Friday, September 20, 2013

Final Posting

Our September 2013 expedition to Axial Seamount was a great success! We managed to complete all our major goals with the skilled support of the R/V Thompson’s crew, the ROV Jason team, and our hard-working group of scientists. We also had unusually good weather for this part of the world, which always makes everything easier at sea. This research cruise had three main projects.
Science team aboard the R/V Thompson.

One project was to collect fluid and microbial samples from Axial’s hydrothermal vents to better understand the microbial ecosystems that form the base of the food chain at seafloor hot springs. We collected samples of hydrothermal vent fluid to track changes in chemistry since Axial’s 2011 eruption and how those changes may effect the microbial communities that live in the warm chemical-rich waters below the seafloor. We used a range of sophisticated samplers to collect vent fluids, gases, microbial mat, and hydrothermal sediments. We also collected the microbes living in the vent fluids for culturing experiments on board the ship and genetic analysis back on shore.
The intake of the Hydrothermal Fluid and Particle Sampler (HFPS) collects hot shimmering water near Vixen vent (in the Coquille vent field), surrounded by tubeworms, palmworms, and limpets.

The second project was a geothermal energy experiment that deployed prototype instruments on the seafloor to assess the feasibility of converting thermal energy from hydrothermal vents to electrical energy that could be used to power deep-sea sensors or perhaps underwater vehicles in the future. Geothermal energy devices were successfully placed on three separate hydrothermal vents at Axial. They will stay deployed for the next year and continue to collect data until they are recovered next summer. The results from this experiment will guide the design of more advanced energy conversion devices in the future.
Vent cap in place at Vixen vent.

The third project was making seafloor pressure measurements to monitor how much the volcano has reinflated since its last eruption in 2011. This was accomplished during a long Jason dive (almost 5 days) that repeatedly visited 10 different measurement sites, traversing a total of 65 km. These measurements found that the center of Axial’s caldera has risen by 1.2 meters (4 feet) in the last 2 years, the highest rate of uplift we’ve seen since we started these measurements over a decade ago! This means the volcano has already recovered over half of the deflation that occurred during the April 2011 eruption, and suggests that Axial may be closer to its next eruption than we expected. We will need continued monitoring to anticipate Axial’s next move, but these results are exciting and add urgency to the efforts to complete the installation of the cabled observatory at Axial as soon as possible.
Jason’s manipulator arm (upper right) prepares to place a pressure recording instrument (yellow) on a seafloor benchmark (concrete disk, middle) to measure how much the volcano has reinflated since its 2011 eruption.

We are grateful to the funding agencies that supported our research: NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Office of Naval Research, and The National Science Foundation. We also greatly appreciate the support from the University of Washington (who operates Thompson), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (who operates Jason), and the National Deep Submergence Facility (which manages Jason).

And thanks to you for following along during our research cruise and for all the great questions that we received. We had some fun interactions with students and teachers in science classrooms during the cruise via our satellite-based internet connection. I hope you will be able to join us again on a future expedition to Axial Seamount. I’m already looking forward what we will discover then!

-Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University

Cruise Report:
The cruise report is available as a pdf at:
Report with all dive logs (13MB) or Report without dive logs (5.7MB)

Highlights from the expedition:
(click image for full-size version)

Vent fluid from the top of El Guapo sulfide chimney (in the International District vent field) is collected for chemical analysis. The fluid is as hot as it can be because it is venting at the boiling point for this depth (347°C).
A remote-controlled fluid sampler is deployed at El Gordo vent (in the International District vent field) where it will take one sample per week to monitor the vent fluid chemistry over the next year.
The side of Escargot chimney (in the International District vent field) is covered with blue ciliate mat. The front of Jason’s basket is visible in the foreground, ready for fluid sampling.
Close-up of shiny, black 2011 lava frozen in place after pouring over a ledge.
Glassy black lava from the 2011 eruptions pours over a ledge and partially fills a pre-existing depression near Bag City vent.
Jason’s manipulator arm reaches to sample vent fluids from a vent called Spanish Steps.
Red and yellow stained microbial mat form on the upper collapsed crust of the 2011 lava flow in this area.
A hydrothermal vent community living on the side of a sulfide chimney in the Dependable vent field includes tubeworms, palmworms, limpets, several kinds of scaleworms, and sea-spiders called pycnogonids.
Orange iron-stained bacterial mats and a blue ciliate coat tubeworms growing on the side of a sulfide chimney in the Dependable vent field.
Hot vent fluid pools under an overhang on a sulfide chimney, called a “flange”, in the Dependable vent field.
Two spider crabs feast on a dead jellyfish that has fallen to the seafloor.
A “dumbo” octopus (named for its ear-like fins that it uses to swim) rests on the flat floor of a lava channel in the 2011 lava flows.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ocean Creatures

