Deep Sea Diary: Final post

Tube Worm, painting, Karen Jacobsen, 1991, from excursion to Dudley

Wednesday, June 6th

Moving over underwater topography is like flying over the earth, but a totally unique watery environment. As we traveled over horizons, actively mapping and collecting data, I felt my art could portray this emotional moment, captured in drawings and later painted. My artist cup was filled to the brim with a new vision of life on this planet. A huge thank you to the scientists, Jason and ship crew, and foundations that make discovery possible.

Since 1985 submersible explorations along continental margins have investigated highly productive deep ecosystems that occur in various geological settings. Atalante is a “mud pie” flat and circular on top. Manon is a conical mound with steep 25 degree slopes. Volcano A is where I was most charmed peering at the deep sea floor because it had interesting topography that I drew in the van from the monitors. My watercolors will have to be shared when I get home. Now I will introduce a few more passengers.

Scientist Jens Carlsson, who is Swedish and 41, lights up when he talks about genetics population connectivity. In the mid Atlantic, his interest is genetic evolutionary variations. DNA is what he studies (the same as used for human crime scenes) and Jens is enjoying seeing the actual habitat and the sharing of scientific knowledge on board.

Didier Jollivet is 51 and is an evolutionary ecologist and geneticist and is excited about the species of clams found here in Barbados waters, which may also be found in the Gulf of Zaire off the west coast of Africa. Do larvae cross the Atlantic in a corridor or deep-water bridge in the fracture zone? The blood in the deep-sea clams is useful for hemoglobin and apoxia studies. Jules Verne was influential in stimulating Didier’s interest in the ocean, as were trips with his father, also a sailor on ships. Marine Biology was Didier’s undergraduate major. I really enjoyed reading Didier’s scientific paper describing the biology and setting of the sites we have visited. Dr. Sophie Plouviez is a post doc at the Duke Marine Laboratory and was a student of Didier’s. Evolution and ecology are her fields. Because the labeler broke before we even set out to sea, she has had the laborious job of hand writing all the vials for animal samplings.

Cliff Cunningham is an Evolutionary Biologist working with Duke University for 18 years. When he was 17 he worked with the Smithsonian Tropical Research in the Panama Canal Zone and found that science is about asking questions. Generalities in biogeography are his concern and he showed us phylogenetic trees. He has busily entered data, processing and analyzing his findings on his computer. We first met the night we boarded before leaving dock as he played his Martin guitar. Cliff remembers lyrics of numerous folk songs, singing with gusto.

Cindy Lee Van Dover is the Chief Scientist of this excursion. She is serious but her smile is contagious and she has worked hard to coordinate all involved. 2008 she started organizing her team, submitting the proposal to NSF in 2009 and here we are at 2012 doing what she with others envisioned. Cindy at 58 is a sleuth of the unknown deep ocean that covers most of the planet. To her this deep sea lies below the depths where sunlight penetrates, below 500 meters. The diversity of life discovered in these depths can function to aid in our planet’s health. In her lifetime, these explorations have opened many doors of important information that were unimaginable. Some of these discoveries were made with her piloting the Alvin. When she is in the Jason van as watchleader she is actually telling the pilot where she wants to explore. Features on the sea floor are as varied as the Grand Canyon or Appalachians. Her love of nature began at 8 or 9 when her mother had her identifying flowers and trees and beach critters. It is her hope that others will come to value the deep sea and its organisms through art as well as science, as she does.

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