General Questions from other followers

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Throughout the expedition, questions and answers we receive will appear on this page. On the right, there are links to schools we will interact with from sea.

Questions and Answers:

When the volcano erupts, does the water pressure push the eruption down?

Hi there,

This is a great question. When a volcano erupts, the gases in the magma are driving the eruption- that is, as the gases change state from liquid (dissolved in the magma) to gas state, they form bubbles which expand. This makes the volume of the magma expand and so it erupts. One of the limiting factors of the expansion is that the gas bubbles expand only if the pressure inside the bubble (pushing out) is greater than the pressure outside the bubble (pushing in on the bubble). So, volcanoes on the ocean floor have to overcome the pressure of the rocky part of the volcano structure itself (lithostatic pressure), but also the pressure from the overlying ocean that exerts hydrostatic (water) pressure. Once the volcano actually erupts, the lavas that flow on the ocean floor will still be subjected to the ocean's hydrostatic pressure.

In other words, the answer to your question is yes!

Allen Middle School (WA)

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Sammamish High School (WA)

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Sammamish High School (Earth Science), Bellevue, WA----
An assortment of questions received from Sammamish High School via Skype. We’ll answer more questions during our Skype call. Thanks!

What parts of bacteria that live in these deep ocean vents have the possible ability to have medical benefits?
Hi, Thanks for your question. Bacteria create chemicals called secondary metabolites, which are a byproduct that the bacteria produces, not to survive (so not primary) but produces and doesn’t use. These chemicals are extracted from the bacteria and tested to determine whether they have useful properties, by putting them in the presence of bacteria that are diseases (like E. Coli) or cancers. If the secondary metabolites produce a negative effect on the disease samples, then they may have potential to help fight those diseases and further research to isolate the exact chemical or genes would be completed.


Is a caldera just a type of volcano, or is it something else?
Thanks for your question Kelsi, a caldera is a large section of the volcano that has dropped down, usually in association with an eruption. A simplistic way to think of it is that during an eruption the magma that is in the volcano erupts to the surface so a large volume of material is no longer in side, supporting the roof structure. This causes large sections of the roof to collapse, or cave in, which results in a down-dropped section of the volcano. This is the caldera. Calderas form on a variety of volcanoes, but is a structure associated with the volcano rather than a specific type of volcano.


How does clear water from the CTD determine calm seas?
Hi Nhuy, we posted the photo of the CTD under the surface to show how calm the seas are- normally the ocean’s surface has waves that obscure our ability to see at great depth, we were lucky to have such calm seas, so snapped a photo of the CTD still visible below the surface.

Thanks, Rachel

Hi I'm extremely interested in the marine life of the deep sea. I was wondering, what are a few species that are unique to the areas surrounding these vents?
Hi, We see a great diversity of deep sea life, ranging from a variety of worms (e.g. tube worms, palm worms), limpets, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea stars and brittle stars. There are also fish and sometimes octopi and squid. For more information on life on the seafloor, check out this website:

Thanks, Rachel

How does the expedition relate to chemistry?
Hi, Thanks for your question. We are using chemical analyses in a couple of different ways. CTD measurements help us understand the dissolved oxygen, salinity, and other properties of seawater in a vertical column, so we can see how those factors vary with depth. That information can be used for a variety of oceanography projects, including as a comparison for water chemistry around the hydrothermal vents. The composition of the sea water around the vents also helps us understand conditions available for the organisms that live around the vents to survive.

Thanks, Rachel

How will the weather affect your research?
Hi, Weather plays a factor in things going on at the surface, including the ability to launch ROV Jason (if there’s too much wind or the waves are too rough, we might not be able to launch the vehicle). Once in the water, Jason is tethered to Medea which is connected to the ship so that it can decouple the connection from the ship to the ROV. This helps keep Jason from being jerked around on the sea floor by the ship bobbing in the waves on the surface. Similarly, hoisted instruments that need to be on a winch or crane on the ship’s deck is done much more safely in calm seas. Fortunately, that has been the case for this cruise; we have had very calm seas and not a lot of wind.

Thanks, Rachel

Tulsa Public High School

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Union Public School (OK)

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University City High School (CA)

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The Girls Middle School (CA)

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Kamiakin Middle School (WA)

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Dear Scientists,
Apart from the tectonic plates' separation at Axial, and its magma hotspot, is there another reason you chose to go to Axial?
Curiosly asking,
Alek Milovanovic

Hi Alek,

One of the exciting things about Axial Seamount is that it is an active volcano - one of the most active submarine volcanoes on Earth.

