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SEAS: Student Experiments At Sea

Updates from sea

East Pacific Rise Cruise, January 2007

Photo by Katie Phillips

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Monday, February 5th — Final Report - A Resounding Success

Since the original discovery of life at deep-sea vents in 1977, scientists have learned a great deal about vent communities. This cruise was an incredibly successful step towards a better understanding of the dynamic ecosystems located at the East Pacific Rise Study site.

Sunday, February 4th — Vent Biology is Booming

When Dr. Tim Shank saw the first pictures of the seafloor in May almost six months after the eruption, he wasn't quite sure how he should feel. After all, he'd been studying the hydrothermal vent animals at this area for twelve years, and most of the animals were gone. But vents are very dynamic environments, and this cruise has proven to be a unique research opportunity to study what happens after an eruption.

Saturday, February 3rd — Small Organisms Pack a Big Punch

Each one is only a single cell, but collectively they make life at deep-sea vents possible. Most of their identities remain a mystery - and we don't even know how many different types may exist. What are they?

Thursday, February 1st — Hot Vents = Cool Chemistry!

Chemicals and their reactions are essential to everything that happens on our planet, including the hydrothermal vent ecosystems found in the deep sea.

Monday, January 29th — Patterns - Do you see what I see?

Scientists are always looking for patterns to help understand the natural world, including the deep sea. On this cruise, we're making observations of the newly formed seafloor to understand how organisms colonize the new habitat.

Friday, January 26th — Dial "E" for Extreme Environments.

"Alvin, this is the International Space Station Alpha, how do you hear us? Over." These words started one of the farthest-reaching long-distance phone calls in history this afternoon when astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams initiated a phone conversation with oceanographer Tim Shank.

Thursday, January 25th — One for the history books.

Tomorrow promises to be an exciting day. Tomorrow, one human working in space will take a break from her busy activities and call another human working on the ocean floor. And with the help of a lot of other folks in between, you and I should be able to listen in on that call! Amazing!

Sunday, January 21st — How Do Your Mussels Measure Up?

Given the recent eruption on the EPR, mussels are not as abundant at this site as in previous years. Nevertheless, scientists have collected a few mussels for further research. SEAS students participating in the "Classroom to Sea" lab can access data on deep-sea mussels collected on the previous SEAS cruise, and send in their questions about the lab to the scientists on this cruise.

Wednesday, January 17th — The Race for Space - Succession

Space is a very valuable resource in nature, so open space typically doesn't stay that way for very long. When it is available, organisms compete to move in as quickly as they can, depending upon the conditions. The earliest organisms to arrive are typically ones that have adapted to live in the harsh conditions found in new open spaces. The recent eruptions at the East Pacific Rise have opened up a whole of lot of new space.

Saturday, January 14th — Diving To The Deep

The deep sea is a challenging environment for humans to explore. Crushing pressures, complete darkness and very cold temperatures make it impossible for us to visit far below the surface without the help of technology. For over 40 years Alvin has safely carried scientists to the deep sea and back, allowing them to observe and sample our planet's least explored environment in person.

Thursday, January 11th — Cruise Background

If a volcanic eruption happens 2500 meters (over 8,000 feet) below the ocean's surface, will anyone know about it? Actually, yes. And the team of scientists on this research cruise are heading out to the scene of the action to learn more!

Pre-cruise log entry

December 2006

On January 10, 2007, the R/V Atlantis will leave Manzanillo, Mexico, sailing south for 2 days to reach the study site in the East Pacific. The primary mission of the cruise will be to observe and document changes at the study site caused by the eruptions that occurred earlier in the year. A previous research cruise (May 2006) found extensive fresh lava and little sign of the vent communities studied here before. In January, scientists will investigate what new animals have colonized the area since the eruptions. SEAS Teacher-at-Sea Carolyn Sheild and SEAS Coordinator Eric Simms will send updates from sea. Click on the cruise calendar at the right to read their log entries.

A crewmember stands on Alvin as it floats at the sea's surface

The scientists will dive more than a mile to the seafloor in the submersible Alvin. This manned submersible carries three people: a pilot and two scientists. A typical dive lasts about 6 to 8 hours, of which three hours is spent traveling to and from the research site.

Alvin is built to withstand the extreme conditions near hydrothermal vents. Its titanium hull and acrylic plastic viewports can withstand immense pressures — up to about 450 atmospheres: the pressure experienced at 4500m depth (14,764 feet).

More about Alvin's history and vital statistics, from:

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People feature

Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey is Boatswain of the R/V Atlantis.

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