Monday, August 27, 2018

Summary of the 2018 expedition

Science team for 2018 expedition.
It’s always a great feeling at the end of a research cruise when the ship is coming back into port and I know we have accomplished all your main science goals. In oceanography, there are many things that can go wrong at sea, from bad weather to equipment malfunctions that can prevent you from working, that success is never guaranteed. So I always have a sense of relief when we are able to get the work done that we set out to do. Thankfully, that is the case this time. The other feeling I have is gratitude for everyone on board the ship who contributed to our success – from the ship’s crew, the operators of the vehicles we use, and the science party.

ROV Jason launch.
Our main goal on this expedition was to continue our measurements of the volcanic inflation going on at Axial Seamount since its last eruption in April 2015. We accomplished that in several different ways during this cruise: 1) We repeated pressure measurements on an array of seafloor benchmarks inside the summit caldera with the Jason ROV. 2) We recovered and re-deployed bottom pressure recorder instruments that had been continuously recording on the seafloor at various locations for the past year. 3) Thirdly, the MBARI AUV made dives to collect high-resolution bathymetry that we will compare with previous surveys to measure depth changes over a much larger area than where the pressure measurements are made.

Control van monitors for ROV Jason

Mooring recovery.
Together all these data will give us a good view of how much the surface of the volcano (the seafloor) is moving up (or down), and how that movement varies from place to place. That information provides insights about the reservoir that stores magma inside the volcano between eruptions, such as its size, shape and depth, and the rate at which magma is being supplied and how that supply changes with time. It will also help us anticipate when Axial will be ready to erupt again. So far, it looks like it will still be a few more years, but Axial might be getting close when our next expedition is scheduled in the summer of 2020. In the meantime, you can see real-time monitoring data from Axial Seamount at this link.

MBARI mapping AUV deployment.

-Bill Chadwick

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Our Next Gen Scientists

Introduction by co-Chief Scientist Scott Nooner
Scott (left) with the Next Gen Scientists
My name is Scott Nooner and I am a professor of geophysics at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Bringing students out to sea on research cruises is a very important part of my job, as I think that research cruises are a vital part of the education of young marine scientists. That is largely because being out at sea is an almost completely immersive experience, where we are often disconnected from the rest of the world for a short time. Because of that, research cruises provide a time of intense hands-on learning, discussion, and reflection, where students can spend almost all of their time thinking about and carrying out science. This allows them to gain insights and understanding into their field of study in a way that is difficult at home. Students are eager for these new and intense experiences and as a result bring a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm to the trips. As a scientist and an educator, seeing and fostering this excitement for science is the most rewarding aspect of my work.

I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the students during this cruise. It’s been great to see camaraderie grow between them as we build moorings, deploy instruments, stand watches in the Jason ROV control van, eat meals, and even during the occasional movie. I know from my own experiences that these trips can build strong friendships and collaborations in science, so it’s gratifying to play a role in that process.

I’m Emery Nolasco, I am an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) Operations Engineer with MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute). As an AUV Operations engineer I’m responsible for design, maintenance, and operations of the AUV. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and my background is in robotics and fabrication work.

This cruise is the first cruise that I’ve experienced working with other groups. With such close quarters you’re bound to get to know the people and work with them. This opportunity is remarkably valuable because it allows us to share ideas, exchange experiences, get new and different perspectives and network.

This is a very interesting job, but at times a dangerous one (deployment or recovery of equipment) and we have to enforce safety and watch out for each other on deck.

Overall, this trip has been inspiring and eye-opening because looking around the boat now, I see teammates working towards the same goal of understanding the unknown. Understanding this, it makes the world a little smaller and I have gained a better understanding of the great potential we have of making bounds towards accomplishing this goal.

My name is Haley Cabaniss and I’m a PhD candidate in geophysics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). I am a physical volcanologist with a love of submarine volcanoes and sea-going science who is fortunate to be sailing with the Axial team for the second time in a row this year. While my research brings me to volcanoes all over the world—both terrestrial and submarine, my primary field site is the Axial Seamount volcano that we’re currently researching on board the R/V Kilo Moana. I am interested in using the deformation data being collected by both the uncabled bottom pressure recorders (BPRs) and bottom pressure and tilt instruments (BOTPT) cabled to the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s cabled Axial Seamount array to constrain volcano eruption forecasting models.

