During the expedition (October 25th – November 15th 2006) your questions were automatically forwarded to the ship and immediatley answered. You could ask every person on board, either in German or English: captain, mates, seamen, cooks, engineers, Alvin pilots, scientists and students.


Landwiedgymnasium Linz

4th grade

Q: Takes it longer to go back to the surface than the dive down?

A: It strongly depends on the dive plan. Normally it takes the same time, around 26 to 32 meters per minute.

Q: How long can a dive be maximally? What happens if you have to go to the toilet?

A: On the one hand the duration of a dive depends on the usage of the batteries; on the other hand the submersible has to be recovered during daylight hours. In the normal case an Alvin starts diving at 8 am in the morning and is at the surface around 4 pm. The recovery requires ca. 45 minutes. If you have to go on the toilet in the sub, we use plastic containers, similar to the ones in the hospital. This is not very convenient, but you often cannot avoid it during an 8 hours dive.

Q: How can an animal survive in such a great depth with sparse food?

A: In general the amount of food there is very little, because all of it is produced with photosynthesis in the light flooded upper 200 meters of the ocean or gets imported from land. Therefore the animal populations in the deep-sea are not very large. However, at the hot vents abundant food is produced via chemosynthesis by bacteria and so there are lots and lots of individuals in the form of tubeworms, crabs, fish mussels, etc.

Q: Why does the dragonet fish (we saw it in the movie) have such big eyes, though it cannot see?

A: Unfortunately I don’t know this fish. Many fishes, which live in water depths between 200 and 1000 meters, have big eyes, so they can perceive the residual light which is still there in theses depths. Still there are fish deeper down, where there is no light left. In fact these fish do nothing with their eyes. All these fish originate from shallow water fish and their eyes just did not get reduced, though they do not use them at all.

Q: How can the animals survive the high temperatures near the black smokers?

A: The temperature gradient is very steep at the black smokers. You can measure temperatures up to 360°Celsius (680 °Fahrenheit) within the thermal fluid. Nothing lives there. A few centimetres aside “cold 20°C” (68° Fahrenheit) can be measured. Most animals live at warm vents in temperatures up to 30°Celsius (86° Fahrenheit). Only in the vicinity of the Pompeii worm you can measure temperatures up to 80°Celsius (176° Fahrenheit). But I once watched a white vent crab marching through the smoke of black smoker. It strolled out of the other side seconds afterwards, half black and scorched, but still alive.

Q: How can the animals endure the great pressure differences (when they change between different water depths)?

A: Most of the animals occur only at certain depths, but there are also animals, which you can find in different depths. To have a body without any gas filled cavities, definitely does the trick. Only gases get compressed by the pressure, solids and liquids not. Whales exhale before they have a deep dive, so there is no air in their lungs.

Q: Which is the largest animal, you saw in the deep-sea?

A: The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila. The worm lives in a white tube, which can be 2.5 meters long. The worm itself can grow circa 1.5 meters long. When these worms grow, huddled together, they can form aggregations of 3 meters height. This is very impressive; because the worm tufts (clusters) are white, grow on black basalt and the red tentacles of the worms poke out of the top of the tubes.

Q: Have you yourself discovered new species in the deep-sea?

A: Yes, several. The first species, which I described 10 years ago, was a small worm with the beautiful name Antygomonas oreas. It was from a seamount in the Pacific. Every time we go to the hot vents we find new species. Whereas the larger animals, at least from this site at 9°N, are already known, there are a lot of small animals up to 1 mm in size, which are totally unknown. Just two weeks ago a student of mine published a new work with three new species, two from the Pacific and one from the Atlantic.

Q: Have you yourself found carcasses or skeletons at the sea bottom?

A: Personally I never saw a whale carcass or skeleton, but one of my students studies the specific fauna that you find on whale carcasses. There exist very close relatives to the giant tubeworms (but very small worms) called Osedax. These worms live in symbiosis with bacteria, which can dissolve the bone of whales and thus feed their host – the worm.

Q: Which salt content does the water have in the deep-sea?

A: Generally, there is not a big difference in the salinity between the surface water and the deep-sea water. The concentration is around 34 per mill that means 34 grams of salt per litre. The upper Atlantic is a bit saltier, the deeper pacific is slightly saltier. The Mediterranean Sea with 37 per mill is saltier, because more water evaporates.

Q: How do scientist know that they have explored 1% of the deep-sea?

A: After all, this is a rough estimate. But one thing is for sure, we know very little about the deep-sea.