Home today! For some of us, at least… the gang is headed separate directions after 16 busy days of working and living together. Six of the scientists from our expedition are now onboard the R/V Falkor, and will head back to Axial for another research cruise. Some of us head home today and others will remain onboard for the unloading of equipment and instruments, taking samples to the lab, and stripping the R/V Thompson of almost all traces of the Axial Seamount 2013 Research Cruise.

Last night we left Victoria, headed south across Puget Sound and this morning we go back through the Ballard Locks and to the University of Washington pier.

While the scientific data we have collected is fascinating and the data yet to come will be exciting too, we have also had the opportunity to observe the wide variety of organisms who make Axial Volcano their home. The intersection of geology, chemistry, biology and engineering, all of which are represented by the research we’ve done at Axial Seamount is exemplified by the vent habitats there. Geologically, the magma supplies heat energy to raise the temperature of water percolating through the crust’s fractures to near boiling temperatures, driving it upwards in concentrated vents that build and grow as minerals in the water precipitate when vent effluent meets the cold ocean water temperatures. Microbial communities flourish in the warm water and use the metals and nutrients in the vent fluids for chemosynthetic processes to “make a living.” In turn, those microbes provide the foundation for the food web for the vent communities. Survival of larger organisms depends on these geologic, chemical, and biologic foundations.

And while we didn’t go to Axial Seamount specifically to see the larger organisms living at the vents, we certainly have noticed them! Their physical structures, life processes, and interactions have fascinated us, intellectually stimulated us, and in some cases provided a fun source of surprising entertainment. Check out the images below and the video to see a sampling of some of the deep sea organisms we encountered while working at Axial Seamount 2013.

Thanks for following the Axial 2013 blog, we hope our exploration and adventures at Axial Seamount have been educational and entertaining too. Because it is such a dynamic place, Axial will remain a focus of active oceanographic research for years to come and hopefully you can join us on a future expedition. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2011 Lava Flows

Today we arrive in Victoria BC. Dave Butterfield and Jim Holden’s groups will move from the R/V Thompson to the R/V Falkor. The rest of the crew will disembark in Seattle tomorrow.

2011 Lava Flows

 In July 2011 several scientists who are now working on the Axial Seamount 2013 cruise were here doing similar work to deploy and recover Bottom Pressure Recorder (BPR) instruments that record pressure data used to interpret the inflation and deflation of the volcano (see blog entry: Measuring Pressure for more information). But in 2011, several instruments could not be found in the locations where they had been installed. Navigation systems were double- and triple-checked, but all systems were functioning properly. Volcanologists, Dr. Bill Chadwick and Dr. Scott Nooner finally observed fresh pillow basalts in a location where they had not been seen previously, and immediately recognized that there had been an eruption of lava flows since the last they had been to Axial Seamount. Their interpretation was confirmed when they found one of their colleague Dr. Bob Dziak’s ocean bottom hydrophones (OBH, used to record acoustic waves associated with earthquakes; see example below left) buried in the new lava (below right), with only the chain and flotation left coming out of the seafloor. Suddenly, the frustrations of missing instruments turned into the excitement of discovery.
Unburied OBH (left) and OBH found buried in 2011 lava flows (only chain to buoy is visible).

2011 flows with microbial bloom.
The 2011 flows weren’t initially recognized as new because where they were thick, they were covered with a thick microbial mat. Microbiologists came to realize that following the eruption, a microbial bloom occurred and had covered the warm flows (see photo at right), making them appear much older than they really were. The microbes have since died, so flows appear much fresher now than they did just after the eruption!

Northern 2011 lava flows from MBARI mapping.