I enjoy sea-going research expeditions for a variety of reasons. Most notably, I love the excitement of discovery at sea. We know more about the surface of some planets than we do about the Earth’s seafloor and for this reason, every expedition provides the opportunity to discover something new and exciting. I really enjoy working with National Deep Submergence Facilities (NDSF) vehicles such as the remotely operated vehicle, Jason, which provide the opportunity to witness environments which have often times never been seen before. I also really appreciate the social side of sea-going science and the sense of community fostered by limited access to internet and the relatively small size of our floating home away from home.


My name is Morgan Haldeman, my love of geology started early, with devouring volcano books in the youth section of the library at the age of 5. After 13 years of announcing to anyone who would listen that I would become a volcanologist when I grew up, I moved six time zones from home and began a BSc at University of Hawai'i at Hilo. There, I worked as a volunteer Ranger at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, with the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes as an outreach volunteer, and as a tour guide with the University’s Outdoor Ed-Venture Program.

In 2013, after two years in Hilo, I transferred to the University of Rhode Island to continue my degree. It was here that I began my love for the underwater realm of geology. My advisor brought me on board the E/V Nautilus as a data logger at Kick ‘em Jenny Volcano in 2014, and in 2015, I was aboard the R/V Roger Revelle on an expedition to study vent geochemistry in the Lau Basin. Since then, I have completely devoted my life to volcanoes, spending the last three years in Iceland studying mid-ocean ridge basalts. Now, with a Masters degree in hand, I have joined the science party aboard R/V Kilo Moana to assist Drs. Chadwick and Nooner in their study of Axial volcano.

I am Will Hefner, and I am starting my second year as a research assistant for Dr. Scott Nooner as a part of the M.S. Geosciences Program at University of North Carolina Wilmington. This is my second cruise to Axial Seamount as a part of my thesis work studying seafloor deformation and fault motion associated with eruptions at Axial. By combining what we know from seafloor deformation with fault motion recorded along the summit caldera, we hope to better understand the processes that control eruptions at Axial Seamount and how fault motion is related to the deformation seen on the seafloor during an eruption.

My favorite part of the project is the chance to go out to sea each year and contribute to the long-term monitoring at Axial. Sea time is a great chance to get involved with data collection and gain a better understanding of the work that goes into studying the geology of the deep ocean. Cruise time is always an awesome experience because of the great people you meet, the cool technology on board (ROVs and AUVs), the delicious food, and the chance to get out of day to day lab work and into the field. As a geologist, the Earth is your laboratory, and I always welcome any opportunity to get out into the field, get my hands dirty, and be a part of some good old science at sea.


I am Audra Sawyer an incoming graduate student to University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) and will be working with Dr. Nooner on the Axial Seamount project. I got my bachelors degree at Mississippi State University in geology and was interested in going into a marine geophysics field for graduate school. This is my first time on a research vessel, so this entire experience is brand new to me but incredibly awesome. This is a cool opportunity because I have been able to see everything that it takes first hand to collect the data that I will be using to do research over the next two years. I have thoroughly enjoyed numerous aspects of being at sea like meeting the crew, helping with deck work, and also getting to participate in observing dives with Jason.

My name is Matthew Cook and I’m a PhD candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. My work focuses on using bottom pressure recorders (BPR), mobile pressure recorders (MPR), and self-calibrating pressure recorders (SCPR), to measure crustal deformation at earthquake- and tsunami-generating subduction zones. We look at changes in seawater pressure, which correspond to changes in the height of the water column and the height of the seafloor. From there we do our best to separate out the tectonic signal and use the data to gain insight about geophysical processes from subduction zones to submarine volcanoes.

I’m with the science team at Axial Seamount for the second year to help conduct another MPR survey as well as deploy and recover some continuously-recording BPRs. I enjoy participating in research cruises because we are constantly pushing the boundaries of earth science and laying the groundwork for new and expanded deep ocean science. Also, the day-to-day life on ships offers different experiences than life on land and wonderful opportunities to interact with old friends and make new ones.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Dive Plan!

Each time the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution’s ROV Jason goes in the water during our expedition Bill Chadwick, one of the co-chief scientists, creates a dive plan. There is a magic to this process that requires extensive knowledge about the most efficient ways to coordinate the use of Jason, the ship, the AUV, conduct rock and chemistry sampling, make pressure measurements and deploying various instruments.

Launching ROV Jason from the Kilo Moana.
The Jason team is incredibly skilled at deploying and recovering the two body system of Jason and Medea, but still these processes take time. Jason’s trip from the ocean’s surface to the seafloor takes about an hour. Once on the bottom, Jason is driven by the Jason pilot to the first dive site. Three members of the Jason team (during their four hour shifts – 4 on/8 off) are always on duty controlling Jason, Medea, managing the cable, and the navigation, data and communication systems.

