Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Faults, Vents, and Seeps Logbook
Leg 6, Day 2: Venting fluids
April 9, 2012

Today, one of our goals was to search for chemosynthetic biological communities existing on the reduced chemicals (such as sulfide) delivered to the seafloor via vents and seeps. Previous discoveries of fluid vents, sulfur-rich bacterial mats, and clam shells during Peter Brewer's leg of this expedition last month suggested that there might be chemosynthetic communities in the Carmen Basin. So off we went to the seafloor 2,700 meters (8,860 feet) below the surface to conduct more comprehensive sampling. The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts was loaded down with a heat-flow probe, push cores, vibracores, a suction sampler, a temperature sensor, and the in situ ultraviolet spectrophotometer (ISUS). (Read descriptions of these tools on the equipment list to the right.)

ISUS
The in situ ultraviolet spectrophotometer (ISUS) measures sulfide at a venting site.

We located two vents during the dive—one previously discovered in March and one new vent—and sampled extensively around both sites. The previously located vent appeared to have ceased flowing since March. We observed vigorous flow from the other. The "sniffer," a wand that gathers seawater and pumps it to the ISUS mounted to the frame of ROV Doc Ricketts, determined the sulfide concentration of the water. The sniffer showed that the vent we discovered was emitting fluid several degrees warmer than the ambient seawater and had a slightly elevated sulfide concentration. You can see in the picture above that the vent is lined by thick, beautiful, orange bacterial mats, apparently rich in sulfur. In the figure below, the spike in the time plots for sulfide (blue line) and temperature (red line) indicate the time when the chemical sniffer was sampling the venting fluid (see plots below). Sediment cores and biological samples will further characterize these features.

Real-time measurements of sulfide (blue) and temperature (red) at the vent we sampled today.

After sampling these two sites we searched for other chemosynthetic communities with no luck. However, during these transects a number of poorly known benthic organisms were sampled. The skills of the ROV pilots and crew of the Western Flyer again made the dive a great success.

—Josh Plant

Yesterday we dove in a low-oxygen environment with no epifaunal animals and today was quite the opposite. When we reached the seafloor at 2,700 meters (8,860 feet), the first thing we noticed was how abundant and diverse the organisms were at this site compared to the Alfonso Basin site. We found several species of sea cucumbers, huge numbers of brittle stars, and a surprising abundance of white acorn worms. These animals are very interesting and little is known about their reproductive biology. A number of the animals we collected today were carrying large—greater than 1 millimeter (.04 inches) in diameter—eggs in their "lips." The eggs float when they are released from the acorn worm’s body. To learn more about these strange and beautiful creatures, visit this article featured on MBARI's website last fall.

A frame grab showing the large numbers of brittle stars and other organisms on the seafloor.
Two acorn worms spiraling around each other on the mud; the white eggs are visible just inside their transparent bodies. These most likely belong to a new species. When a new species is described, scientists choose a single specimen, usually in excellent condition, to base their description on. We collected a beautiful specimen that will serve as the holotype when this organism is described and deposited in a museum.
We saw a number of these large sea spiders, or pycnogonids, lumbering across the seafloor. In 2010, MBARI researchers published their novel observations on sea spiders.

—Kris Walz



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 Equipment

R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

Heat-flow probe

MBARI's heat-flow probe is mounted on the side of the ROV Doc Ricketts inside the vertical stainless steel box. This both protects the delicate probe and provide the track so that the probe can be inserted into the sediment along a totally straight path.  The probe contains five high precision platinum sensors which are used to measure the vertical temperature gradient in the sediments. This gradient along with some knowledge of the heat capacity of the sediment allows scientists to calculate the rate of heat loss from the sediments into the ocean.

In situ gas sampler

These are devices that are used to collect and sample gaseous gases bubbling out of seafloor vents. The way they work is by having small pressure vials (like tiny scuba tanks) from which the air is pumped out with a vacuum pump on the surface and sealed with the valve. On the bottom gases are captured underneath an overturned funnel so that a large gas headspace is developed. Then the value on the pressure vial is opened, gas is sucked into the vial, and the vial's value is re-closed. This way a sample of the gas at the high seafloor pressures is recovered.

