Galápagos Rift Expedition 2011 Expedition

Ask an Explorer

During the expedition, we invited the public to send questions to the team at sea; questions and replies are posted here.

I've been enjoying following the cruise. I looked at the "Photo and Video log" and really enjoyed the highlights footage taken by Little Hercules on July 14. My question is, "Do you have the ability to collect any of the specimens that you see to determine if they are new species?" Thank you for all the work you are doing!

Question from: Carolyn, Teacher, Lexington MA

Good question, Carolyn. At present, the Okeanos Explorer does not have the ability to collect biological samples. The ship's stated mission is purely exploratory, i.e. to act as a 'pathfinder' by shedding light on completely unknown areas of the ocean and giving scientists around the world an impetus to go back and study in-depth what has been visually discovered. Little Hercules is equipped with a HD video camera to aid in identification of new species, but possesses no mechanical sampling arms or storage containers. Of course, the capabilities of the ship may change to fit new needs and opportunities in the future.

Answer from: James Connors, Web Coordinator, NOAA OER

I read your July 17 log about the three dives to site 2a looking for the vents which would be causing the suspended plume 20-80m above the seafloor. My question is: Did you ever find the source leading to the large amount of vent "smoke" (hydrothermal fluid)? Were you afraid to go closer to the seafloor (closer than 20 m) because it could damage your instruments? Or do you generally have better luck looking down from higher up?

Question from: Mrs. Sheild, Middle Science School Teacher, Lexington, MA

Carolyn, unhappily we did not find the "smoking gun" responsible for all the hydrothermal smoke in the water column at site 2a. Surveying the vast seafloor with a small ROV requires lots of patience and even more luck to find individual vents. We were finally successful in a different location on July 22, so look for that video as soon as it's posted. Actually, Little Hercules, the lower ROV, normally operates only a few meters to less than one meter off the seafloor to get the best possible view for its cameras. In a search mode, Little Herc stays just above the seafloor, while Seirios hovers a few tens of meters above. This gives Seirios a wider field of view, so we can guide Little Herc to places beyond its view. Without Seirios helping, Little Herc could pass by a vent only a few meters away. The deep-sea floor is darker than any night, and Little Herc's light is quickly soaked up.

Answer from: Ed Baker, Supervisory Oceanographer, NOAA PMEL