Daily log of the activities on board of the research vessel with fotos.

You could exactly track the position of the research vessel Atlantis in the internet in real time:

http://www.sssg.whoi.edu/atlantislog.jpg


October the 25th 2006

Ahoy everybody! Welcome on board the research vessel Atlantis!

My name is Andreas and I am a journalist. I am going give an account of everything the marine biologists Monika, Bettina, Sigrid and Sabine are going to undertake on their “adventure deep-sea”. We are going to leave the harbor this evening to go offshore into the Pacific Ocean, eventually to the mid-ocean ridge where we are going to find the submarine volcanoes and the hot vents. When we will arrive at our study site in a few days, we are going to have some deep (up to 2500 meters depth) dives with the submarine Alvin.

Actually we arrived at San Diego three days ago. We needed the time here to buy and organize the last necessities for this expedition to the hydrothermal vents and their bizarre organisms. In the evening we had some time for culture and we listened to some live jazz music in San Diego’s bars. San Diego is a huge seaport in the very south of California not far from Mexico, where we are going to debark in four weeks. But first we must begin on the open ocean.

”There she is! Please go ahead.” Monika caught sight of the splendid blue and white colored Atlantis. At the same time Monika had to explain the very complicated route to the Atlantis anchorage to the disoriented cab driver. To him it seemed to be the highlight of a strange taxi drive to drop off a group of five Austrians with a dozen of colorful trunks within the “hermetically sealed” naval port.

Soon afterwards we were on board with the whole bunch of luggage. To be honest: I was very happy to have Monika and Sabine, who were on the Atlantis before, in the team. The seamen appeared to me not to be exuberant or overly friendly, until they met Sabine, who was already on a cruise with them. And Monika? Monika quasi arrived at home. There are not many scientists who have had more dives than Monika.

While Monika went unerringly from deck to deck, greeting old friends and explaining the characteristics of the life on board to her Ph. D. students, I understood quite quickly that this vessel is designed for research and not for comfort. Still it took me some time to discover the system behind the apparent chaos and to distinguish the ship engineer’s tools from the scientific equipment.

The first night in the quite roomy cabin was just affected by the merciless air conditioning, which gave me the impression I was sleeping in a wind tunnel. The others say you get used to it...

The first day:

We easily got up this morning (though some of us still have a little problem with the jet lag) because we did not want to miss the departure. While the gangway was already hauled inboard at the starboard side (the right side) of the ship at the crack of dawn, a seal was swimming across the port basin and appeared at the portside. It quickly glanced at us as if in greeting and then elegantly dived under the keel.

Soon after the sun rose over the hills of the Mexican city Tijuana we started: The Atlantis set her sails! Well, not really. The first lag just lasted for half an hour then we were at a pier in the harbor of San Diego again: We had to fuel the ship.

It is obvious that you cannot fuel a vessel like the Atlantis simply at the petrol pump, but that the gas station is coming to the customer is perhaps more the case, if the customer is buying really a lot of fuel. A row of seven tank trucks, three of them with trailers, sparkled and twinkled in the morning sun.

The seamen told us it would take some time to fuel the ship, so we decided to have breakfast without missing anything exiting. Six hours later, after we finished lunch, the pumps were still running. Imagine that 70,000 gallons of diesel are just a starter for the ships machines. Their enormous appetite is fed by the tanks, which have barrel capacity of 250,000 gallons. That is three times more than the volume we fuelled. The rest was bought in Mexico.

In the early afternoon we had a safety drill on our program. First we watched a video with vivid warnings against fire, tumbles, banging doors and other dangers on board of a vessel. Afterwards Captain Gary B. Chiljean explained to us the adequate behavior in case of emergency with the dry humor of an old salt. At the end of his talk he casually mentioned that a hurricane was rambling in our research area, which was far away from the Central American coast. “But I will keep an eye on the weather,” the experienced seaman assured us.

It seems that we are finally going to depart at 8 pm this evening. I am looking forward to all the exiting things on board the Atlantis.


October the 26th 2006

The first day at sea

Today we were in the submarine Alvin for the first time. Admittedly just for one hour and just in our imagination. Bruce, a very experienced Alvin pilot, gave us an introduction into the Alvin’s technics and told us about possible risks. Fire is at the top of the list of nightmares a submarine pilot can have. The more oxygen there is, the better a fire can burn. That is the reason why the natural oxygen concentration of the breathing air in the submarine is reduced from 20 to 17 percent. That is very good for the prevention of fire, but it can affect the scientist’s condition. Bruce was asking if there was someone in the room who did not want to have a dive. Yuri, who was sitting in the last row, answered: “Yes, I do not want to dive for sure.” Yuri is an oceanographer who was born in Russia. He told us about his first dive. He already noticed the reduced oxygen concentration while they were descending and he had a very bad headache lasting the whole eight hours dive. “I am absolutely sure: this was my first and my last dive. Nevertheless it was great.”

There is a list of items, which are forbidden in a submarine. Lighters are on this list, but anyhow what is the use of lighters under the water? Clothes made out of synthetics are also forbidden. The friction of the fabrics could strike a light.

The directives for the life saving procedures were followed by a plea concerning human relations and mutual consideration. We were asked to keep in mind that we would be together with two other persons in very limited space and that, for example, we should not use a penetrating after shave.

Pat, the chief of the pilots added with a sourly smile: “No bare feet in the submarine.” He probably had some experience…

The first night on board was calm - refraining from thinking about my personal fiend, the air conditioner.

In the dusk at 6 o’clock in the morning, we could no longer see the coast. The sky was cloudy and there were moderate waves, which was good. Some of us do not belong to the old hands at sea and we can slowly get used to the seesaw underground. Keep in mind that we are approaching an area where the hurricane is still blustering.

Though we cannot observe anything right now, Andrea Thurnherr is convinced that we will have a strong sea state during the next days.

Monika, Bettina, Sabine and Sigrid are using the time to discuss the next dives. Every one of them has a special responsibility, which they talk over with each other, because they do not want to leave anything to chance.

There are four fishing lines hanging over stern (the rear side of a ship). Monika told us about the respectable tunas the men of the crew caught this way. Until now, no fish has taken the bait, but if the tuna pâté from yesterday’s dinner was accomplished by fishing, then please, do not stop gentlemen: the pâté was delicious! Apropos, I am going to have some nice food now.

See you tomorrow!


October the 27th 2006

The night was calm and we had a very good sleep, so we were on deck during sunrise. Even sooner a gannet was up, which was already hunting after his breakfast. Flying fishes, which were roused by the bow wave, were his prey. With flattened wings the gannet was launching itself into the water looking like a spear. It appeared at the surface with a fat bite of his favorite prey.

Soon after lunch the time finally arrived. We were allowed to enter the sub for the first time. Sean, a PIT (pilot in training) guided us around Alvin in pairs and explained the most important features. I imagined repeatedly what would happen, if Alvin crashed against a volcanoes´ rock with one of his portholes. Now I was relieved to see that 3 cm thick Plexiglas panels were arranged in front of the portholes for protection. “No,” Monika explained, “these panels are just used when Alvin is on board the ship and are taken of before the dive”. To prevent myself from getting a queasy feeling, I comforted myself with the thought that the “windows” at the sides are quite tiny (their inside diameter is just 5 inches). Only the pilot’s porthole in the midfront of the sub is a little bit larger.

