Manned research submersible Alvin

The manned research submersible Alvin.

Deep East

September 8 - October 1, 2001

The Deep East Expedition completed its field season on October 1. Scientists explored three regions of the Atlantic Ocean, from Maine to Georgia, including the submarine canyons of Georges Bank and Bear Seamount off the New England coast; Hudson Submarine Canyon, an ancient extension of the Hudson River Valley that extends more than 400 nautical mi seaward from the New York-New Jersey Harbor; and Blake Ridge off the Georgia coast. Even though these areas are very close to home, until now, little was known about the living and nonliving resources there.
Using the manned submersible Alvin, scientists ventured to the bottom of the Atlantic, collected video footage, measured the biological, geological, and chemical features of these areas, and collected biological and geological samples for further analysis. During the expedition, scientists examined deep-water corals and methane hydrates, and discovered previously unknown deep-sea resources and processes.

Background information about the expedition are found on the left side of this page. Daily updates are included below. Detailed daily logs of the expedition's activities are found on the right.

Read a summary of some of the preliminary findings from this fascinating expedition.Audio icon On Dec 12, NPR Marketplace ran a special feature on the Deep East expedition. You can listen to it here (click on RealAudio link, then advance to 22:05).

Updates & Logs

Leg 3 – Blake Ridge

Click images or links below for detailed mission logs.


Alvin submersibleThe Deep East Expedition spanned 1,000 mi, from Georges Bank to the Blake Ridge off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. Of the planned 15 dives, 11 descended to depths reaching 3,000 meters -- more than a mile and a half below the ocean surface. The expedition's accomplishments included the collection of eggs and sperm packets from two deep-water species of anemone and coral. Analysis of these samples will provide the first picture of invertebrate reproduction in deep-sea habitats. The preliminary results of geological studies showed an elevated methane signal throughout the Hudson Canyon region, indicating that active methane vents occur in the area. Pending further analysis of samples collected at Blake Ridge, scientists expect to find several new species of sea creatures, including shrimps, worms, and clams. Some of these organisms may harbor new symbiotic relationships that could change our fundamental understanding of the global web of life.

Shrimp crawling on hydrates September 29 Winds are sustained at 37 kts with higher gusts and the seas are mess—8 feet and continuing to build. Weather predictions take the winds to 50 kts, and the Captain says that the seas will probably reach 20 feet. The final Alvin dive of the Deep East Voyage of Discovery has been cancelled. The underwater transponders that have navigated Alvin again and again to the site of our deep sea finds have been retrieved. Dr. Carolyn Ruppel continues to gather the multibeam points to further expand our knowledge of the bathymetry at Blake Ridge. Samples are being packed up and the Atlantis crew has begun the task of getting her ready for the tours that will be part of NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Day in Charleston.

deep sea fish swimming near mussel beds September 28 As Alvin makes Dive 3712 on Area E on the Blake Ridge, the weather report reads "Developing gale, 33 N 70W moving NE 30 kts. Forecast area of N winds 25-35 kt, seas 10-18 ft. within area S of 34Nw of 75W associated with the gale center south of the area." Although the Atlantis is approximately 60 nautical miles east-southeast the affected area, there is already an air of anticipation about whether tomorrow’s dive will be affected by seas kicked up by the developing system. Students from around the country have been participating in the Deep East Web Forum over the past four days. This online conversation concluded today with a very successful audio Deep East Web Chat with students from as far away as Washington and as close as South Carolina posing questions live via a satellite phone to scientists on board the Atlantis

Sep 25 Log September 27 It is an overcast day and the seas are calm. As Alvin makes Dive 3,711 on the Blake Ridge, Dr. Joan Bernhard and graduate student Katie Knick are experiencing the deep sea in a way that few of us ever will. Dr. Carolyn Ruppel continues her work using the multibeam system to "fill in" details of Blake Ridge bathymetry with 120 measurements that are sent back to the ship with each ping of the multibeam instrument. And Dr. Joan Bernhard discovers yet another new find on the Blake Ridge.

Sep 26 Log September 26 The Alvin is making its second dive on the Blake Ridge. Dr. Barun Sen Gupta and Dr. Paul Aharon are in the submersible with pilot Dudley Foster as they explore for evidence of gas hydrates. Dr. Joan Bernhard reported during the morning science meeting that microscopic examinations of sediment cores late last night revealed that, in fact, bacterial mats of Beggiatoa were collected yesterday, the first chemoautotrophic (feeding on methane) bacteria to be collected at this site. Alvin returns to us after a full day of diving and delivers incredible video tapes of gas hydrates, mussels that are larger than the ones collected yesterday, and live clams--yet another historic day of exploration on the deep seafloor of the Blake Ridge.

