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MIR cruise

June 3-17 The Russian RV, the Akademic Mistislav Keldysh sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Copenhagen, Denmark to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

En route the ship undertook two double deep dives with the manned MIR submersibles in the Charley Gibbs Fracture Zone, a region of the ocean never visited before.

12 June 2003

After many days of steaming, we completed a first double dive to 3000 m in the roughest area of the Charley Gibbs Fracture Zone (CGFZ) we could find. It was a good dive and everything went well. We saw, videotaped and photographed a lot of different kinds of fishes, as well as a cirrate octopod, shrimps, galatheids, and a variety of soft corals, feather stars, sea cucumbers etc. on the bottom. It turned out that the bottom is even rougher than expected. It is not at all trawlable. Therefore, direct observation by submersible is the only means of determining the occurrence of mobile epibenthic and demersal megafauna in the area.

Highlights so far

(1) the cirrate octopod, an opisthoteuthid which was encountered and remained in midwater, unlike expectations that species in that family mostly remain on the bottom unless moving from one location to another.

(2) the occurrence of very many small rattails. Ray Wilson informed me that this is particularly interesting because macrourids of this size are not usually collected by either bottom or midwater trawls.

(3) a small orange frogfish (benthic anglerfish). Although these have been videotaped from submersibles before, this dive dive recorded excellent videos of the animal walking along the bottom and swimming.

(4) several sightings and an excellent video of an unidentified creature, possibly an enteropneust. Although this is not necessarily something entirely unknown, it is very interesting because it is difficult for an invertebrate zoologist to recognize and we have good images. Christopher Ralston has been working steadily on materials for public outreach. John Nicoals is working since we got under way also, but there doesn't seem to be much marine mammal action out here, at least at this time of year.

Here is the plan for tomorrow (Friday): We begin the second dive at 0900 and plan to be back on deck no later than 2200. The ship leaves the area as soon as the subs are on deck. There will be no dive Saturday, even though the Russians really wanted to contribute a third double dive. A moderately nasty storm is headed our way and should start around midnight Friday. We will be steaming straight through it to get to Newfoundland.

13 June 2003

Today's dive, our second double dive of this trip, was most noteworthy in its contrast with yesterday's dive, although the locations were only separated by a few miles.

Today we were on basically abyssal sediments with very few animals in sight. There were a few very large rattail grenadiers (Coryphenoides armatus) and some huge shrimps (an oxymoron), and some cucumbers but little else.

Whereas the area of the first dive seemed to be a nursery for grenadiers, part of the area traversed by MIR2 yesterday appeared to be a nursery for elasipod holothurians. Andrey Gebruk, who is an expert on deep sea cucumbers, was quite pleasantly surprised.

Everywhere throughout our dives, there have been high concentrations of marine snow. Georgiy Vinogradov say it is the most that he has seen anywhere. Also we keep running into beautiful sponge gardens, as well as near-bottom concentrations of appendicularian houses. Both sponges and appendicularians filter feed on extremely small particles. There is also a lot of phytodetritus in evidence.

Final word

We have accomplished what we set out to do: complete the first MAR-ECO cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and conduct deep dives on the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone. We were also the first humans ever to visit this part of the planet.

Best wishes,
Mike Vecchione
Cruise Leader

Read more about this cruise on ship-to-shore


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