We are sailing to the East Pacific Rise, which is one of the most active hydrothermal vent sites in the world. What makes this place so special is that it is a mid-ocean ridge where the Cocos and Pacific tectonic plates are spreading at a rate of 11cm a year and is believed to have underwater volcanic eruptions about every 15 years. There are many hydrothermal vents here, and each has its unique characteristics.
Hydrothermal vents are created by water slowly entering the oceanic crust and heated by hot magma and is expelled through the vents. The expelled water is rich in minerals and gases that are important for regulating global ocean chemistry. We are here to sample these fluids in addition to studying rocks from vent chimneys, past lava flows, and the surrounding biology. I am a biologist helping out the geochemists in sampling fluids, but I’m also here to do my own research!
The EPR is west of Central America and requires us to take a large research ship to the middle of the ocean and send down large robots and/or submarines to study it. Many scientific cruises have been cancelled during the pandemic, but fortunately for us, this cruise was cleared to continue as long as we quarantined beforehand. Extra precautions were also taken to ensure that COVID-19 would not board the ship with us. So, we flew to San Diego to quarantine in a hotel for two-weeks. After the two-weeks and two COVID tests, we finally boarded the R/V Roger Revelle. R/V Roger Revelle is a global class research vessel operated by Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego and is one of six major oceanographic research vessels owned by the U.S. Navy. We are extra lucky in the fact that it just went through its mid-life refit where it went through a major overhaul and many things have been re-touched and updated. We were on the ship for our days which was a nice adjustment to ship life. We enjoyed evenings eating dinner and relaxing on the pier while getting to know everyone before we set sail.
Once we were aboard the ship we began the mobilization process that’s commonly referred to as “mobe”. This is when we load the ship, unpack everything, and set-up our lab spaces. The lead scientists and their teams are from all over the country so we all had to pack up all the equipment that we would need from microscopes, to samplers and instruments to be deployed to the bottom of the ocean. Because we need so much equipment and supplies, we pack everything in rigid containers and ship them in pallets directly to the ship and they are loaded onto the ship with a crane. We immediately started unpacking the pallets and began building what would be our lab space for the next 39 days.