Jason Control Van

Dr. Nooner, as head scientist for some of the dives, what is your role in the control van?

“I am in charge of all science that gets done during that dive. The Jason ROV is controlled by highly skilled pilot, navigator, and engineer without whom we could get nothing accomplished. However, they do not know the science objectives and goals and it is my job to tell them where to go, what instruments to deploy, what samples to collect, what video to collect, and anything else that is needed to accomplish the science.” — Dr. Nooner

In a previous post, I told you all the cool facts about ROV Jason and mentioned that it takes a crew of six people to run the whole operation for just four hours. Jason is not permanently on the Thomas G. Thompson, but is able to travel between different research vessels, which takes a lot of equipment. Everywhere he goes, there are three large sheds (made from shipping containers) that move with him; two are full of tools, parts, and equipment, while the other contains the controls and monitors used whenever Jason is submerged.

Part of the Jason Control Van showing some of the monitors.

Part of the Jason Control Van showing some of the monitors.

This last shed, which is two shipping containers put together, is called the Control Van. It is equipped with about 40 screens (TVs and computers) that display live feed from the cameras attached to both Jason and Medea. The six people that sit in the van at one time include the pilot, navigator, engineer, head scientist, data logger, and video logger.

As part of my role on this cruise, I am one of the video loggers. This entails sitting in the van for four hours at a time checking to make sure the video feed is recording on the DVD’s at all times. There are two large DVD recorders that each record up to six DVD’s at once. When I first get into the van for my watch, I ensure that the recorders are loaded properly with six disks then sit around and wait for Jason to be deployed into the water. Once he is near the seafloor, I start all six of the DVD’s in one of the recorders and log the start date and time onto a spreadsheet. Each DVD records two hours of video, so once it has been one hour and 58 minutes, I begin recording the second set of DVD’s and log the start date and time for those. After a set of six has been recorded, I print labels onto the disks and set them aside. In addition to monitoring these disks, I also aid the data logger in recording written notes while she logs them onto the virtual van website.

The data logger is responsible for entering scientific notes about the dive and samples taken into the Virtual Van website, which is our data logging system for each dive. This system captures still images from three of the cameras at a set interval (about one a minute) and loads these onto the website. Any time the data recorder enters text, it is associated with one of the images.

Here is a link to the Virtual Van website where you can check out some interesting images from previous scientific expeditions. http://4dgeo.whoi.edu/jason/ The website is available for public and scientific use.

Until next time!


Gumbi Suits

Scott, Shawn, and I trying to make a Gumbi pose in our Gumbi Suits

During our safety training meeting aboard the Thomas G. Thompson, we were given all sorts of essential information. We went through the different alarm sounds for scenarios including man overboard, fire, and abandon ship. Directions on how to escape living quarters was demonstrated, phone numbers for important people/rooms around the ship were discussed. We were shown how to use an emergency breathing apparatus in case gases, smoke, or fumes are present. If those are ever in use, each apparatus has a life span of about thirty minutes, giving the person enough time to escape to an area with fresh air. My favorite safety device we were shown was the Exposure Suit a.k.a. The Gumbi Suit! This is a suit that is intended for survival in cold water; each suit is equipped with a flashlight and whistle and is fire retardant. They have non slip soles on the feet and a protective flap that covers most of the face. The most fun part about this safety meeting was having to try on the Gumbi Suit to make sure each one fit properly and that we knew how to get in and out of them. We were told that the easiest way to don these suits is to unroll it, take off your shoes, and sit down. Once in this position, slide your feet in until they are fully in the foot area; stand up and put one arm in. Then comes the trickier part where the hood has to go over your head, your other arm fits through the arm hole and then you have to somehow get the zipper up and put the flap over your face. After the adventure of trying to get the suits on, an even greater feat is getting it off! Trying to undue the flap from your face with massive lobster-type hands is way more difficult than it seems. We were not under a time constraint since the science party are considered passengers, but the crew has to be able to get in the suit in less than 60 seconds! The Gumbi Suit was definitely something that provided entertainment for a while aboard the ship and it is nice to know that we have them in case of a real emergency.

ROV Jason

ROV Jason being lowered into the water.

ROV Jason being lowered into the water.

Jason, the Remotely Operated Vehicle that is being used throughout this research cruise. He is an impressive robotic submarine that is 3.4 m in length, 2.4 m in height, 2.2 m wide, and can reach depths up to 6,500 m which covers most of the seafloor. Jason weighs a little over 4,000 kg and usually travels at about 1.0 knot (about walking speed).

