Back in Manzanillo and End of Blog

The day begins with an interesting encounter; a huge cruise with over 3000 passengers and over 1000 crew ship is docked just opposite Atlantis, and begins to disgorge passengers. img_6064smThrough this tide of humanity, Emil, myself, Tito and JP are schlepping the great hydrothermal rock collection, all intended for UNAM, towards the taxi stand, ca. 500 m heavy workout in almost equatorial sun and humidity. The cardboard has been wrapped and taped, not around a frozen body as suggested by the “Dr. Carles Carnet” address label, but around a huge slab of carbonate from the Ringvent area. Some of these rocks are very pretty, and I hope that one day the best specimens will end up in display cases at the Geophysics Institute of UNAM. img_6065smAfter an afternoon spent running around in circles and worrying about the permissible dimensions of checked luggage in the small propeller planes that connect Manzanillo to Mexico City, we are ready for some R&R. Jorge Arellano, a Manzanillo native, has recommended the “La K’melia” a place that serves beer, tequila and hearty snacks to music and musical stand-up comedy in Spanish [I must be missing out on a lot!].

img_6083smA table for 20 persons is quickly arranged, and the various foodstuffs that appear from the kitchen are definitely above expectations. Although the ceviche and a spiced mystery meat are already quite good, the true house specialty is not appreciated by all: marinated pig skin. I had known this snack from elementary school fiesta cookouts in Carrboro, NC, but this version is succulent, just a bit chewy,  and delicately flavored. img_6082sm

A little into our second beers, the host provides everyone with a ceremonial tequila shot, to be taken while wearing a silly hat and announced by a loud whistle blow. Host, whistle, glasses and silly hat make the round around the table; only those strategists who quickly retreat to the restroom are spared. Here, Gunter and Emil undertake the procedure.img_6091sm

Dirk manages to maintain some dignity, even under these extremely challenging circumstances.


We avoid showing everyone in a state of advanced silliness, and instead feature the chief scientist, casual and relaxed as always, trying his hand at pool. img_6105smThe games continue until it is time to move to another locality, and then another and another, but I am already back at the ship, since tomorrow will be a long day! At this point, the time has come to close the blog before it bogs down into any less desirable aspects of the long night, or the travel back home; this is exciting enough for the participants, but not so central to most others. Like any good cult movie, this blog ends as it now loops back to its beginning, where the entire science crew stands in front of Alvin and is looking forward to an exciting cruise – and exciting cruise it was for sure. The science crew thanks everyone and in particular each other for having followed the blog so faithfully, and says a fond farewell of deep appreciation to the Atlantis ship crew, and the Alvin and Sentry teams who have made this adventure possible in the first place. Who knows, some of us might be back one day?scientific-crewsm

 There is talk of going back, already! And a post-cruise meeting is also being discussed… in Mexico, of course. The story of Guaymas Basin 2016 pretends to end here, but in fact is goes on and on.

Heading towards Manzanillo

The last night before arriving back in Manzanillo on the morning of December 27 becomes unexpectedly busy, as the labs and cold rooms are cleaned up, equipment [the little that we have] is packed, and samples are organized and listed. It turns out we have almost no lab supplies left, but lots of samples. Everything that can possibly be used and recycled has been put to the maximum productive use; Falcon tubes have been scrubbed and recycled many times over, and even the rubber gloves have been reused again and again.


img_6039smHere we proudly feature our centrifuge, on involuntary long-term loan from the Martens Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. This humble instrument saved the cruise. After a previous cruise to Guaymas Basin with RV El Puma in 2014, it was left behind in the care of our collaborators at the Geophysics Institute of UNAM; they sent it to RV Atlantis on a bus, and it arrived in Manzanillo in time and entirely unfazed. How many porewater samples this instrument has spun, sometimes at impossible hours in the early morning, we may never fully know … it will now be taken home at last.


There is also a last dispatch from the cold room and the core cataloguing team. Dan Hoer and Barbara MacGregor pose with one of the last cores, looking somber as they point to an empty label of duct tape. This label was placed there on the instructions of a senior Alvin pilot [who shall remain unnamed] obviously with the intent that a core number should be placed there; however, the label was deemed unsatisfactory for that purpose and has remained empty. The cold room team is not amused; their pose expresses specifically their stance in this long-running controversy, and more generally the misery long endured in this awful work environment.

