Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ron's Alvin Dive

 Descending into the Ocean Depths
As Alvin was lowered off the back deck into the sea, there was a flurry of activity outside the sub as divers hurriedly unhooked the ropes finally disconnecting Alvin from the ship. After a few moments getting permission to dive and completing last minute safety checks we were on our way down. It took approximately 30 minutes to reach the 775 meter (a little over 2,300 feet) seafloor bottom. During our descent into the darkness we past through a layer of bioluminescent creatures, our pilot, Bruce Strickrott, flashed his exterior lights on and off a few times and instructed me to look out the window, and to my amazement the creatures responded back by flashing like we were. We were joking with each other that the creatures must think we are some sort of king creature in their realm. As we continued down you could see various particles floating down towards the seafloor, it looked like a gentle snowfall on a winters day. The entire experience of the trip down was extremely quiet and peaceful. As we continued to look out of our respective windows, the ocean floor slowly came into view as we had at last reached our destination.

Time to Work
Once we reached the seafloor, it was time to start our work. We had a set list of dive tasks given to us the night before by the Chief Scientist so we set out right away to complete our goals. We worked very hard right away, deploying scientific experiments, checking experiments that had been deployed on previous dives, gathering samples of bacteria-covered rocks, sediment core samples, and anything that looked like it would be of interest to any of the scientists on board. We started out in an area known as the Pinnacle, which looks like a 150 foot tall mountain on the seafloor. After exploring this area for awhile, we moved to a place that resembled rolling plains. During this entire trip, I was surprised at the immense variety of creatures that are able to survive at these depths. I assumed that I would see a few different species scattered here and there, but I observed purple-colored eels, large spider crabs, multiple species of smaller crabs, a type of rock fish, and another type of fish I was unfamiliar with, Sea Anemones, and much more. As we completed our tasks I did not have time to think about how long we had been down until the pilot said that we were done and were scheduled to start our ascent. It was hard to believe we had been submerged nearly eight hours!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Alvin dives from a different perspective.

While I can not attest to the excitement of an Alvin dive first hand, I can report on how the experience has effected my friends. Ron is on his first dive as I type, and Ashley took her journey a few days ago. As you have read in Ashley's report she was going through a range of emotions. This showed very much on her face and through her disposition. At any one time I could see excitement, fear and a bit of uncertainty. When the morning of the dive arrived, she had a distant look on her face. It seemed as though she was any place but on the ship. Perhaps it was caused by the seemingly endless lab work, but her mind was not on the ship.

As the sub disappeared beneath the waves my thoughts were divided between Ashley and the work to be done before her return.


Ron's thoughts on his first dive.

My First Dive
Well now it is my turn in Alvin!! I can now understand Ashley’s emotions the day before her first dive. I am nervous about going but anxious to jump in the sub at the same time. I do not want to make a mistake because I know the work is extremely important, but at the same time I want to say, “Forget the work, lets go exploring!!”. I am pleased that my hard work these past five years is starting to pay off. Probably the scariest part of the whole dive will be the fact that the other scientist and myself will be on our own. Although I have helped to make decisions with my advisor/mentor in the past, this is probably the first time that I will have to make important scientific decisions in the field without his immediate input. It will be my fellow diver, the pilot and myself that make the decisions because there will not be anyone else down there with us to instruct us on what to do at any given time.  We can call up to the ship and ask for input if necessary, but for the most part, we are expected to complete the dive’s task list and make the proper decisions given what we find on the seafloor.

Pre-Dive Preparations
During the first days of the cruise (as mentioned in previous posts) the entire science party underwent safety training in multiple areas of ship’s operations. Safety/Dive training in Alvin was included along with fire drills, man overboard drills, general policies, etc. The sub training included being fitted for oxygen masks so that the correct sized mask could be installed if you were chosen to dive during the cruise. The next step is to climb inside the sphere of the sub and be briefed on safety procedures inside the sub in case of fire, power outage, or the unlikely event the pilot becomes incapacitated. We are taught how to make the sub rise up to the surface and to communicate with the ship to advise of any emergency. The night before your scheduled dive you attend a pre-dive meeting with the Alvin crew, the Chief Scientist, and any other member of the science party and/or crew members who have a direct interest in the next mornings dive. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the previous dive, what was and was not completed, if there was anything that could have been done better, and to discuss and plan the next days dive to effectively utilize the limited time of the dive (usually an eight hour dive).  My dive in the morning will take place in the southern Hydrate Ridge area known as the Pinnacle. In this area we will deploy various experiments from the three science groups, recover some older experiments that were placed here a few years ago in previous cruises, and collect rock and tubecore samples in active seep areas (areas where methane gas is seeping out of the seafloor) and also inactive areas (areas of “normal” marine environments). We will also utilize a elevator platform, which is basically a floating platform with thick plastic “bioboxes” attached to it that is dropped to the seafloor. We will use Alvin to fill the bioboxes on this platform with samples and when full, drop the weights and allow the platform to rise to the surface where it is retrieved by the ship. Alvin will then continue on filling up bioboxes that are connected to the front of the sub and taking tubecores in selected environments.

