2009 Pacific Northwest Expedition

Leg 5 Logbook - Submarine Volcanism II
Day 7 — President Jackson Seamounts
September 4, 2009

Latitude 42 degrees 49.84 minutes N
Longitude 128 degrees 9.53 minutes W

Today was our second day at the President Jackson Seamounts, exploring the slopes leading up to the ridge around the third-oldest cone and then descending down the inside wall to the sediment field at the caldera floor. On seemingly endless slopes of talus, we encountered numerous sea stars and armies of brittle stars, or “pigeons of the deep” as Craig thinks of them. We also found a very delicate and almost iridescent sponge, which no one on board recognized. Although we expected to see large corals and gorgonians on top of the ridge as at Davidson Seamount, the amazing numbers of huge sponges, crinoids and brisingids did not disappoint. A highlight was watching the ROV pilots maneuver the manipulator arm to successfully capture a giant isopod at the top of a sediment sample. This animal looks like and is about the same size as a large cockroach, and even startled Linda in the lab when it began moving! She's already had one encounter with an animal this trip (see below).

—Gillian Clague


Lovely white sponge, with a resident shrimp.

A white vase sponge growing from a cliff of truncated pillow lavas. These pillows looked like all the others we've seen on the seafloor until they were sheared off when the caldera collapsed. The radial jointing patterns exposed here were caused by the cooling of their spherical shapes, analagous to the columnar jointing patterns observed in massive flows (see yesterday's entry). Feather stars (crinoids of an unstalked variety) are spaced along the rim of the sponge for optimal filter feeding.

This deep-sea isopod is over four centimeters long. It has a compound eye like our familiar terrestrial insects.

Continuing south during the night, we arrived at President Jackson Seamount C today for our standard 6:30 a.m. start. By just after 7:30, we touched down on a silt-dusted slope of small talus and began our bio-transects—close-up looks at animal diversity captured as the vehicle scans along at a nearly constant depth for 100 meters at a time. Standard rock and core sample collections were made upon encountering suitable substrata. As we had seen yesterday, upon reaching the bottom of the caldera, the talus field we had descended along dissolved into an open sand/mud substrate—at only a couple of million years of age, there are probably only a few meters of this sediment covering the long since hardened “lava lake” below.

While I have been primarily tasked with finding and collecting the biology we encounter on this trip, I am fascinated by the geomorphology we have encountered thus far and aim to learn as much as I can from Dave and his group, given this remarkable opportunity. I’ve decided that, water clarity allowing, the larger scale "panoramic" views (available when the ROV cameras are not zoomed in close) are my favorite; the feeling of exploring mythical realms they give one is beyond compare. We managed to collect a second, whole, stalked crinoid today for genetic work planned by our colleague Greg Rouse (Scripps Institution of Oceanography). I am glad, knowing how critical it is to have more than one sample for comparative purposes (and from more than one location), especially given the tenuous nature of DNA and RNA preservation in the field; I’m sure Greg will be pleased.

—Julio Harvey


Brisingid sea stars crowd onto the rim of a dead vase sponge, like sentinels guarding some lost and ruined city of the deep.
skate and case

We collected the empty, leathery, 28-centimeter-long egg case of a deep-sea skate with the manipulator arm (left). It may be from the Pacific White Skate (Bathyraja spinosissmia, right) whom we've seen swimming around in this area on other dives. Studying deep-sea skates has become one of Linda's passions, and this is a very exciting find. The skate that hatches from it is about 25 centimeters at birth and the adults can be up to 1.5 meters long.

Although I specialize in asteroids (sea stars), when you work with deep-sea echinoderms you learn a lot about some of the strangest animals on the planet. One of those weird animals is a deep-sea urchin which belongs to the Echinothurioidea. We collected one of these odd creatures yesterday.

These urchins have special spines with tiny “hooves” on them, which they use to walk around on soft mud or sediment. The body in these urchins is very soft and delicate (almost like paper), and in their natural habitat, the body is almost entirely supported by water pressure. When they are collected and brought to the surface, their bodies often collapse—leading to their other common name—the Pancake Urchins, a misnomer if one has ever seen a living animal. Echinothurioids have a VERY old lineage and fossils of these urchins are known from Paleozoic rocks (many millions of years before dinosaurs)—and, in fact, were one of the only groups to be known from fossils BEFORE being discovered alive in the oceans today! These sea urchins look like space-ships from distant planets that landed on the ocean bottom. And on top of that, they can get quite large, almost 30 centimeters in diameter in some instances.

Echinothurioids occur in deep seas all around the world, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, and even the Southern. This includes some species that live in the tropical Pacific. These shallow-water tropical echinothurioid species are brightly colored with bright reds and electric blues and have very sharp spines that act as hypodermic needles which can inject a painful toxin as a defense against predators.

