Oases for Life on the Mid-Cayman Rise

Hydrothermal Exploration using Advanced Underwater Robotics

October 7 to November 6, 2009
Join a renowned team of oceanographers and astrobiologists exploring one of the deepest points in the Caribbean Sea, searching for life in extreme seafloor environments. Using the new hybrid underwater robotic vehicle Nereus, these scientists will extend their investigations beyond the reach of other research submersibles to the bottom of the Mid-Cayman Rise, whose maximum depth is just over 6,800 meters (4.2 miles) deep.

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Nov 6, 2009 1:48 PM
Passing the baton
That elusive pot of gold… Tradition has it that all cruises end with a sunset. But, just like I have kept to a promise I made myself at the start of the cruise (no matter how boring the blog is, do NOT start writing about what you had to eat). I’ve decided to skip the sunset instead and end with something I had never before seen at sea – a perfect Rainbow. This was a photo we took while

Nov 5, 2009 10:00 AM
Down to the wire
Not exactly fireworks (it is bonfire night back home in the UK today) – but these wiggly lines were enough to put a smile on our faces this afternoon. The green trace, whenever it plunges down the screen, is from Ko-ichi’s Eh sensor and tells us when we are closest to the plume source. The blue trace shows the depth of our instrument package as it varies with time (the axis across the bottom of

Nov 4, 2009 3:33 PM
If it wasn’t for bad luck…
Leaving it’s mark(er). When we come back here in future – and we surely will – this little marker on the seafloor will provide a “reality check” between one cruise’s navigation systems and the next – as well as a lasting testimony of some of the challenges faced, and the contributions made to deep submergence research by “the little ship that can” and all who sailed with her to get us this far

Nov 3, 2009 2:16 AM
Decisions, decisions…
David and Julie H (from our ship) wave off our recent visitors – science colleagues Julie S and Cindy, flanked by Ari and Mark from National Geographic. They may have taken two of our scientists away but we traded them for Katy, their field producer, who will continue to ride the ship with us all the way back to Grand Cayman at the end of this week.The tug boat Sand Cay as it departs for Grand

Oct 31, 2009 9:18 PM
Ghosts in the machine?
All clear: Here’s Andy checking for stow-aways in the tool sled prior to Nereus launch. Could that have been the cause of the excess baggage? Or was it just a Halloween haunting?Please, please, please, let me get what I want (with apologies to Morrisey and the Smiths). Here goes Nereus, back to the seafloor late Sunday afternoon. Position at 16h00 EST – End of CTD 48Lat: 18° 33’N Long: 081°

Oct 30, 2009 9:27 PM
Getting Ready for the Big One
Suit up! David is our chosen victim of Leg 2 who gets to don one of the immersion suits we are all issued with in case of emergency.Getting ready. Nereus team preparing the Depressor (looks like a large missile with its covers off!) for deployment over the rear end (nautiacal speak = aft, or stern) of the ship ahead of tomorrow’s Nereus dive when it will be used for real.Position at 16h00 EST

Oct 30, 2009 1:00 AM
Back on the road again
Here’s where we left off – running ahead of the seas into port last Monday evening.Does this tool sled make me look big? Nereus put on a bunch of weight while we were in port – but in a good way, we reckon.Becky (jumping) and Evan (already in the water) came by for a while this afternoon to take advantage of the wonderfully clear waters here and shoot some HD video of Nereus in action

Oct 26, 2009 3:12 PM
If fools rush in, it's the wise man who heads to port - right?
Heroes of the High Seas. Medal of the day goes to all involved in the safe recovery of Nereus aboard ship in rapidly deteriorating conditions. Both our Captain, Dale, and Andy have decided that since they have now proven that they can get the vehicle back safely in bad weather, they don’t need to do so again. I’m all for that – we’d just like nice weather for Leg 2 now, please. Thank you!

Oct 24, 2009 11:45 PM
Its good to be wrong (in moderation)
After two weeks of dives, I finally found a new vantage point to get a clear shot of Nereus being lifted outboard on the ship’s crane.A picture that tells more than one story. On the right hand side of this map is where I had THOUGHT Nereus should search for hydrothermal activity on the seafloor on its latest dive – the dark red circles show how wrong I was – strong hydrothermal signals are

Oct 23, 2009 8:15 PM
Wild Mood Swings
Home with a tale to tell. It had been predicted, before Nereus made it up from the seafloor, that there was a problem with one of its thrusters. But can you guess which one? Hint: this is NOT a trick question!!!Position at 18h00 EST (Recovery of Nereus 020)Lat: 18° 33’N Long: 081° 43’WWater depth: 4650mWhere to begin with a recap of the past 2 days – including two Nereus dives and two new CTD

Oct 22, 2009 2:00 AM
Back in the Game!
AUV-ROV mind-meld. James (left, wearing ABE AUV T-shirt) and Chris (right, wearing Jason ROV T-shirt) deep in discussion during pre-dive deck-tests of the Nereus Hybrid vehicle.Once more unto the deep. In this photo, Nereus is just visible as a green-yellow blur directly beneath the arm of the crane that it was just released from.Position at 16h45 EST (Launch of Nereus 019)Lat: 18° 33’N Long:

Oct 20, 2009 2:17 AM
All we seem to do is talk about the weather
Position at 12h00 EST (CTD 38/Tow-Yo 3)Lat: 18° 30’N Long: 081° 43’WWater depth: 5100mMaybe it’s the curse of being English (as well as Doug and Carla, both Andy Bowen and I are also UK passport holders) but weather seems to have become a key topic of conversation lately. Yesterday morning, after a seriously poor night's sleep, I came down from my cabin to find waves breaking over the back deck.