Time at sea is precious and therefore a good dive plan maximizes efficiency. Before we even got on the ship, Bill had created a draft plan for the dives during the expedition. The plan is complicated by the fact that we are deploying both Jason and the MBARI AUV at the same time! The challenge is that they cannot be in the exact same place at the same time, and yet they need to be near each other during the deployment and recovery. So their movements have to be carefully choreographed.

Once we left the dock, the high winds and big seas made it impossible to deploy either the ROV or AUV until two days later than Bill’s initial plan. Therefore, the initial plan was almost immediately out the window. The revised plan called for a longer dive which would last more than 3 days and would complete the pressure survey that was the main mission of the expedition. Uncertainty about the ship’s ability to recover the AUV in the rough weather conditions at the time led to delays in the AUV being deployed. Here is a partial view of a Jason ROV dive plan.
Example of the dive plan.

An example of how efficiency is maximized is that when the AUV is deployed the MBARI team needs the ship to stay nearby for the first hour of its dive to check the systems and make sure it is following the pre-programmed mission. This meant that the ship needed to stay in one spot. Jason has to be off the bottom when the AUV is deployed, so Bill’s dive plan had Jason transit from one site to the next and when almost there, the ship stopped, the AUV was deployed and then Jason dropped to the seafloor to begin a pressure measurement, all the while allowing the MBARI team to stay in contact with the AUV.

Basket plan for dive J2-1104.
As part of the process of planning and running a dive with Jason, we need to know what equipment is on the vehicle when it launches and where it is stored so that the Jason pilots can find the required instrument quickly when needed. Likewise, we need to keep track of where samples or instruments that were recovered are stowed. Jason has several places where these items can be stored. On our expedition, Jason is deploying mini bottom pressure recorders (mini BPR’s) at benchmarks and collecting fluid and gas samples at hydrothermal vent sites. We are also placing some new markers, where needed. In addition, we will swap out low (MTR’s) and high (HOBOs) temperature recorders that are deployed in the hydrothermal vents. Here (below) is a photo of the front basket of Jason right before deployment and the map (left) used by scientists and Jason pilots to see where everything is stored. The basket can be configured in a variety of ways to suit the specific goals and activities of a given dive.

Jason's basket loaded for dive J2-1104.
There are always surprises during a dive and things never go quite as planned. Yesterday, we found that we had to end Jason’s long dive early, in order to recover the MBARI AUV under the weather conditions at the time. Jason came back on the surface, was recovered on the ship and we then recovered the AUV. A few samplers were switched out on Jason and a new dive plan was quickly developed. Jason was back in the water in four hours. We were lucky to have such a short turn around, but that left Bill and Scott little time to revise the dive plan in such a way that it still met all the science objectives of the cruise. Today, Jason is still on the seafloor and the AUV has once again been deployed for another dive. The dive plan is working … so far! The key to a successful science expedition at sea is to maximize your flexibility and adapt to the changing conditions and constraints while accomplishing as many of the science goals as possible.

Trackline of dive J2-1104 at Axial Seamount.

Sampling gas at El Guapo.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Accurate and Precise

Scientists are always concerned with the quality of the data they collect. The precision and accuracy of any measurements must be good enough to resolve whatever phenomena they are designed to measure. There is always a balance between the cost and time needed to get more accurate and precise data versus what is needed. Usually, scientists try to match the accuracy and precision with the task at hand. No measurement will be perfect, but the goal is to ensure that any errors are minimal and are much smaller than the signals we are trying to measure with our instruments.

In science, the word “accurate” means "capable of providing a correct reading or measurement." A measurement is accurate if it correctly reflects the size or value of the thing being measured. On the other hand, “precise” in physical science means "repeatable, reliable, getting the same measurement each time."

The Focus of our Research

The main focus of this research expedition is to get a better idea of how the shape of Axial Seamount changes in response to magma entering and exiting the system. These inputs (magma being fed from deep below the volcano) and outputs (eruptions or magma intrusions) change the shape of the volcano. When magma fills the magma chamber the volcano expands, inflating like a balloon; but during an eruption the volcano surface lowers and deflates. Ideally, our measurements of these changes are both accurate and precise. That would ensure that the data we are collecting can be used to constrain models of what is happening in the subsurface.

At Axial Seamount, we measure the precise depth of the seafloor (the volcano’s upper surface) by measuring the pressure on the bottom caused by the height of the ocean above the instrument. On this expedition we are measuring pressure in several different ways.

The following instruments get us a pressure measurement at a single point with an error on the order of +/- 1 cm.

