Posted by graduate
Sipe, University of Delaware College of Marine Studies.
The science party just
filtered out of the library at the conclusion of the nightly
meeting. The meetings are critical for the group to reflect
on the research objectives and plan their Alvin dive
strategies. The library was packed with people, some of
whom were fortunate enough to find an open chair.
Anna-Louise Reysenbach, one of the two science observers
in Alvin today, briefed the science party on the
very successful Alvin dive. The
sub reached the ocean bottom at 0921 hours. The submarine
pilot, Patrick Hickey, navigated Alvin to a prominent
chimney feature called Rebeccas Roost. Here the divers
discovered many vent clams and huge microbial mats (massive
flat colonies of marine bacteria) that were intertwined
with loads of Riftia tubeworms. They collected interesting
chimney features referred to as flanges. These
are bulbous chimney formations that jut out from the main
rock structure. Super-hot water seeps slowly out of the
rock and lingers under these flanges, forming a pool. This
is a perfect spot for vent bacteria to live because the
water motion is not fast and furious, but rather the metal-rich
hyperthermal water is delivered to them gently and constantly.
Its sort of like bathing in a jacuzzi instead of a
geyser. Microbiologists on board worked with the sulfidic
flange samples throughout the night looking for signs of
life within or on these rock features.
Nuzzio, the starboard observer in Alvin, successfully
measured the electrochemistry of water samples in situ (in
the natural environment, rather than collecting water
in a container and making the measurements later). He collected
over 230 measurements, which sounds like a lot of work,
but is all in a typical day for this chemist. The submarine
also collected about fifteen Riftia tubeworms, two
massive twig-like networks of black branching coral, and
several other polychaete worms called Paralvinella.
Paralvinella looks like it is wearing a coat of fur,
but these hair-like projections are actually strings of
vent bacteria that are hanging on for a ride. Some hydrothermal
vent microbiologists study the physiology of these bacteria
and are trying to learn the details of this symbiosis (sym
= together, biosis = to live).
The Alvin pilot
uses sonar to locate prominent vent structures. The locations
of some of the features are well-known, such as Rebeccas
Roost and Everest. When Alvin discovers new rocks
and chimneys, the pilot measures their locations with very
specific X-Y coordinates so that the feature can be relocated
in subsequent dives. The people in the submarine are lucky
enough to name the chimney. Descriptive names of some other
chimneys include Faulty Towers, Tubeworm Pillar, and Godzilla.
It was a busy night
for the scientists in their laboratories aboard the R/V
Atlantis. A successful Alvin dive means lots
of work for the researchers. The group was thrilled to have
such spectacular vent specimens. The scientists teemed with
energy while at the same time maintaining their concentration
in the labs.
It was an action-packed
day, and it is not yet over. The cruise ping-pong tournament
began today. A sign hanging over the galley announced Let
the Games Begin! As I conclude this journal entry,
I will play my first match of the tournament against Patrick
Hennessey, one of the ships crew with a true reputation
on the ping-pong table. I've been fine-tuning my serve,
but dont think it will help me much in this match-up.
At least I can look forward to the consolation round.