JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Cruise diary

Day 3: Monday 14 May 2007, 11am
Weather: Cloudy
Arrival in the Gulf of Cadiz

Eduard writes:

"This is our second day on board. Last night, Doug and Darryl (two members of the scientist team, when they are in action, I will tell you what kind of research they are working on) advised me that perhaps I would have sleeping problems because the continuous movement of the ship. When I went to bed I was so tired that I felt sleep without any trouble. Perhaps it was because the anti sea-sickness pills!

Getting used to life at sea is not easy. Rolling left and rolling right all the time! Sometimes the ship is rolling so hard, and you start to imagine you have a control with a magical button on it that can temporarily halt everything for a while. I know that is impossible, I know… It is just my imagination. I have to say that yesterday the sea was really rough. Today is flat. One of the first things I have learned on board is go to the main blackboard where the Master attaches a notice informing about the forecast weather. As he said, today is a quiet day. That is good for me (and for my stomach, of course). Stomach? That reminds me that the food here is excellent. Barry (another scientist from Cardiff) told me that the food on the James Cook is proper food - impossible to compare with the food on other ships. The Chef and his assistants really do their job. The help yourself buffet is impressive! Pasta, meatballs, meat pies, different kind of salads, soup, fruit, ice-cream… Every day you can eat different dishes, and everything is so good!

A flat sea is not only good for sea-sickness and stomach digestion, it is good because now we have more opportunities to see dolphins. And it happened! At lunch time, Doug saw three surfing by our side and everybody ran to the window to see them. I will send a picture of one of it as soon as I can. My impression was they were playing with the ship, trying to advance as and suddenly appearing in the back of the ship again. Sorry, I forgot - I can't say 'back', I have to say stern!

Well, now it is time for a meeting. The scientists will explain to everyone what they are going to investigate. The work begins!" 

New words I have learnt (marine terminology):
Galley: Kitchen (cocina)
Mess: Restaurant (Restaurante)

Gillian writes:

"Today started with beautiful sunshine and much calmer seas. Most have now found their sea legs and so work will begin in the labs. The food is really good thanks to Mark and the team in the galley. Meal times are important as a point in the day when everyone gets together for a chat and to share experiences so people rarely miss them. I can see that the tempting array of food is going to result in a few extra pounds when I get back. There is a gym on board with a range of equipment so perhaps I should give it a go! Life on board a ship is not like on land where we are all busy all the time. It tends to come in bursts. This requires more patience but is a very pleasant change. Tomorrow when all the action happens it will be very different, especially as the action is programmed for 2am.

There was some excitement this morning when dolphins were spotted for the first time. There was a pod of about three playing in the wake of the ship. They seemed to be having a good time. Someone also saw a whale at six o’clock ths morning but unfortunately I missed that. Better luck tomorrow I hope.

The scientists are preparing their investigations as work will start in earnest tomorrow. Ana and Marina have a really interesting piece of construction going making a structure from plastic, netting and heavy chain metal to investigate the organisms that will colonise  different substrates; stone, wood and organic vegetation. They will leave them down on the ocean bed for anything between 3 weeks to several months and analyse the results over time. See below for pictures of the process. This, together with images from the ROV (remotely operated vehicle), will give the scientists and us a clearer picture of what is happening in the abyss..."

Eduard and Gill: 7.30pm update

At the last minute we got clearance to enter Moroccan waters so are going to go straight to the first mud volcano called MERCATOR at 3500m. Tomorrow morning lthe sampling will begin with the corers and the ROV!  We will tell you more about it when we have seen this in action. We are excited as we have been asked to help the scientists with their analysis so we will really feel like part of the team.


Our first sighting of dolphins!

...the finished article!

Ana hard at work making kit for her experiment...

Eduard: Late night science meeting!

"The Conference Room is silent. All the scientists are looking at the screen that shows a map of the Gulf of Cadiz. Everybody is listening to Phil, the Chief Scientist on board. He is explaining the features of the Gulf. After the presentation, the whole team started to discuss all the details. The major aim of the Leg 1 is know more about the mud volcanoes of the Gulf of Cadiz. Tomorrow morning the ship will arrive to Moroccan waters (we had the permit just today!) to study the sea floor using cores and the ROV. But, what is a mud volcano? And what is a Core?

A mud volcano is a formation created by a mixture of mud, fluid and gases coming up from deep below to the seafloor (but it can be on land as well). This mixture forms a volcano. Do not be confused! Notice that mud vulcanoes are not magma volcanoes! They are just mud, liquid (water and other) and gases (methane, carbon dioxide and others). A core is the tube you push into sediments to take a sample. 

The meeting ended very late, but I am happy because I could join the team. They asked Gill and I to help. So tomorrow I will experience deep-sea research first hand! Gill and I will undoubtedly learn from these activities and, for sure, we will tell you what it's like!"

3D map showing the Mercator mud volcano
in the Gulf of Cadiz - our first sampling site

The multicorer - the plastic tubes are pushed into the mud
on the seafloor and brought back to the surface for analysis

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