Juan de Fuca Ridge Cruise
July 20 - August 1, 2000
The first thing I can remember is thinking, "I can’t believe I’m going to be on a research cruise that is going to the mid-ocean ridge!" I’m still not sure I can believe it happened. I had always been fascinated about the mid-ocean ridge and hydrothermal vents since I first learned about them as I was preparing to teach my marine biology classes about them. Looking at a picture of a vent in a book and sitting in a dark, rocking control room hundreds of miles from shore directly above a hydrothermal vent are two completely different experiences. As was the difference between having a conversation with a scientists who has been studying and researching the ocean floor all their life and reading about the ocean floor in a book (that they may have even written).
The best thing about the cruise to me was not only that was I there, but I really felt like I was part of a team. I could have been just a "reporter" interviewing people and asking questions and taking pictures, but I was actually assigned certain responsibilities and a work shift just like every other member of the science party. It was great to actually be a part of it all.
I was on the 3a.m. to noon / 6p.m. to 9p.m. shifts. The first part of my shift was to head out to the A-frame on the stern of the vessel and relieve the weary crew whose shift was just ending at 3a.m. I learned how to operate the ropes that steady the wax-coring device that was hanging from the cable above while it was being deployed and recovered. Our team was also responsible for lashing the corer to the deck after recovery, removing the samples from the corer, and processing, labeling, and storing the samples. It was great being able to work with the samples, because I would get a chance to study them under the microscope before the scientists came by to see what we had recovered. By the end I could identify the differences between old and new volcanic glass, pick out foraminiferans from the sample material, and could identify manganese deposits on the samples. As all teachers already know, there is nothing like a "hands-on" learning approach, and this absolutely reinforced that concept for me. After we finished coring and processing the samples, I headed to the computer, organized my photos and the frame grabs from the previous day’s dive, and sent off a logbook entry to George Matsumoto back at MBARI who posted the updates on the cruise website. It was exciting to think that our co-workers, families and friends were all following along and keeping track of our progress through the cruise website. This was the first time that MBARI had attempted a cruise website, and it received a lot of positive feedback. I really hope they can continue the web project in the future.
Then it was on to the ROV control room where I was in charge of keeping a "lab book" of everything that happened during the dive, including sample location, time, depth, and heading. I learned how important the note-taker's job is when the ROV surfaced with drawers full of similar-looking rock samples and we had to sort and identify them using the notebook and frame-grabs as references. Occasionally when the chief scientists stepped out for a quick break, I was able to sit in the chief scientists' chair in the control room during the dive. It might not seem like a big deal, but it's never something I'd ever imagined I would be doing! I also helped in operating the VICKI/VIMS system, which is an annotation system used to help catalog and annotate the hours and hours of video which we recorded every day. After the ROV surfaced, I helped with the identification of the samples. This required a not-so-simple transferring of saved jpeg images from a SGI computer to a unix system to a Windows PC in order to print the frame-grabs of the samples. Needless to say, I quickly acquired some computer skills which can never hurt to have. I was also in charge of photographing any samples that we recovered with the ROV. As an amateur photographer, I had never had to take photos of scientific samples. After I showed her my first shots, research tech Karen Salamy taught me all about how scientific sample photos should look in order to be publishable. This posed some challenges as first, such as getting the right lighting to get detail out of the dark rocks, but by the end, we had managed to set up a photo station that included a make shift duct-tape lighting system. Hey - it worked! Which brings to mind another thing I learned: The most valuable piece of equipment on the ship is duct-tape!
We usually ended the sample processing late in the evening, and I spent some time on my computer organizing and naming all my photo files from that day. Getting sleep was probably one of the most difficult things to do on the ship, not only because of the work we had to get done, but also because it was hard to be sleeping while there was all this exciting science and technology in action all around. One of the great features of the R/V Western Flyer is that in each of the staterooms(QuicktimeVR movie) there is a TV which is hooked up to the internal cameras on the ship, including all of the monitors in the ROV control room. This means that you can be resting in your bunk and flip through all of the channels that show the ROV main and auxiliary cameras, the SONAR screen, and the navigation screens showing coordinates. This was a novelty for me, but really comes in handy to the scientists. They can get some food or some rest and still not miss out on what is going on. We even tuned in the speaker phone in our room to the COM channel so we could hear everything that the scientists and pilots were describing!
What an exciting expedition. I am a bit disappointed that I can't share this experience with my Marine Biology classes next year as I am heading off to grad school for a masters degree in Coastal Management. I hope that this website will be utilized by classrooms as well as any curious surfers who happen upon it, and friends, family, and colleagues of those who are out at sea. Enjoy and thanks for the experience, MBARI!-Greg Moretti