Thursday morning I embarked on a journey of a lifetime—a voyage 2500m beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean in the HOV Alvin. What was it like you ask? To start with, the interior of the sub looks like a cross between an airplane cockpit and a space capsule. There are control panels with switches everywhere and LCD screens showing data and communications equipment
and even a stack of O2 tanks. The sounds are similar as on an airplane and the cabin glows in dim red light. It was a little bit cramped for 3 people, but there is room to stand and the observation posts are well cushioned. I took up position on the starboard side and had 2 view ports to look through as well as control of 2 outside cameras with the ability to zoom in and record things at very high resolution.
After about 90 minutes of descending through the water column of complete darkness with the exception of thousands upon thousands of bioluminescent jellyfish passing by the view ports—a truly amazing sight to see—we came up on the seafloor.
The first noticeable images were of volcanic lava tubes with sections caved in and glassy lava rock everywhere. We proceeded to a couple of the sea vents we are studying and began making observations, measuring fluid temperatures and collecting animal specimens such as riftia, mussels, and crabs.
As the dive continued the cabin temperature dropped (due to the cold water surrounding us) and it became necessary to put on hats, sweatshirts, and extra socks—a small price to pay on such an incredible journey!
One of the most amazing things to see down there was the spectacular shimmering of the water resulting from warmer vent fluids spewing out of the sea floor into the much colder seawater. It looked a bit like the distortion seen in the air over hot pavement in the summer, only much brighter and cleaner.
Aside from seeing the dominant animal species such as crabs, lobster, shrimp, riftia, and alvinella, we were also fortunate to spot octopods and even a sea pig!
Eventually it was time to take a break. We enjoyed a small lunch consisting of sandwiches, fruit, and water—unfortunately we weren’t able to find a Krusty Krab nearby (for anyone who has watched Sponge Bob cartoons)!
After lunch, we searched for the Teddy Bear vent site where we plan to deploy the primary scientific instrument of this research cruise called a vent-SID. This device is used to measure rates of biological processes in deep-sea vent
fluids. Fortunately, after about an hour, I spotted the markers left at this vent site back in 2014. We made some observations and measured the vent fluid temperature thereby completing our primary objectives for the dive.