In-situ horizontal pressure measurements at seepage sites west of Svalbard

Why gas emissions from the seafloor have stopped thousands of years ago in some areas, while it persists exclusively on the eastern part of the Vestnesa sedimentary ridge? This is the question that drives our scientific objectives in the last research campaign planed under the SEAMSTRESS project.

The answer to this question is likely related to the type of sediment and the disposition of the sediment to fracture. To investigate this further we need to measure sediment properties such as in-situ pore fluid pressures, horizontal stress, shear strength. Conducting these measurements is not so easy because it requires expensive and technically challenging instrumentation. The SEAMSTRESS project assumes the challenge of conducting the geotechnical experiments that are lacking to understand the pressure behavior at deep marine seafloor seepage systems in our favorite Arctic laboratory: The Vestnesa Ridge. These challenging experiments are the core of SEMSTRESS which main objective is to advance knowledge on the pressure (stress) field that controls seafloor methane emissions.

In a collaboration with MSH – Marine Sampling Holland and the Marchetti laboratory we are planning to deploy the Medusa dilatometer designed by the Marchetti Lab to measure in-situ the pressure of the Earth at ease and therefore the horizontal stress. To deploy this instrument offshore there is need for a seafloor (sort of) rig. Our colleagues from MSH joined us onboard with their Geomil’s Manta 200 rig, an instrument designed for conducting cone penetration tests in the soil. Geomil started developing this type of instrumentation in the 30s to help the Netherland overcome a struggle with railway failures due to soft sediment.

Manta is a big machine, heavier than anything that has been deployed so far from R/V Kronprins Haakon. The machine also has a power supply requirement that differs from what the ship can provide. Our mission therefor starts with a few days in the fjord working hard to overcome all the technical challenges to get the machine ready for deployment before sailing offshore.

Photo: The Geomil’s Manta-200 rig for Cone Penetration Test (CPT)  onboard R/V Kronprins Haakon. The MSH team together with the ship crew prepare the winches and solvent challenges with the power supply.

Text and photo: Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Fog, winds, waves and WHALES – our jokers

There is not only the weather variable when we work with geophysics off the Svalbard Archipelago…Fog, winds, waves and whales were our jokers in this expedition.

To recover the ocean bottom seismometers (OBSs) from the ocean floor we need to have good visibility and no waves. The waves are in turn dependent on win (to some extent). When we finally got a window with slow winds and no waves, we got the fog to set inn for long hours. When all the rest was suitable for recovery we got the whales to dance and captivate us.

It has been a great learning experience with lots of training on how to observe, hear and sense our surrounding when we are out in the wild open ocean.

The pictures below give a taste of captivating moments we had during our work with the OBSs this time. Now we are heading slowly home. I look forward to my boys and to share with them some nice stories about the Sea.

 (Photo: Vera Schlindwein) – A party of Finnhval (Finwhales) and Knølhval (horn whale) started, we stopped all the acoustics, contemplated and left…


(Photo: Frances Cooke) – Just the fog, the calm sea, the nothing.

The unpredictability factor during a cruise

We have been waiting for an ideal weather window to recover the OBSs. Once released from an iron frame that keeps it at the bottom, the OBS starts rising through the water column at about 1 m/s. When it makes it to the surface it is good to have visibility and no waves, so it is easy to see it. We dare to get one under relatively strong winds and it was a bit of a stress to find it – the wind creates superficial waves where the OBS can hide. The crew found it from the bridge using the binoculars. There was a significant drift and we saw it several hundreds of meters north from the ship. It felt like a big relief when Jan came out to tell they had it on site. They fished it fairly easy and the data looks great.

Our first OBS on deck – it is called a “Lobster”. This is one of 5 OBSs we have at the Department of Geosciences at UiT. The little flying-saucer hanging from a flag pole is the seismometer that records both compressional and shear waves propagating through the oceanfloor. A hydrophone (that only records waves that propagate through water) is placed over the bouy, next to the devise that releases it from the iron weight. 

