Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2013 Benthic Biology cruise

Cruise Background

Are deep-sea animals more sensitive to climate change and ocean acidification than shallow water animals? Could crop debris left in fields after a harvest be packaged and sunk to the deep waters of the ocean to help reduce the effects of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere? Do terrestrial logs that float over the ocean and sink to the deep-sea attract a specialized suite of animals? If so, does the size or species of wood matter? Do deep-sea urchins plowing through the muddy bottom in the deep waters along the continental margin affect the macrofauna in the mud—the small worms, molluscs, and crustaceans that comprise the prey for many megafaunal animals? These are some of the research questions the benthic biology group is addressing on the October cruise on the Western Flyer as they continue studies initiated over the past several years.

Researchers' top priority for the cruise is to measure the sensitivity of deep-sea crabs to ocean acidification and low oxygen levels, two consequences of fossil fuel emissions to the atmosphere—it is amazing to think emissions are affecting animals at the bottom of the sea. The benthic respiration system will be deployed over the side of the ship, and followed to the seafloor with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. Next, the suction sampler will be used to slurp up small galatheid crabs, which will be placed gently into one of eight respiration chambers. Over the next six weeks, the system will automatically measure the respiration rates of the crabs under normal deep-sea conditions, as well as under more acidic, or lower oxygen conditions, or both. Ultimately results from these deep-sea studies at 3,100 meters depth will be compared to similar studies with shallower living crabs.

In 2006, researchers sank a large bale of corn stover—what remains from a corn plant when the cobs are harvested—into 3,100 meters water depth about 50 nautical miles from Moss Landing. They are returning to the bale to determine how rapidly it is decaying. If the rates are extremely slow, they might be able to consider sinking crop residue like this to the deep-sea to help offset rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. This idea sounds pretty wild, but we need to consider, and evaluate carefully, our plans to cope with climate change.

Nearby, the researchers will be sampling a number of logs placed on the seabed at 3,100 meters several years ago. These logs will be returned to the lab to see what animals have colonized them, using classical taxonomic methods identifying animals through the microscope, and also molecular methods to evaluate more carefully the specific taxonomic relationships among many of the smaller species on the logs.

Finally, the ROV Doc Ricketts will dive on a site at 1,000 meters depth where deep-sea urchins were placed in mesh cages two years ago. Three of six cages (two meters width by two meters length and 30 centimeters high) included 15 urchins, and three cages had no urchins. The urchins will be gathered with a suction sampler and numerous sediment cores will be collected. Once the samples are on board, the science team will sieve the sediment to separate the little animals—the macrofaunal worms, and the meiofauna, the microscopic animals. In the lab, these samples will be analyzed and comparisons will be made of the fauna sampled in cages with or without urchins to determine the influence of urchins on the smaller animal assemblage.

Benthic Biology 2013 cruise map
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Benthic biology map

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Day 5 Day 5
October 28
Squeezing in two dives on our last day

Day 4

Day 4
October 27
Collecting corn-bale animals and more logs

Day 3

Day 3
October 26
Corn stover and respiration experiments

Day 2

Day 2
October 25
Elevator to the seafloor

Day 1

Day 1
October 24
Urchin cages


R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, the Gulf of California, and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable, and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

Push cores

A push-core looks like a clear plastic tube with a rubber handle on one end. Just as its name implies, the push core is pushed down into loose sediment using the ROV's manipulator arm. As the sediment fills up the core, water exits out the top through one-way valves. When the core is pulled up again, these valves close, which (most of the time) keeps the sediment from sliding out of the core tube. When we bring these cores back to the surface, we typically look for living animals and organic material in the sediments.

Benthic respirometer system

Oxygen consumption (a measure of biological activity) of the organisms living in the sediment is measured using a benthic respirometer system (BRS). This instrument is used in situ (in place on the seafloor).

 Research Team

jim barry

Jim Barry

Senior Scientist

Jim Barry's research program focuses on the effects of climate change on ocean ecosystems. In addition to climate change, his research interests are broad, spanning topics such as the biology and ecology of chemosynthetic biological communities in the deep sea, coupling between upper ocean and seafloor ecosystems in polar and temperate environments, the biology of deep-sea communities, and the biology of submarine canyon communities. Jim has helped inform Congress on ocean acidification, ocean carbon sequestration, and climate change by speaking at congressional hearings, briefings and meetings with congressional members.

kurt buck

Kurt Buck

Senior Research Technician

Kurt Buck specializes in quantitative enumeration, ecology, and imaging of marine protists and bacteria. Upper water-column communities from Antarctic and Arctic sea ice to equatorial regions were his initial focus. He is currently working with deep-sea sediment communities including those from hypoxic zones.

patrick whaling

Patrick Whaling

Senior Research Technician

Patrick has worked at MBARI since its beginning in the fall of 1987. Prior to his move to MBARI, he spent seventeen years at Duke University Marine Lab investigating heavy metals in the marine environment. He currently works with Jim Barry in the design and construction of sampling gear used on the ROV to collect benthic animals, in addition to processing benthic samples and conducting carbon-hydrogen-oxygen (CHN) analyses.

Chris Lovera

Chris Lovera

Senior Research Technician

Chris supports Jim Barry's Benthic Biology and Ecology, and Free-Ocean CO2 Enrichment research projects. On this expedition, Chris's responsibilities are varied, from collection and curation of invertebrates used in Benthic Respiration System metabolic rate and manipulative oxygen and pH studies, to Geographic Information System work, to operation of the dissolved inorganic carbon analyzer. Chris's recent work focuses on the effects of ocean acidification on invertebrate behavior.

kim fulton-bennett

Kim Fulton-Bennett

Public Information Specialist

Kim Fulton-Bennett works as a public information specialist at MBARI, writing articles and news releases for the institution's web site and working with members of the media on MBARI stories. During this cruise, he will be helping take digital notes about each dive, taking photos of the research activities on board, and helping prepare the daily expedition logs.

Craig McClain

Assistant Director of Science
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center

jenna judge

Jenna Judge

Postdoctoral Student
University of California, Berkeley

Jenna Judge is a doctoral student at University of California, Berkeley who is focusing on diversification patterns in chemosynthetic and biogenic habitats. Two years ago, she sank a collection of 10 different kinds of wood in Monterey Bay during a cruise with the Barry lab. On this trip, she hopes to recover all 28 wood bundles to see what animals have colonized them and whether there are differences between animal community richness and abundance for different wood types.

Rosemary Romero

Doctoral Student
University of California, Berkeley

Rosemary Romero is a doctoral student at University of California, Berkeley studying green tides in San Francisco Bay. She will be helping Jenna Judge recover sunken wood with Jim Barry and his lab members. She is excited for the opportunity to go to sea and to discover what animals have colonized the sunken wood since two years ago.