Chico Jr. High School (CA)

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Chico Junior High School, Chico CA A selection of questions from Skype on Thursday Sept 12 with Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Dr. Dave Butterfield of University of Washington and NOAA

1. What do microbes do? How are they useful?
Jim Holden- Great question, on the surface of the planet, sunlight helps plants grow with photosynthesis as the base of the food chain but on the ocean floor there is no sunlight but microbes can feed off chemicals from the hydrothermal vents to make food, which becomes the base of the food chain there. Other organisms can live from the lower parts of the food chain, just like on land.

2. Why are you doing this trip?
Jim Holden- We are interested in understanding this volcano for a variety of reasons such as why it erupts, what happens before an eruption, what microbes live in the water around the hydrothermal vents and what the chemistry of the water is where they live and in the water column above. This helps us understand how life works without sunlight. The volcano is very cool because it erupted in 1998 and in 2011, which is pretty recent, so it’s a good place to study how the life and chemistry around the vents can change with eruptions.
Dave Butterfield: As a graduate student in 1986 I came here to do my PhD research and then I came back in 1995 and since 1998, I’ve been coming back every year, so I feel very connected to this place. Now it is part of the OOI (Oceans Observatory Initiative) cabled network observatory ( to get real time data onshore.

3. What controls the ROV Jason?
Dave Butterfield: The ROV Jason is remotely operated from the ship and is connected by a fiber optic cable to get communications and power to the vehicle. Pilots can drive it from the surface using maps of the seafloor. The pilots have joysticks to control the arms like a video game.

4. What kind of training do the pilots need before driving the submersible?
Dave Butterfield: The pilots go through extensive training, they start by learning about the submersible then they train on how to drive it and collect samples, as well as do the engineering and navigational tasks of keeping track of the sub and Medea.

5. Your blog says you work all day, what do you do for fun?
Jim Holden- Well, the cost to use the ship and the submersible is very expensive, around $55,000 per day so someone is always working on the ship so we can maximize the work that gets done. When samples come back from the seafloor we work long hours to get the samples processed and then to get ready for the next dive. Usually when we’re not working we try to sleep, we eat really good food here, and we can exercise (on exercise equipment), read, watch movies (in at TV/Lounge area).

6. Explain the buoys installed at Axial Seamount
Jim Holden- Engineers have built instruments that are being placed over vents to try to use the hot water from the vents to make electricity. They use a buoy at the ocean’s surface as a relay so data can be transmitted acoustically (sound waves) from the instrument to the surface and then the communications buoy can transmit the data to a satellite which is emailed to researchers on shore.