We decided to keep waiting for the wind to ease down. We started then with the seismic lines. We collected 4 lines and we were ready to continue with the recovery of OBSs when the Captain informed me that we needed to sail to Longyearbyen because our machinery guy injured his hand. A helicopter picked him up and that was quit an impressive operation. Helmer Hanssen doesn’t have a heliport so the helicopter stays in the air while a rescuer descends with a rope to get the injured person from the front deck of the ship – incredibly professional and impressive operation. Feeling respectful of those with that metier…

A roundtrip to Longyearbyen and back after having a replacement “makinist” on-board will take us around 22 hours. Now we are leaving the pretty mountains of Svalbard in the background under a wiggly sky. Tonight we expect to continue with seismics and tomorrow early get on track with the recovery of the OBSs.

But who knows what will happen, there is always that factor that makes our research cruises in the Arctic, unpredictable…

The Mountains of Marineholmane stays in the background with a funny sky


Text and photos Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Ocean Bottom Seismic Cruise on R/V Helmer Hanssen – Blog by Frances Cooke

Day 1 – A smooth start

We departed Tromsø on the Helmer Hanssen before our first, of likely many, onboard fish lunches. We were glad of the sea breeze after the unusual Arctic summer heat during the past few days. The seas are calm which is always a relief knowing that your journey north is going to be a smooth one and we found the server machine room the perfect place to cool down! We are in transit returning to Vestnesa Ridge – West Svalbard to recover earthquake data from previously deployed ocean-bottom seismic instruments (OBS). OBS are instruments that contain seismometers and hydrophones that sit on the seafloor, listening and recording vibrations from shallow earthquakes.

Last view of the land: Vannøya (photo: Frances)

Onboard we have two of our colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute (Vera and Mechita), three from the Seamstress project (Andreia, Frances and Przemek) and two technical engineers (Stormer and Truls). We are busy setting up the GPS required for the active OBS experiment that will take place at the west of Vestnesa ridge. We have Sunil (in-house expert) present through video call while we are near shore! The setup ensures that we have precision in the timing and positioning of each shot fired during the active experiment.

Stormer and Andreia attach GPS antenna to railing (photo: Frances)

Last year during cruise CAGE20_5 we recovered 7 OBS as part of the Seamstress passive seismic experiment. This experiment took place between July 2019 and August 2020. The OBS instruments in the passive experiment record signals generated by earthquakes or other natural sound waves such as whale calls, instead of being actively generated by airguns. During the same cruise, we deployed 10 more OBS to begin a new experiment at the northern termination of the Knipovich mid-ocean ridge. We are now on our way back to recover them.

Whale Tail – photo opportunity while the sea is still calm!  (photo: Frances)


Day 2 – Preparing the instrumentation

Temperatures have dropped and the skies are grey. The bathymetry (map of the seafloor) shows a typical Barents Sea display of iceberg plough marks cut deeply into the seafloor as we cross over the ‘Polar Sonen’ – a blue line displayed on the ship’s navigational map extending from Russia through to Iceland. We are still 1 day and 14 hours away from our OBS recovery site, but we have some tests to do along the way.

Barents Sea real time bathymetry swath with iceberg scours (yellow) (photo: Frances)

Preparation: OBS releasers

We are preparing our OBS releasers for testing at ~1250m water depth, away from the shallow Barents Sea continental shelf. It is important to test the instruments at the same water depth as the OBS site to ensure a comparable pressure. The releasers are the most important part of the OBS to test. If they do not function correctly, the OBS will fail to return to the surface. They are called back using an acoustic device that sends a command through the water to the instrument instructing its release. We will lower the cage with all six releasers (2 from UiT and 5 from AWI) and we will talk to them and wait to see if they talk back. Bergen University were lucky this year to recover their ‘lost’ OBS picked up during the AKMA CAGE cruise in May using a remotely operated vehicle.

Top left: all releasers ready to be deployed (in view Kathi, Kunigunde and Kordula). Emma, Diana, Christine and Wojtek – the easily identifiable instrumentation from the Alfred Wegener Institute. (Photos: Frances)

OBS naming

Five of the releasers have names: Kunigunde, Kathi, Kordula, Kaya and Kim. Vera and Machita inform us that all the parts that make up the OBS (hydrophones, frames, beacon, releaser etc.) have names. The names made for the releasers start with a letter K or L. In the labs at AWI, they have in total ~1000 pieces of equipment to manage, including auxillary parts such as laptops, deck units, and cables. They have 80 OBS equipment groups. Each OBS group is comprised of 10 parts. The serial numbers are so similar that naming the equipment makes it much easier to identify them. I ask how they manage to find names for 800+ OBS parts, and they reply that the names are both male and female, and both German and foreign.  The names are also old fashioned such as Kunigunde. Watching the Denmark-England game last night was possibly as intense as the half hour wait time during the recovery of the OBS – at least for some. Others discussed the names of the players:  Boleslaw – an old-fashioned Polish name. A good reserve name for a Beacon.