After the tour around the outside, we climbed up the ladder, which lead us to the hatch. Sabine and Sigrid got their briefing first, and then Bettina and I followed. You climb into the mini submarine through a sail, as you would in one of Alvin’s big relatives. I stepped over the rim of the sail and concentrated very hard not to miss any handles and footfalls in the narrow, 3-meter deep passage. Gavin, one of the pilots, was already waiting for us. He answered my question, where to go now “Nowhere just sit down,” showing me a tiny niche in the wall. Hundreds of buttons and switches prevented me from comfortably reclining. “Do not touch anything.” I though hectically and tried to organize my legs to make some space for Bettina.

It is definitely very cramped in Alvin. Nevertheless I was very surprised, that I got no claustrophobic feelings at all; I felt secure and safe like in a protective cave. Gavin explained the life supporting equipment. I tried to concentrate on his explanations, but I was very distracted by the interior. There were no six inches without buttons, switches or displays. The two observers have the responsibility for the camera controls (Alvin has seven video cameras and cameras on its outside). Sigrid stated relievedly: “I am glad that I have to handle just half a dozen switches, that I can keep track of. Fortunately, we have two hours to become acquainted with the controls, while the sub is flying to the sea bottom.”

Of course you cannot compare this ‘dry exercise’ with a real dive, however my knees were a bit shaky, when Bettina and I were on ‘solid floor’ on deck again.

Sabine, who has had one dive before, mentioned surprisedly: “I must have repressed the memory, that it is sooo cramped inside.” Monika was the only really cool person. She definitely knew what was awaiting her after eight dives.

             

                                          Meeting in front of Alvin                                  Bettina and Gavin in the sub


October the 28th 2006

Today is the 4th day at sea, and everyone has finally overcome the incipient seasickness. Unfortunately now, our journalist Andi has a flu and has to stay in his wavering bunk. We (Bettina and Sigrid) want of course, that you stay up to date with our adventure, so we are your reporters for today.

Though we are already in transit for four days and the ship is going at relatively high speed, we have not yet arrived at our destination, 9°N. Solely the deep blue ocean is surrounding us and if you are on deck during the night you cannot see any light beside that of the stars. As we do not cross the equator, there are the same constellations as at our sky at home, but you can see far, far more stars in the night sky. We felt quite small in all this glory….

There are no dives during this long journey, but preparations are in full activity. While the Alvin pilots control the complete technical equipment of the submersible, the other scientist and we make the last preparations for our deep-sea experiments. But then this is the story we are going to tell in the coming days.

Now, we are sitting in the so-called “hydro lab”, which is one of Atlantis’ smaller laboratories on the main deck. There are additional premises on this deck, like the wet lab, a computer room, and some workshops. The main lab is the largest room and the other scientific groups have already moved in. In the labs you find basic equipment, like workbenches, refrigerators and plenty of cupboards. The latter are especially important, because they prevent all the working stuff from jumbling around. Since all the groups have already started their work it is looking a bit chaotic in the labs, because many benches are occupied by elaborate looking devices. The scientists themselves have to bring all the material and the devices, which are necessary for their work.

Also we have settled ourselves already into the hydro lab, so the cupboards are filled with diverse material like pipettes, microscopic slides, syringes etc. Our microscopes and the other scientific equipment are lashed to the benches with lines. Otherwise they would skid from the table during the swaying journey.

There are cabins for some scientist on the deck below. Two to three persons share one cabin and the two cabins next to each other have a bathroom together. You sleep in bunk beds. Around each bunk bed there is a curtain, which you can close around yourself. This is not only to have some privacy; you can also avoid to get disturbed by your roommate while you sleep. The working schedules are often at different times.

The movement of the ship is cradling us gently to sleep. The funny thing is that you lose any sense of time while sleeping, because there are no windows on this deck and it is as dark in the morning as during the night.

Underneath our bedchamber there is only the engine room left. Night and day the engines are running at full speed, but we are already used to this noise. Usually scientists are not allowed in the engine room, but we are going to try to land a little tour, so we can tell about it another time.


October the 29th 2006

Hi everybody!

I’m back again. It seems to me that the flu is cured more rapidly in the tropics. Or perhaps it is due to the care of the four Viennese marine biologists that I can write the daily log you again.

We have already settled down on Atlantis pretty nicely and we are making daily progress. We know, for example, the shortest ways from the labs to the canteen and we know which computer has Internet, which connects us to the rest of the world. We all learn quickly to structure this little new world and we discover how this swimming universe functions. Monika, Sabine, Sigrid and Bettina are already so familiar with this new environment that they think about the life after the cruise: They are busy studying Spanish. Meanwhile we do not only know the faces of the crewmembers and of the other scientific groups, but also most of their names and even the tasks of some people on this expedition.

The first “science meeting”, which just took place in the library, helped us get more familiar with each other. Andreas Thurnherr, the chief scientist and each of the group leaders gave an introduction into their respective research programs. All these programs have one goal in common: the Investigation of the biocoenosis of the deep-sea environment. All of them want to understand how life works at these junctions of the earth’s crust.

Because the study site is so remote, you have to plan each dive with great accuracy. Nothing is left to chance or to the hope, that “it will work somehow”. Pilots and scientists are so busy conducting their programs during the dive that anything that was not prepared beforehand is simply not going to happen.

Yuri’s work is of great benefit for the scientists and the pilots. Yuri, an oceanographer, and his team managed to generate maps of the ocean bed at the dark study sites. Remember, that your view from the sub is just a few meters, just as far as Alvin’s headlights are shining through the everlasting night in 2500 meters depth. For this reason you only get a very limited picture of the area. The maps are very important for a overview of the seafloor and its changes.

The sunsets are swift in the proximity of the equator and darkness is surrounding the Atlantis at night. At the beginning you feel a bit uneasy, when the ship is going with undamped speed into the blackness; it is a little bit like going by car without headlights at night. Yet, the officers on the bridge always know the ship’s position exactly. You can define the position very, very accurately via GPS (Global Positioning System): so accurate, that the chief mate answered my question where we were with a counter question: “What do you mean, the bow or the stern?”


October the 30th 2006

In the view of the superb kitchen on board some of us have begun thinking about losing weight when we get back home, others are even already active. They play table tennis, lose calories and win games. Sabine beats Jerry, the Ping Pong king of the crew, already in the first game. Monika loses only against herself: she hurt her back. Now she has a slight list no matter the ship’s position.

Rumours say that there should be pieces of sports equipment in the deep inside of Atlantis. People have heard rumors of a treadmill and even reports of a rowing machine. These equipments of torture are for the crew in the first case, because they HAVE to stay fit. Nevertheless you can also encounter a tattooed body on one of the innumerable decks, which is, feeling unobserved, exploiting himself.

The railing becomes a bar and boxes are used as steps. Raul preferes to employ the deck under the bridge for his daily body work out. This place is favoured by romantic minds especially in the evening hours, when the sun sets between the clouds into the horizon. Now, in the blazing midday’s sun the seaman has to share the deck only with the containers for toxic chemicals. Some of the substances are indeed indispensable for the marine biologists, but they are so toxic, that it is forbidden to store them under deck.

Poisonous gases could escape, which are corrosive or which can even lead to explosions.

Such a case would be bad enough on deck, but in the inside it would be certainly catastrophic. Though the chemical containers are outside, you cannot just open the metal door and enter the container. At least five minutes before a strong draft has to be introduced through the structure, which cleanses the air in the container before you can enter.

