Port Angeles High School (WA)

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Port Angeles High School, Port Angeles WA A selection of questions from Skype on Friday September 13, with Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University

1. How do you look at the volcano and the seafloor?
Bill Chadwick: Right, it is a challenge to see the volcano. When I come here I realize that we lose our sense of sight here because we’re up here on the surface of the ocean where we can’t see the seafloor with our own eyes, so we use sonar to make good maps of the seafloor- and those can be at different scales. From 1 mile above the seafloor like we are here, it’s hard to get good sonar maps and from Jason we’re very close to the seafloor so we see a very small area. There is another type of vehicle, called an autonomous vehicle which can map the seafloor at 1 meter pixel scale, while the shipboard sonar maps at 30 m pixels, which isn’t as good as the autonomous vehicle mapping.

2. What are some of the favorite things you see out there?
Jim Holden- Every time I come here I love seeing hydrothermal vents. I’ve seen vents at about 340°C (650° F) in dense communities. It’s like we’ve left the earth and gone to a different environment that is totally different than what we see on land every day.

3. When you are sampling, are you specifically looking for new organisms or just looking at them?
Jim Holden- Well, it’s both- some microbes we know are here so we are doing some mathematical models to describe their behavior and we are now testing those models. We’re also looking for new organisms to identify, so we collect DNA to characterize some of the organisms we can’t grow in the lab. We can sequence the DNA and use that to understand what they need to survive and then maybe we’ll understand how to collect and grow them in the lab later.

4. Have there been any surprises?
Jim Holden: It’s surprising to me how active things are here. In fact, last night we saw some instruments that had been installed on the seafloor one week ago and now they are already covered by large chimneys that have grown in just the six days the instruments have been there.
Bill Chadwick: Another surprise for me is in looking at the data from the pressure recorders we collected that show that even after the 2011 eruption, the inflation of the volcano is going up, so now we’re collecting more pressure measurements with ROV Jason. This is the fun part because it’s an example of how new things happen and don’t stay the same out here.