Tuesday, June 30, 2009

High-rise condos in 10 days!... Mariner revisited

Yesterday, scientists again sent Jason II down to the Mariner vent site.  One goal of the dive was to collect additional sulfide samples, but more importantly we were very excited to revisit the two thermocouple arrays that were deployed 10 days ago (See previous blog post:  South to the Valu Fa Ridge).  These titanium cages are set over actively venting black smokers to monitor the temperature and microbial colonization as the minerals precipitate and form a new chimney around the array. Each dive to check on these arrays, or recover them, is exciting and met with heightened anticipation as we are never quite sure what will have formed...  
The array shown in the photo above was visited first and we were very happy to see a brand new "chimlet" growing out of the array cage.  The white microbial biofilm can already be seen on the chimlet!  We decided to keep this array down a little longer, so stay tuned for details on what we recover in the coming days.  Nothing, however, could prepare us for what we were about to see as we approached the second array... If you remember one of our earlier blog posts, "A microbial home in 72 hours!", what formed on this array after 10 days can be more aptly described as a microbial apartment complex!  It even has vacancies for fellow organisms like shrimp and crabs!! 
We were able to recover the majority of the chimney structure and can't wait to "see" what our analyses tell us about the microbial inhabitants and geochemical formation.  A new array was placed in the same location that will be recovered after three days (see photo below).  Who knows what type of structure we can expect to recover?!?