Safety is of top priority on Atlantis and special care is laid on the right use and handling of toxic chemicals. You will hardly find any glass containers in the “scientific labs”. Especially with the wavering floor under the feet it can easily happen that somebody breaks a container filled with a corrosive or even carcinogenic liquid. Therefore glass is replaced by plastic whenever possible. Weeks before the cruise expedition leader Monika made endless lists. The owner of Atlantis in Woods Hole wanted to know exactly which chemicals from Vienna should go on board. The enormous amount of chemicals, which are needed for the scientific experiments, was considerably increased, because you have to have a kind of a counteragent for every dangerous substance. The so-called “spill control kits” are absorbent substances, which are like shavings and contain substances, which neutralize the spilled chemicals.

If, in spite of all the precautions, dangerous chemicals are spilled, the bridge has to be immediately informed about the misfortune. Then the bridge instructs a technician to turn off the complete air condition. A running air-condition would transfer the released poisonous vapours to all the rooms of the ship.

We will collect the chemicals after use and take them with us when we disembark in the Mexican harbour Manzanillo.


October the 31st 2006

The night was short. Since yesterday evening the waves in the were rising. The movement of the ship was like in a roller coaster. We were lifted out of our beds every second, just to get immediately pressed back into the mattress again.

The cannonade of the anchor banging against the ship’s side kept us awake.

It is the advantage of an experienced group leader to have a cabin on the upper deck and not, like us students on the lower deck. Because of that Monika had a quiet sleep and could watch, fresh as paint, a spectacular thunderstorm in the early morning.

The waves, the noise and the tough cold were the possible reasons why Andi, our journalist, was creeping through the corridors with a wan face. So we - Sigrid, Sabine and Bettina - are your correspondents again today.

Finally, we have reached our first station: 9°30´N 104° 54 W. You can easily track the position of Atlantis on the Internet:

http://www.sssg.whoi.edu/atlantislog.jpg

An important part of our research done for this cruise will be dealing with the currents in the volcanic ranges of the deep-sea. These current conditions are widely unknown. For the dispersal of the animals, current is a very important factor, because most of the animals of the hot vents release their offspring as tiny larvae into the water. These are drifted away by the current. To study the current conditions so-called MOORINGS are sunk. A mooring is made up of a steel cable, some hundred of meters long, which is attached with a heavy weight (more than a ton). At this cable current meters, temperature probes and salinimeters are fixed, which electronically save the data. At the upper end of the cable there are glass balls, which are packed into yellow plastic and which serve as buoy. This evening the first mooring was put into the water with a crane. This mooring stays in the water for one year and will not be recovered until then to analyse the gained data. Today that was not an easy process because not only the bridge was working to keep the ship in position, but also six persons on deck were needed.

Of course we were curious and wanted to watch everything at close range just as many other scientists who have not seen this spectacle before. So today there was more audience than workmen.

Tomorrow there will be the first Alvin dive. We are looking forward to report on it.


November the 1st 2006

Today is the day: Alvin dives to the seafloor for the first time during this expedition.

It is 6 o’clock in the morning, the new day dawns and it is raining cats and dogs, as it is only possible in the tropics. Technicians make the last control checks. After one and half hours Alvin gently lags on its tracks and glides out of her garage onto the afterdeck. There: a short stop. A fair amount of metal plates are attached to each side of the submersible; a simple but very effective method for a faster descents. This raw metal will stay on the sea bottom; the pilot just throws it off before the ascent.

Today Pat is the pilot. The chief pilot, Bruce and the third pilot Gavin will take it in turns for the following dives. Also Sean and Mike the two PITs (pilots in training) are going to number among the “real” pilots soon.

With the metal burden on her sides Alvin glides further under the A – frame, a good ten meters high arched crane positioned at the stern of Atlantis.

A thick, yellow line is painted across the afterdeck. Despite the tropical rain, everybody who is not indispensible right now crowds behind the line. Nobody wants to miss the start of the first dive. Beyond the yellow line, where the huge A-frame is, is the absolute off-limits zone for everyone who is not a member of the crew. Thick hydraulic hoses are running along the crane’s arms. If such a hose bursts, you need to be as far away as possible….

A technician climbs onto the crane and hooks a rope at the top of Alvin’s sail.

At the same time a dinghy with a strong outboard engine and two crewmembers is launched over the starboard side. These crewmembers control the launch of Alvin from the sea.

Chief scientist Andreas Thurnherr enters the submersible after Pat, followed by PIT Mike.

The technician closes the hatch, climbs onto Alvin’s back and the A-frame swings its load over the stern. Slowly Alvin lowers, goes into the water and finally swims onto the surface. With one hand on the arm’s thick rope the technician phones the pilot. Today he is the so called “diver”, who ensures himself again that everything is fine, secures the telephone and jumps headlong into the water. That’s never bad as the water has 28°Celsius this morning, 3 degrees more than the air temperature. The dinghy arrives with an elegant curve at Alvin’s broadside and takes the “ diver” on board.

Then Alvin sinks: Dive number 4259 has started.

For the next eight hours three human beings explore a world which was completely unknown not long ago. With their brave research they support the knowledge about the secrets of the deep-sea.

Tomorrow we will report at length.

During the day the rain decreases. A few singing birds flutter on Atlantis´ deck. Maybe they were blown over by the storm last night. They seem to be tired and they are looking for food. A hawk, who has already stocked up its strengths, circles around the ship. It has detected the little birds long ago…

P.S. our address for the next three week is 09° 29,7626´ N, 104° 14,6324´ W. If there is somebody who wants to nip in down here…

        

                                                    Metal weights for Alvin                                      Alvin is lifted into the sea

                                                                       Monika with the manipulator arm of Alvin


November the 2nd 2006

“I am a little bit nervous”, Monika admits, being at the submersible already at 6 o’clock in the morning. She, Sabine, Sigrid and Bettina have a last check of the instruments, which will soon be going down 2500 meters. However, shortly before entering the sub, the anticipation to the adventure is already strong. Carly Strasser comes along. Her home is in Woods Hole, the same as Atlantis and Alvin. Today’s pilot is Gavin. Within minutes the synchronized crew hoist Alvin into the water. The two divers jump off and Alvin’s red sail disappears in the gentle wave of today’s placid Pacific Ocean duly at 8 o’clock. This is the start of eight rather uncomfortable hours for Monika in the terribly close interior of the sub.

Sabine, Sigrid and Bettina use the time. Again, they check if all preparations have been properly made for the recovery of the deep-sea samples. Then the three friends tinker a poster as a surprise for Monika. Next to tubeworms and mussels Bettina draws a volcano. Not without reason, because sometime between February and April a volcano erupted at the study site and destroyed almost every structure at the place where Monika is now. This dive the pilots have to rely completely on their instruments for navigation. Before the eruption the particularly experienced ones could fly visually. That means that they were so familiar with the sea floor at 2500 meters depth that they could orient themselves by “landmarks”. Some of these could be a prominent formed “black smoker”, a deep trench or an especially dense bunch of tubeworms. That is simply not possible anymore because the eruption has destroyed virtually all the previous large structures. And for the biologist it is natural to both mourn the loss of well known, previously investigated sites of deep-sea fauna and to relish an opportunity to observe the colonization of a young deep-sea floor from the beginning.