But finally, it is morning, and the sun rises over Manzanillo. It looks like a peaceful day, but it won’t be. Demobilization days in port are a lot of work…img_6060sm

However, we will put up with a lot if one can only return home soon… somehow this was a long, eventful cruise, with more excitement crammed into these three weeks than anyone could anticipate! Here, Alexander Epp and Jefferson Grau contemplate the sunrise, lost in thought.



For Christmas, a Guaymas Crittercam Selection

RV Atlantis is heading back to Manzanillo, and will arrive there on the morning of December 27. The lab groups organize their substantial haul of sediments and porewater samples, clean up the general mess, and stow and pack samples; everything has to be carried home as checked-in luggage from Manzanillo through Mexico City [where we anticipate exciting scenes at Customs] and then back to Europe, the USA and Canada.

This is an opportunity to go through the dive footage and collect various animal shots that did not make it into the previous blog pages unless they became too long. Here is my personal favorite from dive 4872, a cute little Octopus and a menacing-looking anemone that almost looks like it will jump and devour its prey.2016_12_24_21_46_04sm2

If Guaymas Basin was not already named, one could just as well call it “Octopus Garden”. Here is a proud specimen, observed like the previous one on Dive 4872, on the boulders at the foot of Rebecca’s Roost. They are never in a hurry and sit on their favorite rock, well-nourished and self-assured at the top of the food chain.untitled-2Octopus can pry open mussels, including chemosynthetic ones, which would give them direct access to the chemosynthetic base of the ecosystem and perhaps account for their abundance. However, I wonder whether they can eat THIS crab that has taken the concept of spikiness to new extremes. If this crab is, like to many others, primarily a detritivore that eats whatever appears in front of its pincers, it certainly never runs out of foodstuff in Guaymas Basin. The highly productive surface waters produce all kinds of organic goods, that, once they are past their expiration date, sink into Guaymas Basin and make this one of the marine basins with the highest sedimentation rates anywhere.untitled4

Guaymas Basin has fish, too; they are always moving slowly along the seafloor. This one almost walks on its front fins, propels itself with gently undulating motions of its tail fin, and during the minutes that we keep observing it, never makes a serious effort to get more than 2 or 3 inches off the ground. But being in a hurry is probably useless; these fish must feel or smell their food [dubious decaying morsels?] in this darkness, and not hunt for it. This is certainly life in the slow lane, just a touch faster than academia.untitled3

Last but not least, invasive species have been sighted in Guaymas Basin, like this pink flamingo [lower left corner] on the boulder slopes of Rebecca’s Roost. On closer inspection, it turns out to have been introduced by MBARI scientists [Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute] who have a habit of doing silly things in the Gulf of California. Apparently it does not reproduce in this environment, but one cannot always be so fortunate.


The Twelfth Alvin Dive of Christmas, No. 4872… who will it be ?

It is early morning on Christmas Eve, some members of the coring crew are still up, and the last dive of this expedition is getting underway. Pilot Jefferson Grau and first-time science observer Samantha Waters from the University of Georgia [plus the old standby, myself] will dive one more time … some cruise parties have requested fairly extensive Christmas presents in the form of microbial mat cores.  img_6010sm

Samantha was initially hesitant to dive and she put herself at the end of the line as the “new student”, after everybody else had a chance to dive; but now, after many nights in the hard-working core procressing crew, she is no longer the new student. Fittingly, the last dive of this expedition has room for a newbie; and the dive program is not to be scoffed at… Cathedral Hill and Rebeccas’s Roost!


It turns out that no site in Guaymas Basin has more splendid microbial mats to offer than Cathedral Hill. They extend down the slopes in huge cascades of white, orange and yellow, almost as if they cascade downward following some denser-than water seep liquid, or they trace the flow path of fluids that seem to emerge from elongated, extended fractures in the sediments; the extended fractures often run uphill until they converge at a central hydrothermal edifice, the “cathedrals” of Cathedral Hill. The first of the two mat “cascade” photos shows our actual sampling site, the orange mat at the foot of an elaborate cascade of mats and small spires.2016_12_24_16_30_34sm

Water selectively filters out certain wavelengths; red and orange are the first colors to be eliminated, within a few meters even in clear water. Thus, the yellow mats turn out to be orange once they are viewed up-close. The bottom camera of Alvin shows them in almost microscopic resolution, a fluffy carpet of moving threads, here inhabited with a lively colony of small worms [also orange… do they eat too much Beggiatoa?] that seem to like this mat as their habitat.


