Recent Questions

  • Hello and congratulations on the mission so far.
    Dr. Delaney's dream - the Neptune project - is coming true!!
    To Véronique and the teachers I wish I could be there with you!!
    The deep-sea vent environment is very hostile to electrical connections and components of all types (flooding, corrosion etc.). My question is could you use a wireless low power system to transmit data over very short distances from your sensors to a data logger/battery pack, which could be collected at a later time, or the data downloaded to Jason or through the NEPTUNE cable by means of another wireless hookup?
    Keep up the good work!
    Brian Weir
    , Science teacher and REVELer 1999, Garnett Valley Middle School, Glen Mills, PA

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the great question.

    There has been some work done on wireless connections under water and it has been somewhat successful over very short distances. The problem is that at radio frequencies it’s impossible to get a signal to travel any significant distance between your data logger and the instrument because the conductive properties of salt water dissipate it quickly.

    Over very short distances a wireless connection can be a power efficient way to transmit data. In fact on Dr. Marv Lilley’s resistivity probes (affectionately known as pigs) the PVC cone is basically an area to slip a metal loop. Metal under the cone and the loop work as an inductive transformer to transmit information. Since the metals actually never touch this is essentially a wireless transmission.

    The other alternatives to radio are sound and light. The problem with both of these methods is that they are subject to interference. Other sounds in the ocean and echoes confuse the sound signals, and light of course can be blocked by turbidity of the water.

    As far as corrosion goes, the cables connecting the instruments with the data package and battery aren’t the problem. They tend to be pretty reliable and easy to protect. The problem, according to MBARI engineer Paul McGill, is building connectors that can be plugged and unplugged underwater and also resist corrosion. Think about making something large enough for an ROV or submersible arm to manipulate. This is a large surface for corrosion and possible biological contamination.

    And all of this does not address the problem of power. Since power can’t be passed wirelessly through seawater you have to have cables. So you might as well send your data on them as well.

  • If these volcanoes are live, what happens when they erupt? Do you have lava flow as you do on surface volcanoes?
    Juan Torres
    , Retired Bank Vice President, Smyrna, DE

    Even though many hydrothermal vents sit on top of magma chambers, there is no pyroclastic (lava) flow like you would find at volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens. The underwater volcanoes that host these hydrothermal systems are formed of layer upon layer of basaltic pillow flows and lobate (flat) flows that ooze out of cracks and fissures during submarine eruptions. These eruptions are very similar to the Hawaiian type lava flows that run downhill from the Big Island as magma gradually seeps up through cracks in the oceanic crust. What we witness on the seafloor in these underwater volcanoes are tall, sulfide-rich mineral deposits referred to as black smokers, and sulfide chimneys expelling very hot fluids laden with nutrients, metals and minerals.

  • Can an eruption undersea create a TSUNAMI?
    Juan Torres
    , Retired Bank Vice President, Smyrna, DE

    Without the pressure build up that occurs in a typical strato-volcano, there is not much tsunami danger from volcanoes that host the vents. Hydrothermal vents are commonly associated with seismically active sites where the earthquakes are mostly small ones, unlike the catastrophic quake that occurred near Indonesia last winter. Seismologists on this expedition detected 12,000 earthquakes associated with this region between August 2003 and August 2004 but most of them of magnitude less than 2.
    Tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean are often triggered by lateral explosive eruptions or massive collapse and landslide off the sides or flanks of the volcano. This has occurred in Hawaii and in the Caribbean in the past.

  • What opportunities are there for women to work at sea?
    Dani Knox
    , Crater High School Graduate, Central Point, Oregon

    Hey, Dani! There are all sorts of interesting jobs aboard a ship like the RV Thompson. One possibility is work as an AB (Able Bodied Seaman or Seawoman). I talked to Allison Tunick, an AB aboard the Thompson about her work.

    What is your job as an AB?
    My duties can include ship maintenance, like painting the ship’s exterior, to standing night watch on the bridge. Because the Thompson is a scientific vessel I also help out with launching and retrieving vehicles like Jason and ABE.