To study the process of colonization the Viennese biologists offer the animals artificial settlement substrates. These substrates are constructions which are confusingly similar to the natural ones, but which can be recovered by Alvin and scientifically analyzed. Sabine had the idea to use classical plastic brillo pads (kitchen sponges). Her field of interest is the so-called meiofauna, tiny animals that are smaller than 1 mm. A lot of worms belong to the meiofauna and Sabine is very confident that many of them will stray into the brillos.

Already at the beginning of July (just a few months after the volcanic eruption) some of Sabine’s Meio-traps were deployed at the seafloor. Monika will bring them up during today’s dive. Sabine therefore is as anxious as Monika in the sub. It is ventirely possible that one of the simple brillos reveals a new species - a worm perhaps or a crustacean no one has seen before.

Monika’s main interest covers the tubeworms. These dwellers of the eternal night can grow up to 2 meters and their larvae are already full of mysteries. To unravel the mysteries of the very young tubeworms Monika has also developed an ingenious method to catch them, the so called “baby traps”. By using these cubical Plexiglas objects Monika has discovered so much about the development of the tubeworms that this knowledge was published in “Nature”, considered the world’s most important science magazine.

What Monika has brought to light about the tubeworms and what she will bring to the surface with the baby traps and brillos that were deployed in July, you will learn from the daily log tomorrow.

     

                                                 Monika and Alvin                                                      Gavin and Monika


November the 3rd 2006

Monika steps out of the submersible and cheers for us. Though it is not her first dive with Alvin, she is apparently relived that everything went fine.

“It was excellent! Some sites, at which we did not expect it, are already recolonized quite densely. Not by the real large tubeworms, but more of them than we thought. We collected some specimens. Now, I have to go to the samples we brought up.”

As soon as Alvin is parked in the hangar, the finds from the deep-sea are revealed under the watchful eyes of the participating teams. The collecting boxes (“bioboxes”) are attached to a small flat board (the “basket”) at the front of Alvin. The pilot can see the boxes under water through his porthole; he can open them with the steely manipulator arm, put the samples in and close the lids again.

Now everybody, for whom Alvin brought something from the depth, crowds around the basket. The Viennese take the plastic brillos (kitchen sponges) from July and the baby traps out of the bio boxes. All samples are immediately put into buckets with seawater of 2° Celsius. Already dead animals would rot quickly and still living ones would die fast, if the water would be warmer. As soon as the last bio box is empty, the buckets are brought into the labs on the double. With around 60 m2 the laboratory of the Viennese Marine Biologists is the second largest one on the Atlantis.

Sigrid immediately pitches into the baby traps. She carefully loosens the 5 cm long and 5 mm thick Plexiglas plates. 10 plates are combined on top of each other and form a perfect cube of 5 cm side length. On the surface of the plates there are finely milled grooves. Put together, the plates form a cube and the grooves run as tiny holes into the cube. These are an invitation for the tubeworm larvae to slip in and start to build a tube. And really: Sigrid picks up juvenile worms from the grooves, not longer than one mm, but a lot of them.

Immediately next to Sigrid, Sabine carefully rinses the meiofauna off the brillos from July. The first look into the samples surprises Sabine. None of the expected Copepods can be found. Instead Sabine collects various small worms. Perhaps there is even a new species among them! A nameless pink planarian, a species no one probably has seen before. Planarians, which occur in Austria, are mostly dark coloured. They live in streams and lakes and you can easily find them under stones. Sabine has definitely never seen such a candidate before. Though as a specialist for theses small organisms of the hot vents, Sabine’s knows the hitherto discovered species very well, she wants to check all the lists of the described species in Vienna, before she is finally going to celebrate this discovery.

Bettina and Monika examine some of the larger tubeworm specimens. It is not so easy to pull the slimy bodies out of the tube. Rigid pincers would destroy the delicate tissue. However, after some dissections Monika has found the suitable method long ago: she cut off the lower end of the tube- and blows the worm out of the protective envelope from below - the same as you would blow out an egg!

The constant rising and rolling of the ship makes the work with the microscope harder and slowly tiredness arises on the Pacific. Still certain procedures have to be done immediately. Some samples can change so much by the next day that totally different results would come out.

So it is already five o’clock in the morning as the natural scientists are leaving the lab and declare the next day’s lunch for their breakfast.

        

                                        One of the heavy lab doors                                  Tubeworm Tevnia


November the 4th 2006

Today Bettina reports about her first dive with Alvin:

I was a bit uneasy during the night and still tense in the morning. Yet the stimulating sensation of an unrivalled adventure already prevailed when I stepped into the sub.

After the launch and when we were freed from the crane we bobbed up and down on the water for quite a while. Then everything went on quickly. I think, it did not even take 4 minutes then it was dark night around us.

During the descent, Pilot Pat and me joked a lot with Lauren, a Marine Biologist from Wood Hole. Lauren is dealing in particularly with the larvae of hot vent animals. She investigates the dispersal of the young stages of these animals.

It was almost unbearably hot during the first 30 minutes. Still the magnificent spectacle of the shiningly glowing bioluminescence of the animals distracted us from the heat. Half an hour later I was already happy about my three pullovers. Monika’s warning was right. The temperature in Alvin rapidly sinks under 16°C, which is very nasty, if you do not have enough warm clothes with you, as you can hardly move in the submersible.

Then the bathometer showed 750 meters and I jubilated inwardly. At this moment I set a new personal record in deep diving. I was already at the depth of 750 meters with another submersible before. What followed was one meter of record after another.

Pat threw off half of the weights 50 meters above the ground and balanced the sub so that she did not ascend or sink on her own.

At the beginning I did not have the slightest orientation. It lasted around an hour until I was able recognize outside structures and to handle the various cameras so that I could take nice pictures.

After around 4 hours it really sank into my mind for the first time: I am in a depth of 2500 meters! Much deeper than ever before.

I saw fish down there, lots of terrific formed deep-sea fish. I would have liked to stay longer, but after 8 hours, one suddenly get so tired, that I even shortly felt asleep when we went up.

Back on the Atlantis, my colleagues bid me a welcome, which will stay in my mind as well as this extraordinary dive…

          

                                               Bettina before her first dive                            Tevnia, Tubeworms

                                                                                       A surprise for Bettina


November the 5th 2006

Today we want to introduce Atlantis crew. The bridge, at the very top, is the domain of Captain Chiljean. He has full responsibility over the ship and it is he who has the final say. He has three mates who stand by him. They are the ones who navigate the ship in three working shifts. Often they make extra shifts, they are for example in the dingy, when Alvin is launched into the water or gets recovered. In this way they support the seamen on board, who are in charge for all the technical works, including the maintenance of the engines. On board there are engineers and mechanics for these powerful motors. The physical well being of the 50 persons now living and working on the Atlantis lies in the hands of the two cooks, who prepare three warm meals per day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have some questions about the crew, please ask:

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November the 6th 2006

Many deep- sea organisms have larvae which cannot swim in a certain direction. Therefore their dispersal strongly depends on the water currents. As reported before, Andreas Thurnherr, the chief scientist on this expedition, and his team will launch some moorings with various instruments, which serve the purpose of gaining insight into the ocean currents.

Jim Ledwell goes in a totally different direction to retrace the currents and therefore the movements of the larvae. His idea is to use a so-called tracer. This tracer leaves his marks in the water with which Jim will reconstruct the currents.

Our study site is in the “ East Pacific Rise”. The East Pacific Rise is a mountain range on the sea floor. Along its ridge there is a rift about 8 to 10 meters deep. In there are the “black smokers” and also most of the animals. Therefore many larvae are released into the water in this area.