The next picture shows a lime-yellow and orange cascade that extends down Cathedral Hill No. 2. Yes, No. 2. The new Sentry maps helped to clarify some old cartographic problems that were never properly resolved previously; for example, there are indeed two hills, each one topped with a hydrothermal cathedral surrounded by cascading mats. Previous dive teams assumed, once they had found one of them, that this is “the” Cathedral Hill, no more questions asked. 2016_12_24_20_13_17sm

Here is Cathedral Number 2, mostly a single but dramatic and colorful spire. A good picture of Cathedral Number 1, with its many naves, side chapels and subsidiary towers, is already included on the dive 4870 blog. 2016_12_24_20_30_09sm

I will never, ever again make jokes about the Spanish navigators who believed until ca. 1700 that Baja California was an island; it took this particular navigator four visits to Guaymas Basin (1998, 2008, 2009 and this one) to properly count cathedrals, which are, once you think about it, not that numerous. Not to forget: since the second hill is shaped like an hourglass in North-South direction, it has actually two peaks, and thus there may be a third cathedral sitting in the dark … better counting skills are required.

There is the intriguing question what these spires are actually made of. It is certainly not basalt or lava, and also carbonates – familiar from the off-axis vents – can be ruled out. A little further into the dive, we collect rocks in the neighborhood that turn out to be surprisingly soft, and, once we return them on the ship, they are dripping with oil; the Geiger counters start ticking and reveal that the stuff is radioactive. Our current working theory points to oil-soaked barium sulfate. Barium, contributed by hydrothermal fluids, is produced by some radioactive decay series from other elements and also possesses radioactive isotopes on its own; sulfate comes from seawater and precipitates barium as insoluble barium sulfate, and oil comes from hydrothermal cooking of buried organic matter. These “rocks” not only look bizarre, they ARE bizarre.

img_6023smThe dive ends with the last exuberant Alvin baptism, the handing over of the microbial mat  cores [24 total, exactly as ordered], then a thorough scrubbing of Alvin to make sure it does not rust from salt water exposure, one more science meeting followed by one more busy night in the lab, and finally – under the improvised Christmas tree, made from old charts [Puget Sound is at the bottom] – philosophical discussions in the Atlantis mess among those cruise participants who do not have pressing obligations in the lab; from left to light, Alexander Epp, Emil Ruff, Jorge Arellano, and Dirk de Beer.img_6025sm

The eleventh Alvin Dive, No. 4871

After they have processed the oily and smelly core haul of Gunter’s and Jorge’s successful dive all night long, the University of Georgia Junior coring team [Tito, Hannah and Samantha] joins their lab mate and today’s science observer, Guangchao Zhang, for a pre-dive photo in the morning sunlight.img_5966sm

Today is a pit dive; Pat Hickey is mentoring Logan Driscoll, the new generation of the Alvin team. The science observer, together with the senior pilot, has to take a deliberate approach and cannot ask for crazy feats of coring; but Sentry has already sniffed out training-friendly and suitably large microbial mats in the Northern Towers area.

Now everything is ready and Guangchao is heading for this first Alvin dive in earnest. His shopping list of “may be a few cores” has grown to a ca. 30. These microbiologists and geochemists can never get enough…



The tenth Alvin dive, No. 4870

On this morning of December 22, the seas are calm and the tenth Alvin dive is underway! Pilot Bob Waters is joined by Science observers Gunter Wegener, MPI Bremen, and Lt. Jorge Arellano of the Mexican Navy, our official science observer. Jorge is an excellent match for his task, as he is interested in everything and always happy to talk about the wider affairs of Mexico and the world, if we only spare him the details of microbial alkane oxidation. Repeat Guaymas Basin visitor and Alvin diver Gunter, of course, is steeped in the details of microbial alkane oxidation, but they get along very well regardless.