Axial is also relatively easy to access because it's close to shore- it only takes a day to get to so we can return regularly and get time series data to monitor it's activity, which we've done since the early 1980's. As part of the Ocean Observatory Initiative of the NSF, Axial Seamount is going to be a site of intense focus for years to come, and data we've collected over the past decades will help contribute to that work.

Thanks for your question!

Dear Scientists,
Why is an underwater volcano so different from one that is above water?
Just wondering,
Megan Taylor

Hi Megan,

Thanks for your great question. There are several differences between submarine and terrestrial volcanoes- one aspect is that when you study a submarine volcano, it takes a lot of effort to visit the volcano because we can only actually see the volcano and it's lava flows and other features when we send a camera to the ocean floor, usually with a submersible like ROV Jason or HOV Alvin. This takes a lot more planning than visiting some terrestrial volcanoes - some of which you can even drive to! Even with a submersible, it's sometimes hard to visualize the entire volcano if it's under the ocean because it's so dark, that photos can really only show the view that is visible within the lights of the submersible. So we have to use maps based on bathymetric data to visualize the volcano (like the map on the front page of the blog).

Generally, submarine volcanoes tend to be shield volcanoes, much like Hawaiian volcanoes such as Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Ohter volcanoes on the continents can be composite volcanoes that have much steeper slopes (like Mt. Hood or Mt. Rainier).

Thanks again for your question!

Oakdale Heights Elementary (CA)

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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.

Terrace Park Elementary School (WA)

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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.

Scott Valley Jr. High School (CA)

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Scott Valley Junior High School (Earth Science), Fort Jones, CA A selection of questions from Skype on Thursday Sept 12 with Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and graduate student Elisa Baumgardt of University of North Carolina, Wilmington:

1. Why did you decide to study that volcano (Axial Seamount)?
Bill Chadwick: Axial Volcano is the most active volcano in the Pacific and it’s a great place to study questions about how submarine volcanoes work, especially because we don’t know very much about submarine volcanoes even though we know a lot about volcanoes on land.

2. Is there any marine life in the lava tubes?
Bill Chadwick: There are lots of microbes living under the sea floor in lava tubes and in and around the vents. The seawater is only 2-3°C but the vents emit hot water so different organisms live nearby. There’s an interesting tubeworm that looks like a centipede and I’ve only seen it two times, both times right after the 2011 eruption so it may live underground until after an eruption when it comes out to the warm lava to stay warm and then goes back underground.

3. What is a snowblower vent?
Note- we had to get more information to answer this. A snowblower vent is one with a large microbial bloom right after an eruption. The microbes are white and they get blown around on the seafloor, making it look like snow, thus the name.

4. Do you enjoy studying volcanoes?
Bill Chadwick: Oh yeah, that’s what I like to do- as a geologist I study earth processes and this is great. I got into volcanology when Mount St Helens erupted in 1980 and I thought it would be cool to work at an erupting volcano, so I volunteered to help a geologist and went into helicopters around the volcano and have been trying to do that kind of work at active volcanoes ever since. It’s very exciting to me that I get to do this research. Elisa Baumgardt: I’m also a geologist and I got into volcanology when I went on a family trip to Hawaii and I got to see the red glow of active lava. I went into lava tubes and I loved it so I decided to graduate school and study volcanology even more.

5. If an eruption happened at Axial Seamount would there be any danger to the Oregon Coast?
Bill Chadwick: No, this volcano is about 1 mile under the surface of the ocean, so there would really be no effect at the surface above. In fact, if you were in a boat (without a submersible) above the volcano when it erupted, you might not even realize it was erupting. Earthquakes associated with an eruption are small enough that they aren’t detected on the coast- a bigger concern is earthquakes associated with the subduction zone and potential tsunamis along the west coast, but not from Axial Volcano.

6. How is it living on a ship for 16 days?
Bill Chadwick: Well, sometimes we jokingly call it “sea jail” but it’s actually not bad at all. It’s a very large ship with lots of room for doing our research in the ship’s labs and with good facilities. It does move all the time but the weather has been good and not too bumpy at all.
Elisa Baumgardt: There is a library with books and a dart board, and different board games. The last few nights a group of us have been playing different board games when we’re not on a watch. There’s also an entertainment room with a TV and movies.