Sep 25 Log September 25 The Alvin made its first dive on the Blake Ridge to a depth of 2,155 meters, almost a mile and a half under the surface of the ocean. Today will be a memorable one in deep sea research as it goes down in history as being the first day that live samples were brought up from the deep ocean floor at Blake Ridge using the Alvin. "Amazing, just amazing," says Dr. Cindy Van Dover. These are by far the biggest mussels I have ever seen!"

Sep 24 Log September 24 The Atlantis arrived at the first station at approximately 1230 today. Transponders were released to aid the Alvin in underwater navigation for tomorrow’s dive. An expendable bathythermograph (XBT) was deployed to measure temperature of the water column with depth. A multibeam survey is underway to create a plot of the bathymetry of the area. Seas are calm and scientists and crew are busy preparing for the first dive on Blake Ridge scheduled to take place at 0800 tomorrow.

Sep 23 Log September 23 The R/V Atlantis continues on her way to the Blake Ridge. We are currently 47 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We have slowed in speed due to the presence of the Gulf Stream, which we are now crossing as it makes an eastward bend off the coast of North Carolina. At the present speed of 11.1 kts, our estimated time of arrival on station is 1200 (noon) tomorrow. The seas are calm, despite the fact that the tropical depression has now been upgraded to Tropical Storm Humberto. Predictions continue to take it from its current northern track to a more northeastern track over the next 12 hours.

Sep 22 Log September 22 The R/V Atlantis departed Woods Hole at 0930 today for her third and final leg of the Deep East Voyage of Discovery. The final destination—Blake Ridge to investigate for the first time ever the diversity of life found at or near chemosynthetic communities associated with gas hydrates in this area. It will take 48 hours with the Atlantis cruising at approximately 12.5 kts to reach the first station—Site 996 of the Ocean Drilling Program Leg 164. The seas are calm and reports of Tropical Depression 11 have it moving north, with a more northeastern track predicted over the next 12 hours.
camera icon Watch a video of Alvin sampling deep water mussel beds.

Leg 2 � Hudson Canyon

Sep 21 Log September 21 We have packed up our gear and are ready for departure. Much planning and organization went into our coming together for this leg of the Deep East Expedition, so in one sense, the trip was a culmination of the dreams and efforts of many people. In another way, the data we have collected, ideas we have exchanged, things we have learned, and questions we have raised make this a new beginning. We will leave the research vessel (R/V) Atlantis with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, as well as new reasons and increased motivation to further explore the deep ocean and the dynamic ecosystems that characterize the Hudson Canyon.

Sep 20 Log September 20 Everyone woke to the excitement of having two Alvin dives today.The first dive would carry a teacher, and the second, a graduate student. As teacher Holly Donovan approached her dive time, she was very nervous, but anxious to see the wonders of the sea. While waiting for the second dive, graduate student Grant Law sat in the computer lab playing the guitar. As both dives came aboard, anxious scientists gathered around to hear the stories, collect their samples, and reminisce about the past week.

Sep 19 Log September 19 Today, Alvin dove to the northern edge of the Hudson Canyon. This region is located on the outer edge of the continental shelf, near the head of the canyon. During this dive, scientists Fred Grassle and Ken Able were able to identify 21 species of fish. One of the most striking sights was a variety of predators (squid, hake, and crab) feeding feverishly on thousands of lantern fish near the bottom of the canyon at a depth of about 200 m.

Sep 18 Log September 18 The day started at 2:30 am, when the first box core was lowered into the ocean. Alvin then departed at 8:30 on its way to the plume site. As Alvin returned, a rumor spread that a large animal had been captured. As Alvin backed into its "garage," many scientists and others gathered around to see the sight -- a huge anemone. Then the box cores, niskin bottles, and Alvin push cores were all unloaded. The evening came to an end with three box cores over the side at 8:30 and 11 pm, and finally at 1:30 am on Sept. 19. Mud was flying everywhere.

September 17 Log September 17 After our early morning attempt to launch the CTD rosette, which had been postponed due to weather conditions, we continued watching the wind speed and the size of the swells to determine whether our scheduled first dive with Alvin would indeed occur. The initial launch time of 8 am was postponed until 9:30, at which time the launch was successfully completed. Alvin descended to the 106-mi Dumpsite. Box cores, water samples, and core samples were taken to study the evolution of the ecology and geology of the site since the last sampling in 1996. After dinner, the CTD rosette was successfully launched and retrieved. Its water samples will be tested later for methane.

