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Rich's Blog

Punta Arenas, Chile

Greetings from Punta Arenas, Chile.  Rick Peterson, Leigha Peterson, and I made it down to Punta Arenas, Chile in just about 24 hours after leaving Myrtle Beach.  Travel was fairly hassle free, with excellent support from US Antarctic Program.  We checked into our hotel on the evening of December 8th and met up with the scientists from East Carolina University.  We all had a nice dinner and made it back to the hotel at about 10:30 pm (and there was still daylight).

This morning, we are finishing up breakfast and getting ready to head down to the icebreaker Lawrence M. Gould.  We will set up out labs on the ship and move our personal items into our rooms.  Tomorrow we will begin our transit across the Drake passage towards Palmer Station, Antarctica.

Everyone is excited ready to go!  We will be measuring radon and radium isotopes to track groundwater discharge from Antarctica to the Southern Ocean.  Samples will be preserved for subsequent analyses including iron and nutrients.

More later...

Rich, Rick, and Leigha

Oil spill site and Rich's dive

Well, we are in the final stretch of the cruise and for the past two days have been on site in the vicinity of the oil spill. Today’s dive was scheduled to be about 2 miles from the Macondo well head, but the weather just did not cooperate. Yesterday’s dive was a success, however, with Mandy Joye and Richard Harris (NPR) visiting the bottom about 8.6 miles from the damaged oil well. They took several sediment cores that had evidence of oil precipitate in a thin layer at the top. It did not appear as the black oily residue that one might expect, but rather was a layer of small balls of oil coated in the light brown sediment covering the seafloor. Since today’s dive was canceled, we are doing some sonar work, collecting cores with a multicorer from the ship and collecting more water with the CTD/Niskin rosette. Very early this morning, the 3.5 kHz echosounder registered a tantalizing water column return. This is somewhat uncharacteristic as the instrument is designed to penetrate bottom. Later today, we will try to collect water from the echoes we saw in the water column.

In other news, I was very fortunate to dive on site GC246 this past Saturday (11/27). I woke up early, excited to finally see the bottom. I was a bit dubious though since we were having an exceptionally bumpy ride to the dive site. When I went upstairs from our bunks to the 01 deck, I was crushed to see 20+ knot winds whipping the Gulf into a mess of confused waves. The conditions were in excess of safe conditions for an Alvin deployment. The dive was delayed hour after hour as we watched the weather. Finally, a decision was made to scratch the dive at noon and collect cores instead. Fifteen minutes later, one final assessment of the current conditions and most recent forecast changed everything. The decision was changed and the dive was on. About 30 minutes later, the sub was in position on the fantail and I was climbing inside with Hanna Weber (a graduate student from University of Southern Denmark) and an experienced pilot named Dave Walter. Since the weather had cut way into our bottom time, and we had a lot of work to do, we needed to move quickly. Thirty more minutes later we were 830 m below sea level and seeing the bottom of the Gulf. Words cannot describe this experience. While we did not have too much time to look around, we were very fortunate to see many amazing sights. We collected 28 sediments cores with Alvin’s mechanical arms, deployed a temperature sensor, deployed and later recovered a high resolution camera, slurped beggiatoa samples, and collected brine from a small brine puddle. We also collected two cores that hopefully will contain thiomargarita and we collected two small chimneys. Before I knew it, we were headed to the surface and the dive was over.

Hopefully we will have at least one more opportunity to update everyone through this blog. If not, we will see you when we get back.

-Rich and Rick

Here goes Alvin over the side of Atlantis in the near maximum sea state for deployment. We were very fortunate to complete this dive in a narrow weather window.

Orange and black mineral crust on the bottom at site GC246. Depth = 830 m.

In addition to pouring 20 gallons of well-chilled brine over my head, Rick also took the liberty of freezing my shoes while I was on the bottom. Thanks buddy!

Related Activity: 
R/V Atlantis Cruise

Thanksgiving at sea

Happy Thanksgiving from the R/V Atlantis! Today was business as usual for the crew and science party aboard the vessel. We did have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with Turkey and all the usual sides, but Alvin dove and samples were processed just like any other day during this cruise.