Top: The deployment of the releasers cage, bottom: Przymek, Vera and Mechita watching the winch wire go out, waiting for the cage to drop down to 1250m before communication with the releasers begins. (photos: Frances)

While Vera, Mechita and Przymek were preparing the OBS releasers, Truls and Stormer were preparing UiT’s two ‘Digi-birds.’ This is equipment used to control the depth of the cable in the water for seismic operations. The birds are mounted externally on a marine seismic streamer cable. They have acoustic devices that measure actual depth of the cable during operation, through an onboard sensor located in the wing module. Periodic adjustments are made to the angle of the birds wings (or “fins”) to drive the bird (and streamer) back towards the target depth.

Top: Truls and Stormer fix the wings to the birds; bottom: Truls and Stormer attach one of the birds to the streamer cable on deck (Photos: Frances).


Day 3 – Adapting to the weather

We are now three days into the cruise and we have to wait another 5 hours, after another fish lunch, until we get to the northern termination of Knipovich ridge. The new weather forecast predicts a wave height of under 2m for our arrival and the winds will drop from Sunday evening. If the wave height is larger than 2m, or if the visibility is poor because of fog, we would have to leave the OBS recovery work for another day.

Truls and Stormer preparing the mini GI airguns for deployment (left), the injector air release increasing internal pressure of the bubble created by the generator (right schematic)


While we are waiting to arrive on site, Truls and Stormer prepare the mini GI guns. Final preparations prior to deployment include blowing out the air hose (as the air has to be clean before attaching to the guns), checking the solenoid valves and listening for a click when energizing the firing line, and attaching the gun GPS to the gun float.

An airgun releases a high pressure bubble of air in the water to generate an acoustic pressure wave. The pressure variation in the water as a function of time, caused by the high pressure bubble, is called the airgun signature. Next time you boil a kettle, consider the sounds you can hear of bubbles collapsing. This is what to picture when imagining guns firing under water. Not small explosives, that were used much earlier in marine seismic surveys.

The seismic gun set up requires two mini GI (generator-injector) guns (as pictured). Each mini GI gun is made of two independent airguns that sit within the same casing. The ‘generator’, produces the primary pulse, and the ‘injector’ controls the oscillation of the bubble produced by the generator. The volume of air released by the injector increases the internal pressure of the bubble, and prevents its violent collapse, reducing subsequent oscillations. The bubble oscillations are pressure variations that occur, as the bubble expands and collapses on its way to the surface. These bubble oscillations transmit pressure disturbances outwards into the water. The volume of air released by the injector can act to reshape, reduce or completely remove the bubble oscillations that characterize the airgun signature.

We will begin our shift work at midnight tonight. The plan is to recover one or two OBS, before commencing the seismic work in the early hours of the morning.

Day 4

While the night shift took some rest, we successfully recovered one OBS (no. 10) at the northern termination of Knipovich ridge (NKR). The original plan was to recover two OBS but the visibility was too poor. The breaking waves made the search for the OBS a difficult task!

Clock Drift

‘DIRC’ Clocks in the OBS are temperature sensitive. When the clocks are recovered they need to be synchronized right away before they warm. They are synchronized at the beginning (pre-deployment) and at the end (on recovery). It is known that during the experiment the clocks drift linearly. This clock error is applied automatically which addresses the linear drift problem. However, there is also non linear drift which is a much more time consuming fix (requiring several weeks of processing). Vera tells me that the new manufactured (AWI) seismometers were fitted with clocks that have worse drift than the old seismometer clocks. They are less power consuming but the processing as a result is more time consuming!

The seismic deployment began at midnight, and we were ready to start our first 2D seismic line by 01:30 AM. During the night shift we will complete at least 2 survey lines that will take approximately 3 hours each to shoot (line distances: ~25 km). The sea feels a little rough (2m swell), but by tomorrow evening the wind will drop.


Bathymetry map displaying NKR survey area with seismic lines and OBS pick up locations (orange), the red cross marks the retrieved OBS no. 10 (recovered late in the evening on day 3)

We completed four seismic lines, finishing the last line just after 18:00. We had to stop work and recover the seismic instrumentation after an incident onboard required a helicopter rescue. We had planned to start OBS recovery at midnight during the calm weather, but now we will head to Longyearbyen and wait for a replacement crewmember to join us.