Jim and his tracer are going to follow the rift for a few hundred meters and give off the sulphur substance into the water. This tracer can be measured in an extreme low concentration. The trick is to release the substance continuously and only in a very defined, low water layer.

In about 40 days (that means still this year) Jim, Atlantis and Alvin will return to this site, where they discharged the chemical tracer. They will take water samples and Jim hopes that the sulphur compound will be more concentrated in some samples than in others. If Jim really can locate these “clouds” he gains valuable data, which are going to be analysed further. Andreas and Jim both will send their data to a mathematician. Using powerful computers, he will compute this great deal of information into models, which will show how the current pattern may be at the hot vents.

As you can see, the dispersal of tiny larvae into the deep sea is a real puzzler and it takes quite a few bright brains to try to crack it.

                                    

               James Ledwell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute                                  The tracer in the Lab


November the 7th 2006

Sabine was “thrown in at the deep end” for the seventh dive. The dive schedule was changed swiftly. Sabine was not only very suddenly assigned for the dive she also held responsibility for this difficult undertaking.

It was difficult because this dive was going “off axis”. That means away from the ridge of the rupture zone in a right angle and directly into the unknown. The only thing people knew about this area before was that it exists. No one has previously dived in that area of the East Pacific Rise.

The aim of the expedition was to study the effects of the volcanic eruption, which took place about three quarters of a year before. Is there still life? If yes, which organisms have survived the eruption? How far has the lava spread out and how has the basalt dispersed? These and more questions could only be answered when somebody would go down and take a look at it.

Bruce was the pilot and Sabine squeezed into the narrow seat at the port side. That is on the left side as you look forward. Whomever sits there has the responsibility for the enterprise.

Her first job was to locate a pump, which was deployed the night before.

The crew on deck deployed the several meters long instrument as best they could. Still the pump came down about 40 meters next to the planned site, because of the movement of the ship and the cable. With Sabine’s guidance Bruce took the instrument with the steely arm and put it to the edge of the rift that is following the ridge top. The pump rests there now, collecting larvae, and will be recovered in few days.

Afterwards they flew away from the rift and down the slope of the mountain ridge. Up to a distance of one kilometre from the ridge with its hot vents, the downward slope is about 2 % - then it slopes upward very steeply to depth of a few thousand meters.

Sabine was glued to the porthole; she peered out, because she did not want to overlook the zone, where the new basalt ends and the underlying older basalt becomes visible again. New basalt is easily recognizable because it is not covered by sediment. Sediments are mostly fine substances that sink down onto the seafloor from above. They are either transported by the winds from the land or are the remains of organisms that once lived in the sea.

At a distance of 400 meters from the rift, still no sign of the old basalt could be seen. Only fresh black rock, free of sediments. Some white crabs strayed around sporadically; besides them Sabine only saw the dead remains of the tubeworms Riftia. The volcanic eruption must have been devastating; nobody assumed the dimensions to be so extensive.

Alvin and her astonished occupants arrived at a transition zone after 900 meters. New basalt was mingled with old one. Sabine thought that now the boundary of the field of basalt could be not far away. Then she made a discovery that was even more surprising than the great extension of the masses of basalt: suddenly there were new rocks at a depth of about 1100 meters!

The only explanation is that the volcano exploded over a far longer range than thought before. Several lava streams must have crossed each other, as they slowly made their way down into the depth.

Here, Sabine decided to return to the surface. After 6 hours the duration of the dive came to its limit and on the way back samples had to be taken. The main reason to go down to these depths after all was to find out how well the fauna recovers after a volcanic eruption. And that the collected basalt shall tell.

                        

                                   Pump for the collection of larvae                            Old basalt (with sediment) and new one


November the 8th 2006

Today, Monika flew with the Alvin over the trough which follows the rift of the mountain chain at 2500 meters depth. This active volcanic trench is also called the Axial Summit Collapse Trough. It is about 10 to 50 meters broad and its walls reach up to a height of about 20 meters. Now, a few months after the eruption, some sites of the trough are completely filled with basalt up to the fringe; at other sites the trough reaches depths up to 20 meters. The lava flowed 200 to 500 meters down the slope on the east side of this so-called ASCT (Axial Summit Collapse Through). In the west direction it moved even more than a kilometre, as Sabine found out yesterday.

Lava is a term for liquid rock. It can consist of completely different minerals. Lava, gushing out of the sea bottom’s rupture zone is mainly basalt. Therefore the sea bottoms consist mainly of basalt.

Lava can solidify into rock in different shapes. At the Mid-Ocean Ridges Pillow lava is very common. Pillow lava looks like ball- or sausage shaped bubbles of rock, which can reach sizes up to 1 meter. They result from eruptions with a quite low throw off of basalt or during a slow lava flow. Then the lava gets rapidly cooled down at its surface and a several centimetre thick layer is formed. Though this layer indeed hardens fairly quickly, it stays shapeable for a few seconds. In this span more and more lava infiltrates the bubble, because a system of connected channels supply the pillows with new lava. Then new lava squeezes out of the tube like tooth paste and immediately forms a new pillow, which surface quickly hardens again. Eventually the inner portions of the pillows solidify into rock. In this way whole fields of pillow lava grow in breadth and height. Pillow lava can mount up to many meters. Even if the pillow lava is lifted beyond the surface of the ocean through the crusts movements after many years, its characteristic bubble shape is proof that it evolved under water.

The surface of the pillow lava often consists of Obsidian, a hyaline rock.

Because of the rapid cooling at first contact with seawater, there is not enough time to build up a consolidate sheet. And that is the reason why this layer shivers like glass.

The frames also prevent that lava flows together and the formation of a uniform cover. However, this is exactly the case, if a huge amount of lava gushes out at once and moreover very fast, then the lava flows down the slope of the caldera in a broad cover. Pillows, which are rudimentally formed, fuse immediately with the cover again. Like the pillow lava, the covers quickly cool down when they meet the seawater and a crust is formed. Beneath the crust the lava flow can continue to run for a long time. After the eruption and when no lava is no longer discharged under the crust, it often collapses. Then there are bizarre sceneries of caves.

At the surface of lava covers you often can distinguish regular patterns of lines. Those lines come when lava gushes out of an already firmly solidified crust. The solid borders of the crust mark these lines into the surface of the passing, yet still liquid basalt with its rough edges.

Often lava sheets simply look like wildly thrown together quilts.

The huge volcanic underwater eruption has, of course, shaken up the study site with all its animals and black smokers. How it looks now, we will tell you tomorrow.

        

                                            Collapsed lava cover                                                         Lava cover


November the 9th 2006

ALARM!

The fire bell rings! Quick, grasp the life jacket, survival suit and headdress, out of the cabin and onto the deck!

Today’s fire drill was relatively easy going and so you ask yourself what should the announced safety drill really really bring about. You only can hope that the weekly drill animates everybody to carefully think about their procedures and their escape routes. Especially if it has to be quick and when the circumstances are stressful, for example during choppy seas or if all the lights turn out!

At least everybody knows where their survival suit and life jacket are in the cabin. Two snatches for the stuff and you are ready to hurry onto the main deck.

Firstly everybody gathers there in the big lab, where Kazumi calls him or her on by his or her name. Kazumi is in the crew and coordinates the drill. Then the people get divided into two groups: ours goes to the afterdeck. There Kazumi asks again, if everybody is here. After a few minutes the captain announces that everything went excellently. The master of the ship expresses his thanks and everybody strolls easily back to their cabins. By the way, the headdress serves as good sunscreen.

