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
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
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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