May 20, 2017

Merrick Ekins and Caroline Farrely sorting specimens
Merrick Ekins of Queensland Museum and Caroline Farrely of Museums Victoria sorting specimens.

Day 6: Merrick Ekins, Queensland Museum

Blogging the abyss iconIt’s day six of the expedition and we are now cruising north to the Bass Strait. After five days of glorious weather off Tasmania’s east coast, a cold front has now rolled over, causing the wind and swell to rise considerably. My body still isn't used to rising at 2 am for the 12-hour shifts we're subjected to, and I spend the next five hours until breakfast staring down a microscope, looking for tiny animals.

With the rocking of the boat, a few hours watching specimens sliding backward and forwards under the microscope, the lab has progressively emptied and I'm left in silence to contemplate my samples.

Sifting between the sand grains, I encounter UFO-shaped forams (microscopic organisms) and other signs of life on this microscale. Sponge spicules occasionally catch the light, like crystals among the muck. Micro gastropods, tiny snail shells less than 1 mm across, a bivalve of a similar size, then a solitary nematode with a ridiculously disproportionate size of 1 mm in width, but a whopping 2 cm in length, all found one teaspoon of sediment at a time.

This sediment came up last night from 4000 metres in a beautiful box core sample, which cuts nearly a cubic foot out of the seafloor. Kept almost perfectly intact, this sample allows you to observe the different layers of the seafloor, with deep-sea organisms still in-situ, in or on the sediment.

Now, as we steam north, we watch video from the towed camera array, towed over the seafloor at 2000 m while I slept. In the footage we spot the rare animals that we hope to see in the flesh in the upcoming weeks: animals such as the stalked crinoid or an intact glass vase sponge, as delicate as a champagne flute.

Mark Lewis wheels the box corer across the deck
Mark Lewis of the Marine National Facility wheels the box corer across to waiting scientists. Image: Asher Flatt
Photographing a perfect square of seafloor.
A perfect square of seafloor sediment, full of sponges and microscopic life. Image: Asher Flatt
Scientists looking at a box core sample.
Tina Molodstova, Phoebe Lewis and Lupita Bribiesca-Contreras examine the box core sample. Image: Asher Flatt


Voyage date: 
Saturday, May 20, 2017