Heading for port

August 31, 2013

As soon as the ROV was secured yesterday, the ship gunned both engines, turned on a dime, and began the sprint for port. We crossed the eastern end of the Blanco Transform (43.171oN, -126.985oW) late afternoon today. That’s not something visible while cruising at the ocean’s surface, of course, but with the ship’s Global Positioning System (GPS) location plotted on our real-time GIS (geographic information system) map, we knew exactly where we were. The calm seas allowed great progress through the day and made it easier to wrap things up, stare at our data on computer screens, and pack up the lab. The three graduate students with us are going to summarize their experiences on this, their first research expedition.

— Jenny Paduan

dry lab

Wrapping things up in the “dry lab” of the ship during our transit.

grad students

Our grad students Illiya Smithka, Will Vaughn, and Anita Endelstad on the aft deck of the Western Flyer.

As my first cruise draws to a close, I feel as if a prolonged birthday is over. I’ve spent the past ten days waking up to the same, but different, present every day—a new location with a new dive site to explore and new rocks to discover. Every day highlights include: being surrounded by endless ocean, observing deep-sea creatures in their natural habitat, and learning more about geology and mid-ocean ridges than I thought possible in so short a time. I’ve had so much fun doing “fieldwork” and hypothesizing about the history of lava flows at Axial Seamount. I can’t wait to analyze some of the rock samples for geochemistry and see how the other samples fit into the big picture. And I can’t wait for my next cruise.

— Illiya Smithka

real-time geographic info system

Illiya at the real-time geographic information system station during the ROV dive to the andesite cones on the north rift zone of Axial. Her job during this watch stand is to help navigate the dive and record our observations in a spatial sense into the geographic information system.

I had three hopes for my first cruise. First, I hoped that I would not get seriously seasick. Fortunately, I never displayed any symptom worse than a mild headache. In fact, I became so acclimated to the rough seas we experienced at our dive sites above Axial that I found myself disconcerted by the relatively calm waters on our transit home today. Second, I hoped to pilot the ship’s submersible, the ROV Doc Ricketts. I was able to do this for several minutes yesterday. Third, as a graduate student in planetary science, I hoped to connect what I saw on this cruise to my favorite planetary body, the Earth’s moon. On dive 526 of this cruise, we saw voluminous andesites amidst seafloor basalts. This situation brought to my mind the moon, where silicic domes stand in the basalt fields of the lunar mare. In my reading prior to this cruise, I grew to appreciate that many important concepts in the petrology of oceanic basalts—e.g., the crystallization sequence of rapidly-cooled basalts and liquid immiscibility in ferrobasalts—had first been developed in the 1970s by scientists studying lunar basalts and only later applied to oceanic basalts. I plan to reverse the intellectual transfer of the 1970s by applying the ideas used to explain the petrogenesis of andesites on Earth’s seafloor to the silicic lavas on Earth’s moon. Since all my hopes have been realized so completely (for which I must thank Dave Clague, Jenny Paduan, and the other scientists and crew) I would like to venture a final hope—that I can participate in another research cruise someday!

— Will Vaughan

yellow crinoid

Random pretty biology image: a yellow crinoid (Family Crinoidea) is perched on the peak of a jumbled sheet flow block with its arms outstretched to trap food particles. This type of crinoid can swim by gracefully paddling its feathery arms and uses shorter appendages to grip the substrate.

The end of our trip is nearing. It was my first offshore research expedition, and it turned out to be a great experience. It was very fascinating to see the seafloor and particularly Axial Volcano and the Coaxial segment through the cameras installed on the ROV Doc Ricketts. I rarely left the control room, not wanting to miss a blink during this rare opportunity to see what is usually hidden away under the ocean’s surface. Axial Volcano is such a dynamic place, as the 1998 and 2011 eruptions show, and it all happens in the dark when we’re not there to illuminate little pieces of it. I was surprised by the amount and variety of life we saw, and I would never have imagined that a sea star could move so quickly as the brittle stars.

The daily routine of watches and the processing of samples in the evening gave me a place among a remarkable team of scientists, ROV pilots and crew of the Western Flyer. The working on this boat appeared to me as a very well planned and fine tuned operation, all kept alive and sane by the amazing food that Patrick MItts provided. I learned a lot about under-sea volcanoes and spreading centers, since everybody patiently answered my questions, and, particularly, Dave explained some of the main ideas and discoveries to me.

And while I am ready to leave this rocking boat and to never return during the heavy gusts we experienced on August 29, I would do it all over again.

— Anita Engelstad