By Sten-Andreas Grundvåg, Centre for Arctic petroleum exploration (ARCEx), UiT
For a kid with an imagination slightly above the average, being invited on a scientific cruise to the open sea immediately made my mind wander back to my childhood fantasy world. To those times when my future career plan involved taking over Captain Nemo’s Nautilus to fight the Imperial marine from the subsurface and forever flee across the world oceans in the search for the great Kraken and Moby Dick, the white whale. As I grew up and became a land-based geologist working at the university, these fantasies were forgotten, and eventually the white whale turned out to be a Beluga named Hvaldimir, and the submarine eventually being an un-manned, awkward-looking square box.
So here I am, a lost land-based geologist onboard the scientific research vessel G.O. Sars. I feel like a fish on land, my Terra Incognito if you want. In front of me stands the small, un-manned submarine Ægir, which is owned by the University of Bergen. It is nothing like the submarine of my childhood dream. It looks more like a yellow square box with a robot arm attached to it. The engineers onboard G.O. Sars refer to it as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), which sound fine to me, as this does not interfere with my mental image of an elegant submarine. I can for sure live with ROV, I think to myself. Seconds later, I’m snapped back to reality as one of the engineers on the ship tells me to go pick up the samples from the metal belly of Ægir.
Some few moments ago, Ægir was at a water depth of 260 m grabbing rock samples along the shoulder of a large submarine canyon, which intersects the continental shelf margin west of Andøya. I am presently part of a multi-disciplinary team consisting of geoscientists, engineers and biologists from the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT, the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) and the Nord University. Our mission is to survey several sites along the continental margin in order to investigate the relationship between the bedrock geology, natural gas seeps, and the bottom fauna.
The three samples we collected are to be analyzed for micro-fossils in order to provide a better age constraint on the sedimentary strata that sub-crop along the steep canyon walls. My task is to describe the samples and determine their lithology. This is a task that I’m familiar with from my many onshore field campaigns to Svalbard and NE Greenland. However, I’m used to collect samples manually, and to me fieldwork equals camping and running around mountains with my geological hammer close at hand. In the deep water underneath the hull of our ship, Ægir is our geologist, equipped with an iron claw, a chain saw, a metal drawer for storing samples, and high-resolution video cameras.
Behind the monitors inside the comfortable ship, we can watch the seafloor in great detail as Ægir slowly floats along the canyon walls. To collect samples, we only have to point on the screen and the engineers operating Ægir do the rest. On the screen, we see many types of fish including cod, skates, rockfish, pollock, flounders, chimaeras, as well as other life forms such as crabs, anemones, sea cucumbers, sponges, starfish, brittle stars, shrimps, echinoderms and various algae. No Kraken or big white whales. However, we did manage to read some old newspapers lying around on the sea floor, and observe some plastic bottles and bags, which all have now become an integrated part of the canyon fill. This is what Captain Nemo’s underwater paradise looks like in the year of 2020, a reality check for sure. I wonder how he would have felt about it, or maybe he is still out there with his Nautilus fighting for what he believes in?
Today (07.06.2020) we celebrate the World Ocean day, and never before have there been more focus on the environment and the resources provided by our oceans than at present. Not only do our oceans contain enormous food and energy resources for an ever-growing World population, but they also represent the habitat of numerous spices, and hold the key for understanding past and future climate change. Our transition from fossil energy to renewable energy resources is also largely dependent on the oceans providing potential sites for subsea mineral mining, offshore wind mills, subsurface CO2 storage, and geothermal energy. Pollution and micro-plastic are other important topics that we should bear in mind in the years to come. Most of these topics are of great interest to our society, and as a geoscientist, you have the possibility to study many of the above-mentioned topics and contribute to a better, cleaner and more environmental-friendly future, whether on land or in the deep, lurking waters that covers most of our globe. XoXo.
The other scientific participants of the cruise is as following: Jochen Knies (NGU/CAGE, cruise leader), Julie Heggdal Velle (NGU, bed rock sampling), Tobias Himmler (NGU, sediment geochemistry), Sunil Vadakkepuliyambatta (CAGE/UiT, acoustics), Matteus Lindgren (UiT, geochemistry), Arunima Sen (Nord University, sea floor fauna) and Sondre Krogh Johansen (NPD, seismics).