JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Cruise diary

Day 6: Thursday 17 May 2007
Position: Lat 35º, Long 6º, bearing 35º
Weather: Clear and sunny

Eduard writes:

"Today I got up at 7am. I thought it was too early to see anybody working in the deck laboratory - I was wrong! It is non-stop for the scientists: once they are here, they try to spend every hour they can at work. A core just had come up from the seabed and everybody was taking samples of it for further analysis. Some plugs had been removed for methane analysis to the 'freezing' lab! Darryl and Belinda asked me to help them there. Of course I did, but first I went to my cabin for warm clothes! As Gill said in yesterday’s diary, you need a woolly hat as well, something that - unfortunately - I haven’t brought with me! However, I really enjoyed working on samples in the ‘bubble’. You have to be very careful when you use the ‘bubble’ gloves. As you can see in the photo, Darryl is accustomed to this kind of work. Gill and I always try to help - this way we are not just observers and we feel useful!

Today the sky is so clear! Since we are not very far away (about 30 miles), we saw the Moroccan coast. Since the day we departed from Vigo, today is the first day we can see mainland. It is a strange feeling, because I was getting use to see only water around me. Gill asked me if I could swim from the ship to the shore. Should I ask her the same question?

After lunch, Gill and I went to the ROV control cabin. The technicians in charge of the ROV and the scientists were watching the screens with intense concentration. Everything was happening under the sea: Isis was hovering just one meter above the seabed, filming everything. There was great expectation in the cabin. ‘Look! A Blue Mouth fish over there! Zooplankton and shrimps everywhere! Long Silver fishes on the other side! What kind of sponge is that? It is a very big one, isn’t it?’ The unknown seabed was being revealed. ‘Hey! There is something! Wow! Look at those pink little fishes!’ When nothing special was on the screen, a silent expectation prevailed, until the next discovery: ‘Look at that sea urchin! Nice, isn’t it? Picture it! Get it! What about those sea pens. They are cnidarians, aren’t they? What is this? It is an octopus! Can you see it? It is trying to go away! Picture!’

It is a privilege for me to learn with the scientists. Everything is so new and cutting-edge!"

Geochemist Darryl demonstrates his skill in using the gloves in the 'bubble'

Gillian writes:

"We are now hovering over Mercator, the first of the mud volcanoes we are visiting. The ROV has spotted some bubbles so we are at the 'bubble site'.

Last night, along with the geochemists, I waited until 3am for a piston core. This works like a giant syringe and sucks up the sediment but the sediment was too stiff at this location - when it came up it was empty! Oh no, hours waiting for it and it was empty! It seemed the best plan was to go to bed.

The crew then changed to using a gravity core. This is a big pipe which just drops down and hits the seabed with force.  At 7am the day started abruptly with a knock on my cabin door. All hands were required on deck – literally! I was needed to do the recording again on the gravity core – I wasn’t quite so nervous this time but it just shows how when you are in this type of environment you have to go with the results and the day must fit around this. People are beginning to look tired as the irregular regime kicks in. Eduard and I had an exciting  glimpse of the ocean bed with the ROV. He has told you about that. Wow! So exciting!

It was worth getting up early for a sighting of the Atlas mountains of Morocco which was the first land I have seen for almost a week. It made me feel somehow more secure although I am not sure why as it is still 30 miles away! Quite a long swim.

It is not only the geochemists who get their hands on the sediment - there is a team of biochemists on board from Cardiff University. John and Barry are investigating  bacteria in the sediment. Their work is really significant for us all as it is looking at these microorganisms and their possible implications for climate change. They may look as though they were having fun poking syringes into thick, smelly (think rotten eggs – hydrogen sulphide), oily mud (smells like bitumen that is spread on the road) but when you think that the methane they release is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas it is important it is not released into the atmosphere. And if it is, what will happen to climate change?  Although  scientific research sometimes seems to be beyond most of us it can have a huge impact on every one of us.

Now I am going to go and do my washing! There is a laundry on board the ship and with all this mud around it is needed!"

Great expectations: the team avidly watch
the monitors in the ROV control room

The microbiology team hard at work

Biologist Paul Tyler in the ROV driving seat

Smelly work: Microbiologist John Parkes splitting and then opening a core full of sediment from the seafloor

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