When BPR data from the previous year were recovered in 2011, Bill and Scott were able to determine the date of the eruption. They saw that on April 6, 2011 the central part of the volcano deflated by 2.4 m (7.8 ft), which occurred when magma left the volcano’s edifice as it erupted. Bill and Scott’s BPR data also show a steady uplift of the seafloor from 2010-2011, at a rate which gradually increased in the months leading up to the eruption. Then, an hour before the start of the eruption, one BPR station recorded a sudden uplift of 15 cm (38 in) in 55 minutes, probably caused by magma making its way to the surface. As described in the blog entry, Red Mat Pillars, colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) used a multi-beam sonar on the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) “D. Allen B.” to map the seafloor to produce a very high resolution (1 m pixels) bathymetric map of the 2011 lavas (see map of the northern part of the 2011 flows at right).

During the final ROV Jason dive of the 2013 Axial Seamount cruise, Bill and Scott spent some time exploring the 2011 lava flows.

The MBARI multi-beam map made it easy to find the eruptive fissures, collapse pits and flow channels of the 2011 lavas. Large flow channels formed where lava was transported from the vent area to lower elevations. In this case, broad sheet flows formed in the floor of the channel with a striated surface crust that insulates molten lava flows beneath. Flow channels are easy to identify on the multi-beam map (see arrow on MBARI map) and on the seafloor (see photographs below).

Roof structure of lava flow channel on left and a closer view of the channel roof where it has collapsed (right).
After following the main flow channel, ROV Jason made its way to the northern boundary of the 2011 flow, which is marked with pillow basalts that form when molten lava erupts into water and rapidly forms a hard crust. The crust covers all sides of the lava which forms a cylindrical or tube-like shape. Often, the tubes of lava separate and form nearly spherical blobs that look like pillows (hence the name) and are common on the flow margins (see photo at right).
From the far northern margin of the 2011 flows, Jason turned to the east, up and out of the caldera along the southeast caldera wall (photo at right). Here, Bill and Scott were able to see a cross-sectional (side) view of the layers of lava flows- many of them pillows- that make up the wall of the caldera due to hundreds of years of eruptions that built the volcano.

Axial Seamount has a caldera because at some time in the last few tens of thousands of years, the top of the edifice collapsed, likely when a large volume of magma erupted, allowing large fault blocks to collapse as down-dropped blocks. The caldera now has a horseshoe shape (see map at top of blog), which is the result of lava flows filling and then overflowing the southern end of the caldera.

Caldera wall with lava flows and pillow lavas.

For more information on the pressure data that Bill and Scott used to describe the details of the eruption, see their paper (with colleagues) in the July 2012 edition of Nature Geoscience.
To learn more about the emplacement of pillow lavas, check out this movie that shows pillow lava flowing underwater off the coast of Hawaii, after it was erupted on land and flowed into the ocean. Note that the video of the flows were not recorded at Axial Seamount, but probably look similar to what would be seen there. Video footage is from the movie "Pele Meets the Sea" courtesy of Richard Pyle at Lava Video Productions.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vent Cap

Weather: Today is bright and sunny with thin clouds. The sea is slightly rougher and 10-15 mph winds.

Science Update:
Today’s Objectives: We completed three CTD deployments yesterday and a multibeam mapping survey overnight and are underway to shore.

Harvesting Energy from Hydrothermal Vents Dave Dyer is an engineer at the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington where he thinks a lot about renewable energy, specifically, harnessing energy from hot vent fluids to create a source of electricity on the ocean floor. With Keith Scidmore and Jeff Breedlove, Dave is part of a team of engineers who are installing two different devices that could eventually result in harvesting energy from the hydrothermal vents of Axial Volcano. The instruments are in the process
Two instruments to test feasibility of generating energy from Axial Volcano’s hydrothermal vents
of being installed at three sites on the volcano where they will collect data for a year. One device will record water temperature using thermocouples inside the titanium tubes (see photo top right), which measure the temperature of the vent fluid as it travels out of the vent, into the Energy Harvesting Devices (EHD- also known onboard as the vent caps) and out of the titanium tubes at the top. The degree to which the water temperature remains high throughout the device helps the team understand the viability of converting hot water to electricity. The second model is actually generating electricity from the thermal energy released by the vent (see photo lower right).

