Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

California Current Logbook
Day 2: It's in the details
February 5, 2012

It’s just after midnight, and we’re standing on the rear deck as the winch pulls the CTD rosette through the last few meters of water and back through the ocean’s dark surface. Tim Pennington is wondering if when we collect the water for the oxygen samples, rather than both of us doing everything, maybe it’s better to have one person fill the flasks with the deep-seawater while the other adds reagents and mixes. It’s a relatively minor matter, but it seems important.

Earlier in the day, Tim’s rustling through drawers trying to find electrical tape to use for a label. Some white tape is handed to him, but white tape won’t do. He’s looking for a specific color of tape. (Though white tape does end up having to do; after all, we’re at sea and you can only bring so much with you.) Following this morning’s CTD cast, after filling out the data sheet verifying all the samples needed were taken, it’s decided another revision to the data sheet would clarify the regimen even further.

The point here is that this is the type of meticulousness and attention to process that becomes ingrained in a person when they’ve spent the last twenty years helping to painstakingly construct a scientific data set measuring the biological and chemical characteristics of the waters in the Monterey Bay. This data will be used to support some weighty theories about climate variability, and will likely need to bear heavy scrutiny. So process matters – bottles and vials go out on deck labeled and in numerical order depending on which Niskin bottle the water they’ll hold will come from—bottle #1 is 1,000 meter water, #2 from 900 meters…

Chris removes a Niskin bottle from the rosette for “restringing.” The samples collected in each bottle are “discrete,” that is, they each represent a specific depth. If a bottle doesn’t seal completely and there’s a chance the water in the bottle isn’t exclusively from that depth, the sample must be dumped.

The Biological Ocean group (BOG)—represented on this cruise by Francisco Chavez, Tim Pennington, Gernot Friederich, Marguerite Blum, Monique Messié, and Chris Wahl (Erich Rienecker is a BOG alum as well)—has been running an ocean observing program in the Monterey Bay for more than two decades. They’ve gathered a historical record of seawater measurements that has provided insight into how the ocean responds to large scale climate change.

When you are meticulous about the data you collect, then when things change, even slowly (like decades slowly), you notice it. We’re out here cruising down the California coast because of changes the Biological Ocean group sees in the data they’ve been so conscientiously and consistently collecting. After measuring oxygen and productivity levels for more than 20 years, researchers noticed that the waters in the bay have become colder and more productive in the last decade, and there is conspicuously less oxygen. They’ve also noticed the waters have become more acidic—there’s more carbon dioxide (and other forms of “inorganic” carbon) dissolved in the water.

Marguerite Blum on the well deck of the Western Flyer drawing samples from the Niskin bottles brought back from the depths during this morning’s CTD cast.
A water sample is drawn from bottle #9. This sample will be analyzed for its ammonia content.

Researchers at MBARI would like to know why the chemical properties of the ocean off our coast are changing. One potential explanation is that the California Undercurrent (CU), a northward flowing current which carries low-oxygen water from the area of the ocean known as the northeastern tropical Pacific (NETP)—the part of the Pacific off the western coast of Central America— up the west coast of North America, has grown stronger. Which means more low-oxygen (“hypoxic”) water is wending its way up the coast.

Monique Messié prepares the filtration machine for the next round of samples.

The southward transit we’re on gives us the opportunity to sample the water in the California Undercurrent flowing northward beneath us. Francisco Chavez and Tim Pennington made this same transit back in 2003, and now they’re eager to see if the composition of the CU waters has changed since then. Numbers are being are crunched from the data we’ve collected so far. So, is there less oxygen in the water than in 2003? Stay tuned…

—Dana Lacono


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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, Gulf of California and the Pacific Northwest.

CTD Rosette

The CTD measures conductivity (which helps determine salinity), temperature, and depth. This particular CTD runs profiles of the water column (surface to bottom) and along the way, collects discrete water samples (at specific predetermined depths) using the rosette of niskin bottles. Each bottle can collect a water sample. The transmissometer measures the number of particles in the water and the oxygen sensors tell us how much dissolved oxygen is present. Both of these instruments go onto the CTD rosette and give us a profile of the water column.

