Galapagos Expedition Concludes...
The Galapagos Rift Expedition (EX1103) has now concluded. At 0700 the ship arrived just offshore of Panama City. Panama Canal representatives came on board to conduct the required inspections for canal transit. The ship is now pier-side until the scheduled Panama Canal transit on August 2. While many of the Team will be staying on board for the Mid-Cayman Expedition, there will be several personnel changes over the next 72-hrs, The big question on everyone's mind is whether or not the VSAT satellite antenna problems that limited telepresence connectivity during the Galapagos Rift Expedition will be fixed before the ship departs for the Mid-Cayman. We should know for sure within a few days.
Can't Let Down Just Yet
The Galapagos Rift 2011 Expedition is winding down. Multibeam mapping operations continued throughout the day. Most Mission Personnel focused their efforts on documenting expedition results, developing standard cruise products, and preparations for arrival in Panama City.
Can't Let Down Just Yet
All ROV dive and primary mapping operations may be completed for this expedition but there isn't much time to rest yet. We only have about 1.5 days of transit left before we arrive in Panama on the morning of July 28. That is not much time for Mission personnel to review and complete the long list of expedition products we are expected to have finished when we hit the dock. Ship personnel are working to catch action items that couldn't be tackled during primary operations.
On Deck and Headed for Panama
At 1700, the tandem of the Institute for Exploration's Little Hercules ROV and NOAA's Seirios camera sled were again resting on the fantail of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. The ship is headed east to map along the Ecuador Rift before turning north to continue along the Ecuador Fracture Zone. After today's recovery - the last of the Galapagos Expedition - we now have 12 safe and successful deep-water ROV dives in 12 consecutive days. That is a pretty good run particularly when you consider all of the potential problems that can and do occur.
Preparing for One Last Dive
There is much to do before our last possible dive on Monday, July 25. Though we completed a very successful ROV dive on the off-axis sulfide mounts today, the ROV Team will likely be working late into the evening. Seirios's HMI lights failed soon after this morning's launch and a vertical thruster on Little Hercules also failed. The Team expects the HMI light issue will be a relatively easy fix. However, The vertical thruster is likely more problematic. The thruster had failed the previous day and had been replaced with a spare. Because we lost the spare the very next day, the ROV Team must look deeper into the system to find the problem. We're hoping that they'll be able to get everything operational in time for one last dive tomorrow morning.
The famous 'dandelion'
Animals living near hydrothermal vents have to survive under harsh conditions like high pressure, steep temperature gradients, and high concentrations of toxic chemicals. Despite these seemingly inhospitable conditions, many animals do more than simply survive. They thrive.
July 23, 2011 1200 Update
Dive Two at the New Vent Site
The discovery of a new hydrothermal vent field along the Galapagos Rift buoyed spirits on the ship and on-shore. The dive was extended beyond normal operations by approximately 1.5 hrs to maximize bottom time on the site.
New Vent Field
On Friday July 22, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer discovered a new hydrothermal vent field along the Galápagos Rift. Preliminary estimates suggest it may be one of the largest known vent fields on the eastern portion of the Galápagos Rift.
Timing is Everything
It almost felt scripted. . .but it wasn't. The University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center (ISC) is one of the core locations where scientists and the public on shore can view the live video from the ship - wherever it is operates. It just so happens that NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco was participating in a media event this morning with Rhode Island Governor Chafee and Rhode Island Representative Teresa Tanzi. In the middle of the event, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer discovered a new hydrothermal vent field along the Galapagos Rift. The report from shore is that Dr. Lubchenco noticed the discovery and in mid-sentence began explaining the find to the stunned audience.
Site 4A East dive complete
At 6:30 p.m., Little Hercules and Seirios were safely back on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Today's dive explored an area of the Galapagos Spreading Center in the vicinity of a plume discovered on Leg I of the expedition. The rest of the evening is likely to be spent conducting tow-yo operations in a U-shape around the location. We hope this will help us better understand the variability of plumes in this area. A location for tomorrow's dive will be determined by what we find overnight.