In situ ultraviolet spectrophotometer (ISUS)

The ISUS is a sensor used to measure concentrations of dissolved chemicals directly from their Ultraviolet Absorption Spectrum. A variety of chemicals absorb light in the UV and each of these chemicals has a unique absorption spectrum. We can determine the concentration of these chemicals directly, with no chemical manipulation, by measuring the absorption spectrum of seawater in the UV and then deconvolving the spectra to yield the concentration of each component. ISUS has been used to determine nitrate concentrations while deployed on CTD/Rosette profilers, undulating towed vehicles such as a SeaSoar or SeaSciences Acrobat, and on deep-sea moorings. It has also been used to measure sulfide flux from cold seeps in Monterey Bay while deployed on the ROV Ventana.

Push cores

A push-core looks like a clear plastic tube with a rubber handle on one end. Just as its name implies, the push core is pushed down into loose sediment using the ROV's manipulator arm. As the sediment fills up the core, water exits out the top through one-way valves. When the core is pulled up again, these valves close, which (most of the time) keeps the sediment from sliding out of the core tube. When we bring these cores back to the surface, we typically look for living animals and organic material in the sediments.

Vibracores

Vibracoring is a common technique used to obtain samples from water-saturated sediment. These corers work by attaching a motor that induces high frequency vibrations in the core liner that in turn liquefies the sediment directly around the core cutter, enabling it to pass through the sediment with little resistance.

Gravity corer

Device lowered off the ship to the seafloor on a wire which consists of a long tube that extends below a moderately heavy weight. When the device encounters the bottom, the weight forces the tube into the sediments. When it is pulled out of the bottom the tube will contain a sediment sample (i.e., core) of the upper layers of the ocean floor.


 Crew

R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young
Master


 

George Gunther
First Mate


 

Matt Noyes
Chief Engineer


 

Cole Davis
Second Mate


 

Lance Wardle
First Engineer


 

Shaun Summer
Relief First Engineer


 

Olin Jordan
Oiler


 

Craig Heihn
Relief Deckhand


 

Jason Jordan
Relief Deckhand


 

Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


 

Eric Fitzgerald
Steward


 

ROV Doc Ricketts

Knute Brekke
Chief ROV Pilot


 

Mark Talkovic
Senior ROV Pilot


 

Randy Prickett
Senior ROV Pilot


 

Bryan Schaefer
ROV Pilot/Technician


 

Eric Martin
ROV Pilot/Technician


 

 Leg 6 Research Team

Charlie Paull
Chief Scientist
MBARI

Charlie Paull has been a marine geologist and geochemical stratigrapher at MBARI since January 1999. The central theme of Charlie's work involves investigating the fluxes of fluids and gases through continental margins. Over the past decade his primary focus has been gas hydrate research on the Blake Ridge gas hydrate field on the continental rise off of southeastern North America. Assessing the global distribution of gas hydrate and interstitial gas is a continuing interest as well as the development of new techniques to detect the presence of gas hydrate in marine sediments. Charlie's other ongoing work is focused on the geology associated with seafloor seepage sites, including investigating the deposits associated with chemosynthetic communities, determining the processes that occur at the methane-sulfate boundary, and understanding the origin of pockmarks and other potential seafloor fluid venting sites.

Bob Vrijenhoek
Chief Scientist
MBARI

Bob Vrijenhoek leads MBARI's molecular ecology group, which focuses on using molecular tools to examine population structure and evolutionary relationships. His group is working on a number of projects studying gene flow and barriers to dispersal of deep-sea invertebrates associated with cold seeps in the Monterey Bay and hydrothermal vents at ridge sites throughout the world. The group also studies DNA sequence information from bacterial symbionts to examine their evolutionary relationships with their hosts and infer possible modes of transmission.

Krystle Anderson
Research Technician
MBARI

Krystle Anderson is a research technician working for Charlie Paull in the Continental Margins Lab. Krystle's background is primarily in the acquisition and processing of seafloor mapping data. She came from the California State University, Monterey Bay Seafloor Mapping Lab where she obtained her data processing and Geographic Information System (GIS) skills. Krystle spends a majority of her time processing and creating high-resolution maps of multibeam data collected from the mapping AUV. The high-resolution maps Krystle helps create will then be used to aid navigation for the ROV to explore particular areas of interest. On this expedition Krystle will assist with running the GIS system, and processing and cataloguing sediment samples and vibracores. This is Krystle's second research expedition with MBARI and she is very excited to be involved in this expedition.