Q: How strong would a person be compressed in that depth?

A: I do not know exactly. The lungs would shrink totally, because all the air inside would be compressed practically into nothing. Besides of that we mainly consist out of liquids and solids (blood and bones for example) and these stay the same size even under high pressure. Look at the pages with the experiment- Styrofoam under pressure

Q: How is the feeling to be so deep in the sea?

A: Excellent, but as I had my 10th dive two days ago, I got quite used to it and therefore Bettina who just had her first dive is going to answer that question.

Bettina: Actually indescribable. You feel very small down there and at the beginning you cannot believe, that you are 2500 meters under the surface, especially because the descent seems very short. It lasts just an hour and you dive into absolute darkness. When the submersible turn on its lights at the bottom you suddenly see a totally different world, almost as you would be on another planet. When you have spent about six hours at that depth you are quite exhausted, because on the one hand it becomes very cold in the sub and on the other hand you have seen so many exiting new things and you have to deal with a lot of different impressions. I really enjoyed it so much and I would do again at any time.


Haupt und Musikschule Herzogenburg

1st grade

Q: How large is the biggest coral reef?

A: The largest coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef northeast of Australia. It is made of more than 2900 single reefs and around 1000 islands and has a total length of 2600 km (1616 mi). You can even discern it from outer space. It is the largest single structure made by living organisms.

Q: How large can sharks be?

A: The largest shark belongs to the filter feeders and feed on plankton. The largest shark among them is the whale shark Rhinocodon with more than 12 meters lengths and a weight of more than 12 tons.

The second largest one is the basking shark Cetorhinus maximus with circa 12 meters.

The third place has the largest carnivore among the sharks: the great white shark Charcharodon carcharias. It can be more than 7 meters long and it can weight more than 3500 kilos.

Dominik and Michael

Q: Are there starfish and sea horses at the sea floor?

A: There are starfish, even a quite a lot of species. Sea horses do not occur there.

Q: How large to they become?

A: Most of the starfish in the deep sea are smaller than the ones in the shallow waters. That is true for most of the animals there, by the way.

Q: Can you, Mrs Bright navigate the submersible?

A: No, unfortunately not. The pilots’ training lasts a few years. They learn how to fly (not to drive) the submersible and, of course, how to descend and ascend. And much more things, like how to operate the hydraulic arms, which actually should work similar to paddles. Many of you would be probably quite skilled, if it would be a matter of conducting an experiment with the arms.

Q: Are you scared in the deep- sea?

A: Actually not. I feel safe in the sub.

Q: Do you see eddies?

A: The only eddies you can see at the hot vents, are the black smokers, which spout out hot thermal fluids with temperatures of more than 300° Celsius. When the thermal fluid mixes with the cold seawater, something similar to an eddy forms, which can be seen 200 meters above the bottom.

Q: Have you already seen octopus or jellyfish?

A: Yes. There are very special ones, which only live at the hot vents.

Mostly they hide, but sometimes you can see these animals crawl freely on the rocks. Jellyfish are very rare at hot vents and I never saw one.

Q: Are you afraid of sea monsters?

A: No. There are very large squids in the deep with arms, which can be several meters long. I would like to see such a squid. These animals get seldom caught, but sometimes they get washed to the surface and then to the shore.

Patrik and Simon:

Q: How long does your group stay on the ship?

A: We left San Diego, USA at October 23rd and will be presumably arrive in Manzanillo, Mexico at November 17th.

Q: How old is the captain?

A: Our captain is born at September 27th 1946 and is going to retire now.

Q: Can you take a starfish with you?

A: No, you rarely find starfish at the hot vents, but there are several briddlestars. (See picture)

Oguz and Talha:

Q: Which amount of food does the chief have to cook?

A: Every day, we prepare three meals for 51 persons. 22 crewmembers, 23 scientists and 6 assistants. That is 153 meals per day.

Q: Do you also catch fish?

A: Sometimes, if we have time, we fish. Most of the times we are not lucky, but sometimes we catch a tuna which tastes very good when grilled but also raw.

Q: Are there Chinese or people from other countries in the crew?

A: The scientific team is very international on this cruise. They come from the USA, Swiss, Austria, Spain and Italy. The student Amy comes from China but studies in the USA right now. The ship’s crew is mostly US American. One seaman is from Mexico.

Cem and Alex

Q: Can you bring a picture, if you see a shark or a sea horse?