Another glimpse at the dynamic nature of seafloor communities
Today we hope to get a glimpse at how vent communities change over time. Back in 2002, scientists hoping to find a lush long-studied community named Rose Garden instead found a 'flattened' site paved with fresh lava. Though Rose Garden was gone, they did find a new community of hydrothermal animals that seemed likely to be the new progenitors of a reborn Rose Garden. The discovery of the site called Rosebud dramatically underscored the dynamic nature of deep sea floor processes, especially in volcanically active areas. We're taking the opportunity today to dive on Rosebud. Will we find a lush biological community that has grown up since the previous visit? Perhaps even Rosebud has now been paved over with fresh lava. We'll find out in a few hours.
After overnight tow-yo and mapping operations, Little Hercules was launched at ~0830. Today is the first and likely only dive at Site 2C.
Late night work
Work on the ROV doesn't end when it is safely back on deck. As soon as the system is safely secured, ROV Engineers inspect, clean, and trouble-shoot the system before they get to rest.
Based on observations during today's ROV dive, the Science Team requested water samples over Site 2A.
Our current dive location is just about 2000m deep. It takes about 1.5 hrs from the time the ROV leaves bottom until it gets to the surface. Then a bit more time to get the ROV safely onboard and secured.
Overnight tow-yo operations to better localize plume source
Though a second exploratory ROV dive on Site 2A provided the Team with a better understanding of the complex geology on the seafloor, we have yet to locate the source of the intense hydrothermal plume in the water column. We conducted a slower and higher resolution tow-yo overnight in hopes of better localizing the plume source and improve our understanding of mid-water anomalies to the east. Immediately after the CTD was back on deck, Senior Survey Tech Colleen Peters sent the data to Sharon Walker in Seattle. We owe Sharon a big thanks for working well into the early morning to process the data in time to select today's ROV dive target.
An elusive plume source
Today is our second dive at Site 2a. This area has the most intense hydrothermal plume signal in the water column of any areas explored during Leg I. While ROV operations found plenty of evidence that the area is quite active, a combination of factors make it quite difficult to pinpoint the source of the extensive plume.
Fresh lava contact
Towards the end of the dive we found a fresh lava contact, indicating a relatively recent volcanic eruption.
A new friend
Just after the ROV launch for dive 002, a large sea turtle seemed to be quite interested in Little Herc.
Sharp eyes and a quick response may have saved the expedition. At about 7:00 this morning, the bridge spotted fishing gear pass under and near the ship. A visual check on the fantail confirmed that the line was apparently caught in one or both of the propellers. The ship secured propulsion and launched the small boat with divers. Within just a few minutes of getting in the water, divers cut away fishing line tangled around both propellers. The ship was soon underway again. We started and ended our dive a few hours later because of the earlier delay. If the bridge had not noticed the gear so quickly, the tangle could have easily been much more complicated to remove.
This fish spotted on the Paramount Seamounts seemed to use its fins to amble along the bottom.
Seirios and a Hammerhead
A hammerhead shark seemed to take interest in Seirios for a few moments during our first dive.
The ROV is in the water...
At 1:45 a.m., we launched the Institute for Exploration's Little Hercules ROV for the first dive of the expedition. Due to our delayed departure from Costa Rica, this will be our first and only dive on the Paramount Seamounts. We believe this will be the first ever submersible dive in the area.
It’s hard to imagine that up to 100,000 undersea mountains on Earth have never been seen by human eyes, let alone explored. The ship’s mapping system reveals hidden seamounts and many other interesting geological features during almost every survey and mapping transit. Unfortunately, we are in a hurry to get to the Paramount Seamounts and can’t stop to take a look at some of the ones that we passed over today.