A Part of History
From a historical aspect I am honored to be able to dive in one of the most famous submersible known. It is hard to concentrate on writing this post because my head is spinning trying to remember everything I need to do while I am on my dive. I can not help but think about everything Alvin has done and all the famous people who have been down in the sub before me. With the pure adrenaline rush I am beginning to feel it will be almost impossible to go to sleep tonight.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done

My First Dive
I spent the morning twirling a nickel around my finger in an attempt to constrain my anxiety to that single action. When the time came I handed the nickel to Elena and climbed the stairs to the top of Alvin. I began to wish I still had my nickel when the cheers of my fellow scientists on the deck below raised my confidence. I posed for pictures without knowing that Korey (an Alvin pilot) was making bunny ears behind me. I settled into my seat on the starboard side and wondered how the almost 7ft Ben would squeeze his way into place in the port seat across from me. 
After we all got comfy, Alvin was picked up by the A-frame and lowered into the water. I had heard that it could get a little rough while Alvin was at the surface so I was already sucking on the Preggie Pop so generously bestowed on me by the members of the Orphan lab.
Preggie Pops! I never leave the dock without them!

Side note: If you get sea sick you should try these things.
The time spent at the surface wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought that it would be. The rocking motion that the waves threw Alvin into was no worse then it was on the ship and being confined to a smaller space seemed cozier to me. I was comfortable and I knew from that moment on that at least I wouldn’t be puking on this dive! Hooray. One more concern I could cross off my list.
I gazed at the bubbles out the porthole as Dave announced that our dive had begun. Less then half an hour later the bottom came into focus. 
Photo op through the porthole at the surface!

What was my favorite part of the dive?
My favorite part of the dive was having the chance to see firsthand the type of environment the samples on which I have been conducting my research came from. Photos, videos, and even looking at samples don’t do justice to the beauty of this world. Things look much different in situ then they do in a bucket of water in the cold room. At one point we had collected a rock with a beautiful flowing “mane” of orange bacterial mat. Dave held the rock in Alvin’s claw long enough for us to take sufficient photo and video footage of it, but I could have watched the orange bacteria sway in the current for a few minuets longer.
A photo from my dive. Can you find the octopus? I almost missed it!
Shrimp, octopus, anemones, echinoderms, crabs, and snails littered the landscape. There were several different types of fish that could be seen at almost any moment during the dive, the smallest of which frequently darted frenetically in front of the camera, lights, or windows drawing a surprised gasp from the observer followed by a giggle when they realized that such a tiny fish was able to give them such a surprise.
A photo from the pilots window.
The bottom was beautiful and I wish that I could have seen further away from the sub. After we finished coring at the second site I looked out my window to see where we may go next and realized that only a couple of meters away the topography dropped off. It was difficult to tell how steep the drop was due to the lack of light, but it was incredible to realize how intricate and varied the world outside my window was.
What, if anything, was different from what you expected?
I think that I expected to be a little less comfortable in Alvin. I’ve heard that it gets cold and cramped, and considering that my dive buddy is the tallest guy on the ship, I thought squeezing in would be a little more awkward. However, I was gladly disappointed. I climbed in after Dave and sat down on the pads next to the starboard porthole and waited for my long-legged companion. Once the sub was in the water Ben stretched out his legs and put them to my left as I did the same. It was surprisingly roomy and I never heard any complaints throughout the dive.
Me and Ben Grupe (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) before the dive. 
I did not have much time to think about how I was feeling because I was so enthralled with what was happening outside the sub. We were able to deploy 3 sets of experiments, complete half of a rock transplant experiment, collect several rocks, release the elevator, and take 9 push cores all in about 5 ½ hours. I didn’t even notice that I was hungry until we had been down for about 3 hours…and no I didn’t have to use the facilities. Although, I thought about doing it just for the experience!  
I was extremely impressed with the abilities the pilots have. Alvin had buttons on almost every surface. Knowing what each button does must take quite some time to learn. On this expedition we are collecting samples from both active and inactive areas of methane seepage and the ability of Dave to visually distinguish active from inactive materials illustrates how well these pilots pay attention to what the scientists are interested in. This makes the dives so mush easier because rather then trying to point out a specific rock you can tell them what you want they can pick one out themselves. When the scientists and pilots are in sync the dives can be less stressful. I felt that our dive was both successful and very low stress. I was thankful to have gone down on my first dive with such a great pilot and well-prepared port observer. 

