Expedition 16 Mail Buoy

Here is your chance to ask questions directly to the scientists, engineers, and crew members aboard the R/V Thompson. We will answer your question directly to the email address you provide, and we may also post your question with its answer right here.

Thanks for following along!

Mail Buoy: March 25, 2018

Question:

Salutations! I’m from Ms. Sheild’s 7th grade science class. I believe that the Jason is a pretty big bulky and big vehicle, How do you manuver the robot efficiently and safely and is it hard to maneuver? Thanks! —Bryan

Answer:

Jason is actually very maneuverable—it has 512 lb. of thrust in three axes—Vertical, Horizontal and Lateral—from its DC brushless motors with vector drive controllers. Jason also uses a closed-loop control system, which is essentially a dynamic positioning system like the one on the ship (see the post about navigation), but unlike the ship, Jason does not have GPS. Instead we use a Doppler velocity sonar to keep track of its position and motion. The sonar signal gets bounced off the seafloor, which is very close to Jason, and this allows for precise control of the vehicle. The closed-loop control system uses the doppler position information to automatically adjust the thrusters. As a result, Jason can hover in the water, with little to no movement, for extended periods, and it can also make extremely precise movements--down to the centimeter. This allows Jason to hold position while engaged in complex manipulations and allows it to move in nearly perfectly straight lines when doing transects. We can also move at any angle, with the ROV turned in any orientation (we call this system Auto-XY). —Matt Heinz

Question:

How long did it take to make Jason? —Taylor

Answer:

The previous Jason (Jason 1) was launched in 1988. When we built this one (which is actually Jason 2) in 2002, much of the infrastructure we needed (the control vans, winches, cranes) were still in place and didn’t need to be built from scratch, so it took a total of about three years to design and build. Jason also recently went through a major rebuild and upgrade, which took about a year, but did not include an electrical re-design--it was strictly mechanical systems. You can read more about that here. —Matt Heinz

Question:

Hello, I'm one of Ms. Sheild's 7th grade students.What new, exciting, or just awesome things have you found on the cruise so far? Have you found any new species, or something interesting about vents? —Sophie

Answer:

This is now my 7th research expedition to a deep-sea hydrothermal system and every time I visit these systems I continue to be amazed. As a microbial ecologist, much of my work will be conducted back in the lab after returning to land. There we will extract and sequence all of DNA from the microbial communities associated with the various mineral deposits we have collected. With these data we expect to find sequences from organism we have never observed before, so yes we will find new species of microbes. We are also expecting to find dramatic differences in the microbial communities between the two areas of the volcano we have explored. The NW caldera site is similar to other deep-sea hydrothermal vent systems I have visited in the past. However, the cone site that we began exploring today is vastly different that anything I have seen before. The geochemistry of the fluids is extremely acidic and rich in gasses spewing from the magma of the volcano. We know that low pH and the gases in these fluids can have a profound influence on the types of microbes that live there. We are excited to see how these geochemical differences are manifested in the types of microorganisms we find. Certainly there will be new species but also new genera, families, and potentially even higher levels of taxonomy.  The discovery aspect of coming to these systems is what excites me and keeps me coming back! —Gilberto Flores

Hi Sophie, we also saw lots of amazing invertebrates, many I have never seen before. Maybe they are new, I do not know as it is not my area of expertise. We saw a very small clump of tubeworms, which is rare here. Also a two finned squid, which apparently have only been seen a handful of times! So even if no new species are detected, many are new to us on board the Thompson! —Anna-Louise Reysenbach

Question:

Hi I’m in Ms. Sheilds class How does animal life survive the sudden change in temperature of ocean water when the vents are blowing or not blowing? —Samantha

Answer:

The animals generally are not in the heat of the vents, so they are in the cooler parts, and rely on the chemicals from the vents to mix with seawater, to help fuel microbial growth. The animals are mainly sustained by the microbes that are all over the vents.  Some animals like the crabs will eat other animals, so they are scavengers. —Anna-Louise Reysenbach

Question:

Hello, I’m a student from Ms. Sheild's seventh grade class at Clarke middle school in Lexington MA and I had some questions. Firstly, with the samples that you take do you have to contain them in liquids and in certain conditions? If there are primitive organisms near the hydrothermal vents then are you able to match them with old fossils? —Rohan

Answer:

For the microbes, when they come to the surface, we put them in tubes that we then add gas to. This keeps the oxygen out (they are anaerobic). They can be kept like that for a long time in the refrigerator. If we want to grow the microbes, we put them in a material that we make for them to grow in and put them in ovens at high temperatures, like 85 degree C.

