Godzilla, Sasquatch, Mothra. These are just a few of the “monsters” that have been discovered in the deep ocean. They may not use their superheated breath to level cities full of citizens, but they do churn out some superheated fluids. And we’re here to learn more about them.
The “monsters” are the names of hydrothermal vents, with fields like Mothra constantly spewing chemically unique and scalding hot fluids out into the ocean. We’re sitting on top of where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is moving away from the Pacific plate, and that creates some unique features that were completely unknown to science as little as 40 years ago. While there has been some exploration of the ecosystems surrounding vents, relatively little is still known about them. This is where Ocean Network Canada’s deep water observatory NEPTUNE shows its strengths.
NEPTUNE is an effort that goes beyond just briefly exploring and obtaining some samples (although we’re doing that as well), but it’s also to set up a long-term observatory. There are a legion of challenges in setting up sensitive equipment in these environments, but we have some unique tools to get the job done.
To set up the cable that will power and connect all of the instruments to the shore, we are accompanied by the ROV Millenium Plus. This is a highly sophisticated remotely operated vehicle that is acting as the eyes and hands for the team above water, aboard the R/V Thompson. The team is working to place cameras, seismometers, chemical samplers and all sorts of other instruments on the ocean floor, and then connect them to the main network to ensure that they have power and can send back data.
This is significantly harder than it seems on the surface.
Imagine that you have a yoyo. Now you’re on top of the Empire State Building (447 meters high) and are trying to lower that yoyo down to touch a particular square of sidewalk while the building is swaying about 10 meters (roughly the length of a full-sized school bus) in either direction while you do this.
Now, multiply this height by five times, keeping the windy factor. That is almost exactly what it’s like for the ROV pilots as they lower Millenium Plus from the ship.
This is the kind of King Kong scenario that’s just another day at the office if you’re doing some deep sea science.
It’s a lot of work, but if the “monsters” stir, we’ll know all about it from here on in.
By Vancouver Aquarium educator Colin Young
Aquarium educator Colin Young is accompanying Ocean Networks Canada on a research trip to the Pacific aboard research vessel R/V Thompson. With the help of ROVs and Ocean Network Canada’s deep water observatory, NEPTUNE, the team is gathering information on aquatic life in the ocean’s deep waters. Colin is blogging and sharing updates along the way.