A very impressive and quick helicopter rescue operation (photo: Frances)

Day 5

We arrived into Longyearbyen 05:50 on what was a very pleasant morning. We tied up to the wharf in view of the seed vault and joining us were three adult common eider ducks (ærfugl) and their 21 ducklings, together with two adult barnacle geese (Hvitkinngås in Norwegian – ‘white cheek goose’). I had initially thought that the eider ducks were pink-footed geese, until Stormer corrected me. He told me a story about an ærfugl he found on the aft of the Kronprins Håkon. On a cold, stormy November day while on the way to Greenland, Stormer moved a stack of pallets to prepare for coring, and there standing before him was a duck. The duck was standing so still, the first thought that came to mind was “who brings a wooden duck onboard?” He took a step forward to take a closer look, to find that the duck was in fact a real duck. An ærfugl. The crew kept her warm and fed, and released her back into the wild in Tromsø.


Two barnacle geese, three common eider ducks and their 21 ducklings (photo: Frances)

It was a quick turnaround, and we left Longyearbyen at 15:00 after our new crewmember joined the ship. The plan is to deploy the seismic at 03:00 on our return back to site, however plans can quickly change and the order of activities is dependent on the weather forecast. We left behind bright skies in Longyearbyen, with a striking display of cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds. After eating match worthy food – chili and nachos, and watching the intense euros finals game, we wait three more hours and hope that the waves will calm for the seismic deployment.


Prins Karls Forland in the distance with magnificent cloud formations – originally named Prince Charles’ Foreland after King James’ son in 1612 (photo: Frances).

Day 6

Back to site

We arrived back to site at 02:30 and the weather was less than ideal for seismic. We are limited with what we can do in poor weather, but waiting doing nothing is not a favourable option. We deployed the seismic in a slightly uncomfortable but a ‘safe to deploy’ sea state (winds 12-13 m/s). We started the deployment of the equipment at 04:00 then transited to the start of the survey line starting at 05:30. The line was complete at 08:30 just after our fantastic breakfast of pancake topped with berry jam and maple syrup.

The day shift (Vera, Mechita and Przemek) were up earlier than usual at 06:00, as the plan was to start the recovery of the OBS, but as it was too windy they had to wait until later on in the day. We decided the next best thing was to start a small multibeam survey. We plan to use the multibeam map to compare with the same data acquired in previous years, to see if there is any slump movement recorded in the sediments (pictured). We completed three lines of multibeam before cutting the fourth line short to recover OBS #5, and #6 once we had entered a calmer sea state.

Map of the bathymetry (seafloor topography) in the rainbow coloured depth scale, acquired during the small multibeam survey. Orange filled circles are the locations of OBS #5 and #6.

Recovering OBS #5

I hear Vera on the radio at 20:45 “OBS is rising. It’s at 730 metres” so I go up to the bridge to get ready with Truls and Hans (the Captain) to look for the OBS. Outside on the bridge deck are Andreia, Przemek and Mechita ready and waiting for the OBS to come to the surface. Attached to the side of the OBS is a flashing light and radio beacon that sends out a signal in one of four different frequencies, assigned to each OBS. The radio picks up the signal and makes a beeping sound when the OBS is close and Przemek and Mechita are then able to find the direction of the signal in relation to where they are standing on the ship. As the signal can only be picked up close to the ship, relying on sight is sometimes more reliable, so the more eyes on watch the better!

Andreia and Przemek holding the radio, looking and listening for the OBS once Vera has confirmed that it has reached the surface.

Mechita holding her own radio during the search for the OBS.

Bird commonly sighted, flying around the ship – best photo! (photo: Przemek)

Przemek looking the part! (photo: Frances)

Day 7

If it’s not a strong wind preventing the recovery of the OBS it’s poor visibility. We stopped the recovery of the OBS late in the night due to fog, and deployed the seismic in the early hours, ready to go at 01:30. We repeated a seismic line that was shot in bad weather from the day before. This time the line started with fairly low winds (9m/s) and then the wind picked back up midway through. When the line was completed, we had to recover the seismic to transit to the start of the next line. It is a lot of work taking the seismic equipment in and out, but we are unable to transit between lines at a good speed with the equipment in the water. Time is everything when working at sea.

