Studying microbes in the deep and seafloor lava flows
Chief Scientists: Peter Girguis & David Clague
12 - 23 July 2011

The first leg of the 2011 Pacific Northwest Expedition will be divided into two parts: a single deployment of the Deep Environmental Sample Processor (Deep-ESP) with Peter Girguis as chief scientist, and geologic surveys and sample collection of Axial Caldera conducted by David Clague.

During the first week of this expedition, Peter Girguis and his group will use the Deep-ESP and Girguis' In Situ Mass Spectrometer (ISMS) to gather chemical and biological data in an area of hydrothermal venting in a volcanic caldera. The instruments will be positioned in various locations, to measure changes in the amount of particular microbes as well as different genetic data with the Deep-ESP while simultaneously collecting chemical data with the ISMS. One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that the data gathered on the seafloor will be available in real time aboard the ship. This study will allow a better understanding of how the geological and chemical environment affects the microbial community and, in turn, how that community may affect the broader ocean carbon cycle.

If time permits after the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) visits the Deep-ESP on the seafloor each day, the Clague team will turn the ROV’s attention to geology. Starting from the deployment site at Axial Volcano’s hydrothermal vent field called “Ashes”, ROV dives will follow a pattern of radiating away in a different direction each dive, flying across the caldera floor or up the caldera wall to the rim to collect rock and sediment samples and video observations. Once the Deep-ESP is recovered, the ship will transit south to the northern Cleft segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge for two ROV dives on historic lava flows. The objectives of the Clague portion of Leg 1 are similar to those of the dives on Leg 2: to characterize and date the lava flows and deposits of volcanic rocks. Read more.


Day 10 - Lavatub rings?
July 22, 2011

You've heard of rings around the bathtub, but what about rings around a lava lake? This was just one of the observations made today ...

Day 9 - Testing hypotheses
July 21, 2011

This was the highlight of the dive for me: a two-story edifice made entirely of lava. Along the bottom of the photo is the wall of the eruptive fissure, rugged, spattery, and approximately five meters deep, secen meters across, and several hundred meters long...

Day 8 - Looking for lava flows
July 20, 2011

After the Deep-ESP was safely secured on deck, we steamed about 10 kilometers northwest and launched the ROV Doc Ricketts to do a mainly geologic dive. The primary objective was to explore what appeared to be a young lava flow well outside the caldera on the west flank of the summit..

Day 7 - Samples from the seafloor
July 19, 2011

This was an exciting day for iSMACS. The three units were collected, and three more were deployed at the site just south of the hydrothermal vent chimney, Marshmallow...

Day 6 - A mixed bag of science and engineering
July 18, 2011

The benefits of conducting in situ deep-sea research are many, yet the engineering constraints can be formidable. Fortunately, MBARI's engineers and technicians are up to the task...

Day 5 - Communications in the deep sea
July 17, 2011

The ROV pilots worked well into the evening of Day 4 to repair the ROV's damaged tether, and by 6:30 a.m. Doc Ricketts was being lowered into the moon pool for today's dive...

Day 4 - Contingency plans
July 16, 2011

Vinny Nunes prepares "Roxy" for deployment. Want to know more about Roxy? Click here.

Day 3 - New experiments
July 15, 2011

Today was our first full dive day, and we were busy continuing operations of the Deep-ESP and deploying new science experiments...

Day 2 - Deployment!
July 14, 2011

MBARI engineers Doug Pargett and Scott Jensen making final preparations to the Deep-ESP before it will be dropped over the side of the ship.

Day 1 - We're on our way!
July 13, 2011

The R/V Western Flyer steams out of Newport, Oregon as Leg 1 of the 2011 Pacific Northwest Expedition begins.

Leg 1

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.

Deep ESP

The ESP is a self-contained robotic laboratory that collects samples of seawater and tests these samples for different types of microorganisms, either their genetic material, such as DNA, or proteins they may secrete, such as toxins from a harmful algae bloom. Because of the immense pressure in the deep sea, MBARI's researchers had to build a special pressure housing to protect the delicate instrument. They also had to design and build an automated system to "depressurize" seawater before it could be introduced into the ESP.

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 the ROV'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

Mounted on the D-ESP, the wire on the right is placed into the fluid emitted from a hydrothermal vent to record the temperature.


Vibracoring is a common technique used to obtain samples from water-saturated sediment. These corers work by attaching a motor that induces high frequency vibrations in the core liner that in turn liquefies the sediment directly around the core cutter, enabling it to pass through the sediment with little resistance.


