Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

MBARI Ridges 2005 Expedition

Juan de Fuca Leg: August 7–18, 2005
Gorda Leg: August 22–September 2, 2005

August 12, 2005
Tiburon dive 878, East Blanco Depression, Blanco Fracture Zone

Update by Bob Embley; photos and movie by Bill Chadwick.

BobWriting_640.jpg (82364 bytes) Bob Embley writes:
Today’s dive was in a deep basin at the western end of the Blanco Fracture Zone, where the ocean floor generated by the Juan de Fuca Ridge to the north slides by the Pacific plate born on the Gorda Ridge to the south. The  primary purpose for the dive was to search for hydrothermal activity in this basin and to collect the chemosynthetic fauna that inhabits them. Such fauna could explain some anomalous discontinuities in the genetic lineage of the animals inhabiting hydrothermal vents on the Gorda Ridge and those of the Juan de Fuca Ridge.

The Blanco Fracture Zone is the undersea equivalent of the San Andreas Fault. The sliding motion, known as “strike-slip”, can move plates for hundreds of kilometers past one another over time. These long fault zones can also “leak” lavas in places where the fault zone bends or is offset. This creates the strange undersea terrain we saw on today’s dive. We explored volcanic hills whose lavas have been broken and ground up by numerous earthquakes along faults that criss-cross the basin. The lavas are old and in stark contrast to the young lavas we saw on yesterday’s dive.

chimney.jpg (139319 bytes) We knew from dives made almost a decade ago that there was hydrothermal activity in this basin so our first goal was to return to that site. To our delight, we found the warm springs early in the dive and we were able to take samples of the warm fluid being emitted through the iron-rich yellow mounds that made small fairy-castle structures growing out of the side of the slope. The image to the left is a yellow chimney at a warm spring. The red laser dots are 30cm apart for scale.

As a bonus we relocated the “Party Hat” vent fluid collector we had deployed almost 9 years ago and recovered it and the temperature recorder attracted to it. Maybe we’ll be able to recover the temperature record from it when we return to shore! Although there was no sign of the larger chemosynthetic fauna we were hoping to see on this dive there is a lot more to explore here and other similar places along the fracture zone and this dive was a great start!

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"Party hat" sampler deployed in 1996. It is a plastic dome to isolate diffusely-venting fluids from the surrounding seawater, with a thermistor inside recording temperature. The funnel on top allows the fluids to escape. The white square is a marker for the site. A similar, brand new, sampler was deployed at a different location today.
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The volcanic seafloor hosted a large variety of sponges, tunicates, and soft corals like this unusual one above. The red laser dots are 30cm apart for scale.

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During the dive, the ship's ROV control room is the place to be! Maps, images from the ROV's cameras, and data from its sensors can be displayed on monitors throughout the ship, but in here the science party can discuss what is being observed and sampled and interact with the ROV pilots to make the dive successful for everyone.
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This gorgonian (soft coral) looks very much like stalked crinoids we have seen elsewhere. It is attached to talus of pillow lava fragments.

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A little father-daughter time: Dave and Gill emptying a push-core of oxidized hydrothermal sediments into a baggie for later analyses.
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Linda, Bill and Fred are happy with the specimens we collected today.

WF_control_room_640.jpg (51198 bytes)
During the dive, the ship's ROV control room is the place to be! Maps, images from the ROV's cameras, and data from its sensors can be displayed on monitors throughout the ship, but in here the science party can discuss what is being observed and sampled and interact with the ROV pilots to make the dive successful for everyone.
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Brian examining the large plagioclase crystals in a glassy basalt pillow-bud, and discussing it with Alice.

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Derek, the ship's steward and gourmet chef, decorating a styrofoam cup for shrinking on tomorrow's dive.
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Styrofoam cups decorated by the science party and shrunk by the tremendous pressure at 3400m, the depth of today's dive. A cup that hasn't been shrunk is shown for scale.