3. Diagram showing tall instruments on seafloor transmitting data acoustically (sound waves), received by a modem on the buoy, which then transmits data to a satellite.
Energy generated could be as much as 100kW to power a variety of instruments on the ocean floor, some of which are currently battery operated and must be serviced regularly to replace batteries. For now the energy conversion devices are experimental and still in the very early stages but Keith is already thinking into the future and envisions that one day the generators could potentially power underwater vehicles that could rove across the seafloor to recharge batteries on ocean bottom instruments.

One of each of the EHDs has now been installed and will remain at Axial Seamount for another year. But the group doesn’t want to wait a year to get data, so they launched a communications buoy early in the cruise (see blog entry on Sept 4th). The EHDs on the seafloor transmit their data acoustically (with sound waves) to the communications buoy, which sends data to a satellite that transmits the information to the team by email (see schematic diagram above left).
Science team (including Dave, Keith, and Jeff) gather around a live video feed from Jason Van (control center) to Main Lab to see the first video of the vent cap after 6 days on the seafloor in the Vixen Vent area of the Coquille Hydrothermal Vent Field shown with annotations below image.

Because two of the three vent caps were already installed, we were able to re-visit one of the sites to see how it has fared so far. On Thursday afternoon, just 6 days after installation, the crew got their first look and was riveted (below) at the sight of the vent cap which had already become partially covered with anhydrite growth (black towers and white powdery coatings). All three engineers were surprised by the extent of the anhydrite on the EHD, but were excited to be able to learn from the images too. Jeff says they knew that anhydrite would grow but they didn’t realize how fast it would grow and that the most important thing is that the hot fluids are still flowing through the tubes. Keith agrees, “It looks bad, but it’s working… it can get as ugly as it wants as long as it keeps working.” Both indicate excitement and wonder at the fast rate at which the anhydrite has formed on the tower and were happy to see how the natural system was adapting to the artificial structure placed over the vent. Dave says he thinks the experience is also good because the video shows that even though they didn’t expect to see such growth of anhydrite, they’ve learned a lot about the instrument in just the 6 days it’s been installed. Jeff says that challenges like these keep them excited about their work, “it’s very gratifying to work on really challenging problems- doing things no one has ever done, and that’s what makes me love my job.”

To learn more about the team who are here at Axial Seamount, working to install the variety of instruments involved in with the EHD, see the “Science Team” blog entry and the Axial Volcano Buoys blog entry from September 4.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Red Mat and Pillars

Weather: Sunset last Sunday night was spectacular (see below). Today the seas have picked up slightly and the skies are overcast.

Science Update:
Today’s Objectives:
1) Complete dive J2-731 and recover ROV Jason on board – check!
2) Retrieve samples, prepare for next dive with a quick turnaround for next dive– check!
3) Launch ROV Jason dive J2-732 – check!

Exploring Red Mat Pillars site
Exploration is one of the great joys of being a field scientist, particularly at sea where sometimes the ocean floor seems like another planet. With only the use of maps and the 10 m illumination distance from the lights of a submersible like the ROV Jason, work here at Axial Seamount is surrounded by a shroud of darkness. We often wonder what lies beyond the lights, and with sonar mapping, we have an excellent idea of the topography and landforms in and around the caldera, but with tight research budgets, roaming around to investigating is not generally an option.

Map inside Axial Caldera showing 2011 lava flows (in black outline) adjacent to east wall of caldera (warmer colors). Note fine detail of topography from the 1 m resolution mapping by MBARI.

Lava flows of 2011 eruption of the Red Mat Pillars area.
On Friday September 13, an opportunity to do some exploration presented itself, partly on the advice of another ocean scientist, and partly to take a chance on a potentially interesting microbiological site. Following the 2011 eruption, a group led by Dr. David Clague from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) used a multi-beam sonar on the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) “D. Allen B.” to map the seafloor in the areas of the new lavas at 1-m resolution. Because they had previously mapped the entire summit of Axial Seamount with the same system, a comparison of the pre-eruption survey to the post-eruption survey revealed the depth changes caused by the new lava flows in unprecedented detail. Then during an ROV expedition a month ago, the MBARI group noted an area on the 2011 flows with a very unusual red mat that they recommended we investigate further.

