It is impossible to get a photo with the entire Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition team, but this image by Carl VerPlanck captures many of the shipboard personnel. Click image for larger view and image credit.
The Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition Concludes
The ship pulled into port in Key West, FL early this morning, officially bringing the 2011 Mid-Cayman Rise Exploration to a close. Personnel are busy packaging and shipping equipment and science samples, wrapping up end of cruise items, and cleaning up mission spaces in preparation for the next expedition. Over the next few days, Mid-Cayman Rise personnel will pack up and depart the ship, and new mission personnel will arrive and begin preparations for the ship’s upcoming mapping expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, scheduled to begin on August 22.
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is imaged from the small boat during the ship's return transit to Key West, FL. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Back in U.S. Waters!
The multibeam system remained secured while the ship transited through the Cuban EEZ today. The ship crossed into the U.S. EEZ at 1655 and commenced mapping operations, and a man overboard safety drill. Following successful completion of the drill, small boat operations were conducted to obtain scenic video footage of the ship, making the most of today’s glassy seas. Afterwards, the ship got underway and continued transit to Key West, FL, where we expect to come into port tomorrow morning, bringing the expedition to a close.
NOAA's Seirios camera platform is secured on the aft deck of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer following the last ROV dive of the expedition. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Wrapping up Operations and Heading Home
After mapping along the Cayman Trough Fracture Zone last night and into the early morning, the ship departed the Mid-Cayman Rise 2011 operations area and began transit to Key West, FL. Onboard personnel are busy developing and finalizing expedition products, and packing and preparing systems for departure.
A translucent holothurian; the gut can be seen through its transparent body wall. The holothurian feeds by trapping particles in its tentacles that are held in the water column. Click image for larger view and image credit.
The final ROV dive of the expedition was conducted today up the interior (south-facing) wall of the North Cayman Fracture Zone. Geologic highlights included a 40-foot high sheer vertical cliff face thousands of meters deep. Despite the steep slope of about 30-40o from horizontal, the rest of the dive was spent over thick biogenic carbonate sediment, but interspersed with an array of biological highlights.
Image of an active hydrothermal vent (left) located SE of the central Von Damm hydrothermal field seen at the very end of our last dive at the MCR. Note the filaments of bacteria and hydrothermal shrimp in the immediate vicinity of the active fluid flow. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Exploring 'Mount Doom'
Today started with a visit to 'Mount Doom' – a tall conical mountain about 1000m from the Von Damm vent site and similar in size and shape. Although no active venting was encountered on Mount Doom, a return trip to the Von Damm site approaching from the East encountered more tube worms and a new site of active venting outside the previously explored area, almost doubling the total extent of venting now known at the site.
Frozen sheet flow, examples of how lava must have flowed out over the seafloor here at 3500m depth at the Mid-Cayman Rise. Click image for larger view and image credit.
A Dive on the Southeastern Rifted Oceanic Core Complex
The tenth ROV dive of the expedition was conducted towards the SE corner of the Mid-Cayman Rise, transecting NNW across the rifted Oceanic Core Complex. Much of the dive was spent traversing biogenic sediment, however highlights included fresh basalt pillow lavas, and examples of frozen sheet flow lavas.
A termination failure occurred on the CTD rosette last night, ending the tow-yo early. Here, Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway reterminates the wire. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Operations Do Not Always Go as Planned...
The ninth ROV dive of the expedition was conducted at ‘Europa’, a suspected low-temperature ‘Lost-City’ type hydrothermal field toward the SW limit of Mt Dent’s summit. Much of the dive was spent traversing biogenic carbonate sediment and basaltic rock types. A geologic highlight was finding what appeared to be intercalated sediment and lava flows, but no active venting was found.
Following completion of today’s dive, our next planned operation is a final CTD tow-yo overtop the Europa mound, setting the scene for tomorrow’s ROV dive. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Eighth ROV Dive Completed
The eighth ROV dive of the expedition was conducted west of the summit of Mount Dent, following a series of topographic highs at the base of a steep west facing scarp. Fantastic geological imagery was captured, including video of a double fissure.
Professor Paul Tyler, excited about the discovery of a habitat with dense biota, corals and very diffuse fluid flow during what was supposed to be the last 5 minutes of today's ROV dive. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Save the Best for Last
The seventh ROV dive of the expedition was conducted to the west of the Von Damm site and focused on visiting a series of "hard-grounds" – or areas where sound reflects strongly in sonar images of the seafloor. Most of the dive was spent exploring rocky and sedimented areas with relatively low levels of biota, and then during the last 5 minutes of the planned dive a habitat with dense biota, corals and very diffuse fluid flow was discovered. The on-bottom time for the dive was extended about an hour to characterize the site.