September 16 Log September 16 Excitement was in the air as moving day approached. Scientists scurried around moving on board, while crew members busily loaded and tied down all the equipment needed for the trip. As the R/V Atlantis pulled away from the dock, most of the scientists' paused to take one last look at land before heading out to sea. Now they were ready to get to work.

Leg 1 – Georges Bank Canyons

September 15 Log September 15 The first Leg of Deep East came to a close today, as we returned to dock in Woods Hole at 9:15 am. The weather is getting rougher, and all those aboard are relieved that Leg 2 of Deep East will disembark from Woods Hole instead of from Staten Island, NY, as planned. Originally, the scientists participating in Leg 2 were to board a transfer boat on Staten Island and come out to sea to meet the Atlantis. When the two boats rendez-voused, Leg 1 scientists would board the Staten Island transfer boat. When it became clear that the port of New York would be closed, however, Woods Hole became the exchange point.

September 14 Log September 14 At long last, the wind and waves subsided enough to allow Alvin to dive safely into Hydrographer Canyon. The benthic substrate of this canyon was considerably different from that of Oceanographer Canyon. Instead of a rocky substrate, this canyon was steep and muddy. No corals were found in Hydrographer Canyon, but a rich community of fish and invertebrates was observed. The science team wrapped up this leg of Deep East with an Alvin ritual -- sending decorated Styrofoam cups down on the submersible. The crushing hydrostatic pressure shrinks them into tiny miniatures.

September 13 Log September 13 After four days at sea and only one dive day, the crew and science party once again woke to rough seas and high winds. Some members of the science party kept busy editing digital video footage and still photos, while others caught up on missed sleep.The R/V Atlantis' SeaBeam multibeam sonar system was pressed into service to map the depths of Bear and Physalia Seamounts. The Atlantis crew set a course for Hydrographer Canyon, with high hopes for low winds and calm seas for Friday's planned Alvin dive.

September 12 Log September 12 Weather conditions at sea have forced the cancellation of the dive at Bear Seamount. The swells from Hurricane Erin, approximately 150 mi southeast of the R/V Atlantis, can be felt aboard ship, and the captain has ordered all hands to remain inside until further notice. Work continues aboard the ship, while the crew and science staff monitor news updates from the U.S. mainland.

September 11 Log September 11 Today, Alvin's dive into Lydonia Canyon was cancelled due to sea conditions and an electrical problem on the submersible. Following the morning science briefing, word reached us of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, and the crash of a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. A subdued crew and science group aboard the R/V Atlantis carried on as best they could in light of the tragedy. We ended the day by viewing news footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers. camera icon Watch a Video taken from the Alvin as it ascende the steep walls of Oceanographer Canyon.

September 10 Log September 10 It was a warm, clear morning as the deep submersible vessel (DSV) Alvin descended into Oceanographer Canyon to explore deep-sea coral ecology. Because submarine canyons have not been scoured by trawling, Oceanographer Canyon may serve as a haven for certain species. Several different corals and fish were observed and collected for further study of genetics and coral reproductive biology. The DNA of these corals will be compared to DNA of other corals collected during this leg of the expedition. camera icon Watch a video of Alvin sampling for invertebrates by suctioning deep water corals.

September 9 Log September 9 The R/V Atlantis left Woods Hole at 12 noon and headed to Oceanographer Canyon, the first dive site. Shortly after departure, we encountered the WHOI vessel R/V Oceanus returning to port. Once south of the Nantucket Shoals, the crew and science staff participated in safety demonstrations and received advice on "getting their sea legs." An evening meeting for the science staff will discuss the next days dive, and the status of Hurricane Erin. We'll also get to see slides of deep-sea coral species, courtesy of Dr. Barbara Hecker.

September 8 Log September 8 Prior to the cruise, preparations for the Deep East Expedition took place on the dock at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, MA. Science equipment, food, and other supplies lined the dock as the crew, scientists, educators, and WHOI staff made a final inspection of the vessel and completed last-minute tasks. A Deep East Professional Development Institute was provided for educators on Cape Cod, which included a tour of the R/V Atlantis. As the excitement and anticipation began to build, a new element was added to the mix -- Hurricane Erin, whose path will be closely monitored as departure time approaches.

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