Extraordinary EPR Expedition

Hello! My name is Dexter Davis and I’m a new master’s student in the Cold Dark Benthos Lab at OSU. While I’ve just completed my first quarter at OSU, I’ve been invited to join a research expedition to the 9°N East Pacific Rise (EPR) hydrothermal vent field with my previous advisor and friend of Dr. Thurber, Dr. Shawn Arellano with Western Washington University. I could not pass up on this opportunity and I want to highlight the work we’ll be doing as we study the deep sea.

Members of the WWU Arellano Larval Lab pose in front of the R/V Atlantis. Left to right: Dr. Tanika Ladd, Mel Lemke, Dexter Davis, Laura Hanna, Jack Gates, Dr. Shawn Arellano.

We will be traveling aboard the R/V Atlantis (find our current location by clicking here) from January 11th to February 12th along with scientists from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Rutgers University, Sorbonne University, Texas A&M University (TAMU), University of Naples, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). The goal of this project is to explore the relationship between microbial biofilms and potential cues for settling invertebrate larvae at hydrothermal vents.

Shawn Arellano, Chief scientist, Western Washington University; Alvin Operations Group; National Science Foundation; © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

This is the last cruise of this project, with the last expedition occurring in December of 2022. Here are a few pictures taken with WHOI Dan Fornari’s MISO Cameras on the last cruise, showing the high biomass and biodiversity at our study sites. The nature of hydrothermal vents are ephemeral however, with the potential for eruptions or redirected flow to alter the site. As we travel on our 5-day transit from San Diego to the EPR, we do not know what the region will look like until our first dive.

During our transit there are plenty of activities to keep us occupied. We have many deployments to assemble that will collect larvae and settlers from the seafloor. Above on the left we are assembling tube traps that will be filled with formalin and accumulate passing larvae to measure the larval supply in the area. On the right we are assembling “sandwiches” and attaching “sliders” that will be deployed at the start of the cruise. These will be paired with sandwiches in mesh bags that have been on the seafloor since the last cruise, to develop older biofilms, and be colonized by larvae and settlers. These sandwiches will then be retrieved after two weeks and any attached animals will be sorted and imaged.

Part of being on a ship also means learning the safety protocols, emergency procedures, and how to interact with the instrumentation we will be using. Practice fire and abandon ship drills, alternate exits from berthing spaces, and wearing survival suits made us feel prepared for any emergency.

Additionally, on board this ship is the HOV Alvin, a deep-sea submersible that can take 1 pilot and 2 scientists to the seafloor per dive. We were introduced to the external and internal structure of the submersible including cameras, manipulator arms, the science basket, viewports, thrusters, safety and weight systems. Then we were given a walkthrough of how to access the multitude of data collected on each dive, including videos, temperature, dive tracks, timestamps, depth, among many other types. Each dive exports terabytes of data that we will can use during and after the cruise for our analyses, outreach and records.

Tomorrow we begin our first Alvin dive, an engineering dive, and then the science begins! With 20 dives planned for this cruise, there are many chances for every scientist on board to get the opportunity to experience the deep-sea first-hand. Stay tuned to see what we find, life at sea, and to learn more about these unique habitats we are studying.

The first sunset at sea from the aft deck.

EPR Biofilms4Larvae project is a multi-institutional NSF grant: OCE-1948580 (Arellano), OCE-1947735 (Mullineaux), OCE-1948623 (Vetriani).

Also find us on Instagram @larvallab, #Biofilms4Larvae

The Inactive Sulfides project is a multi-institutional NSF grant: OCE-2152453 (Mullineaux & Beaulieu), OCE-2152422 (Sylvan & Achberger).

Also find us on Instagram @jasonsylvan, #LifeAfterVents

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