8: Exploration

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East Pacific Rise

Ten days ago or so, I emailed about needing to change my carefully made plans because my last dive target turned out to be in Mexican rather than international waters and we were not cleared to dive in the waters of another country. Since that time, we've discovered the Stauromedusae, executed six dives for Karen and Breea at 9N and had a very successful dive at a vent field near 11N most recently. The 11N site has been previously investigated and was known to support vent mussels and clams and other animals that live with them. A few hours into our dive there, our searching paid off and we located the "Bucky" vent field.

This field is conspicuous because 25 cm, or 10-inch long, white clams lie in crevices on the black basalt. Their large size and gleaming white shells make them stand out more than the mussels with which they associate. In addition to these animals, known to host chemosynthetic bacteria, rock outcrops at Bucky are adorned by 3-inch high stalked barnacles. White galatheid crabs, or squat lobsters, are interspersed among the bivalves, either feeding on the barnacles, or using them to have a better view.

Locating that vent site by the middle of our first dive at the 11N area and successfully making substantial collections of mussels and clams, and animals associated with them, permitted us to further explore the area. Because I had planned to spend two dives in the area that is now off-limits, I was feeling that we have more latitude to explore and potentially win big. The liability is, however, that for exploration to result in maximal return, you have to invest big. Think of the European expeditions that sought to locate the ever-elusive Northwest Passage - the connection between Europe and Asia north of Canada - that cost a lot of money and resulted in people spending years north of the Arctic Circle and sometimes freezing to death. Rather than consider this type of outcome, I prefer to think of the voyages of James Cook that documented incredible diversity of life around the globe. However, when I think more about Cook, I remember that he didn't get home alive; I reassure myself by realizing the fact that he didn't have the captain and crew of the ATLANTIS to help keep him from harm.

What we will find at the site we've chosen as a target is unknown; no one has ever laid eyes on this section of seafloor. It's a narrow part of the ridge so its limited area should make it pretty easy to find out what's there. I will let you know shortly how this big gamble pays off. When I go to sleep at night, I wonder whether I should have chosen to go somewhere more certain to produce a result, but the call of the unknown has won out.