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Sarah's Spring named




by Rich Lutz

A visit to the bottom of the ocean in the small submersible named Alvin is always a fascinating experience. A dive two days before Christmas to the crest of the East Pacific Rise was the 3,320th time that three individuals had one of these fascinating experiences.

Alvin descended 2,750 meters at a latitude of 7 degrees 23 minutes south and a longitude of 107 degrees 47 minutes west. We landed in an extensive area of pillow lava and then drove several hundred meters to the west, climbing the side of the mid-oceanic ridge until we reached the east wall of a caldera that ran the length of the ridge. Alvin traversed 30 meters down the east wall to the floor of the caldera and set off north in search of hydrothermal vents which we believed might be present in the area.

For two of the five precious hours that the sub's batteries would permit us to remain on the bottom, we squinted through the three tiny portholes into the dimly-lit abyss, finding no signs of hot water or the bizarre creatures that inhabit deep sea hot springs. The relative silence of our search was broken with the pilot's welcomed words.

"O.K., we found one," he said. Alvin's lights gradually transformed the darkness into an amazingly beautiful underwater oasis of life upon which human eyes had never gazed. Sea anemones, tubeworms with bright red plumes, crabs, limpets and thousands of rare, translucent organisms, known as stauromedusae, covered the lava surface, clustering around cracks and crevices from which warm, shimmering water emanated. This was, by far, the highest concentration of stauromedusae ever encountered in the deep sea and only the second vent (the first being nearly 2000 miles to the north) at which extensive populations of this highly unusual organism were seen.

Since 1979, when the first biological expedition to deep-sea hydrothermal vents took place, I've had the good fortune of diving in Alvin to numerous hydrothermal vents throughout the Pacific and Atlantic. Seldom over the years have I had the opportunity to be one of the three individuals in the submersible when a new hydrothermal vent was discovered.

I have, however, on countless occasions, had the misfortune of having to go to sea for long periods of time during very special occasions, leaving behind a wonderful wife, Sarah, to take care of our three precious children, Rebecca, Ryan and Richie. Christmas is certainly one of those occasions when a loving husband and father would much rather be at home than at sea, and there is often little one can do while out here to let those who are closest know how very much they mean to you.

So it is altogether fitting that the most beautiful and special hydrothermal vent that I have visited over the course of two decades now bears the name "Sarah's Spring".

Alvin Dive 3320

Date: 23 December 1998

Location: Southern East Pacific Rise, 7 degrees 23 minutes South

Pilot: Pat Hickey

Port observer: Rich Lutz

Starboard observer: Ken Halanych

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