Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Seafloor Biology Logbook
Day 6: Sampling with the stars
March 6, 2012

Today started off with a flurry of excitement as the benthic respirometer system (BRS) we deployed yesterday was released from the seafloor shortly after 6:00 a.m. After a quick trip to the surface, it was tracked down and swiftly craned back onto the ship by the crew and pilots. By around 7:00 a.m. we had collected water samples from each of the eight chambers, seven of which contained sea stars loaded into the system yesterday during the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts dive. The chamber water samples were analyzed for pH and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) to determine how accurately the automated system had adjusted the chamber water chemistry to the levels we’d programmed.

Early this morning we recalled the benthic respirometer system (BRS), which had been doing its work on the seafloor at 1,575 meters (5,040 feet) overnight. We sent a remote signal to it, which told it to float to the surface where we retrieved it.

Once the water samples had been processed and the sea stars removed from the chambers, the fun part began: attempting to take samples of the sea stars’ internal chemistry. Measuring the pH of the fluid inside the sea stars will tell us how capable they are of regulating their internal chemistry when their environment changes. Turns out, we got fluid samples from all but one of the sea stars and, as expected, their internal chemistry matched the treatment waters almost exactly. We are looking forward to calculating their metabolic rates using the data downloaded from the BRS.

Josi Taylor works in the ship's lab to test the internal chemistry of animals following treatment with variable CO2 levels in the BRS.

As soon as the deck operations were complete, we began our transit north to our next site in the south Delfin Basin. Shortly after beginning our transit, word from the deck came that there were dolphins nearby. Were there ever! The R/V Western Flyer cruised right by a pod of probably a hundred Pacific white sided dolphins, all eagerly wrangling (or playing with?) a big “bait ball”—a gigantic school of small fish that attracts bigger fish, dolphins, and seabirds. It was quite a chaotic scene!

Hundreds of birds arrived to feed when a very large pod of leaping dolphins surrounded bait fish just under the surface of the water this morning.

Once we arrived on site, the BRS was once again carefully craned over the side, with the ROV Doc Ricketts following shortly behind. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the “storms beneath” that we’d experienced yesterday were a walk in the park compared to the currents in this narrow basin. The ROV pilots tried every trick in the book to hold their course, let alone make progress in the direction of the BRS on the seafloor. Even sitting the ROV on the bottom was futile; the current just dragged us backwards through the mud. We did not see many animals living in this current-swept channel!

Finally we conceded to a new plan: bring the ROV and the BRS back up, and move north to an adjacent site with a wider basin. Basically, we’re moving from the fast-moving stem of the funnel to the wider, slower moving top portion of the funnel. Hopefully this move, combined with a slack tide, will help us get the BRS loaded up tomorrow morning, and give the pilots a break from this strong underwater treadmill they’ve been fighting!

—Josi Taylor

Toward the end of the dive we found the sea urchin, Strongylocentotus fragilis. This species is also found in Monterey Bay. This specimen is lighter in color and appears to have a stronger skeleton than the ones up north, likely due to differences in diet and water chemistry.

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Seafloor Biology

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.


R/V Western Flyer

Ian Young


George Gunther
First Mate


Matt Noyes
Chief Engineer


Andrew McKee
Second Mate


Lance Wardle
First Engineer


Shaun Summer
Relief First Engineer


Olin Jordan


Craig Heihn
Relief Deckhand


Jason Jordan
Relief Deckhand


Dan Chamberlain
Electronics Officer


Patrick Mitts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Mar. 08, 2012