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partly sunny
Today's Weather
Overcast, Mostly Cloudy
Lat: 00° 48.41'N
Long: 086° 13.88'W
Wind: SSE
Wind Speed: 12-16kts
Sea State: 4
Swell Height: 4-6 ft
Baro Press: 1010.81MB
Air Temp: 24.3°C 75.8°F
Sea Temp: 26.3°C 79.3°F
Vis: 7-9nm

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Venturing into Unexplored Territory
May 27, 2005
By Amy Nevala

Today, the halfway point of our expedition, we became pioneers. Since departing Costa Rica one week ago, we learned that life thrives at Rosebud, and that Mussel Bed stopped supporting life since researchers last visited it in 1990. But in the days ahead we will venture into parts unknown, exploring new areas along the Galapagos Rift for signs of hydrothermal activity.

Scientists have been exploring the rift since 1977, when hydrothermal vents and their surrounding communities were first discovered. “Every time we come here we see some communities die, and others come to life,” said biologist Tim Shank. “We suspect there are more sites than the few we know about along the rift. We hope to find at least one more on this expedition.”

Just after 8 a.m. Alvin submerged into the gray choppy sea carrying geologist Dan Fornari, pilot Anthony Tarantino, and WHOI guest Peter Nomikos, who was making his inaugural visit to the seafloor. First stop: Rosebud, to sample more clams and mussels for biologists. 

Three hours later, Alvin headed west, following the rift valley axis.

Divers had just enough power for a couple of hours of exploration. “Basically we did a quick zigzag along the axis,” Dan told a small crowd that gathered near the submersible when they returned. “We saw a few crabs, but no venting.”

Tomorrow, divers will explore to the east of Mussel Bed. They are excited by clues about the area revealed in the last few days. At midnight Tuesday, volcanologist Adam Soule and biologist Rhian Waller sat at a computer watching a red line track the 2 C degree (36 F) water temperature, which is monitored using a CTD instrument (for conductivity, temperature, depth) on TowCam. Suddenly, the flat line shot up, forming a sharp peak.

“It caught my attention because usually we sit there for 5, 6, or 7 hours just watching this flat line,” Adam said. “When it jumps we know the temperature is up in that spot of the ocean, and it could mean the presence of a previously unknown vent.”

How will they know when they have found something? “Our best clues will be critters,” Adam said, explaining that tubeworms, clams, mussels, and other vent animals tend to thrive near the warm, chemical-rich fluids flowing from active vents sites.

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Fish and crab meet at the Rosebud hydrothermal vent field. Tubeworms and mussels live in cracks where the vent fluids exit the seafloor.

“I don’t want to jinx us by saying we’ll find something,” said Adam as he readied for tomorrow’s dive. “But we have the right tools to get us to the right place, so I’m hopeful.”

Mail Buoy

Do you have questions about oceanographic research, hydrothermal vents, or about what it is like to work on board a ship? E-mail your questions to the scientists working on board RV Atlantis at Please tell us your town and state, and keep your messages short with no attachments. Read today's mail »