Continuous measurements:
Reccovering the BPR instrument.
  1. Mini Bottom Pressure Recorders (Mini BPR) – placed on benchmarks by ROV Jason and left for a year or two. They record continuously and keep a digital record for the entire time they are in the water. There are 5 of these. 
  2. Moored Bottom Pressure Recorders- are dropped from the ship and record for a year or two similarly to the Mini BPRs. We recover these by sending an acoustic release code, and the BPR floats back to the surface to be collected by the ship. We have recovered and then redeployed 4 of these on this expedition. 
  3. In addition, there are 4 Cabled Bottom Pressure Recorders (Cabled BPR) attached to the Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI) cabled observatory at Axial Seamount. These send their data through a fiber-optic cable back to shore, which can be seen in real time at this website:
One point in time measurements:
Two pressure recorders on AX-308 benchmark.
  1. Mobile Bottom Pressure Recorder (MBPR) (carried by Jason to various points (benchmarks) on the volcano). The purpose of this measurement is to be able to correct for drift in the continuously recording devices, and thus be able to measure slow gradual depth changes over several years like volcano inflation. 
  2. AUV re-mapping, described in our last blog. Allows us to extend the measurements of inflation at Axial Seamount over a larger area outside the caldera (where the BPR data is limited to). These long swaths are less accurate and precise than the BPR measurements, but the error (+/- 20 cm) is still small enough compared to the size of the depth changes to give us useful data on the inflation or deflation of the volcano.
AUV bathymetry is shown in color.
The combination of all this data collected in several different ways allows Scott Nooner and Bill Chadwick to model the location, depth, and shape of the magma reservoir inside the volcano. Their modeling of the magma reservoir is consistent with the locations of earthquakes at Axial.

The Effect of Drift

A challenge of working with the continuously recording BPR’s is that their readings tend to drift gradually with time. That means they are still precise, but their accuracy degrades with time. During this expedition, one of the main things we are doing is taking the MBPR around to all the benchmarks on the volcano with Jason making repeated measurements during a long survey extending over several days. These measurements help us constrain the amount of drift in all of the BPR instruments so that we can measure the gradual inflation of the volcano between eruptions. Because the pattern of inflation and deflation is similar from one eruption to the next, these measurements also help us forecast when Axial is ready to erupt again (see:

It's an AUV! Not a Torpedo.

by Jenny Paduan, MBARI

Yesterday afternoon we deployed the MBARI Mapping AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) for its first survey of the voyage (below).
The MBARI AUV aboard the R/V Kilo Moana.
Unlike ROV Jason, the AUV is not attached to the ship when it makes a dive (that’s the “autonomous” part). This AUV is a ~6 m (20 ft) long torpedo-shaped robot that flies a pre-programmed path to map the bathymetry of the sea floor (topography, if on land) using sonar. We are using it on this trip to repeat a path it has run in past years to detect vertical movements of the volcano.

Jenny Paduan and Dave Caress evaluating the AUV data.
An interesting behavior shown by both Axial Seamount and Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii (arguably two of the best-instrumented volcanoes on Earth), is vertical deformation through the eruption cycle: during eruptions, the summit rapidly drops several meters (during the 2015 eruption at Axial, the caldera floor dropped 2.5 m, or 8.2 ft,), and then as the magma chamber refills toward the next eruption, the summit slowly rises again. Because the AUV can travel nearly 100 km in a single survey, it can map well outside the caldera. That will give us a picture of how the rest of the volcano is responding, and augment the precision measurements being made using the ROV Jason on this trip and the long time-series of measurements by instruments deployed inside the caldera.

Deploying the MBARI AUV.
The AUV was lifted by a crane from the aft deck and set into the water behind the ship (right). It was then released to execute the planned mission, which included spiraling down to a depth ~ 50 m above the sea floor then driving the pattern we programmed for it. We listened for its acoustic signal for a while to ensure that it knew where it was and that its systems were functioning properly. When it left acoustic range of the ship, we turned our attention back to the ROV Jason, which had been suspending off bottom so the ship could maneuver during the AUV launch and now could get back to work; its dive will continue for another day.

The multibeam sonar on the AUV pings an array of sound downward then listens for the echo of the pings after they have bounced off the sea floor back to the vehicle. From the amount of time it takes for the sound to make that return trip, the depths along a 250 m (820 ft) wide swath of seafloor below the vehicle are calculated. When the vehicle flies at 50 m (~165 ft) altitude above the sea floor the resulting map has a lateral resolution of 1 meter and vertical resolution of ~10 cm, meaning that things 1 m (3 ft) square by 10 cm (4 in) tall can reliably be seen. When the same patch of sea floor is mapped repeatedly, height changes that exceed 20 cm (8 in) are apparent. In this way, we have been able to map changes due to faulting, landslides, and lava flows. An example of mapping new lava flows is shown from the 2011 eruption here at Axial, where we made a depth difference map by subtracting the pre-eruption surface from the post-eruption surface (map below).

AUV depth difference map showing the eruption.
The map reveals flows that were up to 15 m thick, their fissure systems (black is negative depth change), intricate lava channels (as thin veneer), and ponded flow margins (thick accumulations). From such maps, calculations can be made of the area and volume of flows, and together with data acquired during the eruption from other instruments on the sea floor, we can also calculate the average eruption rate. With the repeat AUV surveys we are conducting on this expedition, we are attempting to measure even more subtle depth changes between surveys that are due to the volcano inflating between eruptions, as part of a wider effort to monitor the volcano. For example, we know that Axial Seamount has already re-inflated more than 1.5 m (~ 5 feet) since the 2015 eruption, which is easily measureable by repeat mapping with the AUV. These revolutionary measurements help us understand processes inside the volcano that are hidden from view, such as the depth and geometry of the magma reservoir beneath the caldera and at what rate magma is being supplied between eruptions.

Here is an AUV recovery video:

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

In the Water! At Last!

Jason goes into the water:
We were conducting science before we got the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason into the water, we were certainly busy, it’s just that key parts of this research project require that we use Jason to deploy instruments on the sea floor. Before Jason was deployed, we recovered and deployed moored bottom pressure recorders, did CTD casts, and collected data with the ship’s multibeam sonar system to map the sea floor.
Scott Nooner indicates ROV Jason is ready to dive.

Yesterday, we finally had good enough weather to put ROV Jason, into the ocean. With the small back deck on the Kilo Moana, getting Jason into the water is challenging. Because the ROV Jason’s usual winch would not fit on the ship, Jason is running a two body ROV configuration with a second vehicle called Medea. As you watch this deployment video (coming soon), you can see the Jason group, preparing Jason, deploying Jason and then deploying Medea.

We are starting a 3-day long dive with Jason and Medea visiting benchmarks on the sea floor and taking pressure measurements at each one. We hope to also take water and gas samples at hydrothermal vents near the end of the dive on day 3, so Jason’s basket is full of sample bottles.
We cannot yet begin work with the MBARI AUV as the weather is still marginal for being able to recover the AUV while Jason is in the water on the Kilo Moana. We’ll be able to make AUV dives later when we can recover the AUV with Jason on deck.

Deploying the MPR (mobile pressure recorder) at a benchmark.
Because Jason is finally in the water, today is a bit more of a typical day for me, in my role as one of the Jason video loggers. I wake up at about 3:15 am and I arrive in the Jason control van at about 3:45 am for my 4-hour shift. I spend a few minutes talking with Morgan Haldeman, the 12 midnight to 4 am video logger, to see how things are running. There are two loggers for each shift, a video logger and a data logger. I am working in the van twice a day, in the morning (4 to 8 am) and the afternoon (4 to 8 pm). It is hard to get enough sleep in the 8 hours off between shifts, as it takes time to get ready to sleep and you have to wake up with enough time to get ready for your shift. So, I am lucky to get 6 hours of sleep each night.

Here is the view from my spot in the control van.
 The cameras on the ROV Jason are amazing. I feel like I am in the water with the animals and rocks. It almost seems like you could reach out and touch them.

We are presently visiting 10 different sites that have concrete benchmarks where we are collecting pressure measurements. These will help us learn more about how much the volcano has inflated since our last measurements, caused by magma moving into the Axial volcanic system beneath the summit caldera.

Filter feeder on the benchmark marker.
During the daytime 8 hours between my shifts, I am working on gathering photos, video and information for the blog. The science runs 24 hours a day, so everyone is getting pretty tired. We are half-way through our 10-day research expedition and I wonder how I can get more sleep!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Finding the Right Ship

by Teresa Atwill, Teacher at Sea

Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason
As I sit here in the R/V Kilo Moana computer lab (hanging on as we roll over a swell), I am thinking back on my experiences on other research vessels. Research vessels (that’s what the “R/V” stands for) are ships specifically designed to conduct a diverse array of scientific studies at sea. I have now toured or been at sea on over 15 different ships. Research vessels are a diverse lot. Each ship has its own distinct look and personality, although there are sister ships that are fairly similar to each other. There is a lot to learn about the various types and classes of research vessels. If you conduct ocean research it pays to be familiar with the different options.

Who owns that ship?
UNOLS (University National Oceanographic Laboratory System)Vessels
Since 1971, UNOLS has been in charge of overseeing the scheduling and uses of the UNOLS fleet of vessels, as well as a number of the underwater instruments used by scientists. UNOLS was started by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to ensure orderly access to vessels by scientists from U.S. universities.
How does a research cruise happen? To begin with, a scientist, or group of scientists, writes a research proposal to submit to the National Science Foundation (NSF), and as part of the process they decide on:
  • what instruments (ROV’s, AUV’s etc) are needed on the ship 
  • how many days at sea are needed for the project 
  • how many scientists are needed at sea 
  • what types of lab work are needed to be done on the ship 
  • what kind of internet access is needed 
  • what geographic location and time of year are required 
Once the project gets funded, then UNOLS and NSF determines on which ship and on which dates the project will be scheduled. UNOLS tries to get a good fit with the type of research vessel needed by the scientists, and they try to make the most efficient schedule for all the ships. Each ship has an owner, usually the Navy or the NSF, and an operating institution (usually, a university). This process can take up to 2 years between submitting a proposal and actually going to sea.
R/V Revelle in Newport, OR.

Last summer, we were conducting similar research to the work we are doing this summer on board the R/V Roger Revelle. That vessel is a UNOLS “Global Class” ship and its operating institution is U.C. San Diego, Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The Revelle is a mono-hull (one hull- 274 feet long) and has a very large back deck. Global Class ships are generally larger, have more science berths and larger lab spaces. They are designed for large interdisciplinary research projects, where lots of scientists are conducting a wide variety of research, and can operate in any part of the world.

Aft deck of R/V Kilo Moana.
This year, we are on the R/V Kilo Moana (186 feet long), which is operated by the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This vessel has twin hulls (sort of like a catamaran) and is an “Ocean Class” UNOLS vessel. The back deck on the Kilo Moana is smaller than Revelle’s and it is more challenging to run all the science operations in the tighter space available. Also, the number of bunks is fewer on the Kilo Moana than on the Revelle and we had to limit the number of scientists onboard. Our aggressive research plan that calls for simultaneously running the ROV Jason and the MBARI AUV would challenge even a Global Class ship.

Many of the crew on board have spent time working on other UNOLS vessels. The crew on the Kilo Moana are very helpful and professional. Without their hard work, skills, and experience (on how to do various tasks on the ship) we would not be able to conduct our research.

What’s the difference?
Besides size, the things that vary from ship to ship are:
  • Number of science berths
  • The size, and kind (wet, dry and computer) of labs
  • How large the deck space is and where the space is located
  • The number and type of cranes, winches, sonars, etc.
  • The length of time the ship can remain at sea, without refueling
  • The quality and kind of internet and connectivity

Generally, the larger the ship, the bigger the space available to scientists and the higher the number of bunks available. Larger ships can hold larger and more diverse science equipment on the deck, and can stay at sea the longest.

Some things to consider are that ROV’s like Jason have a crew of 10 people to operate. The MBARI AUV crew is a total of 5 engineers and technicians. Collecting samples for chemistry, geology, and biology studies often requires analyses to be carried out on the ship. Therefore, multi-disciplinary research projects often take large numbers of scientists at sea.

Privately funded versus publically owned ships
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of research vessels operated by private oceanographic research institutes. These vary a great deal depending on the finances and mission of a particular organization. We have a team on board from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to operate their Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and are a partner in this research project. Usually, these scientists and engineers go out on MBARI’s privately owned research vessels, but this time they are working with our chief scientists Bill Chadwick and Scott Nooner on the monitoring of volcano deformation at Axial Seamount.

R/V Falkor with ROV SuBastian
Before our ship left Astoria, we got to take a tour of the privately owned R/V Falkor, which is operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute and has its own ROV.

Research vessels must be as capable and versatile as possible to accommodate the widest possible variety of science in any part of the world. They are the work horses of the oceanographic research.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Kilauea Volcano versus Axial Seamount

Today on R/V Kilo Moana: CTD casts and redeploying BPR moorings that were recovered yesterday. Weather is preventing use of underwater vehicles.

There are several reasons Axial Seamount has been studied extensively. It is fairly close to U.S. ports, it erupts frequently (3 times since 1998), it has hydrothermal vents (an important place to study chemical/ocean interactions- which helps with climate models), has interesting fauna (including high temperature chemo synthesizing microbes), and helps us better understand volcanic processes on the seafloor. Most of the world’s volcanoes are erupting under the ocean.
Relative sizes of Axial and Kilauea.Vertical exaggeration of 10.

Kilauea and Axial have many similarities. When you see images and video from Hawaii of the glowing lava flow forming a black crust, you are seeing an eruption similar to the ones that have been recorded at Axial. Many of the techniques used in Hawaii to understand and forecast eruptions are similar to those being used at Axial, only the instruments are very different due to the fact that Axial monitoring of Axial occurs in the deep ocean.

On both volcanoes, the most useful methods for forecasting eruptions are a combination of monitoring earthquakes and the inflation and deflation of the volcano.

On this research expedition, we are focusing on studying the inflation and deflation of Axial Seamount caused by magma moving into the magma chamber below the summit caldera. On Kilauea, this is studied by placing tilt meters and GPS units at various locations around the volcano. At Axial, we have an array of instruments specially designed to operate at the bottom of the ocean, where they have to be waterproof and and be able to withstand the high pressure at depth. Our tilt meters are similar to those used in Hawaii, but they are just put in pressure cases. GPS does not work underwater, so to measure vertical movements of the seafloor we use Bottom Pressure Recorders (BPRs) that effectively measure how much ocean is above the seafloor. If the seafloor moves up, there is a little less ocean above the instrument, and so a little less pressure; or if the seafloor moves down, there is a little more. We convert the pressure to depth to see how much the seafloor is moving up or down. We use the following pressure-recording instruments, each in a slightly different way, but all together they allow us to develop a rich understanding of the magmatic workings within Axial Seamount.

1. Cabled BPRs (part of the Ocean Observatory Initiative’s cabled observatory at Axial Seamount), which are powered from the cable and measure continuously.
2. Moored BPRs, are battery powered and are dropped from the ship at specific locations and record continuously until they are released and picked up in a year or two.
3. Mini-BPRs, which spend a year or more on seafloor benchmarks and record continuously.
4. An MPR (mobile pressure recorder) is carried around to all the benchmarks by the Jason ROV to precisely determine the relative depths of all the benchmarks and tie all the measurements together.
5. The MBARI AUV, with which we precisely re-survey the bathymetry of Axial caldera and its surroundings to measure changes in depth between surveys.

We can measure the height of the seafloor to a precision of about 1 centimeter (~0.4 inches) using the pressure sensors. The AUV re-surveys can measure depth changes larger than ~20 cm (~8 inches), so they are less precise but the measurements can be made over a much larger area. Fortunately, the vertical movements of the seafloor at Axial Seamount are very large from one eruption to the next – up to 2.5 to 3.5 meters (8-11 feet!), so both of these methods work well at Axial for measuring its ups and downs. To see real-time data from the Cabled BPRs at Axial go to:
Ocean Bottom Pressure Recorder (BPR).

Kilauea GPS and tiltmeter instrument.

More about the science of how these work together in a later post…

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Navigation, Is Where It’s At

Today on R/V Kilo Moana: Transit from Astoria Oregon to Axial Seamount. Mooring recoveries.

Leaving Astoria, Oregon
View from the bow:

View from the stern:
Since time immemorial navigation has mattered to mariners. The ability to know where you are within the worlds’ oceans is key to conducting science at sea and can save your life.

Sextant still available for navigation.
Navigation for ship operations
The R/V Kilo Moana has a magnetic compass and sextant for the unlikely event that all the electronic navigation systems fail but no one ever uses these as the ship has two Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. These give the ship’s exact latitude and longitude (map locations on the earth’s surface) as well as speed and course. This information is displayed on electronic charts that show our location.

The ship also has a radar system (which sends an electromagnetic pulse out that is returned by hard surfaces) that incorporates the GPS data and allows the ship to keep an eye out for other hazards or ships in the area. Two gyroscopes help the dynamic positioning system and auto pilot to keep the ship on course. An electronic fathometer gives depth soundings of the ocean floor, another helpful navigation tool.
Electronic chart display of R/V Kilo Moana leaving Astoria.
The second mate had developed the voyage plan for the ship to follow before we even left the dock in Astoria. The ship’s GPS, auto-pilot, radar and other tools ensured we had an efficient and easy departure from the Oregon coast.

R/V Kilo Moana docked in Astoria, Oregon.
All large ships have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) which sends out the ships name, location, heading, speed, size and weight to all other ships in the area. This integrates with the radar to ensure the Kilo Moana and other vessels do not get too close to each other. The VHF radio also allows the captain to communicate with other ships about how they will avoid collisions.
It is good to know we have all this equipment to help the well trained crew get us on site safely before we send the underwater vehicles to the depths of the ocean to begin our research.

Second mate Luke Barker.