R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young


George Gunther
First Mate


Lance Wardle
Chief Engineer


Andrew McKee
Second Mate


Paul Tucker
First Engineer


Olin Jordan


Vincent Nunes


Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


Patrick Mitts


ROV Doc Ricketts

Knute Brekke
Chief ROV Pilot


Mark Talkovic
Senior ROV Pilot


Randy Prickett
Senior ROV Pilot


Bryan Schaefer
ROV Pilot/Technician


Eric Martin
ROV Pilot/Technician


 Research Team

Peter Girguis
Chief Scientist
Harvard University

Peter Girguis is currently a John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard University, and an adjunct research engineer at MBARI. His research focuses the ecological physiology of microbes that live in extreme environments. He is particularily interested in the physiological and biochemical adaptations to life in anaerobic environments. His research lies at the intersection of biology and geochemistry, and he develops and uses a variety of tools (high-pressure systems, in situ mass spectrometers, in situ microbial fuel cells) to address the aforementioned issues. He received his B.Sc. from UCLA and his Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he worked with Dr. James Childress on the physiological and biochemical adaptations of deep sea hydrothermal vent tubeworms and their microbial symbionts to the vent environment. He did postdoctoral research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute with Dr. Edward Delong on the growth and population dynamics of anaerobic methanotrophs.

David Clague
Chief Scientist

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

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.

Bill Ussler
Senior Research Specialist

During expeditions, Bill Ussler is primarily responsible for the operation of the custom-built, portable chemistry lab van which contains a complete analytical laboratory for the analysis of the fluids and gases contained in marine sediments. Bill studies how methane (natural gas) forms and moves within seafloor sediments.

scott jensen Scott Jensen
ESP Systems Lead Engineer

doug pargett Doug Pargett
Deep-water Operations Lead Engineer

chris preston Chris Preston
Senior Research Technician

brent roman Brent Roman
System Control Lead Engineer

Brent has been playing with computers and control systems since the late 1970s. He wrote embedded control software for video tape editing while attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a B.S. in Computer and Information Sciences in 1985. His main technical interests are computer operating systems, languages and feedback control systems. Brent wrote most of the custom software driving the current generation of the Environmental Sample Processor. He also enjoys sailing.

Brian Dreyer
Institute of Marine Sciences
UC Santa Cruz

Brian is an isotope geologist in the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz where he studies the recent magmagenesis and petrology of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. His interest in the petrology of mid-ocean ridges began during his postdoctoral fellowship with MBARI's Submarine Volcanism Group; there, he utilized uranium-series disequilibria within individual lavas of Axial Seamount to clarify eruption and petrogenetic timescales. At mid-ocean ridge systems globally, Brian is interested in a) how variability in lava morphology, geochemistry, and petrology reflect deeper mantle-melting and magmatic processes and their complex interplay with tectonism and b) improving the chronological framework of the ridge magmatic plumbing systems. Brian received his B.S. in Geology from Cal State East Bay in 2000 and PhD in Earth and Planetary Science from Washington University in St. Louis in 2007. When not on the Western Flyer this summer, Brian defends the left side of the infield for the Surfing Squirrels, MBARI's coed softball team.

Heather Olins
Graduate Student
Harvard University

Heather Olins is a graduate student at Harvard University in the Girguis Lab. Her research focuses on carbon fixation, microbe-mineral interactions, and biogeography of hydrothermal vent microbes. She is interested in the interactions of microbes with their physical environment in the deep sea, and determining the role of those interactions in global biogeochemical cycles. Heather received her B.A. and M.A. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Wesleyan University. On this cruise Heather will be helping with the microbiology associated with the D-ESP and also deploying microbial samplers designed to investigate the impact that mineralogy has on microbial colonization and community structure in vent ecosystems.

Charles Vidoudez
Postdoctoral Fellow
Harvard University

Charles has a multidisciplinary background in plant biochemistry, biotechnology, chemical ecology, metabolomics and mass spectrometry. He obtained his Ph.D in chemical ecology at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, working on developing and using metabolomics methods on diatoms. Charles's postdoctoral research focuses on combining all these techniques to better understand the deep-sea ecosystems. He currently uses and further develops in situ mass spectrometers. These instruments are a highlight of the Girguis lab and allow direct in situ characterization of the gases dissolved in the seawater, especially at hydrothermal vent sites.