E/V Nautilus, Back in the Game

It’s been a little over a week since the Nautilus has been searching the depths for the next big discovery. Not to downplay anything here – I mean, they have been at sea since early June you know. So far this summer they have been exploring the “Unknown America.”

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E/V Nautilus, as viewed from a small boat.

They’ve explored areas like the Straits of Florida, the Dry Tortugas off Southwest Florida, the Gulf of Mexico exploring natural resources and some shipwrecks, the Mesoamerican Reef off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea, the geologically active area of Windward Passage off Cuba and Haiti, seamounts off the British Virgin Islands in the Anegada Passage, and now they are jumping inside the most active underwater volcano in the Caribbean called Kick ’em Jenny.

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Take a moment and think about this: The E/V Nautilus is putting multiple HD cameras on a highly sophisticated remotely operated vehicle INSIDE an active UNDERWATER VOLCANO! Not only is the team at sea operating the vehicle and sending live imagery and expert commentary home to us at the Inner Space Center, we here at the ISC are also hosting the INSPIRE project.

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Bathymetric map of the Kick ’em Jenny submarine Volcano. NOAA PMEL

Funded by the National Science Foundation, INSPIRE is a program designed to implement several student-designed exploration projects led from shore, one being the Kick ’em Jenny mission. The students along with their expert mentors and professors will be stationed in ISC Mission Control, watching, listening, and communicating with the at sea team all in real-time. They will peruse high resolution maps created by the Nautilus’s multibeam sonar system (similar to map above) and dialogue with the team aboard the ship to decide where the ROVs will search and image inside the volcano.

Kick ’em Jenny is a notorious volcano. Like I said earlier, it’s the most active submarine volcano in the Caribbean. Its history includes hazardous explosive eruptions that have been known to breach the ocean surface with brute force and potentially cause tsunamis. Over the past century, Jenny has shown a progressive growth. Volcanoes do this, they swell and shrink. This activity, measured by scientists, gives clues as to how active or inactive the volcano really is, along with many other factors. Being the self-proclaimed storyteller that I am, I find this very interesting. It’s as if the massive underwater structure is breathing, inhaling with immense geological power and exhaling as it relaxes, like a sleeping giant. Except this giant happens to sleep very lightly and explode when it wakes up.

Internationally recognized vulcanologist, Dr. Steve Carey, from our very own University of Rhode Island, is very excited to be going back to Kick ’em Jenny. Listening to the feeds I just heard him mention how they are equipped with many new sensors to check on the sleeping giant that is Kick ’em Jenny. One being a highly specialized sensor that will be able to tell how much of the environment inside the volcano is filled with carbon dioxide. The presence, or lack of, CO2 is one way to tell how active or inactive Jenny is feeling.

The E/V Nautilus starts diving TODAY! Follow along with us and expect much more to come.

-Alex D.

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