We (the night shift) were let off bringing the seismic back in for the second time in the night. The day shift took over and completed the second seismic line of the day (Line 5). We managed to recover two OBS before lunch, and another at 16:00. All the OBS recoveries went smoothly, and we were joined by a pod of dolphins at 17:40 during OBS # 3 and large number of puffins, in flight circling around the ship. They are the fastest flying birds I have ever seen at sea. They don’t appear to conserve any energy while flying. They look like they are going somewhere in a hurry, and it is almost impossible (using my compact camera) to get a good picture of them.

It took a little longer than usual to spot OBS # 3. Conditions never seem to be completely perfect for the job! This time the glare on the water made spotting the OBS difficult. Przemek was the only one wearing sunglasses, and was able to strain his eyes to spot the OBS some 300-400 metres away from the ship. What made it even more difficult to spot was that the flag was lying flat against the water, instead of upright.

Between OBS sites 3 and 9 we transited for an hour. This was a good opportunity to eat the freshly prepared doughnuts left in the mess. What a treat!

We successfully recovered OBS # 9, and there were hopes to recover the last OBS left on the sea floor, but the fog returned. The day shift OBS team, were exhausted after such a successful day of OBS recoveries and went straight to bed.


Andreia watches out for the (not so obvious) OBS near the ship.

The view of the OBS drifting by, moments before catching it, using a hook thrown out to the line to pull it in.

Mechita and Andreia assist with the winch operation as the OBS lifts out of the water.

Day 8

The fog cleared during the night while the OBS team were in bed, and the sun shone briefly. We continued the multibeam survey, started two days ago, all through the night, until breakfast. We had an English breakfast this morning, eggs and bacon, but no beans. The final OBS was recovered mid-morning and OBS preparation for the active seismic experiment has started.

If it’s not the strong wind or the fog preventing OBS work – it’s the sea ice! We planned a seismic experiment before the start of the cruise, in the west of Vestnesa ridge. Here we will most likely encounter sea ice. We discover today that our proposed location for the OBS sits within the open drift ice. It would be foolish to take the risk and deploy the OBS, while the charts show drift ice nearby. I am told that deploying the OBS in sea ice is no problem, but when the OBS surfaces it could get stuck beneath the ice.

The  Norwegian Meteorological Institute ( provides ice charts and satellite images daily that we can use to monitor the whereabouts and movement of sea ice. The satellite imagery is not affected by cloud cover and can acquire data during the day or night and under all weather conditions.

An ice chart overlaid onto the bathymetry (seafloor map) provides location of drift ice in the Fram Strait. The active seismic planned experiment in the west of Vestnesa ridge is within open ice drift.

The latest satellite image used for mapping of the sea ice ( The sentinel-1 mission includes a C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensor that has a resolution down to 5m. Red arrow points to west Vestnesa ridge.

The winds were high in the afternoon, so we continued with multibeam mapping, extending away from our first survey area towards the northwest. Once the ship met the sea ice we decided to abort the multibeam survey, change course and head three hours east to prepare ourselves for the active OBS deployment in an ice free conditions.

For the transit there were fresh wienebrød (Norwegian custard centered pastries). De var gode!

Birds pictured on the sea ice, during the last multibeam survey line, heading northwest, towards the western part of Vestnesa ridge (photo: Frances)

Day 9

We arrived to our new active seismic survey location yesterday late afternoon and started with chirp survey lines closely spaced over a previously interpreted mud diapir and buried glacial meltwater flow. The chirp is also seismic data and classed as ‘single channel.’ It uses a hydrophone array mounted on the hull of the ship, and the transmitted sound is just a ‘ping’ or ‘chirp,’ as opposed to ‘multi-channel’ hydrophones along a seismic streamer, that require a small ‘bang’ from the guns. The frequency is much higher; therefore, with this system we are able to image even finer (decimeter scale) sediment layering near the surface. The chirp typically penetrates ~40 m into the sediment in this area, however the chirp system on this ship penetrates just < 20 m, so we are missing some data deeper down.

This morning 5 OBS were deployed for the active experiment. Two belong to UiT and have a short period frequency range for detecting shallow earthquakes and the remaining three are broadband OBS from AWI that also have long period signals that range deeper.  The OBS team had a rocky start deploying the instruments, with the first OBS bashing into the side of the ship, and needed some repairs.