Willett Elementary (CA)

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Willett Elementary School, Ms. Whiteford, Davis, CA A selection of questions from Skype on Wednesday Sept 11 with Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Dr. Caroline Fortunato of the Marine Biological Laboratory

1. What is the difference between studying eruptions underwater and eruptions on land?
Bill Chadwick: The biggest difference is that we can’t see eruptions on the seafloor so we don’t know when they are erupting unless we can detect them with instruments, which is kind of exciting to be doing here.

2. Describe some adaptations that animals have had to be able to live at the vents.
Caroline Fortunato: The deep ocean is dark and cold but at the vents bacteria survive that can be food for snails and tubeworms that live at the vents. Tube worms have sacs of bacteria that live inside them that become their food too. The rest of the ecosystem can live from the bacteria or other things that live from the bacteria which are the lowest organisms on the food chain there. Note: to see some other organisms that live around the hydrothermal vents, check out this webpage:

3. Where and how was ROV Jason developed? And Who operates Jason and how difficult is it to drive? And We know Medea assists Jason, how does Jason move around on the seafloor?
Bill Chadwick: ROV Jason was built by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts by a team of mechanical and electrical engineers about 10 years ago. There are 10 pilots and engineers with us on this cruise from the Jason group and they operate Jason during the expedition. They are very skilled pilots who had to go through extensive training. Unfortunately, they don’t let the scientists drive Jason because we’d probably crash it! Jason is attached to Medea by a cable that gives it power and communications- Medea is also attached to a cable that goes to the ship. Jason is driven by the pilots who use thrusters to control its movement on the ocean floor.

4. If you work around the clock on the ship, is it hard to sleep?
Caroline Fortunato: We work around the clock because there is a lot of science to get done in a very short time while we’re out here but there are rooms below deck that don’t have any windows so it’s dark and we get used to sleeping anytime we can, even with the noise of the ship. Bill Chadwick: Yes, even though things are going on around the clock, not everyone works all the time, we divide the day into shifts so everyone works some of the time and keeps things going.

5. How big is Axial Seamount compared to volcanoes in California?
Bill Chadwick: Axial Volcano is at a spreading center and rises about 2000 feet above the seafloor, so it doesn’t compete with the height of volcanoes like Mt Shasta but might be the height of something like Sutter Buttes. But it is a shield volcano (Sutter Buttes are dome volcanoes) so the shape is fairly flat compared to volcanoes of the Cascade Subduction zone.

Newport High School (OR)

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A selection of questions from Skype on Tuesday Sept 10 with Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dr. Dave Butterfield of University of Washington and NOAA, and Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University:

1. Is your job as a microbiologist important?
Jim Holden: Yes, this work is very important for several reasons, for one thing we are studying new organisms and the places and processes in which they live, we search for new life here at the vents and gather information that has applications in the biotechnical industry, energy production fields, pharmaceuticals, and ecology.

2. How do you collect microorganisms at sea?
Dave Butterfield: We have specific instruments for different types of samples we’re collecting, for instance for chemistry and microbiology samples we have an oversized syringe type sampler on Jason, an intake nozzle that can be placed into the vent with a hose that goes into a clean bag inside bottles that are carried on the ROV- water is pulled into the bag and stored in the bottles.
Jim Holden: the bags are like a big syringe and we can grow organisms from the fluids collected Note- you can see images of the samplers and bottles in several blog entries on microbes and about the ROV

3. What are the educational requirements for your jobs?
Dave Butterfield: the educational requirements vary for the different roles people play here. The lead scientists typically have PhD in a science like oceanography, chemistry, biology or geology, but other people here have Masters or Bachelor’s degrees and are working on projects throughout the cruise, some of whom are doing research, and others provide excellent technical support.
Note: The team working on the Energy Harness Device (to convert hot water from vents to electricity) as well as several other members of the science team is a group of electrical and mechanical engineers, we also have several graduate students working on their research. See more about the background and education of the Science Team on the blog.

4. Where are you now?
Bill Chadwick: We are in the computer lab of the ship, there’s a big video monitor behind us that we can use to watch what’s going on at the seafloor. These are video feeds of the same thing that the Jason Pilots see- but they have more video monitors, but it helps us see what’s going on during the dive if we’re not on watch in the Jason control van with the pilots.
Follow-up: What is your latitude and longitude?
Bill Chadwick: We are at Axial Seamount, which is at about 46°N latitude and 130°W longitude and about 270 miles west of Astoria, Oregon.
Jim Holden: We’re now right above the volcano;
Bill Chadwick: Yes, Axial is a big volcano on the bottom of the ocean- it’s like if we were in orbit above the planet looking down through the clouds to the surface of the earth, but here, we can only look at the sea floor by getting through the water first.

