Deep Sea Diary: Flurry of activity onboard

Monday, June 4th

Atlantis has been in a different location each day to study the volcanoes and surrounding areas:

The depression of Atalante first, the top of Manon yesterday, and today I had 3 hours in the Jason van to sketch the other worldly scene of Volcano A. The deep seascape was most fascinating today at 4968 m. We float over the sea bed until carbonate outcroppings of sheets and ridges introduce an eerie quality and I drew several viewpoints. One of the most dimensional had a ridge with a domed area caused by methane gas inflating the seafloor underneath. There are three large circular beds of the clams in this area with a speckling of clams in the distance on the black velvet horizon. On one of the carbonate ridges was an ice ledge of methane hydrate, white beneath the dirt grey of carbonate and sediment deposits. The silt is an orange today, looking like suede, and the white clam beds contrasting with blues and purples. The ridges are more of a greenish brown. There are 37 monitors going all at once in the van of the Jason. All the equipment is moved on board the ship each new cruise, in a container ready to go. I like the science high definition video the best but when the view is obstructed, rely on a smaller image of the last photograph.

When Jason comes up there is a flurry of activity to preserve the specimens. The worms, tubeworms, scaleworms, anemones, small anthozoans, clams, baby clams, snails, baby snails, amphipods, isopods, squat lobsters, and carnivorous (!) sponges are separated from the shells and rocks and debris and every microscope is in use. Jamie Wagner brought me rocks and clay for color in my painting. Didier Jollivet from France and his colleagues find exciting correlations between clams from this locale and their likeness to West African species. How do these animals move across an ocean? Jake Bailey has microbes from yesterday’s core samples.

Over 200 larvae have been photographed in a compound microscope. Each larva is prepped to take back to the Oregon lab to view with a SEM scanning electron microscope that gives extremely detailed information. Marley Jarvis, a 26-year-old PhD student says the specimens have to be kept at the sea bottom temperature and in wells on ice. Mark Oates’ focus on ship is the gonads of clams, where histological sections will show ripeness and reproductive stages – a masters thesis indeed. This complements his research on the native Olympia oyster in Oregon.

The stories of folks on board are fascinating. Larry Jackson started as cook on Atlantis in 1994, when the ship was first commissioned, and is now the steward ordering food and maintaining operations of the galley, and ensuring we eat very well.

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