After completing the chirp survey lines and deploying the OBS, we put out the seismic today at 12.15. We will shoot all 12 crosslines and some ‘inlines’ first, then we will move onto the circlular lines. The acquisition survey design is typically in this way for OBS active experiments, with the feature of interest in the centre of the array. The placement of the OBS is also dependent on the topography of the seafloor. We try to avoid landing them on dipping surfaces and away from depressions. We have begun with the crosslines (NE-SW), and by tomorrow we should have come to the end of the in lines (NW-SE).  The wind has finally dropped and the sea is calm – for now!

3D surface in miliseconds two-way time, using a rainbow colour scale, extracted from 3D seismic volume data, shows a buried glacial feature. The purple line is one of the chirp survey lines that passes south of the feature. The profile of chirp line 3 shows the buried glacial debris.

Day 10

We continued shooting seismic for the active survey experiment. Some inlines were dropped, to make up time so that we would be ready by 16:00 to start the circular lines. The weather conditions remain perfect for seismic, the sea is calm and there is a moderate breeze.

One thing is certain while working at sea; you can never be too confident that things will go to plan! We had planned to recover the OBS tomorrow morning after completion of the seismic lines, however a large number of whales showed up within 500m of the ship. As there were so many whales showing up so close to the vessel, we shut down all our acoustic systems, including the seismic guns. On the bridge they saw plenty of finwhales and Knølhval (horn whale) breaching the surface. The ‘Havforskningsinstitutet’ (Institue for marine research) specify that the Greenland whale and Narwals are species that require the most protection.

The mini GI air guns we use for the seismic are 15 and 30 The guns are significantly smaller than conventional seismic guns used in industry. Higher powered guns are used to send signals much deeper into the subsurface. We are only interested in high detail in the near surface sediments (top ~300m).

While on the bridge deck looking out in awe, we spoke about how long we should wait before starting the seismic back up. This depends on the water depth. Whales spend up to 45 minutes beneath the surface in deep (+1000m) water, so we could be waiting an hour before knowing whether the whales are still close by. I worked on a seismic vessel where we had a marine mammal observer onboard. However, she would not observe the whales. Instead, with her own hydrophone, would spend the whole shift with headphones on, listening for whale calls. Relaxing shift?

As time is precious, we decided to move away from the active seismic survey site and move south to Svyatogor ridge to complete some seismic lines for our colleagues not on the cruise – in whale free areas.

Whales as far as the eye can see. (photo: Vera Schlindwein)


Day 11

We completed two seismic lines, at Svyatogor ridge in the night and there were no whales in sight. The wind speed was low for the first line and had gradually picked up by the start of the second line. We then recovered the guns and streamer just before breakfast, before heading back to our NKR active seismic site. During the first half of the day, the winds reached up to 18 m/s, which was far too much to redeploy the seismic at NKR, so we waited. There was no whale watching.

When the winds had dropped down to 11m/s, we decided to deploy the seismic and finally finish what we had started two days ago! We are nervously waiting for calm weather windows to appear so that we can get back the OBS. The OBS each have a programmed automatic release time, which is 16:00 tomorrow.

The wind dropped to a gentle breeze, and we swiftly recovered three out of the five OBS. The remaining two OBS from UiT are more difficult to see, and the fog had started to set in. We decided to leave them until the morning.

We shot our final seismic line after taking the break to recover the OBS, and after dinner, planned a water column survey over the NKR active seismic study area. Microbial mats discovered on the seafloor, during a previous cruise, suggest release of methane gas and we might expect bubbles escaping from beneath the water bottom.

Fog and stillness (photo: Frances)

Above: EM302 multibeam water column swath (30 kHz), and below: EK60 echosounder (18 kHz)

The water column survey completed in the early hours of the following morning did not show any acoustic flares in the water column, but we saw plankton scrolling across the screen in the single beam echo sounder (fish finder), and bright spots appearing mostly above 500 metres in the multibeam swath. I suspect that we imaged more fish bladders than gas bubbles!


Day 12

This morning we successfully recovered the last two OBS. It was a relief to have them all back onboard! Shortly afterwards, we left Knipovich ridge and started our two day journey back to Tromsø. On the way, we will stop at a study site called Bellsund, we presume named after Bellsund fjord, situated on the west coast of Svalbard. The site is actually much further south from Bellsund. It is opposite the Hornsund fjord. Here we will shoot two final seismic lines for our Italian colleagues.

