Fiji/Lau Expedition
May 15–June 3, 2005

Please visit the Ridge 2000 website for additional information.

May 17, 2005

With the precision of a fine Swiss watch, the team of ten from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Deep Submergence Lab (DSL), launched Jason II at 4:00 am. On the nearby island of Tonga, the roosters were still hours away from their daily dawn symphony. One hour and thirty-three minutes later Jason II begins to send back video from the bottom. The bottom, 2630 meters below the choppy surface, is a gray pillowy landscape of very young basaltic rock. This is an area where the newest addition to the spreading seafloor has been forced up from the hot molten mantle. It is in this geologically active area that deep-sea thermal vents are found. The geologic survey team that preceded us did their job well. Before long, the vents we are seeking slowly appeared through the dark hazy water.

Jason II being recovered and brought aboard the RV Melville after a dive.

Sticking out of the pillow basalt like spires of tufa, a dark jagged chimney spews black smoke much like London during Dickens time. Surrounding this black smoker a surprisingly active community of shrimp and crabs scamper over rocks and beds of mussels. Five to seven cm long, reddish scale worms roam the rocks looking for small prey to snag with their lethal proboscis. Waving from their bodies like short white handkerchiefs are masses of hitchhiking bacteria (The revenge of the worms is fodder for another chapter). Aggregations of hairy snails nestle near the hot vent to allow sulfur saturated water to flow across their gills nourishing their symbiotic bacteria. In the immediate vicinity of the vent, the bacteria, providers of energy to all, cover the rocks. The patient process of collecting specimens for the scientific teams now begins.

Mouth of a scaleworm. Photos by Greg Rouse.

Paralvinella is often called Pompeii worm as they like to live near vents where temperatures can reach 80°C.

Jason II scoops, slurps, grabs, cores, sets out crab pots, and stuffs mussel pots. All these techniques are simple in design but difficult to maneuver. After nearly twelve hours of searching, stopping and sampling the DSL team brings Jason II to the surface with a full cargo of samples. The science team immediately pounces on the collection containers and whisks their precious contents off to the lab. Some specimens are preserved in ethyl alcohol for later DNA analysis. Other items are preserved in formaldehyde to firm up the tissue for morphological and taxonomic studies. Some samples are dissected. All are labeled and stored appropriately. 
–Todd Bliss

Ana, Robbie, and Cindy look over the mussels. Right: Victoria vacuum filters samples

Lizzy looks at worms through the microscope.


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This expedition has been made possible by National Science Foundation grants to Dr. Robert Vrijenhoek (NSF OCE-0241613) and Dr. Cindy Van Dover (NSF OCE-0350554)