In order to eliminate the shock that would be felt from the ship, Medea, Jason’s dive partner, is attached to the ship by an electro-optic steel-armored cable. Beneath Medea is another cable that leads down to Jason. This one is a 55 m neutrally buoyant fiberoptic cable that allows him to roam freely away from Medea without feeling the movement from the ship.

Jason has six color video cameras and one still camera that all aid in monitoring the equipment he carries as well as what and where to sample, and the surroundings. There is an imaging sonar and a multibeam sonar for mapping the seafloor and he is equipped with two robotic arms that are controlled from a room on deck. These arms allow samples to be collected and equipment to be used or moved into vent openings and other small areas. Jason has two kinds of water samplers on board; one of them collects up to 500 mL of fluid and is able to withstand the hot waters associated with hydrothermal vents. The other sampler can collect about 140 mL but keeps a high pressure on the water and dissolved gases as the sample comes up to the surface.

Medea entering the water, Jason is just visible underneath the surface.

Medea entering the water, Jason is just visible underneath the surface.

Using Jason is a massive operation that takes a lot of people. At a minimum, he needs a pilot, a navigator, an engineer, and three scientists to record data, monitor video feed and decide where to go and what to do. He can work up to 24 hours a day but that means that teams have to rotate approximately every four-hours. This is usually done by each team having two four-hour shifts each day, which means that there have to be 18 people on board (9 Jason crew and 9 scientists). For this trip, there are two projects that each have three 16-hour dives and our project, which has a 5-6 day continuous dive.

Axial Day 3

It is now day three and things are finally getting underway! We left Seattle on Tuesday at around 5:00 am local time and traveled through the Sound toward the open Pacific. Some of us ended up getting out of bed at just about 5:00 because of the lovely sound coming from the bow thrusters and the anchor, but it was alright because the view of the Seattle skyline was worth it.

As far as I know no one has gotten sea sick, maybe that’s because we have been fortunate with wonderful weather and calm seas…hopefully things stay this way for a while (knock on wood).

Ship-life isn’t too shabby at all, accommodations are small but nice and the food is pretty good! For the most part, two people share a room and two rooms share a bathroom…it’s almost like being back in a dorm room.

Shawn's living quarters or the next few weeks.

Shawn’s living quarters for the next few weeks.

As far as the food goes, we get three hot meals per day, there are always a number of options, at least one vegetarian choice, and always dessert. Some of the delicious items that I can remember include, blackened salmon, roasted beets in balsamic vinegar, squash curry soup, asparagus and smoked salmon omelets, and squashcanos (get it…like a volcano)! On board there is also a small workout room with a treadmill, which I am scared to run on for fear of either hitting my head on the low ceiling or falling over due to the roll of the ship, a stationary bike, an elliptical, and some free weights. There is an entertainment room full of DVD’s, VHS’s and there is even an Xbox!

On a science note, we arrived at Axial Seamount around 2:00 pm yesterday afternoon and one of the groups launched a buoy. The launch took about three hours due to roughly two kilometers of rope being reeled out after the buoy. Attached to the rope were two acoustic releases and at the end, an anchor consisting of three train wheels each weighing about 700 pounds. The anchor release was a little anti-climactic as it was lowered into the water slowly before the quick release was pulled. This morning, three Bottom Pressure Recorders (BPR’s) were deployed.

Jason dives begin in just a few hours with a group interested in the microbiology associated with hydrothermal vents.

Axial Seamount


As we get ready to embark on our research cruise to Axial Seamount from September 3-19, it only seems fitting to load a map of the area where we will be spending our time. The Google Earth map above shows the location of Axial while the digital elevation map (DEM) below zooms in on the area and displays benchmark sites (blue squares) and vents (red circles) located near the caldera, a large volcanic crater typically formed by an eruption.

Axial Seamount

Our group from UNCW consists of Dr. Scott Nooner and graduate students Shawn McGuire and Elisa Baumgardt. Our goal for this cruise is to get pressure measurements at all the different benchmark sites which will allow for modeling the re-inflation of the volcano since the last eruption in 2011. We will be on the research vessel Thompson and will be making a number of dives with the remotely operated vehicle Jason.

For more detailed scientific updates throughout the cruise, you can also follow axial2013.blogspot.com.