Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Leg 3: Seafloor Biology
Cruise Background

Nearly the entire temperate to tropical eastern Pacific Ocean has strong gradients in both temperature and oxygen concentrations from the sea's surface to its "bathyal zone" (the area of the ocean extending from depths of approximately 1,000 to 4,000 meters). Temperatures near 1,000 meters are typically around four to five degrees Celsius (39-41° F) with very low oxygen levels. These conditions are related to the high coastal productivity and the consumption of oxygen that occurs as bacteria break down the sinking organic debris.

In contrast, conditions in the deeper waters of the northwestern Gulf of California are quite different, due apparently to the downwelling of surface waters caused by shoreward Ekman transport. Seawater conditions at 1000 meters in the northwestern basins of the gulf are more typical of waters around 200 meters deep elsewhere, with warmer temperatures—around nine to 10° C (approximately 48-50° F)—and higher levels of oxygen.

The researchers on this leg of the expedition plan to deploy sensors on the seafloor in the Delfin and Salsipuedes basins of the northwestern gulf. From these sensors, scientists hope to obtain estimates of the seabed fluxes of nitrate. Researchers will also use the Benthic Repsiration System to evaluate the metabolic rates of some of the larger denizens of the seafloor under normal, high-carbon dioxide, and high-oxygen conditions.

While conducting these seafloor respiration experiments, the researchers will also use ROV Doc Ricketts to perform surveys of the seafloor, and to collect samples using push cores and the suction sampler. The sediment cores brought up from the seafloor will serve two purposes. Researchers will analyze the faunal content of some of the sediment cores in order to discover which organisms make up the seafloor communities. Other sediment cores will be analyzed for their chemical content, providing an approximation of the flow of oxygen into or out of the sediment, an important factor for estimating the rate at which organic carbon is cycled back into the seawater.

The seafloor biology team will also conduct video transects with ROV Doc Ricketts to be used to document the larger inhabitants in the northwestern basins of the gulf. Once complete, scientists will perform similar studies in the waters off of La Paz in the southern part of the gulf, where seawater conditions are more typical of the eastern Pacific.

Seafloor biology research sites.

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Seafloor Biology
 Equipment

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.

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.

Benthic tool sled

You can see the manipulator arm at the upper left side of the photo and the sample drawer with partitions in the lower left. The drawer is shown open on deck, full of rocks. Normally it is closed when the vehicle is operating and only open when a sample needs to be stowed. The partitions help us keep the rocks in order. The rocks look so much alike, all covered in manganese, it is important to know where each rock came from.

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).

Johnson Flux Chamber System

Measures fluxes of CO2 and methane in terrestrial plant communities.


Suction samplers

This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into buckets.


Sediment scoops

Canvas bags on a T-handle for collecting gravel or other materials that fall out of a push-core.


 Crew

R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young
Master


 

George Gunther
First Mate


 

Matt Noyes
Chief Engineer


 

Andrew McKee
Second Mate


 

Lance Wardle
First Engineer


 

Shaun Summer
Relief First Engineer


 

Olin Jordan
Oiler


 

Craig Heihn
Relief Deckhand


 

Jason Jordan
Relief Deckhand


 

Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


 

Patrick Mitts
Steward


 

ROV Doc Ricketts

Knute Brekke
Chief ROV Pilot


 

Mark Talkovic
Senior ROV Pilot


 

Randy Prickett
Senior ROV Pilot


 

Bryan Schaefer
ROV Pilot/Technician


 

Eric Martin
ROV Pilot/Technician


 

 Research Team

Jim Barry
Chief Scientist
MBARI

Jim Barry is a senior scientist at MBARI whose 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.

Ken Johnson
Senior Scientist
MBARI

Ken's research interests are focused on the development of new analytical methods for chemicals in seawater and application of these tools to studies of chemical cycling throughout the ocean. Over the past 15 years, Ken's Chemical Sensor Program at MBARI has developed a variety of sensors and analyzers that operate in situ to depths of 4,000 meters. These instruments have been used to study processes ranging from the distribution of sulfide in deep-sea hydrothermal vent systems, to nitrate in coastal ponds surrounded by intensive agricultural activities.

Kurt Buck
Senior Research Specialist
MBARI

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.

Bob Herlien
Senior Software Engineer
MBARI

Bob Herlien is a senior software engineer at MBARI. He is project manager for the Respirometer Upgrade project, which includes the Benthic Respirometer System (BRS) being deployed on this cruise. He is also principal software designer for that system. His responsibilities on this cruise include configuring the BRS for each deployment and assuring that it's in good working shape.

Linda Kuhnz
Senior Research Technician
MBARI

Linda specializes in the ecology of small animals that live in marine sediments (macrofauna), and larger invertebrates and fishes that live on the seafloor or just above it (megafauna). She conducts habitat characterization studies in benthic (seafloor) ecosystems using underwater video and by collecting deep-sea animals. She hopes to find some new and interesting animals in the unique habitats we are visiting on this cruise.

Chris Lovera
Senior Research Technician
MBARI

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.

Patrick Whaling
Senior Research Technician
MBARI

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.

Josi Taylor
Postdoctoral Fellow
MBARI

Josi is a postdoctoral fellow in Jim Barry's Benthic Biology Group. Josi's research is focused on exploring the effects of global climate change—specifically, ocean acidification and hypoxia—on the deep-sea urchin Strongylocentrotus fragilis. Josi looks for effects of environmental change on urchin physiology, behavior, and population/ community structure. During the Gulf of California expedition, Josi will investigate S. fragilis from 200-1200 meters in the Sea of Cortez to identify differences in this population's age structure, depth distribution, physiology, and behavior, as compared to S. fragilis found in the considerably different conditions of the Monterey Bay Canyon System. Josi hopes to use these comparisons of S. fragilis living in two very distinct climates, to better predict the effects of global climate change on community structure and ecosystem function.

Yossellin Tapia De la O
Graduate Student
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología

Yossellin is working on an ecological study of ophiuroids (brittlestars) associated with bacterial mats of the cold methane seeps in the Sonora Margin of Mexico. This study will contribute information about morphological variations, abundance, biomass, and habitat preferences of the ophiuroids.

Adriana Gaytán-Caballero
Graduate Student
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología

Adriana is a doctoral student at Posgrado en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, UNAM. Her project looks at the abyssal distribution in the Atlantic Equatorial Belt taking as example the crustacean fauna of the asphalt volcano, Chapopote, in the southern Gulf of Mexico, with emphasis on Alvinocaris muricola and Munidopsis geyeri species.



Last updated: Feb. 27, 2012