18 April, 1999

It was a week ago that I frantically scurried about in order to make my flight south.

A week has passed and we are still en route to the science though today is the first day of the journey that I can say "we are truly at sea!" Gone are the familiar green waters of the coast and in their place are the deepest, purest blue waters I’ve ever seen. Even the roiling foam is blue in the wake of the Nathaniel B. Palmer.

Today we have several talks lined up: Cara Wilson (InterRidge Office at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France) will speak about the hydrography of Bransfield Strait (proposing a model for how its waters mix based on information obtained in 1995, which she hopes to corroborate with data from this cruise); Carol Chin (U.S. Ridge Office and College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University - where many of the team are from) will speak on hydrothermal activity in the straits; Sven Petersen (Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Freiberg, Germany) will speak on the geological history of the Bransfield Strait and economic geological implications of the work; and Randy Keller (also of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University) will speak on volcanic activity of the region. (I might add, post facto, that the professional talks were a welcome and enlightening insight to make for a collegial atmosphere en route to the research stations)

The research vessel has provided a community in itself. I feel very fortunate to be here, surrounded by people who love the quest to know, to explore. To them, it is the norm to question, to challenge, to measure. It would be unusual to them to not, which is a twist on our daily experience at home, as evidenced by the inane advertising slogan “Why ask why?” I am never at a loss to find someone who isn’t eager to share information on sample acquisition, data acquisition, analytical technique, or data analysis questions that often leave one’s peers elsewhere with their head askew and a quizzical look on their face. Whatever else I will bring home, a reinvigorated and reaffirmed curiosity will be among my gains.

The willingness to answer questions and to place one’s educated scientific opinion on the line follows in the venerable tradition of peer reviewed science where hypotheses and views of scientists are formulated through a dialectic process of suggesting, questioning, defending, and reformulating. Today’s talks will no doubt involve opportunity for the input of others, questions and long pauses as both questioners and speakers contemplate implications of a parcticularly lucid question, an inevitable logical consequence of a thought, or even the evolution of yet another line of potential scientific inquiry that could easily occupy the pursuer for another decade in research…

One such patient and very willing teacher has been Chi Meredith, of Oregon State University. She is a materials engineer by training, out of Stanford University, where she specialized in crystallography (the determination of the structure of molecules by the patterns of light they give off when illuminated). She came to OSU to study ocean sediments by X-ray diffraction. She is now fully engaged in the chemical analysis of seawater. On this trip, she will provide parcticulate matter analysis and trace metal analyses of waters obtained near the vent plumes. In order to obtain information on the kinds of parcticles streaming out of the plumes, Chi will control a special pump that is aboard Dr. Klinkhammer’s ZAPS sled (more on this later). When the ZAPS instrument indicates that it is within a plume, Chi will send a message to the pump, which will turn on and begin filtering plume water through a filter. After a set amount of time, the ZAPS will be winched back to the surface where the filter will be dried and prepared for analysis back in Oregon. There, in the lab, analysis will involve comparing the mass of the filter before and after pumping the vent water (total solids per liter can be determined from this by knowing the volume of water pumped through). Next the filter will be ashed (burned) and the residue will be dissolved in some very strong acids. Once this is done, the resulting solution can be analyzed by ICPMS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy can you find more about how this works? Email me your findings!) and ICPES (no hints here, look it up!).

For the trace metal analyses, Chi will obtain water samples from remote-controlled Niskin bottles that will go down open (top and bottom) and then close upon command when the ZAPS instrument sled indicates they are within the plume. Once the bottles are returned to the surface, Chi will analyze the seawater samples for iron and manganese (two trace metals that appear in much higher concentrations in the plumes of hydrothermal vents, they will be analyzed separately) by a technique known as flow injection analysis. In this technique, the seawater is treated with a chemical that has a parcticular color by itself and a different color when it binds with the metal. By shining different colors of light through the solution and measuring how much is absorbed, it is possible to determine the amount of the metal in solution (just like you can tell which kool-aid is stronger by how dark it is).

I am putting the final touches on this journal entry. Word is we will be on station at 7 AM tomorrow. We will attempt to snag a “bottom-lander,” an array of equipment from a previous mission used to log ocean pressures 1000 meters down. We are then to proceed to a sampling site between Elephant Island and Clarence Island to conduct ZAPS and CTD analyses (CTD is a conductivity and temperature-measuring tool, deployed via tether and controlled remotely). It will be a busy day tomorrow, we will probably work through til 6 AM Tuesday morning. I will update you as soon as possible. I’ll try to give you a more detailed description of the analyses (ZAPS, CTD, rossette) as time permits.

OK, ‘til later,

Shawn Beightol,

Chi Meredith prepares to analyze for Manganese while Geraldine Sarthou of Geomar looks on.

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