Optical Profiler (PRR)

The optical profiler is equipped with an hyperspectral radiometer which measures downwelling irradiance and upwelling radiance, a CTD, and two AC9's which measure absorption and beam attenuation over nine wavelengths (1 uses filtered seawater while the other uses raw seawater). It also measures backscatter at six wavelengths and fluorescence at two wavelengths.

Fast Repetition Rate Fluorometer

This unique instrument measures the photosynthetic properties of phytoplankton continuously while the ship is in motion. This greatly increases the amount of data as well as the area that can be surveyed.

Underway CTD

An underway CTD is used to map several physical parameters of the ocean's surface. As the ship travels, this instrument takes one sample every 20 seconds. The data recorded includes the ship's location, the ocean's salinity, temperature, and water clarity, and the amount of fluorescence produced by phytoplankton. By continually taking measurements, a line of values along the ship's course is created, illustrating when the ship crosses from one water type to another. The underway CTD is an important complement to the CTD rosette; because each CTD rosette deployment is miles away from the last, the data from the underway CTD measurements help to will indicate whether the rosette CTD sampling spot is representative of the area.

Underway pCO2

Like the underway CTD, the underway pCO2 continually measures the partial pressure of CO2 in the ocean along the course of the Western Flyer. "Partial pressure" is a way in which to measure the amount of CO2 in the seawater. Increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean increase the water's acidity.


R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young


George Gunther
Relief Captain, Legs 1 & 2


Matt Noyes
Chief Engineer


Andrew McKee
First Mate, Legs 1 & 2


Shaun Summer
Relief First Engineer


Paul Ban
Second Mate, Legs 1 & 2


Olin Jordan


Craig Heihn
Relief Deckhand


Jason Jordan
Relief Deckhand


Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


Patrick Mitts


 Research Team

Francisco Chavez
Chief Scientist

Francisco Chavez has been managing an ocean observing program at MBARI for more than two decades, gathering a time-series of ocean parameters that have provided insight to how the ocean responds to large-scale climate variability. His work focuses on interpreting observations made locally in terms of processes that are happening globally, and he has performed comparative studies in other ocean basins.

Tim Pennington
Research Specialist

Tim works in MBARI's Biological Oceanography Group running their local shipboard programs, all of which are directed at understanding interplay between the physics, chemistry, and biology in the ocean off California. Their Monterey Bay Time Series (MBTS) cruises have been conducted in and offshore of Monterey Bay every two to three weeks since 1989. The Studies of Ecological and Chemical Responses to Environmental Trends (SECRET) cruise series extended the MBTS work 320 kilometers offshore into the California Current along CalCOFI Line 67, with more than 39 quarterly cruises since 1997. This cruise work and complimentary mooring, satellite, ROV, AUV and modelling data have enabled the development of a rich view of the biogeochemical dynamics of the coastal ocean on several spatial (Monterey Bay, upwelling system, California Current) and temporal (weather event, seasonal, interannual, even decadal) scales.

Gernot Friederich
Research Specialist

Gernot has been involved in the study of nutrient and carbon fluxes in highly productive regions of the oceans. Most of this work has been conducted in coastal upwelling regions, and he has participated in some high latitude studies. He is also interested in the chemical transformations that occur at the boundaries of oxygenated and sub-oxic or anoxic waters. To aid the study of these highly variable oceanic systems, he has developed and automated chemical methods and water sampling equipment. He has recently worked on the design and implementation of autonomous shipboard seasurface chemistry mapping systems and buoy mounted instrumentation for the measurement of the partial pressure of carbon dioxide.

Erich Rienecker
Instrumentation/Marine Operations Technician

An alum of the Biological Ocean Group, Erich now is the instrumentation technician at MBARI and will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the scientific sampling equipment used on this cruise.