We were joined two days ago by Richard Harris from Morning Addition and All Things Considered on NPR. He is conducting interviews with various science party and crew members and will be sending along sound bytes that will be heard on NPR starting tomorrow morning. Also joining the science party is a documentary videographer from UGA.

Today’s dive site was a small brine pool located on the south side of large collapsed dome-like seafloor feature. As with the other sites that have brine pools, we collected a profile through the depth of the pool to examine the chemistry of the brine. Since this brine pool is so small and has so many mussels around the edges, the decision was made to use the brine trapper on Alvin rather than disturbing the pool with a CTD from the ship. The brine trapper has several bottles that can collect fluids and gases through a small hose that is lowered from the submarine.

In addition to the brines, some mussels were collected, along with some sediment samples. In the sediments, Jake Bailey from University of Minnesota found a Thiomargarita bacteria cell. Thiomargarita are particularly large (perhaps the world’s largest, up to nearly 1 mm in diameter) and are also among the oldest forms of life found to date in Earth’s geological record. Jake compares modern cells to those preserved in ancient rocks and is able to comment on early life and the surrounding environment here on Earth. Though these are very basic life forms, they hold a great deal of information about life in extreme environments such as anoxic deep waters.

Tonight, rather than a post Thanksgiving feast football game, we are mapping our next dive site with multibeam bathymetry and subbottom profiles. Tomorrow, chief scientist Mandy Joye and PI Ian MacDonald will dive on a large mud volcano that has recently been and may still be discharging oil, gas and of course mud. After the dive, we will sample the water column (about 1000 meters deep) and take some sediment cores. Then we will transit back to a previous dive site where we will collect a few additional samples. 

Late Saturday we will transit to the area very near the recent oil spill location. Starting Sunday, we will be even busier (if that is possible) with water and sediment sample processing aboard the ship. Stay tuned…

-Rich and Rick

Sponge collected with the Alvin.

Small chimney (right) and cluster of mussels (left) collected by Alvin near a brine pool.

Styrofoam cups are often decorated and sent down in a mesh bag in an outside compartment on Alvin.  The intense pressure of the overlying water crushes the air out and the cup shrinks.

Related Activity: 
R/V Atlantis Cruise

Sample collection and Alvin dives begin

Greetings everyone! Rich Viso here reporting from the R/V Atlantis. Rick Peterson and I continue to have a great experience. We are set up to measure radium and radon in the wet lab located on the aft portion of the starboard side of the ship. There are double doors with windows at the aft end of our lab and the manned submersible Alvin is right on the other side of the doors, no more than five feet away.

Yesterday (11/8) we continued doing some background and calibration measurements on our equipment. After lunch, we had a science meeting followed by a fire and boat safety drill. During the science meeting we learned about executing our jobs on the ship as well as the science objectives. The plans are ambitious and include a wide range of scientific interests to learn about the deep brine environments, life in such environments, and impacts on the Gulf of Mexico from the oil spill.

Today (11/9) Rick and I performed the first CTD/Niskin cast of the cruise. We recovered 23 bottles of water from a variety of depths between 2300 m and the surface. The entire cast took about 3 hours and we began at 3 am. Once the rosette containing the Niskin bottles was back on deck, the science party began collecting our respective samples from the bottles. Some scientists are waiting for sediment samples and tonight’s plan is to perform another rosette cast and to cast a multicorer that will bring back sediment samples from the bottom.

The first Alvin dive of the cruise also took place today. The entire process was quite interesting to watch and it cranked up the excitement aboard the ship another notch. Today’s dive was an engineering dive, which involves training for a new sub pilot. The divers consisted of a pilot, the pilot in training, and the chief scientist (Mandy Joye, UGA). The dive was successful down to a brine pool location and 6 brine samples were recovered along a vertical transect from just above the pool to well into the pool.

While the dive occurred, Rick and I measured radon and radium in the samples from the Niskin bottles all day long.We are set to receive brine samples and will try to measure radon in the gas that was collected with the brine fluid.

Related Activity: 
R/V Atlantis Cruise
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