Megan Shaffer

Megan Shaffer

Title: Undergraduate Student
Institution: University of Delaware
B.A., Biological Sciences, with a minor in Marine Studies (expected graduation 2013)
Role on this research cruise: Sampling of vent shrimp (Rimicaris exoculata)

Blog Post Oct. 27

When I received the email invitation to join Dr. Luther on this research cruise, I was extremely enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity and I immediately accepted. As an undergraduate, I’ve had limited field experience and prior to this cruise, absolutely no experience at sea. So, I didn’t exactly know what to expect or how I would acclimate to the lifestyle abroad the RV Knorr. Even in the week prior to our departure in the Azores, the whole experience seemed pretty surreal–I would have never imagined leaving Newark for a month during my senior year to explore the incredible little island of the Azores and then board the Titanic-finding RV Knorr for three weeks at sea.

The whole experience started to become a reality when I met Jason. I almost felt as if I was meeting a celebrity. Seeing his robot arms, numerous gadgets and insane wiring, I was absolutely amazed by the technology. After getting a good look at Jason, I made it into the virtual van, where I was even more impressed. There are numerous screens and controls in the van, all of which make Jason come to life under the water. I was told that my job in the van would be logging–taking notes on all of Jason’s actions and taking pictures of any interesting sites on the ocean floor. After meeting Jason, seeing the van and learning my duties, my whole experience on the Knorr started to sink in and I became extremely excited for the first Jason dive.

Our first dive was at a site on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge called ‘Rainbow.’ As logger, I have two shifts a day in the van during a dive, from 12:00 to 16:00 and 0:00 to 4:00. When I arrived for my first shift, Jason had already made it to the bottom of the ocean and was in the process of searching for vents. Prior to sitting down in my chair, I remember thinking that four hours seemed like a long time to sit in front of a computer. But, much to my surprise, the four hours flew by! It was very impressive seeing how the Jason crew and science crew efficiently communicated in order to collect the best samples possible. One theme that has been consistent with all of the Jason dives is that all of the sciences–engineering, geology, biology, chemistry, physics–are intricately connected and are required for Jason to work optimally.

My absolute favorite thing about the Jason dives is watching the footage from the Jason cameras. On my first Jason dive at ‘Rainbow,’ I was completely blown away with the footage. We came across an amazing vent that chief-scientist-in-training Amy named ‘Trident’ because atop of the chimney were three tubes giving off black smoke. So far, however, my favorite sight to see at the vents has been the shrimp (I guess I’m a little biased as a biologist). At ‘Rainbow’ dense patches of shrimp showed up here and there. But when we travelled to ‘TAG’ and ‘Snakepit,’ and I quickly realized that ‘Rainbow’ in comparison was lacking in the shrimp department. ‘TAG’ especially had thousands and thousands (if not millions) of shrimp covering mostly all of the vents–a truly amazing site! We used the Jason slurp gun, which is basically a modified vacuum, and got about 500 shrimp with just a few seconds of slurping. When the shrimp surfaced it was apparent that these organisms were tough and really remarkable–not only do they live at the high pressure and high temperature vents, but some of the shrimp even survived when brought up 3500+ meters to the surface!

Every day so far on ship, it is amazing (and quite humbling) to look out on the incredibly blue ocean. But being able to see what lies on the floor, beneath the huge blue ocean, is really mind boggling. I am completely impressed and really awestruck by the capabilities of technology like Jason that have allowed for the exploration of the ocean and the advancement of science. Every dive so far has been so exciting and filled with new discoveries. As of about 10 days into our cruise, life on the Knorr has been incredible and quite the adventure!

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