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Gathering Threads
June 9, 2004
By Amy Nevala

John Delaney, the Co-Chief Scientist on our voyage to the Endeavour Segment and the Nootka transform fault , says that oceanographers gather threads of information. Over time, researchers worldwide weave them together to form a tapestry that is our collective understanding of the oceans and Earth.

John hopes that someday soon, scientists may have a more permanent presence on the seafloor. He is a leader in a project to build a giant ocean observatory, called NEPTUNE, for North East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments. Carefully planned patterns of instruments and cables placed in the northeast Pacific Ocean will help in the study of marine life, climate, earthquakes, pollution, and currents.

“I anticipate a future when many scientists will be able to research the oceans year round without leaving shore,” John said. The research will complement existing studies of the oceans using satellites, as well as ships like Atlantis.

Until that future, we sail for a few weeks at a time to gather threads. Late last night we returned, and now scientists will reflect on what they learned.

A Scientific Inventory
Chief Scientist Deb Kelley retrieved instruments she had placed on the seafloor to gather temperatures and sample microbes , and left other instruments behind to collect more information. Vicki Ferrini and Deb Glickson gave us the most detailed look yet of the Mothra and Main Endeavour vent fields by producing high-resolution maps.

After eight long nights, a group of graduate students lead by Kris Ludwig are now skilled at using an instrument called a CTD (for conductivity, temperature, and depth). The data they gathered will lead to discovery of a new vent field north of the Sasquatch vent field.

Alison LaBonte, Mike Tryon, Kevin Brown, and David Hilton, all of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, tested instruments that will help on future research expeditions.

And two final dives at the Nootka transform fault offshore Canada resulted in the discovery of a new cold seep site that hosts white clams, some as big as dinner plates.

Numbers tell a story of our time at sea. Thirteen researchers visited the seafloor in the submersible Alvin. Four were first time divers. The 49 scientists, Alvin group members, and ship’s crew consumed more than 29,000 gallons of fuel and drank and showered in 42,800 gallons of water. We ate 3,000 pounds of oatmeal, cheese, ice cream, pears, bacon, and bagels.

Heading Home
At 4 p.m. Monday just off Port Angeles, Washington, Captain George Silva boarded a boat to shore, where he flew home to mourn the death of a family member. During his time away, scientists and crew will miss his confident manner and sunny grin that made those on board feel comfortable and welcome, especially several first-time Atlantis sailors.

As Atlantis sailed back into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into Seattle last night, most said through exhausted smiles that they are happy with their work completed. No one was injured and nearly everyone stayed healthy (if not a few pounds heavier, from extra slices of Steward Carl Wood’s yellow cake with fudge frosting).

This morning Atlantis crewmembers continue to work unloading equipment and gear. In a few days some will scatter for long-awaited vacations or to see spouses and children. Others have less than a week before they will report back to Atlantis, where a new group of scientists will return to the Endeavour Segment for more oceanographic research.

The new science crew will not use Alvin. With one exception, all members of the Alvin group from this expedition have at least a month off before gathering in the Gulf of Alaska, where Alvin will dive to the seafloor with oceanographers researching corals, clams, and other types of macro-fauna. Sean McPeak, the newest Alvin pilot in training, will stay aboard Atlantis for the next leg to gain more experience working on research vessels and ocean instruments.

Expedition Leader Patrick Hickey will spend the next four months building a house in Vermont’s Green Mountains. He is looking forward to seeing a moose rumored to live in his backyard.

And two hundred miles from here, deep beneath the surface of the ocean on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, microbes grow, hydrothermal vents release super-heated fluids, and discoveries remain to be made on future research dives. Until then, thanks for joining us.

(For more information on NEPTUNE, see: