Follow Dr. Katrina Edwards, as she explores the microbial life at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

10/10/2011

It is mainly microbe Monday! Mainly microbe Monday is the day when most of the scientific party – as well as many of the staff scientists – all don their T-shirts that were given out to them earlier in the cruise that sport the term “Mainly Microbe” on the front and the logo for the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) on the back. The point of this shirt is to remind people that you are in fact mainly microbe when it comes to cellular abundances in and on you – there are about an order of magnitude more of them than there are of you. We are in fact just giant walking condo units for the mighty microbe in my view! Themed shirt days are common out here – Tuesday is Expedition 327 day – this is the themed T-shirt that resulted from a CORKing expedition that took place on the Juan de Fuca ridge flank last year – we’ll have one for this expedition by the end of our time here too. And OSMO Thursday – where team OSMO all wear this themed T-shirt for the day. Keeps things amusing anyhow.

We have finished all of our pre-observatory preparations. Yesterday we spent most of the day on logging operations – operations that I discussed in an earlier blog. The big success here was that we deployed our new logging tool DEBI-t again and again, it worked well and we have yet more data to deal with in coming days. The big challenge of these operations is that the second logging tool we sent down the hole got stuck for awhile – and we were fearful that we could not dislodge it. We could have retrieved it if this had remained the case, but it would have meant pulling up the pipe with the tool in it and re-deploying the pipe – i.e., another entire pipe trip and the critical loss of time that comes with it. Luckily, we were able to shake it loose and recover successfully, and were on our way. Overnight, we attempted what is called a ‘packer test’ which is where you send down an inflatable packer – like an inflatable tire – to inflate in the hole to test for formation conditions in order to make hydrological inferences about the system. This did not work. The ship heave was too great and we were never able to get a really good seal with the packer. It is funny because if you look outside, the sea looks like glass – like a swimming pool. But there are very long wavelength waves that can be observed that are giving us about a 3 foot heave, which is what was causing us trouble. Nonetheless this operation was not critical as we already have information about the basement formation in this general area from earlier drilling at 395A, just 50 meters to the east.

Now we are pipe tripping out and will be putting together the observatory this afternoon. Our experimental and instrument packages are all ready for deployment, and we only have to contend with anxious scientists ready to get on with operations. The installation will be another marathon run in the moon pool area, but this time should only take about 12 hours to complete!

Yesterday during logging operations we caught sight of some of the first wildlife out here – a minke whale paid us a visit, circling the ship and breaching a couple of times. Other than this sighting and the occasional mahi mahi, we don’t see much sealife out here. This is because of our location – the middle of the Atlantic Gyre, which boasts some of the most oligiotrophic – or nutrient pool – waters in this part of the ocean. Lack of nutrients means a lack of phytoplankton growth, which trickles down the food chain to the fish, whales, and other large sea life. There are certainly more spectacular places in the world to do research from the standpoint of viewing charismatic macrofauna, but few boasting bluer waters!