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A scientist reports

Oles Savchuk is a PhD student in petrology at the Centre for Geobiology and has joined the G.O. Sars in Tromsø for his first research cruise. Read how he experienced the first ROV dives at the Jan Mayen vent field and what he is planning to do with the samples that we got!

“In the Leg 2 we for the first time used a state-of-the-art facility of modern submarine science — ROV Argus equipped with two arms that are capable of performing sophisticated tasks from simple ones of picking up samples from the seafloor to cutting a rock with a chain saw under the pressure of several orders of magnitude higher than we feel above our shoulders on the Planet Earth. Our first target was a newly discovered hydrothermal field named P&B (let the story behind the naming remain a secret for now), some kilometers away from the last resort of the Norwegian Kingdom on the West — the Jan Mayen island. The field hides from a layman’s eye on the depth of 600-700 m below the current sea level (the latter, by the way, constantly changes as geological time goes on and on). If you ever get a chance for a short getaway on Venus, there you are going to feel a similar, just a little bit higher, atmospheric pressure as the unique ocean organisms experience in their day-to-day (wonder if this is an apt analogy) life on those depths at the P&B hydrothermal field. It is not much sunlight down there as we clearly saw on the online HD video stream from the ROV, once the pilots switched off the lights on the robot, and the landscapes granted to those organisms don’t look extremely joyful too… Well, life is life.

No more hippy stuff about organisms since we are “hard rock” people in heart, at least am I, and a few words about our geological catch from the ROV dives. So far the best thing to be laid on board of our mighty ship has been an active hydrothermal chimney about half a meter high and of some 60-kg weight. It is presumably formed of sulphide and silicate minerals, probably some sulphates — to be detected in our cozy, safe labs onshore. If we find sulphate minerals, we can date them (that a technical jargon for telling an age of the rock, when did it form – alas, nothing to do with the fun of dating human beings) via a novel method developed by a research group in New Zealand (they alike have ample hydrothermal vents there, though the tectonic settings may differ). High hopes were not in vain, and the samples bode a happy work and neat data.

To wrap up this little message on a busy day of the Petrology team, the “hard rocks” would forever be unseen unless the two brave Norwegians, pilots of the ROV, have brought them for us. I was privileged to sit for a while in their control panel and must say – it is absolutely breath-taking job – so many things to control, and the arms… or if you think they are easy-to-use, you are wrong. The operation is done via several complex joysticks that require some unprecedented skills and focus. It’s like working in outer space, truly. Hence, if you fail the NASA, ESA or Russian Federal Space Agency entrance exams to become an astronaut, do consider a career path of an ROV pilot. You are not going to regret it.”