Seafloor lava flows
Day 9: Collaborating to explore a new lava flow
August 4, 2011

Location: Axial Volcano

Latitude: 45º 55.97' N
Longitude: 129º 59.70' W

We could not dive today as the ROV pilots were diagnosing and repairing the problem that caused the vehicle to abort the dive yesterday. Below, Dave tells us about an exciting discovery at Axial Volcano, and the hectic logistics—by email via satellite between three ships at sea—that enabled us to change our plans and rapidly respond.

— Jenny Paduan

As the R/V Western Flyer was beginning this leg of the expedition and transiting from Newport, Oregon, to Axial Seamount on July 28, we received an email from Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Dave Butterfield of the University of Washington (UW), who were aboard the R/V Atlantis, indicating they had discovered a lava flow at the summit of Axial Seamount that had erupted in the past year. This was exciting news indeed! At the time no one knew when the eruption had occurred or if it might still be underway.

MBARI’s R/V Western Flyer and ROV Doc Ricketts had been working on Axial for the previous two weeks, and we had unknowingly sampled this new flow near the Ashes hydrothermal field. When we arrived back at Axial Seamount on July 28, following a port call between legs, we continued our planned program to sample a thick section of volcaniclastic sediments on the east rim of the caldera, and stayed clear of their program using ROV Jason II. We then continued with our program at other sites along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, while they assessed the distribution of the new flow, in part while trying to locate equipment left the year before to monitor activity at Axial.

MBARI’s AUV D. Allan B., which is launched and tracked from the R/V Zephyr, had collected high-resolution (one-meter) bathymetry of the entire summit of Axial Seamount between 2006 and 2009, and had shared these data with Chadwick to guide his dives, and with the Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI) cabled observatory group at UW to guide their design of the cable routes.

Chadwick asked when we might be able to resurvey the part of the summit where the new lava flows were found, and we responded that we were in the area and could do a survey in early August. This entailed creating a new survey plan to cover the inferred area of the new flow, which is not difficult unless the communications are bouncing back and forth between three ships, all at sea and sending email via satellite. Eventually we arrived at a plan and the Zephyr headed to Axial from Newport on the afternoon of August 1, just as the Atlantis was tying up in Astoria and the Western Flyer was conducting our third ROV dive on the Endeavour Ridge.

The AUV survey was launched in the evening on Tuesday, August 2nd and completed mid-afternoon Wednesday. The Zephyr started to transit towards the Western Flyer, while the ROV was was still diving at the Vance Seamounts. When the ROV dive was prematurely terminated due to electrical problems, the Western Flyer also began sailing towards the Zephyr. As mentioned in the August 3rd log, the two ships rendezvoused at sea at 8 p.m. and the Axial survey data, completed just a few hours before, was transferred to the Western Flyer by a crew member who brought it on his paddleboard. It was my birthday, and this was a great birthday present indeed!

With the AUV data in hand, we began to process and create GIS grids and maps, including a difference map between the earlier survey and the newly collected one. This proves to be the easiest way to envision the scope and distribution of the new flows, and will be used extensively when we finally dive with the Doc Ricketts.

The first AUV survey had shown that the new flows were more extensive than we had originally thought, and we began planning a second survey to try to cover the new flows completely. The survey plan was created on shore by Dave Caress at MBARI, with multiple iterations going back and forth via satellite between the Western Flyer, Bill Chadwick (now on vacation), and the AUV team, led by Hans Thomas on the Zephyr. Funds were located to help pay for the added day. The survey will be nearing completion when the Western Flyer departs to Newport at noon on Friday.

— Dave Clague

With the end of the leg coming very quickly, I am growing excited to dive at a new eruption site at Axial Seamount.  Freshly delivered AUV data in hand thanks to the Zephyr Crew will help guide our exploration.  We attempted to dive this morning but luck was not on our side.  500 meters deep into the ocean and the lights on the ROV went out.  Doc Ricketts was returned to the ship and we had to make a new game plan.  The ROV pilots quickly began to troubleshoot and diagnose the problem.  In the meantime the science crew continued working towards sample collection using the new AUV data.  Rock crushing was the name of the game.  The return for our efforts was great.  Significant amounts of very fresh and great looking glass in wax cores were retrieved from the Axial caldera.  Concurrently, through great effort and skill the pilots deduced the problem associated with Doc Ricketts in the late afternoon and told us we could dive starting at midnight.  With high hopes we finished two more sets of rock crushing in the late evening, collected and sorted our samples and prepared for the dive.  As we move to our target location we are all eager to investigate the newest addition to the Axial caldera tomorrow.