Emerson Jr. High School (CA)

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A Selection of Questions from Skype on Tuesday Sept 10 with Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and graduate student Elisa Baumgardt of University of North Carolina, Wilmington:

1. Your blog says that ROV Jason is going to be on a 5 day dive, does it stay down there all night?
Bill Chadwick: Yes, the ROV works around the clock. We have limited time on the cruise and it’s very expensive to do a cruise like this so we maximize our time here by working in shifts of four hours on duty, 8 hours off, 4 hours on again and then off for another 8 hours. This keeps things moving 24/7.

2. How cold is it at the sea floor?
The water temperature on the ocean floor is about 2-3 °C (35 F), so it’s very cold there, but the vents can be close to boiling temperature, which is about 340°C at the ocean floor because the pressure is so much higher there.

3. What made you want to study at Axial Seamount in the first place?
Axial Seamount is the most active volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean and with the active hydrothermal vents, we can come here and study the geology of the volcano, microbiology of the vents, chemistry of the water and now the possibility of developing energy from the hot fluids coming from the vents. Axial Seamount is also one of the sites for a cabled network of instruments that will have power and communications through cables being laid on the ocean floor now. This network would allow data to be received on shore in near-real time.

4. What type of volcano is the Axial Seamount- is it like Hawaii or Iceland?
Bill Chadwick: Axial is like both of those volcanoes; all three have basalt composition lavas which are very smooth and can flow long distances. Axial is like Iceland because it’s a hot spot perched on a spreading center. All three volcanoes have rift zones and summit calderas too.

Pleasant Valley High School (CA) (Geology)

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A Selection of Questions from Skype on Monday Sept 9 with Dr.Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Dr. Scott Nooner and graduate student Elisa Baumgardt of University of North Carolina, Wilmington:

1. How big are earthquakes at Axial Seamount?
Bill Chadwick: Earthquakes at Axial Seamount are usually about magnitude 4.0 which is relatively small, compared to subduction zone earthquakes. On the ocean floor, earthquakes are measured by Ocean Bottom Hydrophones (OBH) which detect the earthquakes and records them.

2. Why is the ROV called Jason?
Jason is named after the Greek warrior who was tested with multiple tasks in order to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The sorceress Medea helped Jason with the tasks, just as the ROV Jason and Medea team work together to collect samples and data from the ocean floor.

3. What is the location of Axial Seamount?
Axial Seamount is located at 46°N latitude and 130°W longitude, along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, approximately 300 miles west of the coast of Oregon. Axial Seamount is a hot spot volcano, similar to (but smaller than) the Hawaiian hot spot and the Juan de Fuca Ridge is a divergent plate boundary (spreading center) between the westward moving Pacific Plate and the eastward moving Juan de Fuca plate.

4. What are your science specialties?
Bill: I am a geologist who specializes in volcanology at Oregon State University and have been studying volcanoes since I first started volunteering at Mount St. Helens after it erupted in 1980. Scott: I have degrees in physics and geophysics and use both to understand the deformation of the ocean floor when magma is injected into the magma chamber at Axial Volcano.

Pleasant Valley High School (CA) (Microbiology)

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A Selection of Questions from Skype on Tuesday Sept 10 with Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University:

1. How do you search for organisms at the ocean floor?
Jim Holden: we collect microbial organisms on the ocean floor primarily at vents. We work on microbes from vents of different temperatures, 55°C and 80°C.

2. What kinds of chemicals are released in the hydrothermal vents?
Jim Holden: I’m interested in the gases H2, CH4, and hydrogen sulfides. There are lots of metals released from the vents as well, including Au, Ni, Zn and Cu. We’re interested in the chemistry of the water from the vents that are related to the volcanic activity and how microbes can live and use those components.
Bill Chadwick- the reason the hydrothermal vents have those metals is because at high pressure, the boiling point of water is very high so the hot water can leach the metals from the rocks. Black smokers get their name from the dark colored, tiny mineral particles that are released from the vents, giving them a dark color.

3. How do you sample the vents, for example one that we see in the image of El Guapo vent (of the International District Hydrothermal Field, shown at right)?
Bill Chadwick: El Guapo is 16 m tall (52 ft) and the vent emits fluid that is nearly at the boiling temperature of water at the pressure of the ocean floor (about 340° at 1500 m depth). The white we see at the top of the vent looks a little bit like a white flame, but is actually tiny bubbles coming from the near-boiling. The bubbles reflect the light coming from the ROV lights. We also added a video to the blog that shows and describes El Guapo vent from its base to the top-check it out!