The ROV Little Hercules descends through deep-water down to Kawio Barat – an undersea volcano in the Celebes Sea 1900 to 5500 meters deep – to search for hydrothermal vents and associated ecosystems. Video collected by a high definition camera on Little Hercules and the camera platform are sent to the ship, to satellites in space, and to Exploration Command Centers on shore in real-time. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Today marked the first day of full operations during INDEX 2010 at the Seattle ECC. Scientists stand watch as live footage of the seafloor captured by the ROV streams to shore in real-time. Click image for larger view and image credit.
The Seattle ECC comes online!
After many months of planning and preparation, today marked the first day of full telepresence operations at the Exploration Command Center (ECC) based in Seattle, WA. Scientists and other participants began arriving at 1700 local time to an office space at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, set-up with 6 large high definition monitors, several computers, and an RTS Intercom Unit enabling real-time communication with NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and other shore-side ECCs.
Scientists and expedition participants began setting up computers around a conference table and logging into a variety of online collaboration tools, used to communicate and share information with other scientists and participants in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Okeanos Explorer, and a handful of experts and students joining from other locations. Large, high definition monitors in the front the ECC streamed live footage from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, located thousands of miles away in the Celebes Sea.
Meanwhile on Okeanos Explorer, the ROV team and members of the ship’s crew have just finished breakfast and are making preparations to deploy the Little Hercules ROV down to Kawio Barat – an undersea volcano in the Celebes Sea 1900 to 5500 meters deep – to search for hydrothermal vents and associated ecosystems. High definition cameras located around the ship capture the action, and at any time as many as 3 video feeds showing what is happening in real-time are sent from the ship to participants on shore.
Today, these video feeds are being pulled into both the Jakarta and Seattle ECC where scientists are standing watch, waiting to provide input and information about the seafloor and habitats being explored by the Little Hercules ROV. Scientists in both locations watch as the ROV is deployed over the side of the ship and begins its descent through deep-water to an area near the crest of the Kawio Barat volcano. Shortly after deployment, a daily meeting between participants in all three locations to review the current dive plan and discuss plans for the following day begins.
About an hour later the ROV arrives at the seafloor and begins ascent of the upper western slope toward the summit, situated about 250 meters higher than our starting depth. Based on evidence from several water column profiles around the summit, we fully expect to find active hydrothermal vents on this volcano. As we work our way up the slope, scientists based in Seattle, Oregon, Massachusetts and Jakarta - each with expertise in submarine and hydrothermal systems - recognize promising signs that the area very recently, and perhaps still, contains active hydrothermal venting. They read the signs, and provide guidance on what direction the ROV should head to find active vent areas.
Many of the rocks we see exposed on the western slope of Kawio Barat are highly vesicular, i.e. they are full of holes left by gas bubbles present in the lava as it froze during eruption. The lavas here must have been exceptionally gas-rich to produce so many gas bubbles at a depth of nearly 2000 meters. Click image for larger view and image credit.
The entire slope along our track is covered by dark volcaniclastic sediments, fine bits of pulverized rock produced by explosive lava eruption higher up the slope. The surface of the sediments is often covered by bright white or orange coatings produced when warm fluids percolate up through the sand-like sediments and encounter cold seawater. The iron and sulfur carried by the warm fluids produce orange or yellow-white coatings that stand out vividly against the dark background. In some places, we see rocky outcrops standing above the sediments, and many of the rocks are brightly colored from hydrothermal alteration.
None of the areas that we see along the ascending transect, however, are actual, active hydrothermal flow. They are signs of potentially very recent warm conditions, but nothing we see on the western slope can produce the intense hydrothermal plumes we detected in recent days with the CTD.
The surface of the sediments is often covered by bright white or orange coatings produced when warm fluids percolate up through the sand-like sediments and encounter cold seawater. The iron and sulfur carried by the warm fluids produce orange or yellow-white coatings that stand out vividly against the dark background. Click image for larger view and image credit.
During the ROV dive we ascend up a summit ridge where, in the last hour of the dive, we see live clams sitting on top of sediments. Our dive has revealed many signs that the area previously hosted active hydrothermal venting, and this might be one more, however we are unable to determine whether these are chemosynthetic clams with the imagery collected. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Our ascent takes us all the way up to the summit ridge where we see live clams sitting on top of sediments. Are they chemosynthetic? By the time we reach the summit ridge, we are all wondering why we haven’t seen any active venting, as the dive time is quickly running out. As we pass the point where a perpendicular ridge crosses the ridge we are traversing, with only 15 minutes remaining before we have to leave the bottom, large billowing clouds of light-colored particles appear. We have found the smoking gun, and all of us watching in Seattle, Jakarta, and on board Okeanos Explorer are excited and looking forward to finding the source of these vents on the next dive.
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