Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
April 1, 2000
What are the potential benefits of the research you are conducting?
Courtney Logan, Coronado Middle School
(niece of David Murline - 1st mate on RV Melville)
Your question is often asked about scientists who do basic research.
One of the most important benefits of the work that marine geologists
and geophysicists do is that we find out how the Earth works! It
was only about 40 years ago that marine geologists discovered the
mid-ocean ridge system and the important role it plays in seafloor
spreading. The discovery of the mid-ocean ridge and plate tectonics
revolutionized how scientists understand our planet and Earth’s
geologic history. This has had enormous benefits for such things
as oil exploration, and understanding why earthquakes happen in
certain places because of their location with respect to plate
boundaries (check out the Plate Tectonics Infomodule in the “Deeper
Discovery” part of the web site). It has even helped us to
understand the processes that helped shape other planets in our
Also, the recent discovery of hydrothermal vents on the mid-ocean
ridge axis in the late 1970s has been extremely important to biologists
because they have been able to study animal communities that do
not depend on photosynthesis - hydrothermal vent communities rely
on chemosynthesis to survive. Microbiologists studying the bacteria
that live on the hydrothermal fluids at deep sea vents have been
able to isolate new strains of microbes which have been used in
several different types of industrial processes, and may have important
applications in medicine. Check out the Hydrothermal Vents Infomodule
in the “Deeper Discovery” part of the web site.
Finally, it is important to understand that “basic research” plays
a key role in our society. Scientists and engineers need the freedom
to pursue ideas and discover things by developing hypotheses and
then doing experiments to test them. Basic research allows them
to do this, and often times there are also unexpected, exciting
applications that directly benefit society. As an example, all
of the basic research and development that took place during and
after World War II led directly to our ability to develop the ability
to explore space. In turn, the technology that was developed as
part of the US space program has led directly to many of the innovative
computer and other miniature technologies that we take for granted
today in almost every part of our daily lives. Basic research,
and the science and technology that results from it, are an essential
part of what lets human societies flourish.
Thanks for your great question and keep Diving and Discovering
Hi! I was just wondering what is it like to actually work out on
the sea day after day?
Thanks for your question. It is VERY exciting to be working out
here at sea on our research program. Not only are we finding out
lots of important facts about the mid-ocean ridge and how volcanic
eruptions take place, but we also get to work together as a group.
One of the things I like best about the science I do is that I
am able to work with others to come up with the best answer to
a science problem.
Also, being out at sea is great because you get to see lots of
different sea life. Today we saw sea turtles floating by, lots
of flying fish and even a few whales in the distance.
Thanks for your question and keep Diving and Discovering with us.
Do you have an auto-update capability, that is, automatically sending
emails to us as subscribers? Also, I’m VERY interested in
the South Pacific - especially historical voyages and expeditions
- any good ideas here?
Thanks for your question. Maya, Mike and I are answering the questions
that come in via the Dive and Discover “Mail Buoy”.
We send them directly to you and they also get sent to the web
server at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where they are posted
on the website.
The South Pacific is a very interesting area of the world and is
rich with history, including how early Polynesians navigated across
the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean to settle different island
chains. We will be posting an Infomodule in the “Deeper Discover” part
of the web site soon that has information on the History of Oceanography.
You’ll probably find that interesting.
I don’t have any specific references for you to go to, but
certainly you should look up the voyages of Capt. James Cook, one
of the early explorers in the Pacific. Typing in “South Pacific
Exploration” in any search engine on the Internet will probably
give you some good suggestions.
Thanks for your question and keep Diving and Discovering with us.
What kinds of noises did you hear through the hydrophones? What
are the living conditions like on the ship?
Ms. Shirley and the 3rd graders at Dedham Country Day School
Dear Ms. Shirley, and 3rd Graders at Dedham Country Day School:
What an imaginative question! Thank you. We hear several different
kinds of noises on the hydrophones. First, we hear earthquakes
which are the main signal we are looking for. We are especially
looking for earthquakes that are on the East Pacific Rise which
is the part of the mid-ocean ridge which we are studying. But,
we also hear earthquakes from as far away as Hawaii (where a
new volcano called Loihi is forming underwater), and from the
deep trenches off the coast of Central and South America. Check
out the slide show of what the hydrophones look like, where they
are, and the locations of all the earthquakes we hear in the “Hot
Topics” section in the “Daily Updates section” of
the web site.
We also hear whales on the hydrophones. Whales are known to “sing”,
which may be their way of communicating with each other. Different
types of whales sing different types of songs. By looking at the
hydrophone data, we can tell which type of whale was singing. For
more information on listening to whales with hydrophones, you should
look at: http://newport.pmel.noaa.gov/whales/acoustics.html.
The other things we hear on the hydrophones are human made noises,
such as ships going by, and seismic “air-guns” from
oil company or other surveys. Ships, like whales, have their own
distinctive noises depending on the type of engine and propellers
they have. The Navy uses similar hydrophones to look for submarines,
which like ships, make their own special noise. Military submarines
have been designed to be as quiet as possible to try to avoid being
heard by hydrophones. If you saw the movie “Hunt for Red
October” you know what I am describing.
Occasionally, if the currents are very strong, we will hear the
instrument itself shaking in the currents. This noise is called ’strumming’,
and it’s rather like if you strum a guitar string. The instrument
is attached to a long wire (several kilometers in length) that
anchors it to the sea floor. It is this wire that can “strum” and
make a noise.
Sometime we hear strange noises that we can’t identify, and
we call these “fish bumps”, suggesting that a fish
has bumped into the instrument. This is probably not what really
happened, but that's the expression that is often used to describe
something we can't identify on the hydrophone.
Living conditions on the ship are good. Even though the ship is
designed for science rather than comfort we are still quite comfortable.
You can see some pictures of the cabins in the slide show from
March 29th. A lot of people have to share rooms and sleep on bunk
beds, and the cabins are pretty small, but we have everything we
need. All our meals are cooked for us, and we never have to do
the washing up, so that’s nice! There is also a library and
video room where we can go to read books or watch movies if we
have the time.
Thanks to all of you for your great questions and keep Diving and
Discovering with us.