Jorge and Gunter have the task of visiting and sampling new microbial mats, potentially the successors to the famous, lime-yellow and acetate-rich Aceto Balsamico mat of 2009. Armed with Sentry-generated dive targets and maps, they should have no trouble finding something really interesting.

While the dive team is busy first with coring and then with sightseeing in the spectacular Cathedral Hill and Rebecca’s Roost area [more on that later], everybody else is busy shopping at the much-anticipated T-shirt sale of the Alvin and Sentry groups; the proceeds support the acquisition of educational videos and nature documentaries for the Atlantis movie lounge [hohoho!]. The discerning aficionado finds custom designs that are available nowhere else, not even at the famed Howlingbird stores in Falmouth and Woods Hole. The bold and inventive Sentry designs stand out, and some cash-strapped science crew members open PayPal accounts just for this occasion.


Meanwhile, Gunter and Jorge have the most amazing dive. First, they arrive exactly on target and core the warm, organic-rich sediment of the Aceto Balsamico mat, which still looks exactly like on our last visit in 2009; the lime-green color [a little too strong on the photo, but clearly recognizable] is due to elemental sulfur that has accumulated at the sediment surface.2016_12_22_16_13_17sm

Next, they proceed to the Cathedral Hill area, where several hydrothermal edifices on a hill create a unique underwater landscape of steep chimneys overgrown with colorful microbial mats. Cathedral Hill is a very active spot, always surrounded by extensive hydrothermal sediments and microbial mats over many meters. As if on cue, a bizarre deep-sea fish swims by; the head points toward the bottom.2016_12_22_19_39_06-copyx

The area of Cathedral Hill, and of the larger hydrothermal edifice “Rebecca’s Roost” nearby, is particularly rich in marine deep-sea life. We will post a separate blog page later, but here a substantial octopus flexing and rolling its arms into the direction of the passing submersible. 2016_12_22_20_17_44xAlvin stops at the hydrothermal area at the foot of Rebecca’s Roost, a large chimney structure that is overgrown with microbial mats and tube worms. This fluffy carpet of elemental sulfur has accumulated at the base of this tall structure, and the sediments sampled here turn out to be very oily and – after Alvin returns – very smelly, with mixed aromas of hydrocarbons plus sulfide plus dead rotten fish. Probably not popular with humans, but microbes love it…2016_12_22_21_18_17xThe dive is topped, literally, by the top orifice of Rebeccas’s roost, an extravagant sculpture that consists of very brittle minerals that crumble at every touch.  Individual snapshots don’t do this place justice; the entire Alvin video shows how Alvin is circling up around Rebeccas’s Roost in a spiral pattern, passing hanging gardens of tube worms and excentric mineral formations. 2016_12_22_21_49_48x

Regardless of these wonders of the deep, all eyes are now on Lt Jorge Arellano, who is representing the Mexican Navy in the classic Alvin baptism ritual. The procedure, previously a little chaotic as befitting civilians, has been reformed and is very deliberate and orderly this time. Expedition reglement requires the signing of authorization forms [in triplicate], followed by German pronunciation exercises of essential scientific vocabulary such as “mittelozeanischer Spreizungsruecken”, and the final baptism with deep-sea temperature water.  Regardless, the afterglow of the dive can be seen in this smile!


From dusk till dawn

The massive haul of cores has to be processed immediately, to free up core liners and T-handles for next day’s Alvin dive and yet another massive haul of cores. As always, the long night begins with the science meeting at 7 pm. Here, Charles guides the audience through the adventures of his dive, with a powerpoint presentation whipped up within one hour, not counting a change of clothes and dinner.


This is going to be a long night. Barbara announces that the cores will be ready for distribution around 9 pm, and this is when the lab work starts. Core slicing, porewater processing, cell fixation, and cataloguing and freezing away the sediment take all night.