This kind of reconnaissance had the science team excited to visit and collect samples in an unexplored area and is one of the foundations of our love for our work. “The site is between two other sites on the circuit of our pressure dive so it was easy to go there on our last lap of the dive,” said Chief Scientist, Bill Chadwick. The team called the site “Red Mat Pillars”, because the red mat is in an area where the lava flow drained, collapsed, and left a weird landscape of lava pillars and arches. 

Syringe sampler collecting red material at Red Mat Area.

The unusual appearance of the red mat brought many visitors to the Jason control van and to the monitors throughout the ship. The landforms and biota did not disappoint (photo left and video below). Lavas pillars form as the result of sheets of lava filling a low area, being inflated by the addition of molten lava beneath the original lava roof followed by the molten material draining away in a rapid, but iterative process, leaving “strand lines” similar to bathtub rings on the pillars within the flows. Sometime during this process, the flows have been covered with spectacular colors of what is thought to be microbial mats.

Oliver Vining with the sample on ROV Jason’s return to the surface

Oliver Vining and his advisor Dr. Kerry McPhail at Oregon State University’s College of Pharmacy (see blog: Biomedical Research at the Volcano) aren’t sure about the origin of the red mat (is it biological or mineral?), but Oliver collected three samples and is storing them in the ship’s freezer until he can take them back to the OSU lab for analysis To learn more about the Red Mat Area and hear thoughts on the geology and microbiology of this dive, check out the video below.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Weather: The winds picked up overnight and the sea has lost its glassy, lake-like surface, but the seas are still considered relatively calm, for the Axial Seamount area. Thin clouds have blown in and the skies are overcast.

Science Update:

Today’s Objectives:
1) Recover ROV Jason dive J2-731 – check!
2) Deploy CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) to bottom and back to surface – check!
3) Launch ROV Jason dive J2-732 – check!  

Marine organisms and oxygen

The CTD is a package of instruments that measure Conductivity (to calculate water salinity), Temperature, and Depth. As described in the blog, “Axial Volcano Buoys,” the CTD also has a remotely operated “rosette” of bottles that collect water samples on command in the water column. In the first days of the cruise we deployed the CTD to collect water away from the volcano not associated with the hydrothermal plumes, which serves as background data. Today, the CTD Rosette collected samples over Castle Vent in the International District Hydrothermal Vent Field. These expeditions to Axial Seamount routinely collect CTDs over the volcano’s main hydrothermal vent fields in order to see how the height and intensity of the hydrothermal plumes vary with time. Hydrothermal plumes are detected by the CTD as temperature and turbidity anomalies because they are warm and cloudy. CTDs can also show other interesting patterns about the ocean’s properties vary with depth.

Marine Tech Patrick A’Hearn explains that in addition to collecting water samples, the CTD also measures oxygen concentration (in % concentration) as it is lowered and raised on a wire. The graph above is a screen shot of the data during the CTD deployment that shows the oxygen concentration (blue curve) on the x-axis and depth on the y-axis. The yellow arrow points to 500 m depth, below which oxygen concentration remains very low until nearly at the seafloor at 1500 meters. This shows that oxygen in the ocean mainly comes from mixing with the atmosphere at the surface.

Also on board the ship is a multibeam sonar system that emits sound waves into the water and converts the return travel time of those waves into distance to the ocean floor, which is shown on the graph above by the white line (the display is a cross-section from the surface of the ocean at the top to the seafloor at the bottom – the ship is at the apex of the colored triangle, which shows the strength of the sound echoes). The dark blue semi-circle shows the water column not affected by sonar echoes. The darkest blue is uninterrupted water, but towards the surface the sonar display shows a lighter blue color, indicating the water has lots of objects reflecting the sonar sound energy. Note that those reflectors essentially disappear at a single depth of 500 m, as indicated by the yellow arrow.

Why do the shallow reflectors stop at 500 m and what are those reflectors? We can use the oxygen data to interpret that the reflectors are organisms that live in the water column but that at 500 m depth where the dissolved oxygen concentration decreases substantially, the organisms are not present. It is a well known that plankton and other organisms live in the shallow part of the ocean, and many of them have tiny swim bladders (air sacs to help them move up and down in the ocean) that reflect sound.

