Vance Expedition
July 24 - August 6, 2006

August 6 update
Transit day and arrival in Newport, Oregon

Jenny writes: We left our dive site yesterday at 2:00pm sharp. It is 270 nautical miles to port, and we are due at the dock at 5pm today, which we can do if we make 10 knots the entire way. Yesterday evening was calm and sunny in between a few rain squalls, and they had the ship speeding comfortably along at 12 knots. It's like putting money in the bank: if the weather is anything like it was on our transit north as we get closer to shore, we'll need that cushion.

Squall over a calm (pacific, even) Pacific Ocean.
Dave Clague writes:  We are underway for Newport as I write this, following a very successful cruise despite the very poor weather we encountered on our initial transit from Moss Landing to Gorda Ridge. We completed 8 of the 9 planned dives including all on the Vance Seamounts and Axial Seamount. Unfortunately, we could not even attempt the dive planned for the northern Escanaba Trough on Gorda Ridge due to time lost during the transit and the rough weather conditions at the site when we arrived. During the cruise we completed nearly 70 hours of  dive time on the bottom, recording HDTV on nearly all of it. We collected 178 rock samples, 41 pushcores, 17 sediment scoop samples, and 17 vibracores (all on Axial Seamount). In addition, we specifically collected 84 animal specimens, 33 of them small animals sucked through a 29-jar sampler designed primarily to collect volcanic glass on young submarine lava flows. The sampler collected all but the most delicate animals in excellent condition. Many of the geologic samples were also very delicate glassy basalts or crumbly volcaniclastite or manganese oxide crusts that were expertly collected by the MBARI pilots using the ROV Tiburon’s sensitive manipulator.

Our science party, after running and documenting a roughly 10 hour dive during the day managed to complete cleaning, photographing, describing, and sampling all the glassy rocks in the evening after the ROV came to the surface, every night. Many of the fragmental volcaniclastite samples remain to be subsampled, but will be sawed when we return to our labs. We also sieved, dried, and examined all the sediment scoop samples and about a dozen of the pushcores at sea. The biologic samples were photographed, described, and preserved for anatomical identification and DNA analyses, which required subdividing most samples into portions to be frozen and portions to be preserved in ethanol and in formalin. It is fair to say that the hard scientific work is just beginning as we move beyond the initial documentation, labeling, and preservation stage to laboratory analytical studies. When the analyses are completed, probably in a year or so, the data will be combined with the direct observational data to try to understand the geological processes that formed and shaped these volcanoes. The detailed work of identifying the various animals will begin when we return as well. Once we know what animals were collected, appropriate experts will be contacted and physiological and genetic studies will follow on some of the animals. Many of these animals will expand studies already begun on animals collected on prior dives to the Gorda and Juan de Fuca Ridges, and from seamounts offshore central California and elsewhere.

Science party poses on the promenade deck of the Western Flyer as we pull into the pier at Newport, OR.

Most of the science party, plus two ROV pilots, in the control room on the Western Flyer during a Tiburon dive. We scientists took turns standing watch at four stations: HDTV camera controls, video annotation and framegrabbing, real-time GIS to make an annotated track of the dive, and taking good old-fashioned, handwritten notes in a notebook.

The science party consisted of David Clague, Joe Jones and Jenny Paduan from MBARI, Gillian Clague from Willamette University, Brian Cousens and Liz Cornejo from Carleton University, John Stix and Christoph Helo from McGill University, Kristen Choquette from the University of Ottawa, and Mike Perfit and Rachel Wendt from the Univsersity of Florida. The ROV crew consisted of chief pilot Buck Reynolds, Randy Prickett, Bryan Schaefer, Buzz Scott, D.J. Osborne (on loan from the ROV Ventana crew). Darrell Palmer ably filled in as captain of the R/V Western Flyer during this leg. He and his crew got us through the bad weather on the transit north and worked seamlessly with the ROV crew to execute the dives. Derek Greenwood turned out fine meals day in and day out, which went a long way to keeping everyone’s spirits high. The success of the cruise is shared by all aboard. 