A: Yes, I would like to do that, but sea horses life in the shallow water so we do not find them here. I would also like to have a picture of a deep-sea shark. It would be a great luck, if we saw one. However, we twice saw a shark very close to the ship in the night. They are attracted by the light or by the Calmar which also get attracted by the light and which gets hunted by the sharks. Both times the sharks were not so large, around 70 cm.

Q: What happens to a piece of iron when it is under the water for one or several hours?

A: It starts rusting very quickly. Some hundreds of kilos of iron are fixed to the submersible before every dive and get released before the emergence, so we can go back to the surface. It takes some time until the iron is totally rusted. How long I do not know.

Sidal, Wen and Verena

Q: How deep is the deepest sea or the deepest body of water?

A: The greatest depth has with more than 10 000 meters the Mariana Trench in the West Pacific. In any case: this site is deeper than the highest mountains on land, the Himalayan range.

Q: Where do you come from?

A: I was born in Graz, Austria and lived my childhood in Knittelfeld, Styria.

Felix and Daniel

Q: What happens with glass, a phonebook, a radio, a schoolbook, wood or a pumpkin 2000 meters under water?

A: A phonebook, schoolbook and wood contain cellulose. Some bacteria can eat this material, so it will disintegrate after a while. The same is true for a pumpkin. Its food for many bacteria and will foul, just like on land. A radio will rust, but probably the remains of the radio will stay in shape for a long time. Glass does not change much at all under water. All this material does not contain gas but is solid or in the case of the pumpkin is solid and liquid and thus wont change its form under pressure.

Fourth grade

Bianca

Q: Since when are you diving with submersibles?

A: I had my first dive in 1992 and two days ago my 10th dive.

Q: Is it a requirement to speak English well?

A: Yes, in fact it is. The scientific language is English and you have to communicate at conferences or on board of the ship. You also have to speak English in the sub, because the pilots are from the USA.

Philipp

Q: What instruments are in a submersible?

A: There are a lot of instruments in Alvin. We make our own atmosphere and have to check it all the time. We have oxygen flasks and oxygen masks in case of emergency. We have several computers and flat screens as well as digital cameras, video cameras and audio recorders. Moreover we have spare fuses, tools, emergency batteries and double emergency equipment. (food, blankets, signalling positioning system). Every person gets a lunch packet. To whom, who has to go to the toilet, a bottle gets passed. In addition the special equipment comes, which the scientists need when they go to their study sites. And as a matter of course everything gets controlled at all times.

Q: Do you have a personal favourite animal of the deep-sea?

A: Yes, the giant tubeworms. I am studying them for more than ten years now.

Q: How fast is the highest speed of the sub?

A: 3 km/h (2 knots), thus quite slowly. We do not really scoot around down there, but rather float around slowly.

Q: How do fish react to light?

A: We do not really know. Most of the times they swim away, when we approach. If they get dazzled by the lights or not, we do not know. It could also be that they feel the water movement made by the sub and therefore swim away.

Christina Sch.

Q: How is the sensation, so be so far under the sea level?

A: Wonderful, you just realize then how enormously big the sea is and how small we are. Also the sub is just a small ball in the huge ocean.

Q: How many expeditions have you already done?

A: This is my 11th expedition on a research vessel.

Q: How did you come to this crew?

A: All of it started in 1992 with an invitation of an US-American colleague for my first journey. This year I got money from the Austrian Ministry of Science to pay for several dives, around 50 000 Euro for one dive.

Agnes

Q: May we invite you to give us some more in formations about the animals, you have already seen?

A: We will report more about the animals who we saw this year in the daily log.

Christina M. and Julia P.

Q: We attached a copy of pictures of animals, which were swashed on the shore by a Tsunami. Have you seen one of these animals?

A: Unfortunately I cannot receive pictures via Internet on the ship. The files are too big to get transmitted via satellite. I think it could be fish which live in middle water depths from a few hundred meters till 1000 meters. I have seen only a small anglerfish of these kind of fish during the descend.

Q: Have you experienced a critical situation, if yes which one?

A: No, fortunately not. The Pilots and the whole crew are very cautiously.

Q: Do you still nervous or scared when you go down with Alvin?

A: I am always rather exited, because I am looking forward to the dive and because I hope to do my work well down there, but I am never afraid.

Q: Do you miss you family on an expedition?

A: Yes, always, but as I see a lot of new things, the time passes by faster for me than for my family. Moreover, I am in the tropics with a lot of sun, while my family is in the grey, rainy Herzogenburg.

Q: What was the first animal you have discovered?

