May 11, 2009

The End of The Cruise

The NE Lau Response Cruise Science Party

Joe Resing

This is the end of a very successful cruise. Within an hour or so of our first dive, within 20 hours of leaving port, we made observations never before seen. We witnessed red molten lava flowing on the seafloor. Volcanic rock formations, especially pillow basalts, are one of the most common rock forms on Earth’s surface and, yet, we had never seen their formation in the deep ocean. Volcanic rocks circle the globe along lines of volcanoes called mid ocean ridges and the seafloor has many individual volcanoes as well. In fact, more than 80% of the volcanic eruptions on planet Earth are under water, generally out of sight. For more than 25 years we have been trying to make these observations. Here, in the seven days of this cruise we have finally seen active extrusions of lava on the seafloor. We have seen explosions with flashes of light. We have seen molten rock forming new earth. We have made completely new observations that will allow us to better understand fundamental processes shaping our Earth. Strangely, these new volcanoes and the toxic gasses that they emit are host to organisms and microbes. We collected these biological specimens and look forward to understanding how they cope with this environment.

We have a research mechanism in place called “time critical studies.” We have responded to many eruptions, only to arrive well after the eruptions had ended. The question was asked, “Is there anything else we can learn from these studies?” Our answer today is “Absolutely yes!” It is clear that planet Earth has much left to reveal, and we have much to learn about our home. We live on an amazing planet. It is dynamic and beautiful. But we are not yet finished, and hopefully someday I will again be a part of revealing something new to you.

I would like to thank all those who made this happen so quickly. We discovered this eruption in mid-November of last year by examining the water above the volcanoes. Amazingly, less than six months later we were able to arrange ship time, Jason-2 robotic remotely operated vehicle time, and funding to come out here to make direct observations of the seafloor. We were allowed to move ship schedules and Jason-2 schedules. We were able acquire funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Through the Ridge 2000 and Margins Programs we engaged in three months of concentrated effort and community organizing. Was it worth it? Absolutely.