Only four scientists are with University of Rhode Island oceanographer Bob Ballard aboard the Ronald H. Brown, a research vessel operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the expedition's major sponsor. The other 21 are with University of Washington oceanographer Deborah Kelley in a classroom on the UW campus that has been outfitted so scientists can direct sampling efforts and can be in constant contact with pilots and navigators on the Brown. Ballard is the mission's principal investigator and Kelley is chief scientist. Operations are supported by a command center at the University of Rhode Island.
The expedition marks the return to the Lost City vent field discovered in 2000 during a National Science Foundation cruise. The field, formed in a very different way than the black smoker vents studied since the 1970s, includes a massive 18-story vent taller than any seen before.
"Having most of the members of an oceanographic science party on land has never been tried. The approach will provide an opportunity for a much larger number of researchers to explore the oceans," Kelley says.
"Our primary reason for conducting this cruise is to get ready for NOAA's new ship of exploration, the Okeanos Explorer, when it comes on line in 2007," Ballard says. "Since this ship will 'go where no one has gone before,' it is important that we are able to 'beam' scientists aboard when a new discovery is made to guide the team of explorers on board the ship. Although the cruise is still not over, we have already accomplished this primary goal and can't wait to see the discoveries that await us."