A: A small worm with a lot of spines on it, which lives in the 4 meters water depth in the sands of Rovinj, Croatia. This worm was named Antygomonas incomitata.

Cornelia

Q: How many species of creatures are already explored?

A: This question is really hard to answer. There are many creatures on land as well as in the shallow sea, which we do not have discovered and described. But especially in the deep-sea perhaps more than several hundred thousands of undecided species are waiting.

Marlene:

Q: Do you recognize when the sub is going down and up?

A: No, but when you look out of the window, you see small fluorescent creatures moving up or down.

Q: Is there just dimmed light in the sub, because you have to save battery energy?

A: Yes, we have some small lamps, which are turned on and off when needed to save battery, and then there are many tiny mostly red control lights at the switches.

Q: Do your friends and your family fear for you when you have a dive?

A: I do not think so, but usually I do not tell my parents, when exactly I have my dive, but afterwards, when I’m back.

Sebastian

Q: Have you ever seen a giant squid?

A: No, unfortunately not.

Q: Would you bring us photos from the expedition?

A: Yes, willingly. I will bring you a CD.

Günter

Q: Which propulsion system does Alvin have?

A: Three thrusters at the stern, fuelled by batteries, drive Alvin.

Q: How long does it take to arrive at the maximum depth.

A: We dive 2500 meters deep and, depending on the weight of the passengers and the things we take with us (collecting containers etc), it takes approximately 1.5 hours.

Kerstin

Your question will be answered at the call to the deep.

Benjamin

Q: How long does the journey with the research vessel to the site where you dive with Alvin, take?

A: Atlantis has a speed of 12 knots that means 12 nautical miles per hour. These are 1,8 km per hour. From San Diego, USA we sailed five days. The way back we are going to Manzanillo, Mexico and we will be for two days on our way. Look it up on a map.

Q: Do you enjoy it to celebrate New Year, Christmas or birthday on the ship?

A: No, not at all. Birthday is not so important to me, but I like it much more to stay with my family at Christmas and New Year.

Q: Have you already seen a “Vipertext“?

A: Vipertext I do not know, but perhaps you mean a special fish of the group of the viperfish- and these I have unfortunately not seen until now.

Julia and Daniela

Q: How heavy and how big may a newly discovered animal be, so you can take it on the ship?

A: Actually the animals I study re very tiny, so no problem for the sub or the ship. In principle there are no weight limits for animals as long as the dive is planned adequately and everything is prepared. I was told that Alvin even took part of a wale carcass, which weighted surely 500kg. Admittedly nobody wanted to on deck for the recovery, because everything stunk so appallingly and nobody really wanted to touch the rotting meat.

Q: How many labs are on the research vessel?

A: There are two smaller Labs the size of a classroom and a large one approximately the size of a gym hall. But in the large lab there is also a table tennis and a tabletop soccer.

Q: Could you conduct a dive if there is no pressure?

A: Hard to imagine, because everywhere on earth there is pressure. At sea level exactly 1 bar. So if the pressure in the depth were also 1 bar, then it would be much easier to dive, because you need no titan sphere that can resist the high pressure and you could for e.g. use a Plexiglas sphere.

Q: How many centigrade does the water have the bottom?

A: Around 2° Centigrade and it does not freeze at 4° Centigrade because there is so much salt in the seawater.

Q: Which educational background was necessary for your profession?

A: Matura (high school diploma) and academic studies of ecology or zoology with the main focus on marine biology with the PhD degree at the University of Vienna. Later on the postdoctoral lecture qualification (venia docendi) at a university in the subjects of Marine Biology and Zoology. But all these things do not automatically lead to the hot vents of the deep-sea with research vessel ad sub. You also need a lot of luck (and endurance and enthusiasm...)

Q: Which changes do you recognize in these extreme depths?

A: From the sub mainly the darkness. Moreover the temperature probe measures ca. 2°Celsius around 1000 meters and in the inside of the sub it gets cold and wet (because of the accumulating condensed water.

Melanie

Q: Do you feel the pressure in your ears?

A: No, just at the end of a dive, when the hatch is opened, your feel the pressure difference in you ears.

Q: Do you recognise that you move downwards and downwards?

A: See above

Q: How long do you stay in the depth during a dive?

A: Around 8 hours; see above stone- and soft corals in the Gulf of Mexico, ca. 1500 meters depth.


BG/BRG Mödling

6th grade

Q: We have read that there are corals in the deep-sea. Is that true? If yes, how do they nourish on?