Oct 18, 2009 1:16 PM
Running Up The Score
My fair-weather friends: Tina and Sean putting the CTD outboard in bright sunshine, Sunday morning.There goes the neighbourhood – this is what our view is gonna be like for the next 48-72 hours. So THAT’s why so few devote their lives to deep-sea oceanography! Welcome to the Caribbean? This is not like the Johnny Depp movies, and no, that bottle I’m holding is NOT full of rum - shame. Actually

Oct 17, 2009 10:44 PM
Happy Happy Joy Joy
Welcome home. Nereus being lifted out of the ocean at the end of its first AUV-mode science mission.No room for error. There isn’t a lot of spare space on the deck of “the little ship that can”. From left to right: Casey, Daniel, Andy and James carefully lower Nereus into place in its cradle. We had to add the wooden uprights because otherwise, whoever is driving the crane from the deck above

Oct 16, 2009 11:20 PM
Riddle me this…
Stowaway!!!Optical illusion. Believe it or not, this is a picture of the CTD package already beneath the ocean surface – that’s how calm it was earlier today. Don’t believe me? Look close and you can see a “kink” in the wire where it cuts the ocean surface.What’s BIG, cute, yellow, and currently >4000m under water?Position at 18h00 EST (Nereus Dive 18)Lat: 18° 22’N Long: 081° 42’WWater depth:

Oct 15, 2009 10:10 AM
Under Pressure
Not just a blogger. Here’s me (left) and Sean (right) putting the CTD outboard in mid-afternoon: our 2nd deep cast of the day.Savour the moment. After a very heavy rain squall in late afternoon we had a beautiful evening. This photo was taken right after dinner during a 10 minute break waiting for the CTD to come back up to the surface. Pretty phenomenal view, huh?Position at Midday EST (CTD

Oct 15, 2009 2:00 AM
Inside: Outside - You’re OK to Launch
Just say when! From nearest to farthest wearing hard hats, the “outside” half of the Nereus team (Chris – Mr Green hat; Andy - Mr Yellow; Daniel - with the pull-pin, Mr Red; Casey – Mr Orange; and last but not least, Mr Versatillity, Mike: he not only handles the lines for Nereus launches & recoveries but is also the 4th member of our AUV brains-trust. In 2004, he taught an AUV to think the

Oct 13, 2009 3:20 PM
If you want to make Chicken Soup…
Dana showing off his birthday present, featuring a robot he really admires (clue – he was made in Mexico, smokes cigars, and likes bending things). Looking on are two more members of our AUV brains-trust: James Kinsey & Louis Whitcomb.Position at Midday EST (Dana’s Birthday)Lat: 18° 31.6’N Long: 081° 40.0’WWater depth: 4950mFirst, get a chicken”. So said Dana Yoerger today and we had to

Oct 12, 2009 10:08 AM
Silent Running…
A typical view of the CTD these days: all you can see is the wire descending into the depths. Because we are using it round the clock, the instrument is never going to be on deck for more than an hour at a time until Nereus is good to go again.Position at 23h00 EST (Launch of CTD 09)Lat: 18° 36.3’N Long: 081° 41.4’WWater depth: 5087mNot much to report today. With Nereus on deck our small but

Oct 11, 2009 7:53 PM
We’ve only just begun…
Up at dawn. The Nereus team were up and prepping the vehicle today long before the sun came up.Over the side. One quick pull of the slip pin and Nereus was off to the bottom of the ocean.Deployments 1, Recoveries 1 = the sign of a good day with any AUV. Nereus is snared and then lifted back on board using the ship’s crane.Position at 11h00 EST (Launch of Nereus Dive 16)Lat: 19° 17.6’N Long:

Oct 10, 2009 6:47 PM
Close… but no cigars
Close, but no rum either! This was our clearest view, approx 12 nautical miles (22km) off the western-most coastline, of Cuba.Happiness is a wet (and working!) CTD. We’ve carried out two 1000-meter test deployments on our transit South. Each of the numbered bottles goes down open with their spring loaded caps pulled back, top and bottom. At depth these springs are released, one bottle at a

Oct 8, 2009 9:42 AM
Driving South (and West)
Clearing the harbor wall at Port Canaveral, Wednesday morning.Casey donning his immersion suit during safety training.Sunset over West Palm Beach on Wednesday.Nothing but blue skies and sparkling seas as we continue SouthPosition at 20h00 ESTLat 24° 23.4’N, Long 082° 04.2’W68m water depthAfter leaving port on Wednesday we sailed out past the harbor wall with the Kennedy Space Center launch site

Oct 7, 2009 9:57 AM
Houston, we have left the harbor
Nereus’ tool sled with manipulator arm being craned aboard.We brought everything but the kitchen sink!Lifting the gang-plank ashore.Tina secures the CTD while Steve—who will be rejoining us for Leg 2, and our local agent Malcolm (right) watch on from dry land.Lat 28° 24.5’N, Long 080° 36.3’WWe were all up early again today ready to set off, but first we had to load a few last items.First aboard

Oct 6, 2009 7:29 PM
Getting Ready, Part II: We're OK to go!
Pictures 1-3, Nereus being lowered into the water for first “wet-tests” in port.Nereus on the end of a tether, going through its test program this afternoon.Lat 28° 24.5’N, Long 080° 36.3’WA quiet but busy day on the ship today – all the engineers working intently and intensely leading up to a moment of truth with the first wet-test deployment of Nereus off the port side of the ship early this

Oct 5, 2009 11:36 AM
Getting ready – where preparation meets perspiration
The RV Cape Hatteras—the little ship that can—in Port Canaveral. In this photo, Doug Connelly is still working hard shifting boxes while I am goofing off with the camera.Taking Nereus for a spin. Here is Nereus being driven (in reverse!) across the dockside from the warehouse in the background where it had been assembled.Safely delivered. Nereus being deposited as close as can be to the ship at