    How did you decide to become an AB?
    I have always loved boats and the sea. I attended the Maine Maritime Academy after jobs as an environmental education coordinator in Russia and work with computers.

    What do you like best?
    It’s a great way to see the world and I really love working at sea. I think I’ve found the perfect job.

    What challenges do you face?
    You have to be able to hang out with men, be a team player, and also expect to be treated with respect .That’s a balancing act at times.

    Any suggestions or advice for young people interested in working as an AB?
    Volunteer on ships and spend time learning the basics of seamanship. They’ll translate wherever you go and give you a better feel for whether you like working at sea.

  • How does the water at a black smoker get so hot when it is so deep underwater?
    Katelin Alford
    , 9th grade, Crater High School, Central Point, Oregon

    The water at the bottom of the ocean is about 2° C. This cold water seeps through the fractures in the oceanic crust and gets heated by the hot rocks. The rocks are heated by the magma which can be quite close. The Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca plate has a magma body approximately 2.5 km below the sea bottom. The cold water encounters the hot rock and the rock contracts and fractures just like a hot glass would shatter if immersed in cold water. As the water gets hotter it dissolves minerals from the rocks it travels through. Once hot, this water is very buoyant and travels upwards, emerging on the ocean floor through cracks and fractures. The minerals and metals dissolved in this hot fluid precipitate out at the contact with the cold sea water and build a chimney around the area where the hot fluids are venting.

  • Do you ever get disheartened when a procedure goes wrong?
    Rikki Deates
    , 9th grade, Crater High School, Central Point, Oregon

    Engineers and scientists all agree that they could get discouraged when something gets broken or does not work or even when they have instruments that should be upgraded but haven’t been because of lack of funding. But everyone also agrees that they learn to be patient, go with the flow, and try creative answers to their problems. Even with uncooperative weather and possible instrument failure, there is still a lot of data that can be collected. Every situation is a learning experience.

  • Are the chemicals from the chimneys fatal to humans?
    Rikki Deates
    , 9th grade, Crater High School, Central Point, Oregon

    The only chemical that could be toxic to humans which is at the chimneys would be hydrogen sulfide gas. When the water samples are brought back to the surface, the hydrogen sulfide comes out of solution and is a gas. This is the same gas found at hot springs that smells like rotten eggs. As long as there is a ventilated area when testing for chemicals in the water, there should be no problem.

  • Does Jason stand for something?
    Alex Svirbely, 7th grade, Hershey Middle School, Hershey, Pennsylvania

    Jason does stand for something! Although Jason is not an acronym (meaning its letters stand for a longer phrase) the remote operated vehicle is named after the mythical Greek adventurer and ocean explorer, Jason, who was the son of the king of Iolcus. When Jason was a baby, his uncle Pelius imprisoned Jason’s father and took over the throne. Jason returned to Iolcus to claim the thrown and was tricked by his uncle to prove his worth by obtaining the Golden Fleece from king Aeetes. In the end, Jason retrieves the Golden Fleece with the help of king Aeetes’ daughter, Medea.

  • Was Jason made for a specific project?
    Paige Rippon, 7th grade, Hershey Middle School, Hershey, Pennsylvania

    Jason was originally designed to take on some of the submersible Alvin’s long and tedious jobs. Jobs, such as mapping a hydrothermal vent field, require three people to operate Alvin in small quarters for extended periods of time, while Jason is operated from the ship. Since Alvin’s power source is batteries, the length of the job is constrained by the life of the batteries, Jason can work in the water for any length of time, because Jason’s power is supplied by the ship.

  • How heavy is Jason II?
    Nathan Davis, 7th grade, Hershey Middle School, Hershey, Pennsylvania

    Jason II weighs 8000 lbs. (3300 kg) in the air and can travel to a depth of 6500m (approximately 4 miles). Jason is actually a two-body remote operating system. One part of the system is Jason, but the other part is Medea which Jason needs to operate, because it serves as a tether management system. Medea moves up, down, and horizontally in the water to buffer Jason’s cables from the movement at the water’s surface. Medea weighs 800 pounds in the water.

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