Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Keck Expedition 2004
August 15, 2004 Day 1

August 16, 2004

octopus_600.jpg (153206 bytes)Hello to all of you stuck on land. My name is Peter Girguis, and I am acting chief scientist for this leg of MBARI’s expedition to the Juan de Fuca hydrothermal ridge system. Over the next ten days, you’ll be able to read about our leg of this expedition, including why we are out here, what we hope to find, what it’s like to be at sea, and how our research is progressing. I hope that many of our shipboard scientists will volunteer to share their experiences out here at sea, as well as how they became interested in science.

I’ll start by telling you, in general, why we are out here. This leg focuses on studying the distribution and abundance of microbes around hydrothermal vents, as well as collecting water samples to study ongoing changes in the vent fluid chemistry. Now, for those of you who don’t know what a vent is, imagine a geyser (like Old Faithful) that’s on the seafloor, shooting out superheated water into the deep sea. This water has been chemically changed by heating and by circulating through the rocks on the seafloor. I’m sure that most of you know about microbes such as bacteria. We have found that hydrothermal vents are host to a lot of bacteria. However, we don’t know what most of them are doing. For example, some bacteria at vents behave like plants and turn carbon dioxide into sugars. Others do what we do, that is they eat sugars and proteins and fats. Still, we know so little about who is doing what. That’s the primary point of this cruise. For those scientists reading this webpage, here’s some jargon: we hope to better understand the relation between physico-chemical variation (within and between vent fields) and microbial diversity, distribution and abundance. In particular, we will focus on distinctive diffuse flow sites within a vent field to better understand how microbial communities relate to local chemistry.

Anyway, we will be setting sail this morning and I hope you will check in on us during our expedition. In the meantime, I would like to share with you a passage from on of my favorite books. It’s called “Half Mile Down” and it’s written by one of the two men who first went to the seafloor in a “submarine”. Talk to you soon.

In Half Mile Down (1934) by William Beebe. Published by Cadmus Books, E. M. Hale and Company, Chicago. pp. 134-135 (Courtesy of NOAA’s Ocean explorer website at

"I sat crouched with mouth and nose wrapped in a handkerchief, and my forehead pressed close to the cold glass - that transparent bit of old earth which so sturdily held back nine tons of water from my face. There came to me at that instant a tremendous wave of emotion, a real appreciation of what was momentarily almost superhuman, cosmic, of the whole situation; our barge slowly rolling high overhead in the blazing sunlight, like the merest chip in the midst of ocean, the long cobweb of cable leading down though the spectrum to our lonely sphere, where, sealed tight, abyssal darkness as we dangled in mid-water, isolated as a lost planet in outer space. Here, under a pressure which, if loosened, in a fraction of a second would make amorphous tissue of our bodies, breathing our own home-made atmosphere, sending a few comforting words chasing up and down a string of hose - here I was privileged to peer out and actually see the creatures which had evolved in the blackness of a blue midnight which, since the ocean was born, had known no following day; here I was privileged to sit and try to crystallize what I observed through inadequate eyes and interpret with a mind wholly unequal to the task. To the ever-recurring question, ‘How did it feel?', etc., I can only quote the words of Herbert Spencer, I felt like ‘an infinitesimal atom floating in illimitable space.' No wonder my sole written contribution to science and literature at the time was ‘writing at a depth of a quarter of a mile. A luminous fish is outside the window.'"