Transit to Axial Volcano

August 23, 2013

It is just after 8 p.m. and the sun is setting in front of us. We began our transit this morning at 7 a.m. and are a little less than halfway to our destination. We are aboard with many of the same science party and crew from the last 10-day trip, and will continue our work at Axial Volcano and a location to the north known as Co-Axial. Some great new people joined us from the University of Florida, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Brown University, and the City College of San Francisco.

Map - halfway to Axial Volcano

Our position as of early evening August 23, 2013. We are nearly half way to our destination at Axial Volcano.

During the next few days I’m looking forward to seeing some of the same areas we’ve observed in the past (in 2005, 2009, and 2011) so that I can see how the biological communities may have changed over time. Changes in a habitat, and even the age of individual lava flows, have an effect on what type of animals inhabit an area, and we conduct quantitative biological surveys to compare them.

There are some unique worm-like animals called enteropneusts here as well, almost all of them have proved to be new species that my colleagues and I have been working to describe in the scientific literature. This process is important, especially in an environment that is as relatively unexplored as is the deep sea. Describing animals allows us to understand what adaptations have developed in various animals, so that they can thrive in this cold, dark, high-pressure environment. Cataloging the current diversity of species is essential to future efforts to measure the health of this ecosystem.

— Linda Kuhnz

It was a misty, moist morning when we embarked from Yaquina Bay. Fog hung low over the water and only occasionally allowed the sun to pierce through. Headcount at 6:00 a.m., under way at 7:00 a.m., and breakfast at 7:30. I spied a humpback whale off the port bow at 10:30. Our fire drill at 1:00 p.m. involved a safety briefing as well as a practical learning experience in how to put on an immersion suit.

Gumby suits—fondly called so because they flatter the human form by making it look as though it were crafted from a little red ball of clay—keep you warm, dry, and buoyant in the cold north Pacific. To put on your suit, you unroll it and lay it face-up on the ground. Sit on it, slip your legs into the suit’s legs, then wiggle your hands into the arms. Stand up and dig your feet all the way into the suit’s booties. Stretch your fingers into the gloved hands—warning: this impedes putting up your hood and zipping. Muster your best effort to put the hood over your head and zip up the front. Ask a friend if you need help. Congrats, you’re no longer a Gumby-suit rookie! Pause for a photo op. Wrestle the suit off you and into its bag. Hope you never have an emergency when you need to do that for real. Enjoy unimpeded manual dexterity again.

— Iliya Smithka

Collaborators in immersion suits

Will Vaughn, of Brown University; Anita Engelstad, of City College of San Francisco; and Iliya Smithka, of the University of Florida, in their immersion suits.