Here, Tito and Guangchao are hard at work sorting porewater samples next to the even more hardworking UNC centrifuge [not visible, left], which by this time produces the most worrisome noises. I admonish the guilty parties to better balance their Falcon tubes, or disaster would be imminent. The next spinning set of tubes sounds a little better, but not much. img_5920sm

JP and Barbara have also joined the core slicing and porewater crew. On a night like this, we throw our full supply of carefully hoarded filters, syringes, Falcon tubes, eppendorf tubes, and fixatives into the battle. Barbara handles one of the requisite chemicals – hydrochloric acid, or zinc acetate solution – that cannot be imported into Mexico, but that reached the ship on complex routes via Oregon or the University of Colima.img_5922sm

The actual slicing of cores into 3 cm segments, and filling these segments into Falcon tubes for porewater extraction, happens in the cold room, and some scientists still believe that it is done by cold room elves. We learned only belatedly that import of old work clothes and lab coats that enable cold room survival at 4C is not allowed in Mexico. Here, Min and Ryan model improvised cold room gear in NYC street fashion style. It is certainly borderline, but looks cool.img_5926sm

In parallel to the sediment groupies, the water column groupies are at work as well. Here, Radium Rick together with Science Tech Dave Sims work the CTD for a 1:30 AM deployment, again into the maw of the radioactive monster vent, discovered by pure serendipity on the Mat Mound Massif during dive 4868. Matt Sexton looks on, with the traditional reserved Midwestern stance towards increasingly wild projects.


At this point your blogger passes out; we fast forward through the night and reappear for sunrise, sublime and peaceful.img_5929sm

Samantha Waters [of UGA] and Guangchao have worked through the night and, after so much toil, enjoy the feeling of being still alive.


A few minutes on, Nature transcends herself with a double rainbow, as the rays of the rising sun in the east radiate into the rainy cloud bank in the west. People rush from breakfast and leave their roast potato, salty sausages and ketchup to see this.img_5944sm

Is technology capable of capturing these evanescent moments that, by necessity, can only last minutes and then pass, leaving the afterglow of memory in the fortunate few who were present ? Trying to record this impression is of course the ultimate challenge for really good camera equipment [not mine], but the attempt sometimes feels like a hapless, indelicate affront to the mystery of existence.

img_5946smBut now, the day begins and the new dive team is assembled, ready to turn the page…

The ninth Alvin dive, No. 4869. YES!!! / La novena inmersión del Alvin, No. 4869. ¡Ahora sí!

At last, the weather has calmed down somewhat; we still have whitecaps but the sea state is down to four, from yesterdays five and borderline six. The dive takes a while to get underway since the video screens in the sub turn out to be grounded; the electricians are working in the Alvin sphere against the clock, and the portholes are fogging up and conceal the drama within. During the leisurely wait , science observers Barbara MacGregor of UNC [right] and Charles Schutte [left] of the MPI Bremen, formerly Univ. of Georgia [right], chat with the pilot, Jefferson Grau [middle]. Jefferson represents the sandwich generation between the senior Alvin pilots, Bob and Pat, and the junior pilots-in-training, Danik and Logan.img_5879sm

Por fin, el tiempo se ha calmado un poco; Todavía tenemos algo de oleaje pero el estado del mar ya bajo a cuatro, ayer estaba en cinco con límite de seis. La inmersión toma un tiempo para ponerse en marcha ya que las pantallas de video en el submarino resultan ser borrosas; Los electricistas están trabajando en la esfera del Alvin contra reloj, y las escotillas que ocultan el drama adentro. Durante la espera, los observadores científicos Barbara MacGregor de UNC [derecha] y Charles Schutte [izquierda] del MPI Bremen, antes Univ. De Georgia [derecha], charlan con el piloto, Jefferson Grau [medio]. Jefferson representa la generación sándwich entre los pilotos mayores, Bob y Pat, y los pilotos junior en entrenamiento, Danik y Logan.

Finally, all is clear, and the dive team climbs onboard while the sun is already rising in the sky. They have a huge shopping list… now, as the last dives are counting down, everyone remembers that they have to bring home this or that particular white elephant.Finalmente, todo está claro, y el equipo de inmersión sube a bordo mientras el sol está saliendo en el cielo. Tienen una enorme lista de compras … ahora que las últimas inmersiones están contadas, todos están pendientes de lo que tienen que llevar a casa.


Fortunately, the weather holds and this becomes a long, epic dive with sufficient time to admire the underwater Riftia gardens of Guaymas Basin.


