JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Cruise diary

Day 10: Monday 11 June 2007
Position: 39º 29.93738N, 9º 56.19902W
Weather: Light winds, cloudy skies clearing to bright and sunny later on

Helen writes:

"Last night was a really clear night, and I went out to look at the stars. The view was incredible. It was very easy to see Jupiter and Venus, and there were millions more stars to be seen than I can ever see in Southampton. I tried to identify some constellations, and found a few of the usuals – the plough was easy to spot!

This morning the ship was steaming to our next site, so again, no 3.30am start! I’m going to find it really difficult to get up in the morning having had two days of lie-ins! It did mean though, that it was a great opportunity to answer some e-mails and then a bit later, enjoy the sunshine on the fo’c’sle deck.

Just before 4pm a megacore arrived that had been sent to the seafloor earlier in the day. I gave Teresa, Kostas, Silvia and Sybille a hand to split and sieve the cores. This process allows some sections of the cores to preserved, and organisms to be removed for further study and identification. The top 0-1cm of each core is put into one bucket, 1-2cm into a second, 3-5cm into a third bucket, then the samples get larger. 5-10cm from the top of the core into a fourth bucket, 10-15cm into a fifth, and then any remaining mud was discarded (in this case it was being donated to Archie the Urchin, to make his home in a cooler box a little more comfortable).

The top two centimetres were preserved in formaldehyde, and then I helped to sieve the 10-15cm sample. We used a combination of two sieves to help separate organisms. We found two small sea cucumbers in one of the samples. They have been named Abi & Raquel after two of the PhD students on board!

It got quite muddy and messy with all the sediments and sieving, and when it came to clearing up, we ended up in a water fight! I haven’t had a water fight for years, it was so much fun! Sybille and I were totally soaked through, everyone else managed to get away with either wet feet or a general dampness, so we headed back to our cabins for a quick shower and change of clothes before dinner.

The ROV was sent down again this afternoon, we are at a slightly shallower point in the Nazaré canyon, and a series of experiments have been deployed. Whilst waiting for Isis to reach the sea floor, I spent some time choosing a playlist of music to sing along to while we wait – I was thrilled to see ‘star trek’ by The Firm – I haven’t heard that song since I was small (ask your parents about it, if you haven’t heard it!), it’s great fun!

So, I’ve finished my stint in the van and am now off to bed, ready for tomorrow’s 3.30 am start! It should be interesting to see what progress the experiments have made, so I’ll give you some details on those tomorrow! TTFN!!"

Virginia writes:

"This morning R.R.S. James Cook moved from the 4500m site to the site at 3400 m in the Nazaré Canyon.

Xenophyophores are giant single-celled animals found throughout the world's oceans, but they are found in greatest abundance on the abyssal plains of the deep oceans. They are abundant but poorly known because they are very fragile and difficult to sample intact. They are so big that they can be seen on the surface of the seafloor sediment at the 4300 m site, when observed from the video in the  ROV van. Andy has taken specimens for his studies using the box corer. It was amazing to see these giant protozoans living in situ. The ROV technicians use great skill to collect these delicate animals. They use the ROV arms, controlled from the ROV van, to put each box core in the exact position in order to collect samples without disturbing the organisms. Science makes  huge advances when supported by high quality and efficient technology. During this cruise the cooperation between scientists tecnitians and crew is perfect.

Photograph of the seabed at 4300m depth
showing a number of  xenophyophores.
One is indicated at the tip of the arrow.

You can see here several black stains on the sediment. They are specimens of Xenophyophores. You can see also the ROV arm placing a box core in the correct position to catch the specimens of Xenophyophores, selected by Andy on the ROV van, 4300 m above the sea bottom. We can see the sea floor with the eyes of ISIS.

Last night I was filled with great enthusiasm about this activity and I decided to wait for the ROV to arrive. The telephone in my cabin rang at about 4 am! The ROV was arriving. I woke up and dressed in my working overalls as the sediments on which these animals live is very muddy. When I got on deck ISIS was arriving with very good samples that we started to examine immediately to produce new scientific knowledge.

The ROV, ISIS brought from the sea floor
a lot of push cores and four boxes cores with Xenophyophores.
It is still dark at 4 am when Isis arrived on deck

Andy, Kostas and Paul waiting for the samples
and sediments collected by Isis.

This morning, before the breakfast, I observed Andy working in the cold lab. He removed several specimenes of Xenophyophores from the sediment. He took a lot of photos to record their shape. He will show us some photos of Xenophyophores later on, but now he is too busy and I don’t want disturb him. He needs to work very fast to remove and preserve the living tissue of these organisms. Sometimes the scientists have to concentrate fully on their work, without distractions, so we need to wait for an opportunity to speak with them.


Boxcores containing specimens of Xenophyophores

Placing the box-cores in the cold lab.
This keeps the animals fresh in the same way
as keeping food in a fridge.

Paul Tyler, in the cold lab, observing the specimens of Xenophyophores in the boxcores.

Two species of Xenophyophores on the sediment surface, of one box core.

Andy carefully removing some specimens of Xenophyophores

Working in the lab, picking forams out of sediment samples

I also picked a lot of living forams of one sample collected this night. When I finished Andy gave me some free time. I wrote the board diary to send back to base and I had also a talk with Silvia (see the interview here) about the aims of her research.


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