Surprisingly, this particular adaptation has “carried over” into their deep-sea relatives where presumably, there are much fewer predators. In my experience, its very unusual to be concerned about any dangers or toxins working around deep-sea animals. Thus, my colleagues and I were quite surprised by this urchin’s defenses as one of the spines jabbed Linda in the thumb through lab gloves when she was photographing it onboard! She describes the feeling as "electrical" and it was fairly painful for an hour or so. Lab mates helped search the area for various remedies—one of them might have worked? Now, don’t worry, the spine wound was no more cause for alarm then, say a bee sting—but it did bring to mind that even if you work in a beautiful garden with beautiful and wonderous flowers, even there the roses have thorns.

—Chris Mah


Linda's purple "Nemesis" urchin injects a toxin for defense. The red laser dots are 29 centimeters apart for scale.

As we recovered the ROV this evening, the winds increased suddenly to 65 kilometers per hour, gusting to 83. The storm is chasing us. We are abandoning planned dives at the North Gorda 1996 eruption, and heading south tonight to the NESCA site (Northern Escanaba Trough, in the southern part of the Gorda Ridge), hoping for better weather there.

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Leg 5

R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

R/V Zephyr

R/V Zephyr is the primary support vessel for MBARI's autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) program. This 26-meter vessel is also used to maintain environmental moorings, collect time-series data along the California Current, and support scuba divers as they study near-shore habitats.

AUV D. Allan B.

The MBARI Mapping AUV is a torpedo-shaped vehicle equipped with four mapping sonars that operate simultaneously during a mission. The multibeam sonar produces high-resolution bathymetry (analogous to topography on land), the sidescan sonars produce imagery based on the intensity of the sound energy's reflections, and the subbottom profiler penetrates sediments on the seafloor, allowing the detection of layers within the sediments, faults, and depth to the basement rock.

Push cores

A push-core looks like a clear plastic tube with a rubber handle on one end. Just as its name implies, the push core is pushed down into loose sediment using ROV Tiburon's manipulator arm. As the sediment fills up the core, water exits out the top through one-way valves. When the core is pulled up again, these valves close, which (most of the time) keeps the sediment from sliding out of the core tube. When we bring these cores back to the surface, we typically look for living animals and organic material in the sediments.

Niskin bottles

Niskin bottles are used to collect water samples as well as the tiny bacteria and plankton in that volume. The caps at both ends are open until the bottles are tripped, when the caps snap closed.


The box fits in a partition in the sample drawer. It is shown open, with an animal being placed into it by the ROV's manipulator. When the lid is closed, the box will hold water to protect the animals inside.

Rock crusher

This device is used to collect volcanic glass fragments from the surface of a flow. It is made of about 450kg of lead and steel and is launched over the stern of the ship on a wire. Fragments of rock that break off of the lava flow on impact are trapped in wax-tipped cones mounted around the crusher. The wax is melted in the lab to liberate the rock particles for analysis.

Benthic toolsled/
Manipulator arm/
Sample drawer with partitions

The benthic toolsled is attached to the bottom of the ROV for our geology dives. Its components are the manipulator arm and the sample drawer. The sample drawer is shown open on deck, full of rocks. Normally it is closed when the vehicle is operating and is opened only when a sample needs to be stowed. Partitions in the drawer help us keep the rocks in order. The rocks often look alike, but the conditions and chemistries of the eruptions are different so it is important that we know where each came from.

Glass suction sampler

This equipment is used to vacuum glass particles and larval animals from cracks and crevices. The carousel of small plastic jars fitted with wire mesh will be mounted in the benthic toolsled. The hose will be held by the ROV's manipulator and a suction will be drawn by the pump.

Sediment scoops

Canvas bags on a T-handle for collecting gravel or other materials that fall out of a push-core.

Temperature probe

Held by the ROV's manipulator, the wire on the right is placed into the fluid emitted from a hydrothermal vent to record the temperature.

 Research Team

David Clague
Senior Scientist, MBARI

Dave's research interests are nearly all related to the formation and degradation of oceanic volcanoes, particularly Hawaiian volcanoes, mid-ocean ridges, and isolated seamounts. Topics of interest include: compositions of mantle sources for basaltic magmas and conditions of melting; volatile and rare-gas components in basaltic magmas and their degassing history; chronostratigraphic studies of eruption sequence and evolution of lava chemistry during volcano growth; subsidence of ocean volcanoes and its related crustal flexure, plate deformation, and magmatic activity; geologic setting of hydrothermal activity; origin of isolated seamounts; and monitoring of magmatic, tectonic, and hydrothermal activity at submarine and subaerial volcanoes.

