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Dispatch from the Deep: Home Again


Examinng Smoker
Members of the expediation team on board Atlantis examine a piece of sulfide chimney recovered from the Juan de Fuca Ridge
© University of Washington, American Museum of Natural History, and Pennsylvania State University

Greetings from Pennsylvania! Okay, so there are no deep sea vents in Pennsylvania, but I had to go home eventually. All good expeditions must come to an end, I suppose...

But in some ways, the expedition to the Juan de Fuca Ridge on the RV Atlantis will never be totally over for me. Some of my work is still part of ongoing research. And I'll carry the experience and the skills and the knowledge I gained for my whole life. I'll also be teaching my own students all about the hydrothermal vents at the mid-ocean ridges.

So how did it all end? Well, the last morning of our voyage, I got up early. I was too excited to sleep--excited to go back home and see my family, but also excited that there was still one more day left at sea. I helped pack up the remaining equipment; it had to be shipped back to labs all over the world. We also had to clean up everything, leaving our quarters and the labs just as we found them--"shipshape!"

We spent so much time cleaning up, I barely noticed the voyage back to shore. As we got near the port in Astoria, Oregon, a tug came out to greet us and guide the ship to her berth at the dock. We all stood together on the main deck, scanning the dock for the families who were waiting to greet us. The young children of several researchers were waving to us from the dock; we all shouted our greetings and waved back. They must have been excited to see their dads and moms return home safe and sound--and full of deep sea stories! And once we were safely docked, the kids were invited on board to see the ship and to look at the ALVIN. I wanted to stretch out those last minutes, but I also felt like I had been away from my family for a very long time. I was anxious to fly home to Pennsylvania to see them--and before I knew it, I was on the plane back home.

So what will happen to all our research data and samples? Most of the samples didn't follow the path of those black smokers retrieved on the first summer voyage! Parts of those chimneys were sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they were permanently installed in the new Hall of Planet Earth, and the rest are being as extensively analysed and studied as our geology and biology specimens. Microbes collected from the deep are being studied at several universities, and the geochemists are keeping busy analyzing chemical information from their vent fluid samples. The engineers that mapped the ocean floor at the site using side-scan sonar have created some of the most detailed maps ever made of the ocean floor! And the film crew from NOVA, after spending a few more months processing their videotapes, released a VHS movie called Volcanoes of the Deep, all about our expedition.

As for me, I worked with a team of scientists at Penn State--a team that included one of my own high school students--to study my copepod samples. We were even able to publish a scientific paper on our findings! It turns out that these microscopic critters make a very unusual form of hemoglobin. Our research was some of the first to document the presence of hemoglobin in a deep ocean crustacean. Our samples were later sent on to Denmark for further study. My juvenile tubeworm samples have been preserved and were sent to the University of Vienna, Austria, where they were photo-micrographed for detailed analysis.

I've kept the expedition fresh in my mind by writing, speaking, and teaching about it. I do lots of talks with school groups, in addition to using my experiences in my own classroom. And of course I keep up with all the latest research about deep sea vents through the news, through the REVEL Web site, and by keeping in touch with the wonderful team of scientists and crew that I met during one of the best summers of my life. Thanks for being a part of it!