Cruise informatiom

R/V Thompson | ROV Jason and AUV Sentry | Seattle-Seattle, August 14-29

Skyping from Sea

Monday August 24, 2015 
By Rachel Teasdale

Bright but overcast skies with moderate wind (5-15 knots) and relatively calm seas (swells of 6-8 ft).

What’s happening today? 

Many of us awoke this morning to find Jason on the deck, which was not planned. At approximately 3:00 this morning a problem with the hydraulic system of the sample basket (where the mobile pressure recorder is stowed) developed, which forced the dive to end early. Fortunately the Jason group was able to fix the problem quickly and Jason was back in the water at noon to continue the long dive to measure pressure at a series of ten benchmarks. We’re on the third and final circuit of the campaign. AUV Sentry was launched this afternoon on a mission to continue multibeam sonar mapping of the caldera.

Skyping from Sea
Chemist Dave Butterfield (Univ Washington/NOAA), geologist Bill Chadwick (Oregon State University/NOAA, and microbiologist Jim Holden (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) talk via Skype video connection with students at Lindhurst High School in Marysville, CA.
Working at a volcano that is 1.5-2.2 km (0.9-1.3 mi) under the sea might be difficult to imagine for non-scientists, but to encourage broader understanding of the type of work we’re doing and the various instruments we use, we have been talking to school-aged groups by Skype while at sea. Following a similar program we began in 2013, we organized Skype calls with west coast middle and high school classrooms, summer camps, and with the Visitor’s Center at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport, Oregon.

During the Skype calls, scientists on board the Thompson at Axial Seamount can conduct a video call to shore, more than 400 km (250 mi) away via the ship’s satellite-based internet. In spite of the distance, scientists and engineers on board the Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition have been able to share some of their science goals for the cruise, provide updates of some of the progress we’ve made, and then answer questions.

Chief Scientist, Bill Chadwick, microbiologist Jim Holden, and chemist Dave Butterfield are often on the Skype calls to explain their work here at Axial Seamount and also some of the research they’ll continue to do once back at their home institutions. The majority of time during the calls is spent answering questions from kids with whom we are Skyping.

Teachers prepare their students to talk with scientists by having them read the cruise blog entries ( Most are curious about the ROV Jason and AUV Sentry dives, and also have more detailed questions about the 2015 lava flows and the microbes that manage to survive in the hydrothermal vent environments.

2015 Axial Seamount lava morphologies, including pillows (left), jumbled flows (center) and lobate sheet flows (right).
For example, a student from Chico Junior High School in California asked Chadwick to compare the explosivity of eruptions on land with the 2015 eruption given the high water pressure in which it erupted. Chadwick answered that at Axial Seamount, lavas typically erupt in the form of thin fluid sheet flows or thicker pillow lavas (see images above) rather than explosively and drew some comparisons to other volcanoes like Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in contrast to more explosive volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens.

In a conversation with the HMSC Visitor Center, a room of more than 35 visitors peppered scientists with questions ranging from the possible connections between Axial Seamount’s geologic activity and earthquake hazards along the coast, to the diversity of animal and microbial life that live at the hydrothermal vents (see image below).
Tubeworms (left) thrive on hydrothermal vent chimneys in the CASM hydrothermal vent field where we sampled hot spring fluids during Dive J2-822 on 21 August 2015.

In a Skype call with a STEM Marine Science Camp for girls at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, AUV Sentry engineer Loral O’Hara explained that she works with colleagues on board to process mapping data from the submersible as well as to plan future missions. Biologist Emily Reddington responded to questions to explain the work she and her colleagues do with fluid samples from the hydrothermal vents to identify and characterize the activities of specific microbes by sequencing their DNA and RNA.

We all recognize that one of our duties as scientists is to explain to non-scientist what we do and why we think it’s important.  These Skype calls are a great way to do that, in addition to this cruise blog.   And who knows, they just might inspire the next generation of scientists to explore the natural world and try to answer important questions on land, or maybe even at sea.