Still trouble-shooting the VSAT
Fixing the high-speed connection remotely continues to be problematic. Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway is spending much of his time responding to requests from shore for more information. Transit to the first dive location was delayed several hours yesterday afternoon to try another potential fix. We continue to hope that the high speed pipe will increase but are very thankful for the partial work-around.
Now that we are underway, ship and shore-side personnel are quickly revising plans based on a shortened expedition. The required VSAT repairs cost us about 4 ROV dives. The Science Team is re-prioritizing potential dive locations based on a reduction of about 30% of the total number of expected dives.
We've got video
Unfortunately, the shore-side technicians now believe there is still a hardware problem with the VSAT. They may not be able to fix the problem remotely. The good news is that Telepresence Team Lead Webb Pinner has already been considering work-arounds to enable some limited capability. At 1430, he managed to re-route a much smaller high speed connection to shore. This enables one compressed video stream, real-time audio communications, and data transfer. While far from the full Telepresence capability that we planned for, this is a huge step.
Shortly after noon today, the ship weighed anchor and began the approximate 2-day transit to Ecuador waters. Though the VSAT appears to be operating properly, the high speed connection is still not functioning. The decision to leave now is somewhat of a risk. We have been told that the antenna technicians can bring the high-speed connection online from shore.
Just when many of us had given up on any telepresence capability for remainder of the Galapagos Expedition, we had a breakthrough. A few minutes after midnight, the antenna technicians discovered a broken cable connecting the power supply and one of the motors for the antenna . The ship now has low speed internet. It is still unclear if we will have the high-speed internet required for telepresence.
Inaccurate information can have a cascade of negative consequences. The great progress with VSAT repairs stalled today. Technicians flown in to fix the system suggested it would take just a few hours to get the VSAT up and running again. Based on that timeline, shipboard personnel made a number of other decisions associated with port logistics. The VSAT problems have proven much more significant and the timelines were overly optimistic. Though everyone continues to do the best they can, the ship is now forced to head offshore and make freshwater. This setback will likely delay further repairs another 12-hours or so. Time is now getting short. Unless repairs can be made quickly, we will likely be without telepresence communications for Leg II.
Replacement parts are here
We appear to be making good progress with VSAT repairs. The company responsible for the satellite antenna shipped all expected replacement parts yesterday. The parts arrived at the San Jose airport late yesterday afternoon and cleared customs this morning. The ship's port agent was ready and waiting to immediately transport them the 1.5-hrs from San Jose to the ship in Puntarenas. By approximately 1500 local shiptime, the technicians had the parts in hand and were working on VSAT.
If everything went as planned, we would currently be transiting through Costa Rica waters on the way to the Paramount Seamounts off of Ecuador. Unfortunately, the satellite antenna (VSAT) problems described in the July 4 update are quite serious. The VSAT is essential equipment that allows us to send data and information - including ROV video from the seafloor - to anyone with an internet connection around the world. Since July 3rd, personnel both on shore and on the ship are trying their hardest to fix the problem quickly, effectively, and safely. Not having the ability to send email with attachments makes it much more difficult to troubleshoot and fix the complicated equipment. Even though many people thought we would not be able to fix the system for several months, we may be operational again in a day or so. Fingers crossed. . .
Not a holiday for everyone
While we all would like to be able to celebrate the 4th of July with our friends and family, there is much to be done on the ship. Yesterday afternoon, we received preliminary word that a major problem had developed with the VSAT. Personnel have been trying to evaluate the extent of the issue and identify any potential short and long-term solutions. If the VSAT is not operational for Galapagos Leg II, our ability to communicate with shore -- including getting data and information to scientists and the public in real-time -- will be compromised. We expect to know more by tomorrow morning.
Arrived in Costa Rica
At 9:00 a.m. on July 2, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer anchored in Costa Rica waters just offshore the city of Puntarenas. Though all personnel would appreciate a few days' break to enjoy the sights and sounds of Costa Rica, a whole lot of rest and relaxation is unlikely. There is much to do before the ship is scheduled to depart for Leg II.