Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Getting Ready

Over the last few days, the science party, vehicle operators, and ships crew have been working feverishly to prepare for departure from New Zealand. The transformation of the research vessel Roger Revelle from its previous cruise to MESH has been dramatic and has included the addition of five container vans, an ROV (Jason), an AUV (Sentry), a crane, miles of wires and cables, hundreds of boxes and equipment cases, and (of course) new people.

Both Jason and Sentry arrived at the ship entirely assembled, but numerous small modifications and extensive testing must take place before they are ready to get wet. We had to develop a plan for configuring Jason‘s science basket, with its sampling equipment and sensors. Jason can carry 400 pounds of gear and samples, but the placement of equipment in the basket thought through ahead of time according to the order and manner it will be used. At the same time, the Sentry team was busy tweaking the vehicle’s command and control software and sensor payload for the upcoming missions we have planned for it.

Installation of the acoustic equipment that will track both vehicles while they are underwater has also taken place. This ultra-short baseline (USBL) system is installed in a well that passes through the ship’s hull and pings the vehicles in the water so that we know their position relative to the ship at all times.

The researchers on board have likewise been busy preparing laboratory spaces to process and describe rock samples, assembling gear, and getting computers hooked up to the ship’s network.

Yesterday evening, we also had a visitor to the ship, Richard Wysoczanski of New Zealand’s National Centre of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). Richard was one of the first scientists to recognize the eruption at Havre and conducted initial sampling of the volcanic deposits. He gave a short presentation to describe the mapping and sampling he has done, which spurred vigorous discussions of what we might find once we get to the site.

All of this activity has helped build anticipation of the work ahead, and we are set to get underway at mid-afternoon (New Zealand time). Stay tuned!

One if by Land

Over the past two days, most of the science party participated in a field trip to look at the deposits from explosive eruptions of sub-aerial (on land) volcanoes in the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ) in New Zealand. This volcanic zone is home to the super-volcano, Taupo.

The field trip was organized by James White and Rebecca Carey with help from Arran Murch. Incredibly intense eruptions from volcanoes in the TVZ over the last 26,000 years have produced huge eruption plumes up to 35 km (more than 20 miles) in height and blanketed the landscape with volcanic ash and pumice, a porous volcanic rock.

The intensity of these eruptions is a result of the rapid acceleration of magma from deep beneath Earth’s surface as water and carbon dioxide exsolve from the melt and produce bubbles that rapidly expand into the surrounding magma. Portions of the magma very quickly become buoyant and accelerate toward the surface. As the magma reaches the surface, it fragments into gas and solid, producing a volcanic particle mixture.

In the TVZ, this process was often compounded by interaction between the gas/magma mixture and water in Lake Taupo or the nearby groundwater. When this water flashed into steam, the added energy rapidly boosted the explosivity of the eruption.

On our field trip to the TVZ, we looked at deposits of pumice and ash; flows of pumice, ash, and rock; and in some cases floating pumice that resulted from the eruption interacting with paleo Lake Taupo. In quarries and at road cuts, we found deposits that retain many of the key characteristics that inform us about the conditions that produced the eruptions. We also found deposits that have been modified or reworked by transport through rivers and streams.

The initial goal of the field trip was to become familiar with sub-aerial volcanic deposits and the ways they can be reworked on land in order to think about what we might see in coming weeks. In that respect, it was a resounding success, and our curiosity is now well stoked to start our expedition to Havre submarine volcano and the remnants of the 2012 eruption on the seafloor.

Havre at Ground Zero!

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A quick examination of the weather forecast (surface pressure and wind) in the Havre region reveals… eeeek! .. a significant low pressure system that looks cyclonic! We’re definitely keeping an eye on weather systems for the next few weeks to come, and thinking about doubling the quantity of ginger tablets to combat seasickness during our expedition!