To your second question, yes there are. Many invertebrates that have harder bodies,like the barnacles or like the tubeworms that have tubes, there are fossils of these in rocks from old deep-sea vents.—Anna-Louise Reysenbach

Question:

Hello, I am a student from Ms. Sheild’s 7th grade science class. My question is, how do all the larger organisms deal with the water pressure and heat to survive? —Cuyler

Answer:

They are adapted to this. So some of the animals, if we brought them to the surface would not survive. At the vents, the animals stay away from the hottest water. The temperature gradients are very steep (meaning the temperature changes very quickly over a short distance), so it’s only really hot in the black water. When the water is clear and just shimmering, the temperature can be as low as 40 or 30 or even 15 degrees C, which the larger organisms can easily survive.

Question:

I am a seventh grade student in Ms. Sheild’s class. In your mission, it says that you are planning to drill into Brothers volcano to get core samples. Is there any danger in doing this? —Gabriel

Answer:

We are planning to drill to a depth of 800 meters into the caldera of Brothers volcano during May-July 2018. This is part of an international scientific ocean drilling program (called the International Ocean Discovery Program) that uses the drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution to answer important questions about our planet. Athough we might encounter hot, acidic fluids during drilling that will not be good on the coring equipment and instruments, there is no danger in drilling into the upper levels of this volcano. There is a panel of experts called the IODP Environmental Protection and Safety Panel that reviews every site drilled during the program to ensure that it is safe to drill there and that any environmental effects are minimized. In fact, Jason is doing some detailed imaging around some of the proposed drill sites during this cruise so we have as much information about each area as possible. —Susan Humphris

Question:

I am in Ms. Sheild’s class, and I had a question about your expedition. What measures do you guys take to not disturb or pollute the natural ecosystem on the sea bed? I read that a couple of days ago you lost the elevator for the Rov in the water, could this possibly harm any of the organisms in the deep sea? Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. —Aditi

Answer:

Good question, Aditi! We are very careful when working around hydrothermal vent ecosystems to disturb them as little as possible. In fact, on this cruise, we have not been collecting macrofauna (larger animals) at all. When we take samples of the chimneys or the fluids discharging from them, we hover the ROV above the bottom, usually just barely touching the chimney to keep the vehicle steady. You mentioned the elevator that we lost. It is relatively small, only about 4 feet on a side so would disturb only a small patch of the seafloor. Who knows, maybe it becomes a new home for some organisms! —Susan Humphris

Question:

Hi, my name is Owen and I am in the 3rd grade. I'm learning about continental drift in class and I also want to be a marine biologist when I grow up. If you discover new species at the vents do you expect them to be similar to species in other parts of the world? —Owen

Answer:

Interestingly, different vent systems in different parts of the world have different communities of animals! For example, long tubeworms dominate vent communities in the eastern equatorial Pacific, but shrimps dominate communities in many parts of the Atlantic! That is an important observation, because you might think they should all be similar because the oceans are all connected. This observation is not yet well understood - maybe it is something you can study when you become a marine biologist!

Question:

Hi! I'm in Ms. Sheild's 7th grade science class.
I have 2 different questions.
1) What is the most interesting thing that you have ever found on an expedition?
2) How many hours do the scientists work in a day analyzing data and making observations?
Thank you!
—Kayla

Answer:

1) Everyone would have a different answer to this question but for me, every dive is interesting. The great thing is that you never know what you are going to see! My first dive in the submersible Alvin was very special to me as I saw huge chimneys covered in shrimp in the middle of the Atlantic - a sight I will never forget!
2) Scientists on the ship usually work in 12-hour shifts, so there is always someone doing something, no matter what time it is. If there are samples in the lab, you'll find groups of people working there. If the vehicle is in the water, you'll find people piloting, navigating, and observing in the control van. And of course, there is always, always crew on the bridge.  —Susan Humphris

Question:

How much weight is Jason able to carry up to the surface since the elevator loss? I'm loving all the explanations of what has happened over the years and happening now. Great job by all! —Theresa

Answer:

Jason as configured for this cruise has 500 lb. of payload. When configured for heavy lift, it can handle 4000 lb. —Matt Heinz