by Erik Olsen | March 8, 2018
ROV Jason has been successfully deployed off the deck of R/V Thompson and is now conducting its first in a long series of missions.
The first order of business was to deploy the five thermal blankets across the volcano seafloor. These simple but very useful devices measure the amount of heat escaping from the seafloor of the volcano. They contain extremely sensitive thermometers, enclosed in titanium, that can detect changes in temperature down to the thousandth of a degree Celsius.
The thermal blankets were dropped to the seafloor yesterday on the elevator, where they awaited Jason’s arrival this morning. Jason was deployed at approximately 4:00 a.m. New Zealand time beneath a dark, partly cloudy sky, but brilliantly illuminated by the ship’s bright deck lights. Once submerged, Jason’s onboard LED lights gave the vehicle an otherworldly glow beneath the waves.
The first mission was not without its setbacks, however. Jason was initially set to deploy at midnight, and the team put it in the water using a large crane, but a problem with the acoustic navigation beacon (also called the USBL, or ultra-short baseline navigation) required them to take it out and replace the device. The USBL allows us to know exactly where Jason is at all times relative to the ship, down to a fraction of a meter, which is extremely important for mapping the seafloor. With the new device installed, Jason was lowered into the water again.
The thermal blankets were placed around a vent site on the northwest rim of the volcano. They will sit there for at least eight hours, after which the Jason pilot will retrieve them and bring them up to the surface for analysis.
One cool thing: Shortly after its initial descent, Jason came across several small black smokers puffing dense, metals-rich fluids into the water. There will be much more on these later.