After half an hour in the fresh sea air, watching the birds flying around the ship, I spotted a feeding frenzy. From a distance, it looks like the water is bubbling. Dolphins surface, one after the other, and dive back down into the water. The birds hover above, waiting for the scraps. After their feed, the dolphins could not resist coming towards the ship to play in the waves beneath the bow.

Dolphins playing beneath the bow of the ship (photo: Frances)



A new cruise season starts – what will the Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS) we left last year tell us?

Planning a cruise this year has obviously not been easy – why should have it? We are all across the planet leaving a difficult time.

But here we are, we got onboard for a 15 days research cruise with the main objective of recovering the OBSs that we deployed last year (se previous posts). We are a compact scientific crew this year: Przemek, Frances, Vera, Mechita and Andreia, with support from our engineers Truls and Stormer (nothing to complain about the gender balance). For the first time in many years I am coming to an OBS/seismic cruise without Stefan and Sunil and the possibility of not managing to get a code or a program running makes me anxious J

We left Tromsø in calm waters with a suffocating temperature of nearly 30 C. Now we are back to Arctic temperatures…We have used the transit to set and test software and equipment. Tomorrow we will be on site by 18:00 to pick up the first (southernmost) OBS from 10 we have in the water at the northern termination of the Knipovich Ridge.

Just a few minutes ago they called us from the bridge to see a bunch of Finn whales and dolphins playing together very close from the ship. The perfect spectacle to continue the transit.


Photo: Sailing from Tromsø Onboard R/V Helmer Hanssen in a calm sea at 30 C

Text and photo: Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Rituals after our Arctic expeditions

It has become a habit when we finish an expedition in Longyearbyen to celebrate the hard work with a dinner all together in one of the few restaurants in town, Kroa. A day before reaching the harbor Sunil had already booked our table. This year we were the right number of people and got the Round Table, just like King Arthur’s table. Several hours before our closing dinner we were already in town having some drinks together. We continued with the dinner and finished with a round of emblematic bars in Longyearbyen.

Photo: The group with the feet on the ByKai

I write about this because it caused me a big (good) impression to see a lot of life in the bars and streets of Longyearbyen despite all the unusual rules that we have to follow to continue with our “normal” lives. Longyearbyen is a strange place; the city and the people here are full of energy.

We had a cozy night together and some of us came across the ship crew and could share a bit with them outside work. Rituals mark and create time, they define beginnings and ends in our social cycles, they strengthen social relationships.

Now ready to go back home.

Photo: we finish a cruise and a season. The sun tells us “good bye and see you in a while”…



Text and photos: Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Into the fjord

For the last 2 days we have been waiting for the arrival of the “bad weather” to stop our activities and to go into the fjord…

Here we are now, enjoying the calm waters at the shadow of “Fuglefjell” in one of the Kongsfjorden branches.

We managed to recover the last 2 piezometers and completed more than 20 heat flow stations right before the arrival of strong winds and big waves. I feel relieved. We have had intense days full of data and full of emotions. Now we just wait here, we play basketball; we get lost into philosophical discussions and sophisticated speculations about the results.

Photo: enjoying the calm BEFORE the storm


Text and photo Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Vestnesa is boiling in fever

When I left for the cruise I had strong mixed feelings about leaving. My 1 year old had had high fever (40!) for 3 days and I was leaving him there feeling miserable…Luckily that same day the fever had started to drop. But the image of a thermometer and high temperatures has not left me.
We have put the thermometer at least 50 times to measure Vestnesa’s temperature. My son had a 12% increase in his average body temperature. Vestnesa has 14-17% increase of the average temperature at passive continental margins. So Vestnesa also has high fever. It is not so concerning though, the reason of the high fever is the proximity to the Molloy and the Knipovich mid-ocean ridges. There is a lot of heat released at the axis of drifting plates because hot, sometimes melted, material from the mantel is reaching the Earth surface and getting in contact with the ocean. Interestingly, there are places close to the mid ocean ridges where the temperatures are actually lower than expected. Here, a thicker sedimentary cover seems to be working as cold compresses.
I really hope that after this cruise I wont be seeing a thermometer for quite a while…

Photo 1: The big thermometer ready to take the temperature of the Earth

Photo 2: Sunil connecting the cable for data transfer after recovery of the big thermometer