What did you find most difficult?
As I mentioned in my last blog, there were some issues with the battery that caused our dive to be delayed. After we entered the sub and were preparing to deploy Dave noted a ground on Ben’s external camera. Because of this the pan and tilt features of Ben’s camera had to be disabled. Therefore my camera became the only one able to be manipulated and able to capture video footage of things done during the dive. Finding enough time to man the camera and write notes proved to be a daunting task. Then Dave asked me to hold a button and the next thing I knew we had deployed an entire set of experiments on the portside and I missed logging most of them and had to ask Ben for the info.  Had Ben’s video been working, I would have had a better idea of what was happening on his side of the sub. Regardless, I think that we were able to get good footage and great documentation of what exactly we did.
I think the hardest part about the dive was taking notes. I never seemed to find the time to write every detail of experiments deployed or specimens taken. I often found myself playing catch up with my notes, whether that be a credit to the swiftness of Dave, the amount of information that it is necessary to record, or my lacking speed in legible writing (and yes it should be legible, because the second you get on the ship they copy your notes and make them available to all scientists). I was able to fill in my notes on the way to the surface. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Happy Hooker: A Ron Taylor Perspective

The best thing about working in the Indiana State Paleoceanography laboratory is to have opportunities to experience new things that you would not otherwise be able to experience. This is my fifth year working with Dr. Tony Rathburn and has been filled with wonders and first time opportunities for me. This will mark another first for me, writing on a blog, and I must say this is definitely an interesting “first” for me.

Our current research cruise will mark the fourth cruise I have participated in since coming back to ISU in 2007. I met with and joined Tony Rathburn’s lab during my freshman year and soon after was on a cruise off the coast of San Diego, Ca. Since then I have traveled to Antarctica, Costa Rica, and currently to the North Pacific to study and learn about the wonders of the ocean.

This cruise is my first as a graduate student, and as I work along with the other scientists and crew of the R/V Atlantis, I feel that I have a great deal to contribute now. My experiences on other cruises has helped to build up my confidence about my abilities. I have noticed that others now come to me for help and opinions much more often than before. Since we have a limited time to gather as many samples as possible, all scientists on board have multiple responsibilities, my main responsibility on this cruise is the deployment, recovery, and processing of the multicore. The multicore is an instrument we use to take samples of seafloor sediments. It is shaped much like a teepee and in the center there is a circular shaped piece called a “spider” which has eight arms to which sediment tubecores are attached. As the multicore is lowered by a cable to the ocean floor, it impacts the seafloor, driving the cores into the sediment to collect a sample that can show the various sediment layers as they appear naturally. To deploy this instrument, two ropes are attached to the frame (the teepee part) and guided by two people (usually myself and either another scientist or crew member) to keep it from swaying due to the ship’s rocking motion. It is lowered over the side by a crane and sent to the bottom. At this point the computer room monitors the descent and records all the data we need about the site (latitude/longitude, actual depth, speed of descent, etc.) Once the multicore is at the bottom and the samples are collected, the tricky part of pulling it out of the seafloor takes place. Once it is on it’s way up, we prepare to recover it when it reaches the surface. When the multicore is on the surface you have to use two poles with hooks on the ends to “hook” the frame and, like the deployment, use the ropes attached to the poles to guide the multicore back on board the ship.

                     This is the multicore, do you notice the ropes wrapped around the frame? Can you guess what they might be for?

                                                 This is me with the "Happy Hooker" and no it is not the guy standing next to me

Once the tubecore samples are on board, individual tubecores are assigned to each of the three science groups based on their specific needs. After the tubecores have been assigned, they are brought into our lab for processing. As mentioned earlier, tubecores preserve the sediment layers intact, so when we process the cores we slice the sediment into either 1 centimeter or ½ centimeter slices so we can determine what organisms (specifically foraminifera) are present in a layer and how far down into the sediment they live. The slices are then placed into sample containers where they are preserved and prepared to be sent back to Indiana State for analysis at a later date.

All in all, I am enjoying participating on this cruise and look forward to experiencing more “firsts” while at ISU. I also want to congratulate Ashley on her first ALVIN dive and hopefully I will be able to follow in her footsteps of having my own first dive. I will write some more as the cruise progresses, I hope all of you will continue to follow along with us on our journey of discoveries.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"I'm Ready"

Hello out there! My name is Ashley. I thought I would share with all of you some of what I am experiencing before the dive.

My First Dive
I get to go in Alvin today! I’m extremely excited, nervous, anxious, and praying that I don’t do something stupid. The looks I’ve been receiving all morning are rather amusing. All the experienced divers give me this sly look. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. Regardless of what the bearer may actually be thinking, the expression to me is a combination of, “Lucky you! I remember my first dive!” and, “Are you nervous? Does my looking at you in this sly fashion make you nervous?” Well in fact, YES IT DOES! Haha. I am nervous, but I know I will be fine. It is going to be the most amazing thing I have ever done! Life changing even! At least that is what I have heard the first dive is like. I’ll let you know when I get back!
I’m glad that I played softball, because if I hadn’t the disappointment of the dive being delayed would hurt a little more. Nonetheless, it happens. Things get delayed. I guess the concern for now is that the battery is giving a test signal that the Alvin pilots are comfortable sending it down with and so they rolled it back into the hanger for more tests. They are saying a 2-hour delay. So, just like in softball, you wait around for a while, and warm up again when the time is right. 
In the words of my favorite sponge, “I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready!”  

Ashley's first dive

Today Ashley will be going on her first Alvin dive. This is an experience that few people will have. She will board the Alvin at 0745 and begin her journey the the sea floor at 0800. The decent should take about 30 minutes and they will be on the sea floor exploring and placing experiments for about 8hours.