July 14, 2011

Location: Axial Seamount
Latitude: 45.9333° N
Longitude: 130.013° W

Hello. Our names are Scott Jensen and Doug Pargett. We are electrical and mechanical engineers with MBARI who have spent the last four years designing and building the Deep Environmental Sampling Processor (Deep-ESP). As the Deep-ESP is a new and complex system, we are on the cruise to setup, test, and operate the instrument for the scientists.

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

Today was the second day of transit out to the Axial seamount site. We arrived at the site about noon. The first action was to prepare the Deep-ESP for deployment. As Peter Girguis explained yesterday, we are using this instrument to detect and compare the microbes that live right at the vent with those living away from the vent. There are several additional instruments attached to the Deep-ESP that determine the physical and chemical composition of the water being sampled.

Ship’s crew and ROV pilots discussing the steps they will use to deploy the instrument and, once it reaches bottom, how the ROV Doc Ricketts will move it into location at the vent field Ashes.

The Deep-ESP is lowered into the water with a ship crane and then released. It is not cabled or guided in any manner, but sinks freely to the seafloor. Although the assembly weighs over 1,950 kg in air (4,300 lbs.), it displaces enough water that it is only around 50 kg (110 lbs.) when in the water. We can adjust the amount of displacement by adding or removing some of the hard foam bricks on the top of the assembly. It took 50 minutes for the Deep-ESP to sink to the seafloor here, 1,560 meters down. Although the Deep-ESP is unguided, it does have an acoustic beacon on it that allows the ship to track its descent and locate where it sits on the seafloor.

Deployment of the Deep-ESP. Tag lines keep the instrument from swinging once it is picked up off of the aft deck. Once submerged, it will be released from the crane. With its drop weight attached, the instrument package is negatively buoyant and sinks at a rate of 35 meters per minute. Bottom depth is approximately 1,500 meters.
First image of the Deep-ESP on the bottom of the ocean. The ROV then carried the Deep-ESP into the Ashes vent field where it was placed near a diffuse vent.

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts is deployed through the moon pool in the center of the ship. Unlike the free-falling Deep-ESP, the ROV is tethered to the ship by a power and communications cable, which allows the ROV pilots to operate the vehicle from the ship.

We surveyed the vent area with the ROV, looking for suitable warm water seep sites for the ESP to sample. The seeps are easily identifiable from the clusters of tube worms, and the escaping vent water shimmers as it distorts the lights from the ROV. Using a temperature probe we look for a large seep that is 30°C (86°F). Finding one, we set a sound beacon near it, and then the ROV goes to pick up the Deep-ESP at its landing site, about 140 meters northeast of the vent field.

The Deep-ESP landed safely at its target area, a flat area of lava flow, several hundred years old. Although large, the Deep-ESP is only around 50 kg in the water, and the ROV can pick it up and fly it back to the chosen vent site. It takes a little time to find a suitable spot to set the Deep-ESP near the vent, and to stage all the equipment that the ROV brought down to use tomorrow.

Skate we encountered in the vent field at Ashes.

Using the robotic manipulators on the ROV, the pilots connect the Deep-ESP to the ROV with a special electrical jack that can be connected underwater. This connection allows the engineers to control the Deep-ESP system, recover the stored data, update its mission, and also recharge the batteries. The engineers monitor the initial startup of the Deep-ESP and test its sampling capability. We set it up to run on its own before we disconnect it from the ROV. There are a lot of instruments and robotic systems within the Deep-ESP, so it requires a fair amount of power. In addition to the orange boxed batteries on the Deep-ESP itself, the ROV has carried down an additional battery pack, which got deployed and plugged into the Deep-ESP. This battery pack will provide additional power during the night and will be swapped during each day's dive. Back on board the ship, the battery packs are recharged to be ready for use the following day.

— Scott Jensen and Doug Pargett

Previous log Next log

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.