On September 24, 1987, a time lapse camera was deployed by the submersible ALVIN on a high-temperature hydrothermal system on the central Juan de Fuca Ridge. Eleven months later, the camera was recovered on August 11, 1988, also by ALVIN, after taking 260 sequential photographs with a frame interval of 30 hours. When recovered, the time lapse camera system was still functioning, and the time series of high-quality photographs provides a unique record of the structural and biological changes of this dynamic system.
The hydrothermal system under study is located at the summit of Axial Seamount, a volcanic structure in the Eastern Pacific that rises to a depth of 1400 m, directly at the intersection of the Juan de Fuca Ridge spreading center and the Cobb-Eichelberg Seamount Chain. This ridge-axis seamount has been the focus of intensive surface ship and submersible studies since 1980, and the hydrothermal systems within the central summit caldera are probably among the most extensively mapped and sampled in the world. The camera was deployed 2.5 m from a sulfide mound that was approximately 1 m wide by 2 m high and was venting high-temperature water from at least six discrete orifices from the summit and flanks of the mound; the highest temperature recorded from this mound was 283°C. As determined by submersible sampling, the mound was composed of sulfide and animal fragments and was cemented into a relatively coherent (and hard) central mass.