Bill Medwedeff's Blog

Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Bill Medwedeff
Ocean Sun Fish

Mola mola, of sunfish are the heaviest known bony fish. They can weigh >2000 lbs - they mainly eat jellyfish. Photo Credit: Billy Medwedeff, University of Washington; V14.

Weird Fish

This strange fish, Genioliparis ferox (Stein), was first described in 1978 from a single specimen and never seen afterwards. It was imaged at 2901 m at the Slope Base Site during ROPOS Dive R1757. G. ferox is a ferocious mid-water predator, with many sharp teeth.

Photo Credit: NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF; Dive R1757; V14

September 9, 2014

Yesterday, ROPOS preformed a 17 hour dive at Hydrate Ridge. There was a huge laundry list of things to do on the dive, most of them fairly mundane like burying seismometers in beads. However, the last part of the dive, which happened to be during my watch, was incredibly exciting. We "swam" over to a region of collapsed topography nicknamed “the crack” that had not been visited in a few years. We found a cliff that dropped off into a ~4 m deep opening in the ground. When we first got to the site, we noticed a few bubbles emanating from the opening in the seafloor, maybe one or two at a time. However, just minutes later we were astonished to see a violent eruption of methane gas and sediment from the same spot. The column of bubbles was thick and unrelenting. It continued for about twenty or thirty minutes, in which time we obtained water samples from within the eruptive plume itself.

Still more exciting, we found the first confirmed chunk of exposed methane hydrate ever discovered at Hydrate Ridge. There were at least two separate blocks, one of them about fifty centimeter across. Both hydrate chunks were pure and free of mud or rock. This, I am told, is uncommon as most hydrate is found within sedimentary layers and not as clean blocks. We grabbed one of the chunks of hydrate with ROPOS’s starboard manipulator and began the ascent to the surface. Despite its considerable girth, the hydrate sample entirely dissociated with a fierce effervescence before it reached the surface. The volume of gas released was impressive.

The excitement of the dive kept almost all of the students up through the night. As I write this now it is 8:45 AM and I still have not slept. I am glad I stayed up though, not just to see the highlights from the seafloor but also to see the sunrise, which was soft and beautiful.

September 7, 2014

There is wildlife to be seen almost every day, even if you don’t include the dozens of creatures seen on every ROPOS dive. Yesterday we spotted a pacific sunfish within 10 feet of the Thompson’s starboard side. Sunfish are really ugly creatures and this one was no exception.  The only thing less appealing than its ungainly body was its ugly face. Still, I made sure to get some good shots of it before it swam away. Unfortunately the pictures came at the expense of my polarizing filter, which I dropped over the side. I wanted to ask the ROPOS crew if they would swim down really quick and grab it for me but somehow I doubt they would oblige my request.

With only 4 days left on the cruise, everyone’s projects are now coming together. I think Taylor’s project is especially cool. He wrote some code that plots ocean current velocity data taken from RSN instruments at the base of Axial Volcano. Just another example of how students on board the Thompson are able to contribute to the larger RSN project.

My video project is mostly done and just needs some editing and polishing. At this point my real concern is what I am going to read for poetry night.

September 4, 2014

The seas started getting pretty messy last night around dusk. The waves and wind have gotten substantial enough to keep us from deploying the ROV. I started feeling a bit sick after dinner today so I went out on the stern to get some fresh air and watch the eight foot swells go by. They are saying we are heading back into port tomorrow to get some more equipment; I am hoping that the weather will pass while we are there.

Despite the weather’s impediment on ROV operations, there has still been plenty to do around the ship. The past two days I have been helping Rick (UW oceanography grad student) with the processing of his MOSQUITO pore water flow meters. The MOSQUITOs were deployed a year ago at Hydrate Ridge and have since been collecting data on fluid advection and chemistry within the first meter or so of sediment. Needles of various lengths were stuck into the sea floor and then pumped at a slow and constant rate into 100 meter Teflon coils. Processing the data from the MOSQUITO requires cutting up the Teflon coil and draining the contents into cuvettes. Since there were two MOSQUITOs with eight 100 meter coils each, there is plenty of work to be done.

September 2, 2014

The past two days we got some much appreciated time with John Delaney (Chief Scientist). He spoke to us about everything from the future of ocean science to the meaning of life. Very interesting and refreshingly unorthodox lectures. John could have easily been a professor of romantic era artwork or poetry.  His discussion of human culture and its ties to the ocean made me want to pick up a Jules Verne novel.

Video from the seafloor has been especially interesting the past few days. ROPOS has spent considerable time at a methane vent dubbed “Einstein’s Grotto” surveying and placing instruments. Normally, the methane clathrate that provides the gas to the vent is buried deeper within the sediments, but at Einstein’s Grotto there appears to be exposed outcroppings of solid clathrate. The geologist in me wants to bring back a hand sample for further analysis (i.e. I want to light some on fire). The flux of bubbles from the vent varies considerably from dive to dive. People on the science party that I have spoken to theorize that this variability could be linked to tidal cycles, although no one really knows. Amazing to think that the position of the moon might have an effect on something as subtle as the escape of bubbles from the sea floor.

When we are not diving at hydrate ridge, we have been working on the installation of the two legged mooring. Attached is a picture of the shallow profiler going down with ROPOS. Very cool.

August 30, 2014

Today after lunch we were lucky to see a large pod of porpoises feeding on fish around the stern of the Thompson. Watching the porpoises playfully dart around was a much needed release for the engineering team as they have been stressed out the past two days making the necessary preparations for the installation of instruments on the double legged mooring. As I write this now, our eyes are fastened to the video feed of ROPOS installing the shallow profiler on the 200 meter platform. It is one of the most complicated dives of the entire RSN project and the ROPOS team is tense. John characteristically described the mood in the control room as “an emotional cacophony”.



The cruise in general has continued to unfold smoothly. After 5 days at sea the stream of memorable sights has yet to dry up. Besides the porpoises this afternoon, we were graced with the presence of a >6ft shark last night. Two nights ago I went out on the bow with Kevin (one of the other students) to shoot pictures of the sunset and I was not disappointed with the resulting images. The clouds aligned on the horizon to create glowing smears of color not unlike the banded atmosphere of Jupiter. Even more impressive were the stars that appeared after the western sky finally blackened. From the bow, the ghostly fog of the Milky Way was clearly visible despite the bright halogen lights shining on the Thompson’s deck. I can only hope the rest of the cruise is similarly impressive.


August 28, 2014

Sorry for the late update everyone. I would first like to say “Hi” to Mom & Dad as they are probably the most interested in what I have to say.

I have found life aboard the Thompson to be unexpectedly luxurious, especially in regards to the cuisine, which is fabulous. The food is so good and plentiful at all hours that I find myself complaining about it. They need to stop putting pies and other delicacies in the mess hall for every meal. I have continuously indulged myself and I lack the constitution to stop. Utter gluttony...

Anyway all jokes aside things have been going well and I feel pretty settled in. I couldn’t have said without a calendar, but this is my third day on the Thompson. I have the 0000 to 0400 watch so my sleep schedule is odd to say the least. During my first watch, ROPOS had a close encounter with an alien looking fish at 2900 meters depth (see photo). This is by no means the only wildlife I have seen so far. In fact, I have been amazed at just how much life there is even on the ascent and descent to the seafloor.

My project is beginning to take shape. I plan to do a short informative video about methane clathrates and the relevant RSN installations at South Hydrate Ridge.

Should have many more updates to come.