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Participants

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Dr. Christopher R German

Chief Scientist for Deep Submergence, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

My interests are three-fold. First, from a geological perspective, I am interested in where hydrothermal vents occur on the seafloor and why. Second, I am interested in the impact that hydrothermal systems have on ocean chemistry. Finally, I am interested in how the settings of hydrothermal vents and their global-scale distributions, along with those of other chemosynthetic habitats, have given rise to the patterns we observe today in the distributions of fauna that inhabit vents around the world.

On this expedition I am the Chief Scientist and lead PI for the NASA proposal that brought the team together.  As well as having led a series of cruises in the past using "established" techniques to find vents—using both CTD-rosette systems and deep-tow geophysical instruments equipped with in situ hydrothermal sensors, I have pioneered the use of using AUVs to drill down even further from finding first plume signals to the point where we can actually locate and photograph hydrothermal fields in previously unexplored ocean basins.  To-date we have found approx 16 different hydrothermal fields using this approach over 5 expeditions, including the first vents ever found in the southern Atlantic Ocean and the first vents to be identified on the ultra-slow spreading SW Indian Ridge.

During Leg 1 of the cruise my role will be to run one of the two watches conducting 24 hour operations with the CTD and to work with the Nereus AUV team if any evidence of a hydrothermal plume is detected.  During Leg 2, I will be overseeing dive operations and work with the Leg 2 scientists to identify priorities for what sampling equipment gets carried to the seafloor by Nereus and what sampling gets done.

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Dr. Julie Huber

Assistant Scientist, Marine Biological Laboratory

My lab studies the microbiology of deep-sea hydrothermal systems and focuses on the distribution, diversity, and physiological adaptations of microbial groups at hydrothermal systems. Microorganisms from this environment offer opportunities to study many exciting aspects of marine microbial ecology, including molecular evolution, astrobiology, microbial diversity, and biogeography.

I am leading the microbiological portion of the ASTEP program. The MCSC is an ideal natural laboratory in which to examine two key understudied aspects of vent microbiology: ultramafic-hosted microbial communities and those at great depth (>3500m). We will do microbiology on any and every sample that comes on deck: water from CTD casts, rocks, sediments, microbial mat, vent fluids, even animal surfaces. All samples will be analyzed using a suite of molecular, microscopic and enrichment-based techniques to examine the adaptation of microbes to their geologic and chemical habitat.

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Mr. Andrew Bowen

Research Specialist, Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Andy has been involved in the development, design and operation of unmanned underwater robotics. He also manage the National Deep Submergence Facility, based at Woods Hole. This facility is made up of the human occupied submersible Alvin, the tethered vehicle Jason and the autonomous vehicle Sentry. I continue to be involved in the development of new submersible vehicles like Nereus.

Andy is on the expedition to help keep Nereus operating. In particular, He will work with the science team to help plan how we can best use Nereus to achieve the goals of the expedition. He will help on deck and work with the other members of the team to ensure Nereus is ready to go.

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Dr. Max Coleman

Senior Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech

Max looks for Life outside the Earth. His research focuses on identification of minerals that formed as result of, or in the presence of, biological activity and developing instruments that could detect them. He is on the expedition because he is a card carrying ASTROBIOLOGIST and the Mid-Cayman Trough location is the best terrestrial analogue for the deep hydrothermal vents believed to exist (under thick ice at the bottom of a salty ocean) on the moon of Jupiter, Europa. It will allow us to develop the protocols for autonomous search for hydrothermal vents on Europa and subsequent detection of Life associated with them.

Max's roles on the expedition are to use mineral compositions to understand present and past fluid compositions as sources of energy for living organisms and to quantify the amount of life such energy could support. He will try to ensure that appropriate mineral samples are recovered, curate them and analyze them subsequently at JPL.

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Dr. Douglas P Connelly

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

Doug is a geochemist from NOCS who spends a lot of time at sea looking for exciting new vent sites. When he is not at sea he helps to develop chemical noses to sniff out the signals of vents over very long distances. In the past few years he has been to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans hunting for sites but this is his first time hunting in the Caribbean.

I will be running the CTD with Chris and hunting the vent sites using the LSS. We will collect samples for the onboard analysis of dissolved methane and return samples back to our lab in the UK for the analysis of manganese and iron, important tracer species for hydrothermal vent inputs.

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Mr. Phil Forte

Mechanical Engineer, Deep Submergence Lab, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Phil's area of expertise is mechanical design for crewed and uncrewed submarines such as Alvin and Jason. Previously, he was an Alvin pilot and currently participates in at-sea operations with Jason. Phil is on the expedition to support all mechanical aspects of the vehicle, launch and recovery, and watch standing as a pilot.