The sub moves close enough for the observers to see the individual filaments of the red Riftia gills that are swaying gently in the turbulent mixing zone where reducing vent fluid and oxygenated seawater meet, and simultaneously supply these unique animals and their bacterial symbionts with sulfide and oxygen.


Other scenes, although not initially as spectacular, repay closer attention. Here, the view encompasses small orange and white Beggiatoa mats, small white sponges and “ghost crabs” as well as dark-purple scale worms in the second photo below. The two latter animals represent universal scavengers in the hydrothermal vent ecosystem, whereas the autotrophic, chemosynthetic Beggiatoa mats are clearly sources of biomass.



While these inhabitants of the microbial mat ecosystem and the hydrothermal benthos go about their daily lives, a deliberate coring effort is underway, almost like a game of Mikado where small sticks have to be removed by the players, taking turns, without letting any other sticks wobble. In the end, 32 cores [of 33 possible ones] are taken, and only one or two take off like a methane-propelled rocket as the sub approaches the surface. Most cores and their Beggiatoa mats survive the trip to the surface, affected only moderately by outgassing.


To show our appreciation for this effort, Charles is deliberately and very carefully hosed with cold water by Leigha, while Gunter quizzes him on Beggiatoa microbiology: when was the genus first described ? Where does the name come from? When were the Guaymas populations first described and by whom? The scholarly discussion progresses at a very leisurely pace while the hosing goes on… in the end, some powerful blasts of ice bucket water reinforce the lessons learned.


While these photos are being posted, the science crew is preparing for an all-nighter to process the cores and to perform a CTD cast, the latter directly into the hot radioactive plume discovered during dive 4868. Obviously, Guaymas Basin has us completely enthralled from dusk to dawn… again.

The ninth Alvin dive, No. 4869… not quite / La novena inmersión del Alvin, No. 4869… bueno, casi.

Right now the weather is stormy, gusts up to 30 knots whip up whitecaps; under these conditions Alvin will wait. From painful experience in 2014 we know that once Alvin goes in, getting the sub out again under worsening conditions can be a real challenge, to put it mildly. So, bear with us and commiserate with the dive team, pilot Jefferson Grau and science observers Barbara MacGregor and Charles Schutte – everything and everyone is on standby. It turns out, the only one who takes a dive today is the laundry. En este momento el clima está agitado, ráfagas hasta de 30 nudos empujan fuerte oleaje contra el barco. En estas condiciones el Alvin esperará. Dolorosa experiencia fue en el 2014, sabemos que una vez que el Alvin entra, lograr que el submarino vuelva a salir bajo condiciones cada vez peores puede ser un verdadero desafío, por decirlo suavemente. Por lo tanto, tengamos paciencia y entendemos al equipo de inmersión, el piloto Jefferson Grau y los observadores científicos Barbara MacGregor y Charles Schutte – así pues todos, todos quedamos en standby. Hoy el único que se va a sumergir será la ropa en la lavadora.


Meanwhile, people who have worked deep into the night get up for breakfast [actually lunch] and find useful work. They keep some mental distance from the chief scientist who loiters around the labs like a distraught spectre …Mientras tanto, las personas que han trabajado profundamente en la noche se levantan para el desayuno [digamos que el almuerzo] y ver si encuentran trabajo que hacer. Mantienen una cierta distancia mental con el director científico que pierde el tiempo alrededor de los laboratorios como un espectro perturbado …


Here Barbara is picking large sulfur-oxidizing bacteria from the surface of a sediment core, where filamentous and single-celled forms live together in perfect harmony. Note her brand-new dissection microscope from Walmart, part of the Guaymas rescue package. These cells do not cure cancer and do not produce anything useful for humanity, but thanks to their large size and conspicuous internal sulfur globules they provide great targets for microscopy, genomics and general microbial beauty competition. Composite pictures of dive targets such as microbial mats and Riftia mounds, actually photo mosaic images taken by Sentry, cover the wall. Aquí Bárbara está recogiendo grandes bacterias oxidantes de azufre de la superficie de un núcleo de sedimentos, donde estas formas de vida filamentosas unicelulares viven juntas en perfecta armonía. Nótese el nuevo microscopio de disección comprado en Walmart, parte del paquete de rescate Guaymas. Estas células no curan el cáncer y no producen nada útil para la humanidad, pero gracias a su gran tamaño y los llamativos glóbulos internos de azufre proporcionan puntos de estudio interesantes para la microscopía, genómica y la belleza en general de la competencia microbiana. Imágenes compuestas de puntos de estudio en las inmersiones tales como esteras microbianas y montículos de Riftia, en realidad imágenes de mosaico fotográfico tomadas por el Sentry ahora cubren la pared.