A look at the rescue equipment is very reassuring. The life jackets are fitted with whistles, light reflectors and flashlights. The survival suit looks like a to big diving suit. In case of emergency you put it on with all the clothes your wear. Though the water temperature is about 28°C in these latitudes, you slowly cool also at these temperatures so protection is important.

Altogether, eight white plastic containers with the life rafts are strapped to the upper deck, four apiece on each side of the Atlantis. Six of them are for 25 persons, two of them only 15. That makes 180 persons and therefore 3 times more than the number of people, who are on board right now. In case of emergency the straps are loosened and the plastic container is rolled over board. The life raft does the rest on its own. Immediately after the container hits the water, the life raft unfolds. The passengers should already be wearing their survival suits and then they jump towards the raft with their feet forward. It is IMPORTANT to jump next to the raft, not INSIDE. The bottom of the craft would not stand it and furthermore you could injure other persons.

The life raft is equipped with a GPS sender and this is a form of life insurance. Fitted with this positioning system, the raft should be found by another ship in a short while.

Overall, the safety arrangements are reassuring. Nevertheless, we decided that everyone of us should review our escape routes to the life rafts in detail.

         

                                         Sigrid during the fire drill                                 Kazumi calls all names

                                             Life rafts at the upper deck                                 Life raft for 25 persons


November the 10th 2006

When the water gushes out of the hot springs at the sea bottom, it has a heat of up to 360°C. The only reason that it is not gaseous is that the pressure is so high at these depths. The water cools with time and increasing distance from the vent. It immediately gives its heat to the ambient seawater – and that has just 2°C. The hot water gets not only rapidly cooler, it also doesn’t spread very far from the vent. At the outflow of warm hydrothermal vents, the hot thermal fluid mixes with the cold seawater already in the earth’s crust and therefore the outflow temperature is much lower and reaches around 30°C.

Each species is bound to a specific temperature zone at that environment. The zones are mostly characterized by a large species and easy to recognize, though a lot of small animals live in these aggregates of worms or mussels.

The tubes of the Pompeji worm Alvinella are at the foot of the black smokers. They live at an area where the water still has a temperature of 80°C! That is the hottest area and only Alvinella can live there. However, directly next to it you can also find other animals.

A little farther away, in a zone of 10°C to 30°C warm water, the giant tubeworm Riftia settles. This genus is the largest of all tubeworms. Their white tubes can be as long as 2 meters and growing closely side by side they build meter high structures.

At the area, where the water just has 4 to 10°C, the mussels called Bathymodiolus live. They are relatives of the blue mussels, the ones people enjoy to eat at Italian restaurants. Some basalt sites are almost overgrown with these mussels. They can grow on top of each other and fill whole rifts up to areas of some square meters.

Sessile worms, which have calcareous tubes and the so-called barnacles constitute the principal indicator organisms of the fauna in water which has a temperature between 2-4°C.

The scientists had named some of the especially distinctive sites already before the volcanic eruption. That pays well now, because only at specific sites one can accurately compare the situation before and after the eruption.

                                                                              Map of the investigation area

So Monika could observe various changes during her dives so far. The fact that the afflux system in the crust stayed the same at some sites, increased or decreased at other ones or ceased to exist at other sites is very interesting. At the moment there are no mussels and small Riftias were found only at one site. In contrast to that Tevnia seem to settle at all warm vents and will be ousted soon by Riftia, as we already know. The mussels should not appear until 2-3 years. The numbers of the vagile animals like the vent octopus, some species of fish and the vent crabs are the same as before.

                                                     Deep-sea fish                                                          Vent crab

At the investigations sites M Vent and Q Vent there were black smokers with many tubes of the worm Alvinella before the volcanic eruption. These smokers are extinguished now. The tubes of Alvinella are still there, but the absence of the thermal fluid killed the animals. Lava covered their basis and the worms there were killed. Thousands of small shrimps buzz around the smoker at Q-vent.

At the so-called Riftia Field there were large giant tubeworms and a small black smoker with Alvinella populations before the eruption. The smoker does not “smoke” anymore, but a small warm vent was settled by some tubeworms of the genus Tevnia.

The Mussel Bed was a vast field of mussels. Then the lava came and flooded everything. Nothing lives here now.

The East Wall, which is the eastern wall of the trough, was formerly 15 meters high and densely settled by Riftia and mussels. Today, the deeper areas are flooded by lava and the upper source fields do not exist anymore.

Vast quantities of animals perished here, on the one hand because of the lava and on the other hand because of the absence of the thermal fluid. There are old tubes and mussel shells everywhere. Such shells and tubes were also found 500 meters away from the crater. Possibly they were ripped off and blown away by the enormous volcanic eruption.

                                                                                             Dead mussels

At the Tica site the actual situation is not as bad. Here was a colossal aggregation of worms and in the middle there were black smokers with Alvinella.

The aggregation is not there anymore, but some Riftias survived the catastrophe and sit jammed in new lava in new warm vents. In the middle of Riftia one can also find quite a few Tevnia, which settled after the eruption and which are already 30 cm long. It is known from former studies that Riftia-worms cannot settle until Tenvia are already there. The source fields are at the same place.

       

                                                      Living Riftia                                                     Group of Tevnia worms

At Bio9 there was an accumulation of black smokers of different heights with Alvinella at their base. Moreover scientists discovered large Riftia as well as mussels. On her last dive Monika found active black smokers but they are spitting out their hot water at other spots. The sedulous “hot water worm” Alvinella settles on them.

P Vent presented Monika with quite a vivid picture concerning the smokers. Additionally one finds warm vents with Tevnia and the first new 30 cm long Riftia could be found in between. They are already there, but still small and hidden between Tevnia.

TY-IO Vent were two areas right next to each other with black smokers. Today there is just one area left, however there are 9 smokers with sizes of 1 to 8 meters and there are new warm vents.

                                                                     Warm vent with dense Alvinella population

141 Vent became quite an inactive area during the last years and has revived now. The total east wall of the crater is full of Tevnia.

At Choo-Choo Monika made an astonishing discovery: the lava flow carried a scientific device, which was put there before the volcanic eruption, for some hundred meters with it.

The dramatic changes of the underwater landscape through the volcanic eruption make the investigation of the resettlement of the animals to the devastated areas tremendously exiting. One can already say: by and by life returns.


November the 11th 2006

One of the great struggles in marine biology is that it is very difficult to take samples or to catch animals. It took a lot of consideration and many practical applications to bring the development of the sampling devices up to scratch. The devices are often very simple, but very effective.

The biggest sampling devices are the so-called sediment traps. These are large funnels made of plastic, which are deployed into the ocean hanging on a long cable. They “trap” everything sinking down from the upper water layers. Under the funnel is a sample container, which collects the sediment. Sediment traps can stay in the water up to one year. It can happen that the collection container overflows during this long time. To prevent this, more containers are attached under the funnel and a little motor switches their position. After some days or weeks the motor slides the sediment filled jar to the side and exchanges it with an empty one. A preservative prevents the collected organisms from fouling. To date there are four sediment traps in the investigation area.