— Andrew Burleigh

Andrew and Dave launch the rock crusher over the stern of the ship.
A volcaniclastic rock collected at Vance yesterday (7cm wide). The upper cm has several layers of glassy fragments and volcanic sand from explosive eruptions, and a manganese oxide crust that formed slowly over time.

Update from the crew of the R/V Zephyr:

The R/V Zephyr has been at sea now since July 13, mapping a variety of sites along the Pacific Northwest coast. We've done detailed mapping of the Eel River fan near Eureka, California, and the Endeavour Segment of the Juan De Fuca Ridge off British Columbia. For the last week, we've been mapping the Axial Seamount area about 250 miles west of Newport, Oregon. A recent NOAA cruise had identified a new lava flow, and the Zephyr was able to map this flow over the course of several dives. We have one more week of operations left before we head for home.

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Leg 2

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 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

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.


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

George Gunther


Lance Wardle
Chief Engineer


Andrew McKee
First 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

David Clague
Senior 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, processing the high-resolution MBARI Mapping AUV data and interpreting the maps using ROV observations and samples from our research sites. On this cruise, she will 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. 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.

Linda Kuhnz
Senior Research Technician

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.

Julie Martin
Senior Research Technician

Julie works with the submarine volcanism group, where she currently produces high resolution maps of the seafloor that are used to identify geologic features along submarine ridges and seamounts. Her research interests also include modeling of volcanic ash from sub-aerial, large-scale explosive eruptions.

Ryan Portner
Postdoctoral Fellow

Ryan's work with the submarine volcanism project primarily focuses on the formation and distribution of volcaniclastic deposits on active and extinct seamounts and mid-ocean ridges. By categorizing the diversity in these deposits with respect to volcanic landforms he hopes to better understand the underlying controls on explosive vs. non-explosive deep marine eruptions. His background research on deep-marine gravity flow deposits preserved in sedimentary-volcanic successions exposed on land lends a comparable platform to study similar deposits of the modern oceans.

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.

Andrew Burleigh
Oregon State University

Andrew received his bachelors in geology at Oregon State University in 2011 and is currently a graduate student at Oregon State University. His research focuses on the geochemistry of plagioclase ultraphyric basalt from mid ocean ridges to investigate how and why they form. Particularly, he is interested in using major and trace element variations in mineral phases to better understand magma chamber processes that modify melts in residence and transit prior to eruption.

John Jamieson
University of Ottawa

John's research interests focus on sulfide deposits that form on the seafloor as a result of venting of hydrothermal fluids. In particular, he uses radioactive isotopes to determine the ages of sulfide deposits in order to better understand the history of a vent field, as well as the rates at which sulfide accumulates along ocean ridges. John also studies the mineralogy and trace element geochemistry of seafloor sulfides, in order to better understand the tectonic controls on massive sulfide formation. The broad aim of this research is to constrain the impact of hydrothermal activity on the metal and sulfur budgets of the ocean and evaluate the geo-economic viability of seafloor massive sulfides as a source of copper, zinc, gold and silver.

Amy Lange
Oregon State University

Amy received her bachelors in geology from Hanover College in 2008 and is currently a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University. Recently she has been working on the geochemistry of plagioclase ultra-phyric basalts from mid-ocean ridges globally to understand why they erupt and what information they can tell us about crustal magma chamber processes. Her research uses trace element and isotopic microanalyses of mineral phases to unravel the pre-eruptive history of magmas. This is Amy's first cruise and she is excited to actively participate in ocean research!

Sean Scott
New Mexico State University

Sean received his B.S. degree in geology from Central Washington University in 2009 and is currently pursuing his M.S. degree at New Mexico State University. Sean is presently working on uranium series geochemistry of Endeavour basalts to evaluate spreading dynamics and chemical variation through time. Never did he think that he would have the opportunity to go on a research cruise with MBARI to his thesis area, and he is absolutely ecstatic about this trip!

Kevin Werts
University of Florida

Kevin graduated from Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in geology. He is currently working towards his M.S. degree with Dr. Michael Perfit at the University of Florida. Kevin's research focuses on the phase chemistry of evolved mid ocean ridge lavas from the Cleft segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. He is using phase chemistry to better understand the processes of differentiation that produced such evolved lavas at this mid ocean ridge.