Dan Hoer is going through several hundred terabytes of seafloor photo mosaics and looking for interesting dive targets, to be visited when conditions permit. This work requires a peaceful day, no interruptions, and utter concentration, but Dan – sheer analytical force personified – is up to the task. Dan Hoer ya va para varios cientos de terabytes en mosaicos fotográficos del fondo marino y busca interesantes objetivos de buceo, que se visitarán cuando las condiciones lo permitan. Este trabajo requiere un día de tranquilidad, sin interrupciones y una concentración total, pero la fuerza analítica de Dan personificada – está a la altura de la tarea.


Others use the dive-free day for artistic recreation, like Dirk seen here hard at work at his latest Alvin cup. The production of Alvin cups increases, with themes like “Cruise of Broken Dreams”,”Guaymas 2016: Flirting with Disaster” , or “Guaymas 2016: Asi es la Vida”. Very melodramatic cups with Lovecraftian monsters, complete with written utterances of these extraterrestrial molluscs in incomprehensible languages, have also been sighted. Otros usan el día sin buceo para la recreación artística, como Dirk visto aquí duro en el trabajo en su último vaso para el Alvin. La producción de vasos para el Alvin aumenta, con temas como “Crucero de Sueños Rotos”, “Guaymas 2016: Coqueteando con el Desastre” o “Guaymas 2016: Asi es la Vida”. También se han observado copas muy melodramáticas con monstruos hiperartesanales, repletas de expresiones escritas por moluscos extraterrestres en lenguas incomprensibles.

Some cruise participants have gone very far in adopting a nocturnal lifestyle, and are first sighted in the late afternoon. Ryan Sibert has assumed the dress and manner of a black monk, a true Rasputin of the cold room who never takes off his black fleece. He is a true devotee of the light alkanes – hydrothermal fumes whose microbial oxidation he is investigating. Algunos participantes de cruceros han ido muy lejos en la adopción de un estilo de vida nocturno, y son avistados por primera vez en la tarde. Ryan Sibert ha asumido el vestido y la manera de un monje negro, un verdadero Rasputin de la habitación fría que nunca se quita su vellón negro. Es un verdadero devoto de los alcanos ligeros – humos hidrotermales cuya oxidación microbiana está investigando.


It is already time for dinner, but Rick and Leigha take their plates to the hydrolab where they are measuring the most radioactive hydrothermal fluids that they have ever seen, sampled yesterday at a hydrothermal outcrop with shimmering water, the second picture in their blog entry. Even the Niskin bottles collected in the area are hot, not to mention the large bunch of Riftia from the same spot. Ya es hora de cenar, pero Rick y Leigha llevan sus platos al hidrolab donde miden los fluidos hidrotermales más radiactivos que hayan visto, muestreados ayer en un afloramiento hidrotermal con agua brillante, la segunda foto en su entrada de blog. Incluso las botellas de Niskin recogidas en la zona son radioactivas, por no mencionar el gran racimo de Riftia desde el mismo lugar.


Since Alvin has a day off, Sentry does not have to share the ocean and pulls extra duty until the afternoon; it maps a huge swath of the southern Guaymas spreading center. With all the commotion around sediment cores and animals gone, the Sentry lab emerges as the intellectual hive, incubating the revolution in undersea map making. Dado que el Alvin tiene el día libre, el Sentry no tiene que compartir el océano y tendrá trabajo adicional hasta la tarde. Traza una enorme franja de la zona de expansión del sur de Guaymas. Con toda la conmoción alrededor de los núcleos de sedimentos y animales desaparecidos, el laboratorio del Sentry surge como la colmena intelectual, incubando la revolución en la elaboración de mapas submarinos.