Joe writes: With one last coral collected on yesterday’s dive, the animal sample from this extremely successful cruise was added to the collection for a total of 179 animal samples including 22 coral samples.  Its hard to comprehend how much biological diversity can occur in the deep sea.  On the first dive (T1007), we found a small outcrop at the top of a caldera wall where we collected eight coral samples in one spot while waiting for the ship to catch up to the ROV.  How much more diversity lies in the areas that were on the other side of that outcrop? Seamounts will continue to be an area of research for all fields of science for many years to come.

Animal we found attached to a manganese crust fragment on our last dive. It is probably a black coral (antipatharian), but has an unusual, rigid mass at the base of its branches. We are guessing this might be an anti-predatory device, if it has nematocysts inside. Does anyone know what this is?

Many of the animal samples that we collected are undoubtedly new species. How many new species did we find? The answer to that will be answered in the coming months. Some are common, being found on seamounts in other parts of the Pacific Ocean; how do larvae of these species make the journey between these isolated seamount islands? MBARI researchers and collaborators are eagerly awaiting samples to begin their analyses. Collaborators at NOAA will extract DNA to determine species identity and relationships among the plethora of coral samples that we collected (see collage). Other researchers will be estatic that we collected five-armed crinoids (most crinoids have 10 arms), undoubtedly something unique. Yet others will be excited that we collected tissue samples from three species of enteropneust for DNA analysis. It is rare to even see these unusual animals much less have the ability to collect these delicate creatures from the bottom of the sea. These samples will address the question of how this curious group of hemichordates is related to other invertebrates. Personally, I'm most excited about samples of clams and squat lobsters that we collected from the Vance Seamounts. When I get back to the lab on Thursday, I will compare the DNA of these animals to those from other seamounts and ridges where we’ve collected samples to answer questions about how the populations are related. If they are different species, I will send the specimens to my colleague who will analyze the morphology. While all of this seems like a lot of work (and it is!), it is only a scratch into the amount of work that remains to be done in the oceans.

The diversity that saw on the various seamounts was astonishing.  We saw nearly the entire spectrum of invertebrates including porifera (sponges), cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, and allies), annelids (segmented worms), arthropods (crabs and shrimp), molluscs (clams, scallops, etc), echinoderms (sea stars and crinoids), and hemichordates (acorn worms).  An entire textbook of species in one small area of the the world’s oceans!  There is undoubtedly a lot of diversity in the deep sea and this is just a small subset of what is out there.  Many new species and unsual environements exist that we have yet to discover.

This is the second seamount cruise and the third oceanographic cruise that I’ve participated on with Dave Clague’s group. It is always a pleasure going to sea with a such diverse group of oceanographers who are willing to teach a biologist some geology! We hope you’ve enjoyed following along while we’ve been at sea.  We’ve certainly enjoyed having you follow along and send us emails and questions!

A sampling of the coral diversity that we saw on the Vance Seamounts.

Brian writes: We are just steaming over the edge of the continental rise (at noon), leaving true oceanic crust seafloor behind us along with the Vance Seamounts.  It has been a really quick two weeks. We got off to a rough (no pun intended) start with poor weather and a very slow transit out to the study area. But once we arrived at the Vance Seamounts, everything went extremely smoothly. The crew of the Western Flyer and the ROV Tiburon pilots are amongst the most professional people that I have ever worked with, and the success of the cruise is a reflection of their talents. The science party was terrific, and all of us are thinking about everyone else's projects. My major concern was that my student, Liz, would get enough high-quality samples for her thesis study. We in fact collected more samples than she could possibly analyze in the next eight months, so our big job will be to decide which samples to do initially, and then pick a second set of samples to do to refine our initial observations. It has also been a treat for me to have my daughter Kristen out with us, this being her first exposure to science at sea. She has been going through the brochures about MBARI's intern program and is excited about possibilities in the future. So now all that is left is to clean up the lab (rock chips are EVERYWHERE!), pack up our science gear, clean up our cabins, and get ready to arrive in Newport! Some of us are flying straight home, but others have more field work to do. John Stix is flying to Indonesia direct from Oregon, and I am off to Reno for three days of field work in the Lake Tahoe area and east of Reno in the desert. Glad that I brought my shorts and lots of sunscreen!

Our haul of rocks packed into 5-gallon paint buckets and a number of intact push-cores are ready to take home with us for further analyses.

We shrunk a lot of cups this cruise! Many of us enjoyed the creative outlet they provided, and will treasure them as souvenirs of this voyage.

The Western Flyer

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