At the end of the CTD measurements, the CTD is lifted back on board, but yesterday it was held just at the surface while the deck crew organized its return to the ship (above left). Notice the still, clear water in which it sits- this is an example of the calm seas mentioned in the weather reports that we have enjoyed here for the last few days. The image above right shows the CTD winched into the air before being brought onboard. The grey cylinders are the “rosette” of water sample bottles.

 The images below show a few of the organisms we’ve seen during dives here at Axial Seamount during the cruise, both in the upper water column and closer to the ocean floor. The left image is a jellyfish captured with the “Pilot-cam” on ROV Jason at 31.4 m depth; the center image is a Rojo Grande jellyfish at 1458 m; and the image on the right is a squid that attached momentarily to the “Pilot-cam” just before we captured this image of it with the overhead “Brow-Cam.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

ROV JASON Piloting

Today is overcast and warm, with surprisingly flat seas- there is very little wind and for long periods of the day the water was so flat, some folks referred to it as “glassy”

Science Update:

Today’s Objectives: 1) Continue with ROV Jason dive J2-730 the “Pressure Dive” – 5 days on the ocean floor to collect pressure data on a circuit of 10 Pressure Benchmarks (green dots on map at right) – in progress!

Jason Pilots at Work
The ROV Jason team on board R/V Thompson is part of a larger group of electrical and mechanical engineers, computer scientists and technicians responsible for the operation, safety and maintenance of the submersible (see photo below left).

Recently, during the “Pressure Dive” we captured one of the pilots at work placing the pressure sensors on a benchmark so that measurements could be taken as part of the circuit of sites. Check out the video below for an introduction to piloting the ROV Jason and to see pilot Tito Collasius at work.

Below is an image of the payload basket of the ROV Jason just prior to a launch. The basket pulls out for easy access before, during and after a dive (photo below right), but slides back in to stay out of the way when Jason’s arms are at work on other tasks.

For more information on the ROV Jason – Medea team, see the blog entry of Saturday September 7.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Magnetite Producers

The clouds are back, but the air temperature is warm (mid- 60's); the seas are relatively calm.

Science Update:

Today's Objectives:

1) Day 3 of the 5 day "Pressure Dive" with ROV Jason (dive J2-730) to collect pressure data on a circuit of 10 Benchmarks (green dots on map at right) - in progress!

Magnetite Producers

One of the challenges of studying microbes and talking about your work with friends is that microorganisms (by their very nature) are really hard to see!

Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts at Amherst has a great way to share his research, or at least to show the activity of the microbes he's studying at Axial Seamount. Jim determines sites where he wants to collect vent fluids with the fluid sampler on ROV Jason (below left). The submersible's arm removes the sampler from its holster on the front payload basket (below center) and then the submersible's pilot works with Jim to get it positioned exactly where he wants to collect a sample. Fluid samples are collected in bottles on ROV Jason until it returns to the surface.

Sampling microbes at El Guapo Vent (left) in the International Hydrothermal Vent Field (see map above) with the fluid sampler (center). Fluids are collected from the vent and delivered through the metal hose on the left of the device into bags in bottles (right) on ROV Jason.
Once back on the surface, Jim extracts microbes from the vent fluid samples and completes several sets of experiments with the samples. One such experiment is to investigate the byproduct produced when the sample is in the presence of rust. To maintain consistency of all his experiments, Jim needs the "rust" component to be standardized so uses the mineral ferrihydrite (a hydrous ferric oxyhydroxide Fe3+4O6(H2O) see photo below left). He inoculates (squirts) an aliquot (a portion of the fluid sample) of the vent water sample with the microbes he's studying into ferrihydrite in solution and lets the reactions proceed. The results are shown in the image below right in which Jim is holding a magnet against the test tube to show that the microbes have changed the ferrihydrite to produce a byproduct, which Jim believes is the mineral magnetite (Fe3O4). We can't complete the mineral identification on the ship, but similar byproducts have been produced by this type of hyperthermophilic (an organism that likes to live at high temperature) microbe in previous work Jim has done in his lab at Amherst. These kinds of microbes grow optimally at very high temperatures (between 80-100° C).