Jenny Paduan
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Jenny works with Dave Clague in the Submarine Volcanism project. On this expedition, Jenny will be in charge of the GIS work, including use of the recently acquired, high-resolution MBARI Mapping AUV data of our dive sites. She will also stand watches in the ROV control room, help with rock and sediment sample workup and curation once the vehicle is on deck, and coordinate these cruise logs for our group's two legs of the expedition. She is now quite solidly a marine geologist, but her degrees are in biochemistry (Smith College) and biological oceanography (Oregon State University). She is thankful for the opportunities that have led her to study volcanoes, and loves being involved with the research and going to sea. She looks forward to discovering more about how the Earth works.

Brian Dreyer
Science Postdoctoral Fellow, MBARI

Brian completed his Ph.D. in igneous geochemistry at Washington University in Saint Louis in 2007 and has since been working in MBARI's Submarine Volcanism Group. Brian applies the principles of isotope geochemistry to young samples of volcanic rocks to gain insight into aspects of magmatism. Much of his postdoctoral work focuses on eruption and petrogenetic timescales of Axial Seamount, the most volcanically active portion of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. His other research interests include geochemistry of the Earth's mantle, magmatic interaction between oceanic spreading centers and hotspots, and exploiting the systematics of rare isotope species to quantify material flux through subduction zones.

Craig McClain
Assistant Director of Science, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center

Craig has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 30 papers in the area. Participation in dozens of expeditions has taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig's research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary drivers of marine invertebrate biodiversity and body size. He is the author and editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog and rated as the number one ocean blog on the web, and his popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, and Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

Linda Kuhnz
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Linda specializes in the ecology of small animals that live in marine sediments (macrofauna), and larger invertebrates and fishes that live on the seafloor or just above it (megafauna). She conducts habitat characterization studies in benthic (seafloor) ecosystems using underwater video and by collecting deep-sea animals. She hopes to find some new and interesting animals in the unique habitats we are visiting on this cruise.

Ángel Puga-Bernabéu
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Sydney

Angel is a carbonate sedimentologist specialist in non-tropical carbonate sediments. His current research, however, is focused on the tropical realm. He is working on drowned reefs from Hawaii, studying their morphology and structure, sedimentary facies and stratigraphical successions in order to attempt to constraint eustatic sea-level changes, subsidence rates, drowning times, carbonate accretion rates, and paleobathymetry. In this expedition Angel hopes to learn basic skills in marine geology that could help him to better understand the data he works with in his current research.

Julio Harvey
Research Technician, MBARI

Julio is a molecular ecologist and evolutionary biologist currently working on the population genetics of various deep-sea invertebrate species in Bob Vrijenhoek's laboratory. Julio is also developing molecular probes capable of detecting a variety of marine invertebrate larvae and other microorganisms from environmental seawater samples as part of the Environmental Sample Processor project.

Chris Mah
Research Collaborator, Smithsonian Institution

Chris specializes in the evolution, systematics, and taxonomy of echinoderms, specifically asteroids (starfish or sea stars). His research emphasizes cold-water species, including those living in the deep sea and at high-latitudes (Antarctica and the Arctic). He has identified starfish species for National Geographic, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and MBARI, as well as organizations in France, Australia, Palau, and New Zealand. He has been on many deep-sea cruises, including submersible work in the Bahamas and Hawaii as well as more conventional scientific cruises in Antarctica, Alaska, as well as off Monterey, California. He is also the author of the Echinoblog, an echinoderm-themed blog. This will be his first trip on the Western Flyer.

Soureya Becker
Graduate Student

Soureya recently received her bachelor's degree in general geology in Munich. She gained field experience related to volcanology during a campaign to Colima volcano in Mexico, where she looked at pyroclastic flow and block-and-ash flow deposits, did detailed stratigraphic logs, and performed density measurements in the field. She also participated in a field trip to Etna, Vulcano, Lipari, and Stromboli volcanoes where she was shown the different aspects of Italian volcanism. After these terrestrial experiences she is now looking forward to discovering more about submarine volcanism. She will benefit greatly from participating in this cruise, as it is highly complementary to her university education.

Levin Castillo
Student, University of Quebec, Chicoutimi

Levin Castillo-Guimond finished a BSc-Honour's degree in Earth Sciences at University of Quebec in Chicoutimi (UQAC-2009). His prime interest was on the physical volcanology of Archean mafic and felsic submarine successions, as they are often associated with volcanic massive sulfide deposits (VMS). In addition, to better understand large-scale caldera evolution and pyroclastic processes, Levin participated on a field trip in autumn 2007 on the island of Tenerife (Canary Islands). In summer 2009 he worked for an exploration focusing on gold and uranium deposits.

Gillian Clague

Gillian recently received her BSc-Honours degree in Marine Biology in Brisbane, Australia. She gained diving field experience while observing fish behavior on the Great Barrier Reef. On previous research cruises, she has assisted in the processing of collected organisms and in the collection and analysis of underwater video to identify the benthic life present on flows over an age series. On this cruise, she will assist in the collection of underwater video and hydrothermal clams and tubeworms, and aims to gain a better understanding of the diversity of animals living at these sites.