Marguerite Blum

Marguerite Blum is a collaborator from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is assisting Gernot Friederich and Tim Pennington with biogeochemical samples to search for differences in the pCO2, DIC, alkalinity, and macronutrients from the previous Gulf of California cruise. This will be her 41st cruise with the Chavez group.

Dana Lacono
Administrative Assistant

Dana works in the Information and Technology Dissemination (ITD) group at MBARI where he performs administrative duties and creates web pages such as the one you are looking at now. On this cruise he will be assisting the science team as needed and writing the cruise logs. This is his first research expedition, and he is as excited as can be.

A.J. Limardo
Research Assistant

A.J. Limardo received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Georgia, and is currently applying to the University of California, Santa Cruz Ocean Sciences Department to pursue a Ph.D. In the Worden Laboratory at MBARI, A.J. is currently exploring phytoplankton ecology and phylogenetics. During this cruise, he will be investigating the distribution and abundance of Bathycoccus, a genus of pico-eukaryotic algae.

Monique Messié
Postdoctoral Fellow

Monique works on phytoplankton and its links with physics and higher trophic levels, using a combination of satellite data, model outputs and in situ datasets. During the cruise she will be helping with the collection and analysis of water samples, including nutrients and oxygen measurements.

Chris Wahl
Research Technician

Chris works in the Chavez lab on moorings, gliders, and instrumentation for various projects and was recruited by MBARI's Marine Operations division to help operate the CTD for the first leg of this expedition. He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley and later a M.S. in Engineering Science from University of California, San Diego.

Haibin Zhang
Postdoctoral Fellow

Haibin works in the molecular ecology group at MBARI. He received his Ph.D. in marine biology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Oceanology. Haibin's research interests include ecology, evolution, and genetic conservation of marine invertebrates. He uses molecular tools to examine gene flow of natural populations in order to understand the effect of environment factors (light, pressure, oxygen, salinity, and temperature) on population diversity and genetic structure.

Carmen Castro
Higher Council for Scientific Investigations, Spain

Carmen is a chemical oceanographer from Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas from Vigo,Spain. She studies the environmental control of nutrients and carbon in the upwelling regions of NW Iberian Peninsula and California. In this cruise, she will be collecting water samples for analysing the alongshore distribution of total organic carbon.

Curt Collins
Naval Postgraduate School

Curt Collins is a sea-going descriptive physical oceanographer. Convinced by Nan Bray (now Australia's Chief of Marine Research) to make some measurements of the deep flows at the entrance to the Gulf of California in the early 1990s, Curt has since collaborated a number of times with Mexican colleagues including a Fulbright fellowship at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Ensenada in 1994/5. Curt is looking forward to helping to collect and analyze the CTD data during this cruise. In addition, he will conduct laboratory analyses of seawater conductivity to assure the accuracy of the team's salinity observations.

Martín Hernández Ayón
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California

Martín Hernández-Ayón is a chemical oceanographer. His research is focused on the inorganic carbon system, ocean acidification and biogeochemistry in the coastal regions of Baja California, the Sea of Cortez, the subtropical region where the oxygen minimum zone is located and, more recently, the Gulf of Mexico.

Gabriela Y. Cervantes
Graduate Student
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California

Gaby is a graduate student in the coastal oceanography program at the University of Baja California in Ensenada, Mexico. She is doing her graduate studies on the dynamics of CO2 in seawater from a coastal monitoring site known as Ensenada Station.

Jason Smith
Graduate Student
Stanford University

Jason is a fifth-year Ph.D. student at Stanford University. His work focuses on how upwelling and other factors alter the distribution and activity of the microorganisms responsible for nitrification. On this cruise Jason's work will focus on ammonium dynamics; specifically, determining the magnitude of ammonia incorporation and oxidation in the photic zone and how it alters estimates of new and regenerated production.

Last updated: Feb. 27, 2012