       

                                                 Sediment trap with cable                        Small animals on “sandwich trap”

Perhaps as many as 60 traps of the so called “sandwich traps” have been deployed in the deep by the group of Lauren Mullineaux. These traps offer animals artificial surfaces for settlement. The scientists hope that as many animals as possible are going to settle in them. A sandwich trap has 6 small plates. They are made out of transparent plastic material that is about 10x10 cm long. If you put these little plates on top of each other, the traps actually look like a mega sandwich, which is fairly poorly filled. Six slices of bread with nothing in between besides a little piece of cheese on every edge.

A lot of larvae like to live in cavern like cavities. For these larvae the traps seem to be like modern skyscrapers at the sea floor. The scientists will come back in December and recover these small packages from the sea floor. The expectations are high. In addition to these larvae the scientists are very interested in a snail. Right after the volcanic eruption in May the larvae of this gastropod species was found, but no one has ever seen the adult animals. It is also likely that different species of worms will have moved into the sandwiches after 40 days.

Scientists observed a little white crab, which has made itself a cosy home between two plates. It defended its new asylum vehemently against a clearly larger fellow whose carapace was already too big to slip in between the small plates, but it managed to afflict the little defender with its pincers.

Very simple, but very effective and “made in Austria” are the traps Sabine uses to ambush the meiofauna in the deep sea. Plain coloured plastic kitchen sponges “brillos” seem to perfectly meet the small deep-sea inhabitants’ demands on their environment. The broad variety of different animals Sabine has already picked out of the brillos with scissors and pincer is respectable: copepods, and young developmental stages (nauplia) of crabs, planarians and other nemathelminthes and also gastropods, small Tevnia and other bristle worms. Bacteria are always there as well, but they will be analysed later, when transported back to Vienna. While sorting the samples there is invariably the hope to spot a new, unknown animal for the first time.

             

                                                 Sabine’s “brillo traps”                                         Monika’s baby trap

Already before the development of the sandwich traps, Monika found the solution for the problem of how to get at the tubeworm’s larvae in the best way. She cut small square Plexiglas plates with 5 cm side length. Then she cut thin grooves into the surface leading from the edges to the middle and put the plates on top of each other. The outcome of this is a cube with very fine holes. As intended numerous tubeworm larvae couldn´t resist the tiny cavities and settled the Plexiglas cubes. When Monika disassembles the cubes and puts the single plates under the microscope, she sees a whole kindergarten of tubeworms.

Another very serious problem in the deep-sea research is that the investigated organisms are made for very high water pressure. When taken to the surface they either die on the way up or soon after reaching the surface.

Scientists of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, gave some thoughts of how to study live deep-sea animals on the surface.

Florence Pradillon got a high-pressure aquarium from the Parisian Laboratoire Systematique and took it with her on the expedition. You can apply a pressure up to 310 bar in this aquarium. These are 60 bar more than in the investigation area. This high-grade steel aquarium has nothing in common with the ordinary ones. The core of this mechanism are two metal cylinders with a volume of, believe it or not, 100 ml. This equates to less than half a glass of Coke –if the waiter doesn’t spill it again.

                                                                                    High-pressure cylinder

Florence keeps the small animals of interest, the young development stages of the “ hot water worm” larvae, in these cylinders. She has harvested eggs from a female. A big one can carry up to 200,000 eggs, still maximally 5000 of them are ripe enough for the fertilisation. Florence fertilized some eggs in vitro and wants to monitor now what happens with the eggs.


November the 12th 2006

Today Andreas Thurnherr, the expedition’s chief scientist, carried out a well planned underwater experiment. Andreas is a physical oceanographer and therefore the typical case of a scientist who has his head always full of numbers and who never starts an investigation without a theory. This time he wanted to control model calculations, which were generated by means of current measurements. The models show that one can anticipate a northern current at the west side of the rift. That means the directions of the current goes northwards. (When describing the directions of winds it is the opposite way. Here a north wind does not blow IN a northward direction, but it comes FROM the northward direction).

At the east side the current should flow southwards. Moreover, the model calculations predicted, that the currents are restricted to the direct proximity of the range.

Andreas’ new observations and measurements revealed the following patterns:

The range does not affect the currents from the surface until about 2000 meters depth. From 2000 meters on the currents’ flow becomes much more complicated and there the influence of the range becomes noticeable. Concordant with the model calculations there is a northern current at the Westside of the rift and a southern current at the eastside. As distinguished from the predictions these currents stretch out up to 30 km from the rift into the ocean. Furthermore they are ten times stronger than calculated in the models.

For the biologists it is especially important to know that the currents are very different at the sites where the larvae are released into the water. In particular the currents near the black smokers seem to be very mixed.

Andreas wants to get a better understanding of the smokers’ currents. He planned to make the water movement visible and therefore put some ink that fluoresces green in Alvin’s basket this morning. At the black smokers, the ink was carefully emptied out. The crew of the submersible watched the optimal distance the smoker’s water jet absorbs and swirls the ink. This experiment was recorded on videotape. Now Andreas has new data which he will immediately analyse at his institute upon returning. Then new models will be calculated, which have to be verified in nature.

         

                                     Green ink and black smoker                                           Ink in 2500 meters depth

Sometimes luck plays an important role, when nature discloses another secret.

Monika had such an experience during her last dive. That dive lead to Q Vent, a site that was very well known previously. Monika wanted to see herself how it had changed since the eruption.

The first impressions were deflating. Nothing was left of the formerly animal rich location: especially, the Alvinella was gone. The black smokers were extinguished also. Suddenly Monika noticed some movements between the collapsed smokers and dead Alvinella tubes. Alvin flew closer and there really where countless very hairy worms, crawling around on the cooled off smokers. With about four centimetres length these worms are no giants. Still Monika was surprised that they seem to have been overlooked in this well studied site for years. Were they always there or did they invade after the eruption? Monika did not have the time to think about it. Pilot Pat cracked a piece of pillow lava with the steely manipulator arm and they could not believe their eyes. The cavity under the lava crust swarmed with the newly discovered worm. Quickly the two Aquanauts collected some of the worms, and then it was time to move on.

Back on board Atlantis, Monika immediately ran to the library. She looked for the worm in her self-penned definitive book (standard work) about the animal life of hot vents. Since she could not find it in there, so it is very probable that Monika discovered a new animal. She will send some specimens to Danielle Desbruyeres in France, who is an international expert for bristle worms. If the specialist does not know the small deep sea worm either, he can think about a new worm name as he will be the describer of a new species.

  

                                                 Nameless worms                                       Newly discovered bristle worm


November 13th 2006

Atlantis is 90 meters long and has a weight of 35,000 tons. She is driven with electricity. Three big diesel engines generate the electricity for the ship’s propulsion, three smaller ones supply the other equipment which needs electricity but have nothing to do with the propulsion, like the air conditions or the drinking and hot water treatment plants. Drinking water is not bunked in the harbour, but made on board. It is desalinated seawater. 7,000 – 12,000 litres of water are used on Atlantis per day. Chief engineer Jeff Little calls these facilities as the “hotel service” for the scientists.

               

                                                 Jeff Little, chief engineer                                                 Ship generator

Jeff has been employed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute since 1987. He started as “third assistant engineer” and slowly worked himself up.

Actually, the young Jeff had a completely different vision about his future. He wanted to become a painter. He tried it for ten years, but finally he accepted that it is very difficult for a painter to earn enough money for a decent living. Jeff’s dad already was an engineer and after a serious conversation between Mr Little and his son, Jeff followed in his father’s footsteps.

Meanwhile Jeff has his domain on the Atlantis. As a chief engineer, he operates the so called the monitoring system in the engine control room, where as the name says, he can control all the engines. In the event of an emergency he can even navigate the Atlantis from there.

