Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2013 seafloor ecology expedition

Day 1— Urchin Cages
October 24, 2013

The RV Western Flyer left its home port of Moss Landing under cloudy skies, but otherwise ideal conditions. Winds and seas were light and the ROV Doc Ricketts is in tip-top shape.

As we organized our gear and prepared for the first dive, the alarm bell suddenly blasted our ears, notifying us that the scheduled safety drill was starting. We all rushed to our rooms to retrieve our "gumby suits" – bright red survival suits – and mustered in the science wet lab. Miriam Anthony, the second mate, introduced the safety guidelines we must follow for the cruise, mainly reminding us to consider safety in all aspects of our work. Rosemary Romero hadn't been aboard before today and was chosen to demonstrate donning the gumby suite – she was about as quick as any old hand on the boat.

By 10:15 a.m., we were on station at the 1,000-meter-deep urchin growth experiment site. The ROV Doc Ricketts was launched by 10:30 a.m., and quickly descended 1,000 meters down to the muddy continental slope.

This site is one of three sea urchin study sites that were set up about two years ago. At that time, we collected a number of fragile sea urchins (a deep-sea species) at a depth of 600 meters (the middle of their depth range). We placed these urchins in mesh cages (two meters by two meters by 0.3 meters) on the seabed at three depths (200, 600, and 1,000 meters).

We placed six cages at each depth. Three of the cages contained 15 urchins each. The other three cages had no urchins. We expected that the urchins would fare quite well in the cages, consuming food that drifted into the cage. They typically eat drift kelp or other algae, but they also plow through the sediment and probably eat whatever they encounter.

When the ROV Doc Ricketts was brought back on board the R/V Western Flyer, it carried not only samples, but also some of the cages that had been on the seafloor for the past two years. Patrick Whaling and the ROV pilots try to get the battered cages out of the water so that we can close the moonpool doors and lash down the ROV.

Because these urchins are quite common, we thought they could have important effects on populations of their prey inside the cages. We are testing this idea by sampling the sediment community (megafauna – fish, mollusks, etc.) as well as the mud dwelling macrofauna (small shrimps, worms, etc.) in and around the cages. We will use video to determine the abundance of megafauna and sediment samples (push cores) to sample the macrofauna. Finally, we'll compare changes in the abundance of each of these animal groups between cages with and without urchins.

In this photo, Kurt Buck carries a heavy tray of sediment cores from the ROV to the wet lab. We collected 32 of these cores during our dive today.

We also hope to measure how fast the urchins grow in the cages, and to find out if they create annual rings in their tests (shells) analogous to annual tree rings. Two years ago, before we placed the urchins in the cages, we kept them in an aquarium that had calcein in the seawater. Calcein is a fluorescent dye that has been used to add a fluorescent 'marker' (a fluorescent band, for example) to the skeletal structure of other animals, to help understand their rates of growth.

When the ROV arrives back on deck, everyone rushes to get the samples off the ROV and into a refrigerator.

All went very well during the dive today. We collected all of the remaining urchins (as well as other animals) from one of the test cages. We also did detailed video surveys and collected animals from inside the two cages with no urchins. Finally, we collected lots of sediment cores from all three cages.

The ROV was back at the surface by about 5:00 p.m., carrying samples, push cores, and the cages from the completed experiments. After a quick dinner, we set out to process all of the samples. Everyone worked hard to subsample the sediment cores, and sieve the sediment to separate the mud from animals. With lots of teamwork, we finished in just a couple of hours, processing 32 cores, and preserving a number of smaller urchins, snails, and other fauna we'd collected.

Here are the fragile sea urchins and other animals that we collected today. These were living in one of the cages that we placed 1,000 meters down on the seafloor two years ago. The orange blobs are sea anemones that have withdrawn their tentacles.

We're now steaming offshore to the "Deadwood" site, where we'll dive tomorrow to revisit logs we placed on the seafloor three to five years ago to measure the types of colonizing animals that show up on woody logs that make their way to the deep sea. Does the size or species of log affect the types or numbers of animals? We hope to find out tomorrow.

— Jim Barry

Next log


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.