Navigation is necessary for the science we do too!
When we deploy ROV Jason, we use the ships GPS and dynamic positioning system to position the ship exactly where we want to lower Jason. Once in the water, Jason uses an Ultra Short Baseline (USBL – a modern SONAR) communication system with the ship to determine its location underwater and together with the ship’s GPS we get fairly good navigation. The precision depends on the depth, but at 1500 meters the USBL system can give us Jason’s location within about 5 meters of a site. This is very useful because with Jason’s high-powered lights we can view about 15-20 meters beyond the ROV at the bottom of the ocean. So, if there is a feature we are looking for, like a black smoker, we can usually find it fairly quickly.

All the science data and sample collection is logged with a description, date, time and location, so it can be analyzed when we get back to shore. Andra Bobbitt, Oregon State University, data analyst is on top of the science navigation, sample and instrument locations. Utilizing a Geographic Information System (GIS) before the expedition, she has loaded all the necessary files onto the key lap tops. The GIS is utilized throughout the expedition to track the vehicle dives, check data quality and organize data by location and time. Having navigation as accurate as possible makes a big difference in the quality of the science we can complete.

On this expedition, we are also using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). There will be more about how this vehicle navigates in a blog post coming up called “This Is Not a Torpedo”.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Introduction to 2018's Expedition

2018 Kilauea eruption lava entering the sea.  (Photo USGS)
The latest eruptive activity at Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii has many people thinking about volcanic eruptions. Scientists have been studying volcanic activity for centuries and in recent decades they have begun using modern instruments and monitoring techniques at underwater volcanoes, where most of the earth’s volcanic activity occurs.

2015 erupted lava draped over older lavas at NE rim of Axial's caldera.
On this expedition, we’ll be going out to Axial Seamount, which is the most active volcano in the Pacific Northwest! It has had 3 eruptions in the last 20 years and is building back up for another one. Various instruments and measurements are used to attempt to forecast when the next eruption will happen. In addition, we will be taking samples and making observations to help us better understand how this volcano works, and how its activity affects the hydrothermal vent systems, their biological communities, and the surrounding ocean.

The summit caldera at Axial Seamount is at a depth of 1500 meters below sea level. To work there, we’ll be making dives with ROV Jason and the MBARI Mapping AUV from the ship, R/V Kilo Moana. Here’s what we hope to achieve during our 10 days at sea (August 18-27, 2018).

This expedition will be focused on three main areas:
  1. Monitoring the inflation of the volcano caused by magma rising into the volcanic system from below between eruptions 
  2. The chemistry of hydrothermal vent fluids and how they change with time 
  3. Exploration of a new hydrothermal vent field, possibly with active black smoker chimneys, that was discovered recently with high resolution AUV bathymetric mapping.

The majority of the time during the cruise will be spent studying how the shape of the volcano is changing by “inflation” caused by magma moving into a reservoir beneath the summit. This will be studied in two complementary ways:
  1. Using pressure measuring instruments to determine surface elevation changes 
  2. Utilizing high resolution repeat bathymetric mapping of the seafloor with the MBARI AUV.

This year, the MBARI group will be testing new terrain following software on their AUV that will improve the navigation of the vehicle and thus the precision of the mapping data. We hope you will follow along as we will be posting daily blogs while we are at sea.

This expedition is supported by the National Science Foundation and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Science Crew

Name Affiliation Expertise
Bill Chadwick Oregon State U. Geology
Scott Nooner U. N. Carolina, Wilmington Geology
Will Hefner U. N. Carolina, Wilmington Geology
Audra Sawyer U. N. Carolina, Wilmington Geology
Andra Bobbitt Oregon State U. Data management
Teresa Atwill Newport High School Teacher at sea
Chris Holm Oregon State U. Mooring tech.
Morgan Haldeman Oregon State U. Geology
Matt Cook Scripps Geophysics
Haley Cabaniss Univ. of Illinois Geophysics
Kevin Roe U. Washington Fluid chemistry
Hans Thomas MBARI AUV group MBARI Expedition Leader
Dave Caress MBARI AUV group AUV
Erik Trauschke MBARI AUV group AUV
Emery Nolasco MBARI AUV group AUV
Jenny Paduan MBARI AUV group AUV
Tito Collasius ROV Jason group Jason Expedition Leader
Chris Lathan ROV Jason group ROV
Jim Varnum ROV Jason group ROV
Christina Haskens ROV Jason group ROV
Jim Convery ROV Jason group ROV
Korey Verhein ROV Jason group ROV
Jim Pelowski ROV Jason group ROV
Andrew Billings ROV Jason group ROV
Victor Nakicki ROV Jason group ROV
Molly Curran ROV Jason group ROV