A: Yes, the largest coral reefs on earth are in the deep-sea. This deep-sea corals live without zooxanthella, symbiotic green protists which provide their host with food. Zooxanthellae exist only in shallow waters. The deep-sea corals whirl food from the water with their tentacles and eat these tiny particles. See picture from

BG 6, 1060 Wien,

3rd grade

Q: How big is the submersible?

A: Length: 23.3 feet. width: 8.5 feet. weight: 17 tons. speed: 2 knots. cruising range: 3 miles. diameter of pressure hull: 78 inches.

Q: What is the daily routine of a captain?

A: The captain is responsible for everything that happens on board. Therefore he has the top position concerning decisions. Every day he checks how the weather is and if storms are arising. He sees to it that Alvin goes smoothly into the water and gets smoothly recovered. Every day he makes his deck tour to control that everything is save and he pays attention to the tidiness of the ship. Furthermore he provides that the scientists can conduct their programs.

Q: Which creatures are in the focus of the Alvin scientists? Which animals are completely unexplored and are studied by the research team?

A: There are a lot of different types of scientists who use Alvin to get information about the deep. Almost every person makes his or her research on totally different subjects. On board are for example physical oceanographers, which investigate the currents at the deep-sea volcanoes. A scientist from France studies the so-called Pompeii worms, which colonize the hottest spots of the volcanoes. In our working group Sabine investigates the colonization and distribution of meiofauna. Meiofauna are animals of a body size between 63µm and 1mm. Sigrid studies the babies of the tubeworms of the deep-sea. She researches into the infection process of the symbiotic bacteria. Bettina investigates the giant deep-sea tubeworms and wants to find out, why they can grow up to 85 cm per year and whether this growth is related to the cell cycle of the host cells or not.

Q: What sees the Alvin crew during the descent to the hydrothermal vents?

A: During the first 10 minutes of the dive it becomes continually darker until you have reached a depth of 20meters. Here you can sometimes watch jellyfish. At the last dive a small shark passed by at the surface. Admittedly only the pilot saw it for a short moment. After 10 minutes it is dark, still it takes 1hour and 20 minutes more until we have reached the sea bottom. Along the way you can see tiny, fluorescent dots-plankton- or larger animals like jellyfish or salps. Once I saw a small anglerfish.

Q: How do you investigate the giant tubeworms or other creatures? Do you take the animals with you to the surface, if yes, which ones? Do you make experiments on the ground?

A: Yes, we have to take some specimens of the animals we investigate (tubeworms, copepods, nematodes) to the surface, because we cannot study them in situ, as we cannot get out of the submersible. Still we take a lot of pictures and video so we can comprehend this habitat more precisely. Moreover we can accurately point for example a temperature probe to particular patches with the manipulator arm and measure how cold or hot it is at the animals surrounding. You can also put colonization devices or even traps there. In this way we want to find out how fast they get colonized or if something gets trapped.

Q: Did you find anything special during this expedition?

A: Actually, almost everything is new. Only a few persons had the chance to dive to so shortly after a volcanic eruption and to look at the destruction the lava flow has done. (see daily log: changes of fauna)

Q: Did you find new species?

A: Yes, we found a new worm, ca. 5 mm long, belonging to the group of planarians. These are unknown at hydrothermal vents of the deep-sea and we are convinced that we discovered a new species. But we cannot give more detailed information until we will be back in Vienna, and after we have done extensive investigations in the literature and after we have made semi-and ultra thin sections and reconstructed the inner feature and the characteristics of this worm.

Q: How do you care for the animals, which you take to the surface, so that they have the conditions like in the deep-sea?

A: You have to put the animals in so called high-pressure aquaria. Then you increase the pressure from 1 bar to 250 bar (at 2500 meters) and you regulate the temperature to the one the respective species lives at. The giant tubeworm for example live longest, if it gets 13°C, much oxygen but also enough hydrogen sulphide, so that its chemosynthetic bacteria can busily produce food. All that sounds very simple, but it took years of development and research.

Q: What is the most exciting experience that you have made so far?

A: The most exciting experience is to dive for the first time. The time it takes to pass through 2500 Meters of water is astonishing and once you are on the bottom that consists of black basalt and see for the first time a black smoker or large animal communities, this is just great.

Q: Are the Styrofoam cups used as collection containers? Do they withstand the pressure at all?

A: No and the second answer also no. You find the answer within a short time in the chapter experiments.

Q: Do you notice anything from the hydrothermal vents at the surface?

A: No, there are 2.5 km with tons of water in between.