Today Was an Incredibly Rewarding Day
To start, we began with the discovery of extensive new biological communities, including both tubeworms and shrimp, hosted in diffuse hydrothermal flow. We also found new chimney structures in the same area, emitting hot clear fluid in a much more focused manner. By lunchtime it was time to prepare for a VIP event with both the Silver Spring Exploration Command Center and URI’s Inner Space Center. During the event shore-side participants watched live video feeds coming from Okeanos Explorer of an active hydrothermal vent habitat swarming with shrimp ~2300m deep at the Mid-Cayman Rise, and footage from the E/V Nautilus exploring an ancient shipwreck in the Black Sea. Shore-side attendees had the opportunity to hear about the operations of both ships, and ask questions about the ongoing explorations. Then by 2pm we were back at work exploring new parts of the seafloor and testing a new approach – following sonar targets identified from a prior AUV survey (generously shared with us by shipboard scientist Paul Tyler and his UK colleagues from NOCS, Southampton). On three occasions this afternoon, wherever we visited such sonar targets, we found rocks outcropping, at least some measure of fluid flow out of the seafloor and extensive deep sea coral communities ± other fauna.
This image shows an overall perspective of the multibeam sonar data collected over the Mid-Cayman Rise so far by the Okeanos Explorer. The perspective is looking west-north-west, and Mount Dent is seen in the foreground. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Overnight Mapping Operations
The mapping team has been working overnight to collect multibeam sonar data and provide daily updated maps to shoreside scientists. Scientists are using these maps in near-real-time to make decisions on where to send the ROV the following day. This morning we developed mapping coverage out to the east and to the north, as far north as Piccard, the deepest vent in the world!
Dr. Cameron McIntyre processes water samples collected during the CTD tow-yo through the gas chromatograph to search for the presence of dissolved methane. Click image for larger view and image credit.
The Fourth ROV Dive of the Expedition was Completed Successfully Today...
The fourth ROV dive of the expedition was completed successfully today and focused on taking a close-look at the biology and other “hot spots” of the Von Damm hydrothermal field. Incredible images of the vents and animals living at the sites were captured by the cameras on the ROV. CTD tow-yo operations were conducted in the evening following completion of the ROV dive to search for hydrothermal vent plumes in the water column. Little evidence of a plume was shown in the in situ sensor data on the CTD, however analysis of water samples through the gas chromatograph revealed an elevated presence of methane, which persists for more than 3km from the vent site.
The absolute highlight for just about everyone, today, was the discovery of a tube worm at the Von Damm hydrothermal field. While tube worms are some of the most iconic animals to have been discovered at vent fields in the Pacific they have only been found associated with cold seeps, previously, anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean. So while first impressions were that this tube worm looked more like its nearest Atlantic cold-seep cousins it was, nevertheless, the first tube-worm we know of that has ever been found at an Atlantic vent-site. We hope to be following up on this in more detail in tomorrow's dive.
The First ROV Dive of the Expedition was Successfully Completed Today
The first ROV dive of the expedition was successfully completed today at the Von Damm hydrothermal vent site, approximately 2300m deep. A systematic video survey was conducted to explore the extent of the site and search for "hotspots" of activity to be looked at in greater detail during tomorrow's dive. Shore-side participants were engaged in the expedition through "telepresence" - many for the first time - contributing observations and expertise to ongoing operations. And for the first time, all three video feeds and embedded audio streamed off the ship were made available to the public online, enabling users from around the globe to join our exploration more than 2300m deep beneath the surface of the sea in real-time.
Ready to Dive...
Folks on the ship have been busy preparing for operations at the Mid-Cayman Rise. The first ROV dive of the expedition is planned for tomorrow morning and will include shore-side participation using telepresence technology. Explore with us by tuning into the live feed online!
Out of the Canal and Underway...
Okeanos Explorer completed her passage through the Panama Canal early this morning and continued transiting towards the Mid-Cayman Rise operating area. The high speed connection to shore went down late last night, stopping all real time feeds to shore (RTS Intercom and Video). The cause is unknown, and does not appear to be related to the VSAT. Troubleshooting and repair efforts will continue tomorrow with shore-side personnel.
Passing Through the Panama Canal
Following nearly a week in port, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer departed Rodman, Panama this evening and commenced her passage through the Panama Canal. The ship expects to clear the locks early tomorrow morning, and continue her transit to the 2011 Mid-Cayman Rise operating area.