Jeff invited me for a sightseeing tour. Before we entered the engine room, he handed over some thick hearing protection. “You will need it,” he said, smiling at me.

Whereever you are on Atlantis you will always hear the humming of the engines. So I had the notion that it will be very noisy there - deep under deck. Still when Jeff opened the sheet to the first engine room I promptly understand why the engineers rather prefer to run around like Mickey Mouse than without any hearing protection.

In the huge room, there are the two shop generators that provide the power to the ship propellers. The thrusters (think propellers) can be horizontally moved through 360°, which enables Atlantis to turn around almost on one spot. There are also two cable rollers. Scientific devices, like the sediment trap, are deployed with the cables. Jeff thinks that the cables are about 5000 meters long.

        

                                         Jeff and the cable roller                                                        Diesel engine

Then the tour goes on and Jeff smirks that we just left the limbo behind us. I bode ill and really - the noise and the heat in the engine room is even more mind blowing. The sheer magnitude of the engines and the engine room surprises me. I did not suspect that the core of this ship had sufficient space for such a cavernous hall.

In one hour, one of the large engines consumes 5000-6000 gallons of Diesel which converts to 18950-22740 litres. With full tanks Atlantis can be on her way for 60 days. Full tanks mean: 296,470 gallons. For sure, you can calculate how much this is in litres. I can only tell you, it is really a lot.

Atlantis doesn’t always need the full power of her engines. When Alvin is on her way in the depths of the ocean, Atlantis hardly moves. The engines are running only on low then, but they are never all turned off. At least one large engine is always in operation because the position of the ship has to be slightly corrected now and then due to the movement of the ocean water. Jeff has the calmness of a person who has his job under control. Still, when I ask him if he is afraid of anything, he answers very quickly and seriously: “fire.”

He dreads nothing more than a fire in the engine room. “Leakages”, he says, “are no problem, they can be repaired.” He has already overcome small fires under the deck, but a large one would be an absolute nightmare.

Jeff is 57 years old and wants to retire soon. The periods of service were tolerable only at the beginning of his career. Now he finds the rhythm of four month on duty at once more of a burden. Jeff would rather be at home with his family in Maine.


November 14th 2006

Today two top events are going to take place. The “call to the deep” and the Sigrid’s first dive.

As on almost every day here, a thunderstorm was prowling at the horizon this morning and presented us the most beautiful rainbow so far. While everybody was admiring the play of colours, the next sensation literally surfaced at the other side of the ship - the blow of a whale. Of course, everybody wanted to know which species it was. But it was to far away to identify. For the four Viennese biologists the varied day schedule immediately went on. With a lot of applause, Sigrid entered the cramped pressure hull and right on time at eight o’clock Alvin was launched.

              

                                      A big moment for Sigrid                                               Alvin, shortly before the descent

Before the sub was even gone, Monika hurried onto the bridge to do the last briefing for the long prepared “call to the deep”. Cool as ever the crew supported the “adventure telecommunication”. Especially the two pilots Bruce and Gavin gave their best in connecting the bridge with Alvin. It is routine for them, but today the coordination had to be considered in particular because kids from the other side of the earth were going to join in the conversation.

It was just past three o’clock pm in Austria and many youngsters and their teachers were listening to the distant call of the special kind. Some of them had prepared interesting questions, which they directly asked the crew of the submersible. Others wanted to know how life was on board the mother ship Atlantis. The number of schools that participated in this call shows us how fascinating the deep-sea research is.

We are very happy about that and we want to say thank you for your contributions!

Furthermore we want to say thank you to Ingrid Kolar, who pulled the strings in the Viennese “basis camp biocenter” and who worked for a long time plannig for a smooth flow of the conference call.

You can read all about the call on this webpage under “call to the deep”

While we phoned half-way around the world from the bridge, Sigrid was having some of the most wonderful moments of her life. “The colours you see when you are descending are past comparison. There are blue, turquoise and green shades one simply cannot see anywhere else. While the light fades quite quickly, thousands of fluorescent dots are passing by.

“One of the most touching moments is when Alvin touches the sea floor, after the slow fall into the black deep and its lights go on. I saw red shrimps and anemones and I wanted to reach for them, they were as close to me. And when the water became a little hazy, I though that there were the first hot vents, but I just had tears of joy in my eyes.

When Alvin accelerates, it is a sensation of movement, I never had elsewhere. It compares the best with floating. Yes, in some way it’s like floating in a new world. One is in the middle of a world without time. The five hours at the sea floor just seemed to be two hours or even less.

“Bettina’s, Sabine’s, and Monika’s welcome at my return, was a little bit less romantic. It was rather watery.”


November 15th 2006

The viennese marine biologists, Monika, Bettina, Sabine and Sigrid are counted among the few people in the world who have had the chance to dive into the depth of the oceans with a submersible. If it is the first time, as for Bettina and Sigrid, or the second time as for Sabine or the eleventh dive as for Monika, it is always very exciting.

                                                                      Bettina                                            Sabine

                                                                                                   Sigrid

Once the crew has finished the necessary preparations, one is finally asked to climb up, take off the shoes and step into the submersible - if possible without touching the hatch.

        

                                          Monika boards the sub                                               Sabine boards the sub

Here are some pictures of unforgettable moments in an alien world 2500 meters under the sea. The biologists said that there are hardly any words to describe these impressions. Pictures cannot reflect the emotions and mind, which deeply moved each of these women.

          

                                            Monika and Gavin                                                           Pat and Bettina

         

                                         Sabine, Mike and Bruce                                              Sigrid in the submersible

A baptism with cold water, jelly, - mud or whipped cream were awaiting Bettina and Sigrid, when they stepped out of the cramped pressure hull after eight hours. Then they jumped into the pool altogether- with their clothes and shoes on, of course.

                

                                           Sigrid after the fantastic dive                             Baptism of an aquanaut

                                                                      Sigrid gets garnished with whipped cream

Not to be overlooked is the first dive with a submersible in history that was funded by Austria on November 1st 2006. After 15 years of hydrothermal vent research, a long desired wish of Monika became true.

          

                                            First Austrian dive                                        It does not always have to be the deep sea

That’s it from the Pacific. The last dive is over and everything went well. Alvin is taxied into the hangar for the last time. The little sub will get a full service before going onto the next cruise. This very day captain Chiljean will turn the bow to the north, where Manzanillo in Mexico is awaiting us. A BBQ on deck is scheduled for the night, if the weather cooperates. Everyone glances doubtfully at the sky. There is a hurricane in the north and it’s exactly on our route to Manzanillo! You could draw a continuous straight line to our next port right through the storm!!

However, shortly after we left San Diego, the weathermen also predicted a hurricane, but we did not notice much of it. Days afterwards we found out that Atlantis travelled around it. Apparently the bridge did not want to send the lubbers into their cabins right at the very beginning of the expedition. I really hope that they still are equally merciful at the end. Everybody who was ever seasick is hoping with me. Sadly, Patrick the bosun narrows our hopes. “It’s gonna be a rough ride.” he says. We take the experienced seaman seriously and set to work to secure all the loose material in the lab.

It was a great pleasure for me, to write the log for you. A lot of greetings from the Pacific before it goes back home - from Monika, Sabine, Sigrid, Bettina and I. We hope, that we could answer some of your questions. Perhaps, we managed to get you exited about deep-sea research.

Thank you for your participation!

Andreas