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Mr. Daniel Gomez-Ibanez

Engineer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Daniel studies underwater engineering, especially vehicle batteries and propulsion. During the cruise, he will endeavor to make everything work, and to streamline the flow of matter and information, transforming Nereus from a promising idea into an operational vehicle. Daniel will be part of the team operating Nereus, managing battery charging and energy use, and supporting a variety of sensors and samplers integrated with the vehicle He will be on both the AUV and ROV legs.

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Mr. David Honig

Graduate Student, Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

I study the role invertebrates play in the transfer of energy from geosphere to biosphere at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Only microbes can build biomass via chemosynthesis, so invertebrates exploit the energy available at vents by either directly or indirectly consuming microbial primary production. I will work with Dr. Van Dover and Dr. Coleman to answer the following questions: How do feeding strategies of Cayman Rise invertebrates reflect evolutionary history and underlying geology? How do these invertebrates influence cycling and dispersal of chemosynthetically-fixed carbon? I will spend the second leg of this cruise either glued to the Nereus video stream or dissecting and preserving invertebrates brought back to the surface.

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Dr. Mike Jakuba

Post-doctoral fellow, Australian Centre for Field Robotics, Sydney, Australia.

Dr. Jakuba's research interests revolve around deep sea robotics. Of particular relevance to the present cruise, he designed the AUV-configuration flight controllers for Nereus; and as a graduate student developed novel mapping algorithms for the autonomous localization of hydrothermal venting. He will be on board during the first leg to tune flight controllers and terrain-following algorithms used by Nereus to fly above the seafloor. He also hopes to improve the chances of rapidly finding seafloor vent sites by employing real-time data-driven search strategies to modify the vehicle's flight path when water-column chemical data suggests proximal venting.

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Ms. Jill McDermott

MIT WHOI Joint Program Student, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

I study the chemistry of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and am a graduate student working with Dr. Seewald and Dr. German. I am interested in the inorganic, organic, and dissolved gases in these fluids, and in how they support thriving ecosystems. I will be working with fluid samples on leg two of this cruise, conducting time-sensitive measurements on-board the ship and preparing the samples for further analysis in the shore-based laboratory.

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Dr. Ko-ichi Nakamura

Senior Research Scientist, IGG, Seafloor Geoscience Research Group, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Japan

Ko-ichi studies marine geology and hydrothermal and gas hydrate studies in various settings. In other words, fluids emission from subseafoor, cause, process and results, which includes fluid behavior in the water column as well as on the seafloor. He is on the expedition because he has been interested in the Caribbean geology and the Cayman Trough tectonic process since 1978. He is expecting the discovery of new type of hydrothermal system in one of the most deepest and slowest-spreading ridge in the world. On the trip Ko-ichi will chase the hydrothermal plume by electrochemical sensor (Eh sensor) both on CTD and the Nereus. He will also maintain the electrode and interpret data for the chasing efforts.

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Dr. Carla Sands

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

I study the chemistry of hydrothermal plumes. In particular I'm interested in the fate of iron and other metals that tend to be closely associated with iron in hydrothermal plumes. I'll be on the 1st leg of the cruise, helping to collect water samples from the CTD casts. On board ship, I'll be measuring the dissolved methane in these samples and later back in the lab, determining the dissolved iron and manganese concentrations.

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Dr. Jeffrey Seewald

Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Jeff studies vent fluid chemistry. He is on the expedition to understand geochemical processes that regulate the organic and inorganic chemistry of axial hot-springs. Jeff will be collecting hydrothermal vent fluids and analyzing theme onboard ship for a variety of dissolved gases and pH. Other chemical species will be analyzed in shore based laboratories.

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Dr. Julie Smith

Postdoctoral Scientist, Marine Biological Laboratory

I am a marine microbial ecologist interested in how microorganisms respond to and interact with their environment and how environmental stressors shape microbial genomes and transcriptomes. On this expedition, I will be assisting Dr. Huber in the investigation of microbial communities found in any samples retrieved from the Mid Cayman Spreading Center. We will be looking at the community DNA to find out "who" is there and looking at the community RNA to find out "what" they are doing in terms of the genes that they are using. In addition, we will perform enrichments of samples from the sea floor to try to grow some of these microorganisms in the lab.

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Mr. Sean Sylva

Research Associate III, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Sean's research mainly focuses on novel approaches to measure the stable isotopes of light hydrocarbons found in hydrothermal vent fluids. He is part of the CTD team on this expedition and is in charge of the Gas Chromatograph instrument that will be used to measure the concentrations of methane in all water column samples brought aboard ship to help locate any hydrothermal vent fields that may occur along the Mid-Cayman Rise.

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Mr. Chris Taylor

Research Engineer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Chris's interests are underwater vehicle systems engineering and technology. He is part of the Nereus design team, responsible for overall electrical system design and integration. During this expedition, his focus is to operate, analyze, test and troubleshoot Nereus electrical and fiber optic systems and sensors. As well as any troubleshooting needed at sea, Chris will also be part of the watch team that monitors, navigates, and pilots Nereus during dive missions in both AUV and ROV mode.