Here Sentry Group leader Sean Kelley and Sentry groupie Dan Hoer study the freshly generated 3D map of the seafloor that Sentry has mapped on the same afternoon. Every single hydrothermal spire appears in high resolution…it is just breathtaking. We will never ever again get lost in Guaymas Basin. Aquí, el líder del Grupo Sentry Sean Kelley y uno de sus fans, Dan Hoer, estudian el recién generado mapa 3D del fondo marino que el Sentry ha trazado en la misma tarde. Cada aguja hidrotermal aparece en alta resolución … es simplemente impresionante. Nunca más nos volveremos a perder en la cuenca de Guaymas.


Alvin awaits the next day, hoping that the tolerable weather forecast is actually true. Sentry is getting recharged for a late-night deployment, to finish photomosaics in the northern spires area. Alvin espera al día siguiente, con la esperanza de que el pronóstico del tiempo manejable sea cierto. El Sentry está siendo recargado para un despliegue de última hora, para terminar los fotomosaicos en el área de las agujas del norte.

img_5862smLast but not least, here is one of those lurid Wagnerian sunsets [“Als hinter Bergen sie sank…”] that, depending on your mood, can look promising or ominous. Finalmente pero no menos importante, aquí uno de esos atardeceres espeluznantemente Wagnerianos [“Als hinter Bergen sie sank …”] que, dependiendo de su estado de ánimo, puede parecer prometedor o siniestro.


The eighth Alvin dive, No. 4868

After our successful dives and Sentry missions at the northern Guaymas Basin off-axis sites, we have returned to the southern Guaymas Basin, to finish the Sentry map of the southern Guaymas Basin region and to collect hydrothermal samples. On this cool Monday morning, pilot Bob Waters and Science observers Rick and Leigha Peterson, both of Coastal Carolina University, are ready to go! Leigha is a first time diver who has been waiting for this opportunity for more than two years. On our previous 1-month expedition in the Gulf of Mexico (April 2014;, dives got cancelled all the time because of exceptionally bad weather; in the end she was the only member of the science crew who did not have a dive.img_5802smOn this morning, the weather is not cooperating – again. We wait half an hour, then another hour and keep anxiously watching wind and waves. Finally, at 9:00 am the launch is cleared, but with the advance warning that an early recall is always possible if the weather deteriorates. Hopefully there will be enough time to collect fresh orange Beggiatoa mat and tubeworms for new physiological experiments.

For Rick and Leigha, this is the introduction to hydrothermal vents and their charismatic megafauna. Previous dive experience in the Gulf of Mexico cannot quite prepare for the colorful bottom fauna of microbial mats and Riftia colonies that keep overgrowing every hydrothermal rock. It is hard to decide where to turn first! Fortunately, the Sentry map makes is much easier to plot a path in this hydrothermal labyrinth.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-1-59-43-pmsm

From time to time, the cameras catch inadvertently some beautiful creatures swimming or drifting by. Here, a large Medusa with meter-long tentacles floats over a hydrothermal mound in the background.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-2-02-05-pmsm

The dive is short, all too soon Alvin has to return to the surface to avoid being trapped by stormy seas. However, the dive has accomplished much in a short time, and nothing diminishes the glow of the moment when the hunters return.


It turns out they have collected more than enough white and orange Beggiatoa cores – enough to keep Dirk and Charles, those aficionados of microbes filamentous, happy – and a huge haul of Riftia tubeworms that looks so disturbing that one has to hesitate to post a photo since small children might see this. We pick the least disgusting one, but even this photo gives new meaning to “a can full of worms”. Javier is busy all night to sort the worm catch into size classes and to prepare the haul for dissection, this time with special attention to preserving and fixing the trophosome tissue – the organ harboring the symbiotic bacteria. img_5849smSince the harvested core assemblage is an unusually complex mixture of sites and thermal conditions, the negotiations at the science meeting who gets and processes which core are at least as complex. Barbara, the core czarina and chief mediator, is skillfully managing the core requests and changing collaborative alliances. On the left, Spiegel journalist Alexander Epp looks on with a mixture of bemusement and respect, wondering how Barbara would shake up the human resources department at his workplace if given the opportunity. Heads would roll, presumably with a soft but decisive touch ? img_5853sm