how a procedure was performed.  It would also be really cool to watch in a presentation and to submit it with a funding proposal.  He also wants the software to be used while in Alvin and other submersibles as a navigational tool, since the current navigation system is pretty basic and it’s really hard to navigate in pitch black, smoky water.  They actually used the software while in the sub, they had a moment where they got turned around and started driving in the opposite direction.

Here’s a picture of Keith’s program on the Alvin laptop during the dive.   


During the dive, they went to Bastille and released the RAS that was put there at the beginning of the cruise.  The temperature at the black smoker there was 377 degrees Celsius (that’s REALLY hot!).  Then they drove around trying to find Dante, but hit Dudley and Lobo first (hence the use of Keith’s program to navigate).  After figuring out where they were, locating Dante was pretty simple.  The temperature at the black smoker was 338 degrees Celsius.  They collected an extinct sulfide at the base of the smoker, and then came back up to the surface.

Using Leonid’s flowmeter to measure how quickly the vent is flowing.


Taking a sample at Bastille.


Leaving Bastille.  The tubeworms in the foreground are covered in a biofilm and the vent in the  background is pumping pretty rapidly.


The seals were very curious as to what the crazy humans were doing.  They hung around Alvin and the Avon during launch and recovery, popping their heads out of the water to watch what was going on.  They like to swim around the ship and get pretty close.  There are two in this picture.  One directly to the left of the sub, and one behind it a little to the right.


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A Day in the Life of the Chief Scientist

Jim Holden, Chief Scientist, AT15-47.  Earlier, Jim gave me a rundown on what his typical day looks like. 

6:00. Alarm goes off.  Time to get up.  Check email and the blog if the internet is working.  Then head down to the submarine to check on preparations for the day’s dive.  Hike up to the bridge to check on the weather and other ship operations and talk with the mate on duty.

7:00. Breakfast time.  Quickly eat breakfast then hurry back down to the Alvin hangar to watch the final submarine preparations.  Sign off on submarine operations paperwork.  This has to be done before every dive.  There is a lot of paperwork that comes with performing operations on a ship.  Watch the submarine launch.

After the sub launches, usually around 8am, go to the lab to check on culture tubes to see if anything grew overnight after inoculation.  Find a quiet place.  Sit down and begin working on dive plans for the next day and night operations for that evening.  Planning for a dive includes determining where the dive will take place, making a sequence of events to occur during the dive, listing what kinds of samples need to be taken and where they should be taken, what equipment needs to go down in the basket, and make a map for the science observers that will be in the submarine.  For night operations, make sure the bridge has all the coordinates for where the ship needs to be and a sequence of events for the night (what types of operations will be occurring, approximate times, etc).  Contact the bridge, top lab (where Alvin is monitored), expedition leader, pilot, and scientists to make sure they know what’s happening that night and for the next day’s dive. 

Talking with Jeff, a PIT, about the next day’s dive.


11:30. Lunch time.  Check on things in the lab and around the ship.  Attend to urgent matters and be available for important questions regarding operations.  Find another quiet place and go through previous dive reports and sample logs.  Take a nap if time permits. 

14:00. Science Meeting in the library.  Discuss previous dives and previous night ops.  Discuss next series of dives and night ops.  Entertain thoughts, questions, and opinions.

Greet submarine when it comes back from the dive.  Gleefully dump bucket of cold water on new diver.  Get synopsis of dive.  Make sure samples get to the correct people in a timely matter. 

Filling buckets of water for a new diver initiation


Examining a rock that had gotten stuck underneath Alvin during the dive and ended up on deck.  It had worms and other small sea creatures stuck to it.


17:30.  Dinnertime.  Chat with colleagues and crew about science, pop culture, and anything else that comes up.  Answer questions.

Dividing up a sulfide sample.


Check to be sure night operations start off ok.  Collect the “The Beast” sample report.  Make sure the dive tapes are duplicated.  Check on lab work to make sure everything is moving along smoothly.  Attend to questions.  lots of administrative work, solve problems.  Check email if the internet allows.

22:00 Bedtime.


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The Engine Room

The Chief Engineer, Jeff, gave the scientists a tour of the engine room and the other areas on the ship where mechanical work takes place.  Three 16 cylinder diesel engines, each powering 715kW 600VAC electric generators, are used for propulsion and three 8 cylinder engines connected to their respective generators power shipboard services and provide backup propulsion.  The generators for propulsion power the  Z-drives, which are steering devices that can rotate 360 degrees allowing the boat to precisely hold a position, above a vent, for example ,or when recovering Alvin.  This positioning is enhanced by using the bow thruster, which is a propulsion device connected to a smaller generator. It is located at the front of the ship (the bow).  Everything else described above is at the aft, or rear end, of the ship.  The ship can hold up to 296,000 gallons of gas; however the ship is never fueled to capacity.  They usually fill to 250,000 gallons before each trip.  During daily operations when we are sitting at a site we burn 1500 gallons a day.  In transit, we burn 4000-5000 gallons a day, depending on how fast we’re traveling and the travel conditions.