Roberto Gwiazda
Research Specialist
MBARI

Roberto is a geochemist by training. His interests lie at the intersection of marine geology and sediment and water chemistry. During cruises Roberto operates a custom-built, portable chemistry lab that includes a complete set of analytical platforms for measurements of fluids and gases. On this expedition, Roberto will be responsible for analytical measurements of pore water chemistry on samples taken from sediment cores. He will also be in charge of collecting gas samples emanating from fluid vents and performing hydrocarbon analyses on dissolved gases collected from pore waters, from gas vents and from seawater.

Josh Plant
Research Technician
MBARI

As a member of Ken Johnson's Chemical Sensor team, Josh spends much of his time analyzing chemical data collected from instruments developed by the group. One of the main goals of these measurements is to decipher how biology affects the cycling of the measured chemicals. In the Gulf of California Josh will be measuring the distribution of sulfide in waters overlying cold seep communities as well as helping to process biological samples for the molecular ecology group. Sulfide is one of the energy sources which fuels seep ecosystems. When not at work Josh spends much of his time on or near the ocean, fishing and hiking, or working in his garden.

Kris Walz
Research Assistant
MBARI

Kris Walz works with the Midwater Ecology team at MBARI where she studies pelagic animals and their distributions using horizontal video transects collected from midwater time-series dives (1993 to present) in Monterey Bay. She joins the science teams on this leg of the Gulf of California expedition to assist with their research by recording and annotating video during the ROV dives, and processing biological samples collected from the ROV.

Brian Edwards
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Brian specializes in sedimentary processes and stratigraphy, integrating insights gleaned from seafloor rock and sediment samples with information from remote-mapping products, such as close-up photographs of the seafloor, high-resolution bathymetric maps, and seismic-reflection profiles. His recent studies have focused on how sediment moves from the land to the deep sea, processes controlling submarine landslides, saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifer systems, marine pollution, seafloor habitats, and the Cenozoic history of the Arctic Ocean.

Juan Carlos Herguera
Collaborator
CICESE

Juan Carlos is interested in the history of past oceans, how changes in climate and ocean circulation contribute to the ecology and biogeochemical cycling sustained by coastal environments in the California Current and the Gulf of California regions. During this cruise he will be involved in sampling benthic foraminifera to help characterize their genomic information, and, through their stable isotopic and metal compositions, to understand how these geochemical markers reflect their ambient conditions. He will further use planktonic foraminifera for dating the deep-sea cores with radiocarbon techniques, which hold important clues on the tectonic rupturing rhythm along the boundary between the North American and Pacific plates. He is fascinated by these new observation windows opened up by the ROV deployed from the Western Flyer, making possible the discovery of new vent environments along these fractured boundaries and the chemosynthetic oasis sustained by these leaky enclaves that connect the deep ocean with the lower crust and mantle dynamics.

Mary McGann
Research Geologist (Micropaleontology/Biology)
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Mary's interests focus on using microbiota (primarily foraminifera but also pollen) to investigate marine sediment transport, geohazards (faulting, landslides and paleotsunamis), climate change, and the pathways and impact of invasive species introductions using sediment records and molecular analysis techniques. She also uses foraminifera in biomonitoring marine pollution sites and carbon-14 chronostratigraphy—the study of the age of rock layers in relation to time.

Greg Rouse
Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Greg uses morphological and molecular data to assess relationships among animals. His morphological studies range across various adult and larval anatomies using transmission and scanning electron microscopy as well as confocal laser scanning microscopy. This is combined with molecular (DNA sequence) data to infer phylogenetic relationships and hence evolutionary patterns. His research interests include the biodiversity and distribution of hydrothermal vent animals from the eastern and western Pacific, as well as those from methane seeps in the eastern Pacific. This often involves the discovery and naming of new species of animals.

Sigrid Katz
Postdoctoral Fellow
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Sigrid is a postdoc at Scripps in Greg Rouse's lab. Sigrid received her Ph.D. in Austria working on Osedax from whale falls and has continued this work during her postdoc. She is interested in symbioses, vent organisms, and their relationships.



Last updated: Apr. 13, 2012