Text Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Photos Sunil Vadakkepuliyambatta and Andreia Plaza-Faverola

Things I am learning from my first Research Expedition on a ship

For much of my short research career, I have spent time only in front of a computer and working with synthetic data. So, I was excited to be part of a research expedition into the Arctic ocean to obtain information on site. The goal is to better understand the tectonic impact on seepage systems in Vestnesa Ridge. The major tasks are to obtain pressure data from piezometers, temperature data from heat probe, seismic signal data from ocean bottom seismometers and sediment samples from gravity coring from several locations. This is my first research cruise, EVER. I didn’t know much of what to expect and had a hint of nervousness before we set sail. I felt sort of like a fish out of water. R/V Kronprins Haakon has made settling into a rhythm quite easy. 5 days in, I have learnt a few things and would like to share some.

  • Always wear work clothes on deck.
  • Follow shift-times and meal-times diligently. Reduces hassles.
  • No stupid questions. Always ask if you don’t know and folks are extremely helpful.

Onto science,

  • ~5m sediment sample from the seafloor was obtained with the help of gravity coring. We quickly cleaned the corer, cut the sample into 1m sections and carefully named them. From a quick spot analysis, chief scientist and cruise leader Andreia Plaza Faverola pointed out the dark spots could indicate organic matter (Fig. 1)
  • Multibeam echosounder survey was performed to obtain seafloor bathymetry and gas flares information. With the help of Researcher Sunil Vadakkepuliyambatta and PhD Candidate Przemyslaw Domel, I cleaned the raw data and obtained gas flare locations and flare heights (Fig. 2). I also worked on removing spurious data points from the bathymetry. Sort of like give haircut to sophisticated data.

The next tasks involve performing heat probe experiments and piezometers tests. Onwards we go.

Image 1: screen shot of processed sonar data from a region with acoustic flares indicating active seafloor seepage on the Vestnesa Ridge

Image 2: mud from the catcher of a gravity core showing black organic matter (?)


Text and photos Hariharan Ramachandran

Heat and stress (both tectonic) – all this expedition is about

We had a rough transit from Tromsø to the Fram Strait. Up to 6 meters waves and strong winds slowed us down to 6 knots (normally this type of vessel navigates at 10-11 knots). So we left Ramfjord at about 15:00 on Saturday (the 17th) and arrived on site (The Vestnesa Ridge on the west-Svalbard continental margin) 3 days after, to start with the experiment straight ahead.

For this cruise we have designed experiments to test hypothesis. The first idea we want to test, the core of the SEAMSTRESS project, is that the opening of the mid-ocean ridges compresses the sediment against Svalbard and this leads to high fluid pressures that eventually result is gas expulsions. Just like in a closed casserole with boiling water in the kitchen. On the Vestnesa Ridge the gas expulsions has occurred everywhere for the last 20.000 years (since the last big ice age). But the release of gas remains abundant only towards the east of the margin. So what happened towards the west of the margin? This is what we are experimenting about…

We have selected 4 stations along the margin to measure the pressure of the water and the gas in the sediment. For this we will use the Ifremer piezometer I mentioned in the previous post. We need to carefully select the locations to put the instrument because we do not want to reach a fault (we want the background pressure of the fluids). The ship Kronprins Haakon and those steering it are amazingly good at keeping position within 2 m. We are having fun! We also survey the ground with the sub-bottom profiler (acoustic waves) to be sure we are not aiming for any dangerous structure. In one of the stations we also placed 5 ocean bottom seismometers carefully around the piezometer. We want to search for a relationship between micro seismicity, pressure pulses in the sediment and pressure changes due to tides.

Photo: The crew and the French colleagues prepare the piezometer to go in the water for the first time. 

So far, we have placed 2 piezometers that have hopefully been recording data over 3 days. The plan is to recover them between today and tomorrow. If time and weather allows we would like to put them back for the remaining 2 stations.

In-between, we have been measuring the temperature of the Earth. Temperatures are key for modeling the zone where gas hydrates form. From these temperatures we can calculate how fast the heat is transfer through the sediment and then we can predict movement of warmer overpressured fluids from deep sediment toward the seafloor.


Photo: Sunil preparing the big thermometer

Since we arrived the sea has been calm and generous. We hope the Viking gods continue to be on our side.


Text and photos Andreia Plaza-Faverola