Researchers test first ocean floor vent sensor

labs. Seyfried said the ship’s facilities surpass even those he uses at the University.
Ding took the first dive, an hour-and-a-half plummet to the bottom, where he would stay for more than five hours. During the mission, Ding performed tests to evaluate the level of light emissions and bacteria emitted from the vents, as well as some preliminary chemical and temperature tests.
But the trip did not go off without a hitch. Near the end, a glitch in the sensor persisted because of a piloting error. Also, researchers discovered that the movement of Alvin’s robotic arms disrupted their computers.
Originally, Alvin was scheduled to make nine dives. But high winds and poor ocean conditions left Seyfried and Ding with only one dive under their belts.
“We didn’t get as much time as we wanted, but we got enough to see and to realize some of the things we need to do this year to make (the sensor) better,” Seyfried said.
The outcome of the dives will impact the National Science Foundation’s project to install monitoring devices for an unmanned sea floor observatory.
The foundation hopes to study the chemistry of these hot springs that cluster around the mid-ocean ridges. Vent fields emerge all along mid-ocean ridges, which circumvent the entire Earth.
Seyfried said vents are an important mechanism by which chemicals and heat from within the Earth are cycled into oceans.
Developing the vent sensors is crucial in moving the foundation’s project forward, said Michael Berndt, a senior research associate in Ding’s and Seyfried’s lab.
“Bill (Seyfried) and Kang (Ding) are filling that gap,” Berndt said. “If they can provide this, then they can get it going.”
Because the University doesn’t have a marine science department, Seyfried and Ding were the first University researchers to make use of the submarine for their work.
Previously, researchers only could simulate the high-temperature, high-water pressure conditions the vents are found in.
Having never seen a vent before, Berndt said the researchers’ first-hand experience is valuable to the experiments they had only previously performed in the lab.
“We’re experimental geo-chemists, so this is all new to us,” he said.
Since the researchers returned in early July, they began processing the information they gathered and modifying the sensor accordingly.
Ding and his fellow researchers hope to display the samples and videos they gathered at the Minnesota State Fair.
In the future, Seyfried and Ding expect to return to study the vent field; they have already scheduled four dives for next year.