Faults, Vents, and Seeps Logbook
Leg 6, Day 7: Hydrates, carbonates, and scenic wonders April 14, 2012
Today's dive started a little later than normal because high winds created choppy seas and difficult launching conditions for the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. Once the seas calmed, the ROV was launched and another day was spent exploring seafloor rocks, animals, and chemistry around Pinkie's Vent in 1,600 meters (5,250 feet) of water.
This photo shows a push core being inserted in one of the large, white bacterial mats we saw today. Today we collected about 45 scaleworms similar to the ones we reported in yesterday's cruise log. They were crawling all over these large, white bacterial mats—their favorite food.
In the afternoon a spectacular example of exposed gas hydrate was discovered, forming on the edge of a carbonate outcrop and surrounded by bubbling gas. This event exposed the interdisciplinary nature of this expedition, as geologists, biologists, and chemists worked together to understand how the regional geology and tectonics could have caused reduced chemicals, such as methane and sulfide, to accumulate in the seafloor. These biogeochemical processes set the foundation for the diverse biological communities we saw today. The event also challenged the skill and patience of ROV pilots Knute Brekke and Eric Martin, who had to deal with several excited scientists, all wanting different things at the same time!
Near the Pinkie's Vent site today, we were all mesmerized by the beautiful carbonate formations, with their deep fissures, huge outcrops, and etched surfaces. They were so dramatic that we had to agree with Charlie Paull's statement in the control room—if these were terrestrial rock formations, they would be preserved in a National Park, like the beautiful rocks at Pinnacles National Monument in Monterey County, California.
This large, dramatic carbonate outcrop reminded us of a jet. You can get an idea of the size of the outcrop by considering that the red dots (laser beams from the ROV) are about 30 centimeters (one foot) apart.
This begs the question, how can people protect the deep sea and pelagic environments that cover over two-thirds of our earth's surface, when we have yet to explore 99 percent of these habitats? How can we plan protection, conservation, even restoration for an area we know so little about? Most people think that these areas are so deep and so far away, how can humans be changing environments that are three miles deep, or in the middle of the ocean?
In actuality, everything we do on the planet affects every habitat on the planet, including the deep sea. We won't know what impacts humans are having on the deep sea unless we have opportunities to explore this vast terrain and understand the system before it changes. Studies like ours in the Gulf of California are a vital part of this process.
This huge sponge colony was perched on a carbonate outcrop. Many old clam shells were embedded in the surface of the rock.
Some of the carbonate formations we saw today contained old clam shells, which we collected. Charlie Paull's team will be determing the ages of these clam shells, along with the shells of live clams collected this week. This will help him determine the ages of the carbonate features that we see exposed on the seafloor.
Neptunea snail laying eggs atop a towering yellow egg case.
A tower of eggs
Neptunea snails attach very large egg cases to rocks and other objects on the ocean bottom. The snails are often found perched on top of an egg case full of developing snails. MBARI scientists are interested in conducting genetic analyses on the female snails and their offspring, in order to answer some basic questions: Are all the young snails in an egg case the offspring of the female who is perched at the top? Was there one male or multiple males who contributed sperm to the brood?
These questions can be answered by conducting DNA fingerprinting analyses on the snails and their brood. Highly variable genetic markers called "DNA microsatellites" are used in these analyses in the same way they are used in forensic studies and human paternity cases.
This DNA technology was developed primarily for medical and forensic applications, but it has become very useful in studies of animal breeding systems and behaviors. The development and application of these genetic technologies for studies of marine organisms has been a main focus of our efforts at MBARI.
We collected several of these snails and their egg cases today. Their DNA will also be compared with that of Neptunea snails and egg cases from Monterey Bay, to determine if we are dealing with the same species.
"Team Mud" in their uniforms, preparing to process push cores. From left to right: Charlie Paull, Krystle Anderson, Juan Carlos Herguera, and Mary McGann.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
R/V Western Flyer
Relief First Engineer
ROV Doc Ricketts
Chief ROV Pilot
Senior ROV Pilot
Senior ROV Pilot
Leg 6 Research Team
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.