Test tubes used to detect the presence of hyperthermophilic microbes in vent fluids collected from Anemone Vent of the ASHES Hydrothermal Vent Field at Axial Seamount. In both images, the test tube on the left contains the ferrihydrite solution. The test tube on the right in both images is the byproduct collected after inoculation. Note that in the image on the right, a magnet is used to show that the byproduct in the right side test tube is magnetic.
Test tubes with Jim's samples can demonstrate the presence of hyperthermophilic microbes in vent fluids collected from Anemone Vent of the ASHES Hydrothermal Vent Field at Axial Seamount. In both images, the test tube on the left contains the ferrrihydrite solution. The test tube on the right in both images is how it looked after inoculation and incubation. Note that in the image on the right, a magnet is used to show that the byproduct in the right side test tube is magnetic.

So not only has Jim been able to collect and at least partly characterize microbes at Axial Seamount, he also has an easy visualization to help demonstrate the activities of those organisms to those of us who can't actually see the microorganisms!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Biomedical Research at the Volcano

Today is sunny and warm again today, with only a few thin clouds; the seas are remain calm, with 2-4 foot swells.  
Science Update: Today’s Objectives:
1) Continue with ROV Jason dive J2-730 the “Pressure Dive” – 5 days on the ocean floor to collect pressure data on a circuit of 10 Pressure Benchmarks (green dots on map at right) – in progress! (Yes, we really have one objective- to collect lots of pressure measurements on the benchmarks!)

What’s the point of studying the bacteria on a submarine volcano? PhD student, Oliver Vining thinks there is a chance he might find organisms living there that can help the medical industry develop new “drugs from the sea”. “No one has really looked at hydrothermal vents for useful bioactive compounds, but the microbes here are extremely isolated and have high biodiversity, which increases our chances of finding new and novel organisms.” The organisms he is looking for in the vents are actinomycete bacteria, which are known to produce chemicals called secondary metabolites. These chemicals can be extracted from the bacteria and tested to determine whether they have useful properties, such as the ability to kill cancer cells or pathogenic bacteria. Oliver refers to them as marine natural products and says that a large proportion of antibiotics that we commonly use are derived from secondary metabolites extracted from actinomycetes bacteria.

Syringe sampler of ROV Jason, the lever is depressed causing the spring to open the chamber as the sediment or bacterial mat sample is loaded.

Oliver’s work stems from his background in marine biology and chemistry that started at UC Santa Barbara, followed by work at Scripps in a lab focused on marine natural product discovery. He now works with Dr. Kerry McPhail in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University.

To collect samples of the hydrothermal vent bacteria at Axial Seamount, Oliver loads a syringe sampler (left) into a holster in the ROV Jason basket. Once in position at a vent (photo below right), Jason’s arm lifts the sampler from the basket, positions it near a vent and depresses the lever on the syringe sampler which releases a spring to open the chamber that allows sediment or bacterial mats to be collected (see video below). ROV Jason places the sampler back in the basket and on return to the surface, Oliver can preserve the sample and put it in the freezer until we return to shore and he can begin processing it in the lab at Oregon State University.

Sampling sediment and bacterial mat during ROV Jason dive J2-726 with the syringe sampler.
Oliver will culture each sample in a Petri dish with a gelatinous agar substrate on which the organisms can grow. Vent samples are swabbed across the agar and then stored in warm rooms for weeks to months during which the actinomycetes can grow. (photo below left)

Once cultured, Oliver then extracts their DNA and looks for specific genes that are known to make secondary metabolites. If these genes can be found in the bacteria, then he will look more closely at the chemicals they produce. The secondary metabolites extracted from the bacteria are put in the presence of several types of cancer or disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, Vibrio cholerae (cholera) or Staphylococcus aureus (Staph Infection) to see if they are able to halt growth of those diseases.
Oliver cleans the syringe sampler after processing the sample for freezer storage on board R/V Thompson.
If so, Oliver uses a painstaking, iterative process called bioassay guided fractionation in which he searches for the specific chemical that can fight the cancer or bacterial diseases.

Once Oliver identifies new compounds from his vent samples, he will characterize their molecular structure to better understand how they might inhibit the growth of cancer or bacterial diseases. From this, potential pharmaceutical products or biological tools could be developed.

 On this, Oliver’s third research cruise to Axial Seamount, he has learned a lot about the geology, chemistry, and microbiology of the vents that allow a diversity of organisms to survive in a truly extreme environment.