The engine room is two stories.  This is a picture of the engines from the second story.


Monica, the first assistant engineer, was working on one of the engines and graciously left this cylinder open for a picture.


Mike, the oiler, describing something to John.


We have the luxury of a reverse osmosis system onboard the ship.  Seawater is taken up and boiled. The steam is collected and purified for drinking and other uses.  We use 3000 gallons of water a day, and almost twice that amount can be produced on a daily basis.  The engineers also monitor the waste removal system onboard and are responsible for incinerating non-biodegradable trash.

Beneath the Alvin hangar and behind the engine room is the “Bat Cave”, where Anton (an Alvin tech) has taken up residence and cares for Alvin’s batteries.  There is also a storage area for anything you could ever want or need on a ship.  Behind the storage area and the Bat Cave is a room with two winch drums.  One has a regular steel cable and the other has an embedded fiber optic cable used for a ROV (remotely operated vehicle, like Jason).  Behind this, at the very back of the ship, is the room with the two Z-drives. 

Anton in the Bat Cave.


The regular winch drum holds 10 kilometers of cable.  It’s fed out to the necessary ops through a hole in the top corner of the room.


The Z-drive.  It’s called this because the entire piece of machinery looks like a “Z” in the engineering drawings.  This is the top part of the Z.



Special thanks to Sanjoy for helping me write this entry.

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Feeding the Masses

There are three people tending to the digestive needs of the people on the ship.  Carl is the steward, Michele is the cook, and Richie is the mess attendant.

The ship has three bulk food storage places, a –5 degree Fahrenheit with a 25 degree wind chill walk-in freezer, a walk-in fridge, and a dried goods storage room.  These are all located on a lower deck.  There are also smaller storage spaces around the galley.  There’s a large fridge and freezer in the kitchen for frequently used items and there are also a fridge and freezer right behind the kitchen.  There’s a small walk-in pantry across a hallway from the kitchen, and there are shelves in the kitchen for spices, etc.  There is enough storage room for sixty days worth of food for a total of fifty-seven people.  We currently have fifty-three people on board between scientists and crew members and we’re only out for fifteen days, so there’s no chance we’ll go hungry.  Extra measures are taken to make sure that no bugs get on the ship, every surface is wiped down and sterilized with bleach to prevent contamination. 

Carl making pie dough.


Michele with lunch, enchiladas!


Richie getting ready for lunch.


Most of the crew is from New England.  They stock real maple syrup in bulk.  A dream come true.


Carl and Michele are on a rotating schedule.  Michele will do breakfast and lunch and Carl will do dinner.  The next day, Carl does breakfast and lunch and Michele does dinner.  Richie stocks food, cleans up the mess hall, does the dishes, and makes sure everything is in working order and ready to go.  According to Carl, you become used to cooking for large groups of people.  He looks at two potatoes and imagines feeding three people.  On large cruises such as this one, planning is vital.  There is no time to experiment with a new idea or a recipe.  Carl comes up with a menu the evening before he cooks dinner, then gets up early the next morning to gather all the necessary ingredients and to begin preparing the meal.  Making dinner takes almost all day.  On his vacation time (most of the crew gets three months on the ship and then three months vacation time) he enjoys cooking for himself and likes to investigate what is popular to eat.  He then can adapt the recipe into something that can be served to almost sixty people.  On a smaller cruise, or when the ship is at port for an extended time, he’ll experiment with new things.  Carl has no favorite.  He just loves to cook, and cook well.  The food is delicious. 

Carl’s dinner menu for the day.


The serving area from the kitchen’s point of view.


Carl and the other stewards that work on the ship are also in charge of all the food ordering that goes on.  Every time the ship pull into port, there’s a bulk food order waiting for it.  Carl has to order for every stop they make along the way, and has to have the ordering done for when the next steward comes onboard so that everything is ready to roll.  Imagine trying to do someone else’s grocery shopping, in bulk, from a ship in the middle of the ocean.  But he does make time for some fun.  On his afternoons off, Carl can be found in a wetsuit as one of the two divers necessary to retrieve Alvin when it comes up from a dive.  Here he is diving off the sub into the ocean, where the Avon will go pick him up.



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Fluid Sampling- Part Two

The Major Sampler

The major samplers, or majors, are spring loaded piston fluid samplers that work similar to a syringe.  They are good for collecting rapidly flowing black smoker fluid samples, but they are not gastight. 

In many cases, they are packaged together in twos attached to a sampling nozzle to go to the seafloor.  The nozzle has a temperature probe in it to record the temperature as soon as the sample begins to flow in.


The back of the major.  Alvin will pick it up by the handle (skinny metal piece on top) and hold it in place.  Before it is tripped to sample, fluid will flow in through the nozzle and out through a hole in the base of the nozzle (not shown).  This lets the scientists know that fluid is actually going in to the nozzle and they aren’t sampling seawater.  Alvin will then push down the screw, releasing the spring loaded piston, and causing the major to “slurp up” a sample like a large syringe.  The red and white cylinder is the temperature recorder.