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Ms. Tina Thomas

R/V Cape Hatteras Marine Technician

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Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover

Director, Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University


This is my dream expedition.

I have had my eye on Cayman Rise for more than a decade, ever since a colleague, Joe Cann from the University of Leeds in the UK, showed me this isolated spreading center on a map. 

I had already spent a good portion of my career by then exploring and describing hydrothermal vent communities from ridge systems throughout the world's oceans, so I saw immediately the importance of this tiny bit of ridge system in helping solve a piece of the puzzle that is the global pattern of distribution of species that occur only at deep-sea hot springs: We know there are no shared species between vents systems in the Atlantic (on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) and Pacific (on the East Pacific Rise), yet some of the dominant animal types are similar, as if there was once one species that since became isolated and evolved into separate species.  Five million years ago, there was a seaway between the Pacific and Atlantic in the region of the Isthmus of Panama.  Will the animals living at the putative vent sites of the Cayman Rise carry an imprint of a past link between the Pacific and Atlantic vent faunas?

If (when!) we do find vents, we are certain to find animal types never - ever - seen before, ones that likely exploit unimagined adaptations to survive under the extreme conditions we expect to find more than 5000 m below the surface of the sea.  Imagine the challenge of preparing for a scientific expedition where one has no idea what kind of animal will be discovered.  We have packed the R/V Cape Hatteras with every type of fixative and preservative we can think of, with containers of every size to accommodate type specimens.

On top of all this, we use a new vehicle, Nereus, that - get this - flies over the seabed in the sampling mode on an 8-lb-test fiber-optic tether.  It is like a first date - I think I like this vehicle a lot, so there is a tremendous sense of anticipation as I wait on shore for my chance to dress up and go out.  October 29th - the first day of the second leg of this expedition - we are back on station and I am on board; this day on the Hatteras with Nereus can't come soon enough.  I have on-going relationships with the human-occupied vehicle Alvin and the remotely operated vehicle, Jason, but technological polygamy is a fine thing.

And there is more: our home base is the R/V Cape Hatteras, which is home-ported at my institution in Beaufort, North Carolina.  The full-ocean-depth-capable vehicle Nereus can be operated from a small ship like the Hatteras (she's only 135 feet long and narrow - 32 feet - in beam).  Field costs for deep-sea research escalate exponentially with the length of the attending ship.  We expect the Hatteras-Nereus partnership to change the way we think about the costs and logistics of undertaking deep-ocean exploration along continental margins.

The science and technology can't be beat.  To all this, add the fact that I have known most of the science and technology team since my graduate school days in Woods Hole.  The sum: a formidable project, led by a superb Chief Scientist, with the newest deep-sea assets, in an exciting location.

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Dr. Louis Whitcomb

Professor, Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science Director, Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics Johns Hopkins University
Adjunct Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Robotics. Louis is an engineering professor. His research is the development of novel robotic underwater vehicle systems and technology to enable new methods of ocean science that are presently considered impractical or infeasible.

Louis is Co-Principal Investigator (with Andy Bowen and Dana Yorger) on the development of the Nereus hybrid underwater vehicle. The goal of the Nereus project is to provide the U.S. oceanographic community with the first capable and cost effective vehicle for routine scientific survey, sea floor and water-column experimentation, and sampling to the full depth of the ocean of 11,000 m—significantly deeper than the depth capability of all other present-day operational vehicles. I am also a co-PI on the Oases expedition, where we plan to utilize Nereus to perform large-area survey and fine-scaled sampling at depths to about 7,000 m the Mid-Cayman Trough.

Louis's focus on this expedition is to work withour engineering/science team to develop and test Nereus’s capabilities of performing autonomous scientific survey missions. Nereus operates in two different modes. For broad-area survey, the vehicle can operate untethered as an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) capable of exploring and mapping the sea floor with sonars and cameras. Nereus can be converted at sea to become a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to enable close-up imaging and sampling. The ROV configuration incorporates a lightweight fiber-optic tether for high-bandwidth, real-time video and data telemetry to the surface enabling high quality teleoperation. The first leg of the Oases expedition will employ Nereus to perform surveys in AUV mode. The second leg will employ Nereus to perform sampling and close-up observation on the sea floor in ROV mode.

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Dr. Dana Yoerger

Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Dana has been working on remotely and autonomous vehicle since coming to WHOI in 1984. Working with Chris German, Ko-ichi Nakamura, Doug Connelly and others, theye made the first discoveries of hydrothermal vents using an autonomous vehicle (the Autonomous Benthic Explorer, ABE) in 2004 in the Eastern Lau Spreading Center near Fiji and Tonga. They also made the first vent discoveries on the Southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (2005) and the Southwest Indian Ridge (2007) using ABE. Dana will be working on the mission programming, control system, navigation, and map-making for Nereus. Finding vents in the mid-Cayman Rise represents their biggest challenge yet.

Last updated: October 3, 2009