Yesterday we set sail from Manzanillo, Mexico, bound for a hydrothermal vent system on the East Pacific Rise (EPR) near 10 degrees North. The EPR is part of the world’s mid-ocean ridge system where new crust is formed as Earth’s plates spread apart. Many of the most exciting Earth processes occur at mid-ocean ridges, including volcanic eruptions, earthquake swarms, deep circulation of ocean water into the crust and the ejection of that water back into the ocean at the site of high-temperature hydrothermal vents. These vent sites are also home to exotic and strange life forms that make their living from chemicals in the warm fluids, and may hold important secrets about how life on this planet originated and evolved, and how life in other parts of the universe might survive. Our mission on this cruise will be to learn more about how these intriguing environments work.
We are headed to the EPR aboard the R/V Atlantis, a 274-foot research vessel and the tender to the human occupied submersible Alvin. This is a large and capable world-traveling vessel that was built specifically for the kind of research that we do. Atlantis has an extensive suite of scientific instrumentation including multibeam sonar systems, winches and cranes for launching buoys and sensor packages, dynamic positioning, and of course Alvin, the deep-diving submersible that will take us to the seafloor to do our research.
There are approximately 20 scientists onboard this cruise, including a few graduate students and a few technicians. We comprise four different teams, each with a primary mission for the cruise. A group led by Dr. Monika Bright will be gathering biological samples for a variety of analyses, a group led by Dr. Spahr Webb will be recovering a set of bottom pressure recorders that have been collecting data on the seafloor for a couple of years. A group led by Chief Scientist Dr. Scott Nooner will be making pressure recordings at a number of benchmarks along and away from the ridge axis to measure how the shape of the seafloor changes over time. And my group (really just me and my engineer) will be deploying a prototype seafloor camera system capable of measuring flow through black smoker hydrothermal vents over long periods of time.
We will be arriving on station early tomorrow morning, and soon thereafter we will launch the sub for the first of about 10 total dives. In this space over the coming two weeks or so, I’ll try to keep a log of some of the interesting things we see and do during this cruise. Please let me know what you think or if you have any questions. I’ll try to answer anything that comes up in the comments. Cheers!