Here’s one of the two sampling majors.  Alvin will push in the screw (right), releasing the pin between the circular piece and the square piece, (very small but visible) causing the piston to come up.  Fluid is sucked in through the nozzle and flows into the piston.  The major can hold about 750 milliliters of fluid. 


The major is then brought to the surface after the dive and opened.  The screw in the piece jutting out (right) is turned to release the fluid sample out of the small nozzle attached to it.  Again, this is used for sampling black smokers and other high flow areas.  The majors are almost useless when studying any diffuse venting sites or trying to do a gas analysis.



The RAS- Remote Automatic Sampler

The RAS is similar to the beast in that it collects many fluid samples at once and that it operates in a similar fashion, with bottles filled with seawater that can be pumped out, creating a vacuum to suck fluid sample into the gas-impermeable bag inside.  It also takes the temperature of the fluid as it is being sampled.  It is different in that it is able to be programmed to take a sample at a specific time and can be left underwater for an extended period of time.  The sampling hose is placed over a diffuse venting site by Alvin and an initial sample is taken by a gas tight sampler.  The RAS is programmed to take a sample at a specific time.  We recovered a RAS at Endeavour during the first day out at sea that was deployed August 2008 and had been taking a sample every week.  We deployed another RAS to the same site that we are going to pick up on the last day at sea.  It is taking samples more frequently and is measuring short term changes in the diffuse vent.

The long-term RAS deployments are used to measure a change in temperature and chemical concentration, determine earthquake disturbances, and other changes in  subsurface vent systems.  It also measures how stable the vent is over time.

The short-term RAS deployments are used to see if any variation in hydrothermal flow exists due to tidal pressure or if the tide influences vent flow rate.

Diffuse vent sites are used as diluted measurements to model how hot vents work.  They are also ways to measure what is happening between the deep hot zone and the diffuse sea floor.  This can give us clues to what microbes are there, what they are doing, their metabolism, etc. 

The RAS- top view.  All the blue caps are individual bottles.  The system in the center controls when the samples are taken.


A RAS underwater at a sampling site.  It looks complicated, but that’s because there are so many bottles and tubes.  If you look closely, you can see the reflection of the bags in the outer bottles.


Dave puts a protective plastic shield around the RAS to protect from accidental Alvin arm jabs.  It looks like a floating box in the water.  It is weighted down with an anchor but is also attached to large yellow floats to make it neutrally buoyant at the seafloor.  It is usually dropped at night near where it will be sampling from and then put into place the next day during the dive.  It’s rare that anything will be released from the ship while the sub is in the water, just for precautions. 


Recovering the RAS: When the ship sends a precise acoustic signal, the RAS knows to drop the anchor and the floats bring it to the surface.  If this doesn’t work, Alvin can remove the weights and it will surface.

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Tuesday- Dive 4524

The Faulty Towers at Mothra in the  Endeavour Segment.  Jim was the scientific observer.  Jeff (PIT) and Sean were the pilots.  Unfortunately due to impending bad weather, they had to cut the dive short and came up early.  We are in for a clashing of the weather fronts.  Hopefully this will not be The Perfect Storm.

First stop was Roane (pronounced Row-Anne); Jim describes it as a tree stump.  There was no real diffuse flow to sample so they kept going on to Phang.  Phang is a tall spire with lots of macrofauna growing along the sides.  The hydrothermal fluid was venting at 180 degrees Celsius and the diffuse site was around 27 degrees Celsius.  Water samples were taken at the diffuse site.



The Phang spire.


Sampling near the base of Phang.


A vast array of macrofauna at Phang.  The white-shelled organisms are limpets, many of them are sitting on top of palm worms, which are the orange/brown worms on the left.  Some tubeworms are present at the top of the picture.  The pink grubby-looking things are scale worms.  Sea spiders (look like little crabs) are off the right on the rock.  Snails are also visible on the rock and near the limpet/palm worm forest.  There is a white bacterial mat at the bottom right.


The above picture is a great representation of an environmental gradient.  Imagine a diffuse vent off the left side of your monitor, maybe 10-30 centimeters away.  The hot fluid and sulfide from the vent drift to the right towards the macrofauna.  The palm worms are able to sustain higher concentrations of sulfide and warmer conditions than the snails, which is why they are to the far left of the picture.  The limpets can handle some heat and sulfide, while the snails and sea spiders require lower concentrations of sulfide and a more ambient temperature.  The types of macrofauna at vent sites can indicate the approximate temperature of the diffuse fluid coming out of the vent and can also indicate how hot the rock is.

Right at the beginning of the dive, they noticed a new vigorously spewing black smoker just to the south.  Unfortunately due to time constraints, they didn’t get to go investigate.   But a picture proves it’s there, you can see it at the bottom right of the screen.  We’re going to try to go back before the end of the cruise. 

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