Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Climate Change and Ocean Communities
Studying the Sargasso Sea

Research Team
Ken Smith, Alana Sherman, Jake Ellena, Dale Graves, Michael Risi, John Ryan, Susan Von Thun, Dan Barshis, Jeffrey Drazen, Debbie Nail Meyer, Judit Pungor, Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, John Yeh, Don Montague, Joe Brock

Ken Smith Ken Smith
Expedition chief scientist
Open-ocean ecologist, MBARI

As co-principal investigator, Ken will lead the science activities. His team's primary objective is to recover data from the deep-sea observatory they put into the ocean in August 2011. They plan to redeploy this instrument for another six months. They will also continue their studies of the Sargassum community at several sampling stations between Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Research interests:  Ken's current interests center around the influence of climate change on pelagic (living in the water) and benthic (on the seafloor) communities. These communities range from surface Sargassum assemblages in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Antarctic iceberg dynamics to deep-sea assemblages in the northeast Pacific. Long-term monitoring is a critical component in identifying the impact of global warming on the open-ocean ecosystem. This is the rationale for establishing another long-term mooring site in the western Atlantic off the Bahamas to expand his research group's monitoring to other critical regions of the global ocean.


Watch video:  Ken Smith discusses the goals of the expedition

Alana ShermanAlana Sherman
Expedition co-chief scientist
Electrical engineer, MBARI

Cruise 1:  Lead engineer for the Sargassum community study and the deep-sea observatory deployment, and support for the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and camera tripod systems at sea.

Cruise 2:  Lead engineer for the deep-sea observatory deployment and the Sargassum community study.

Research interests:  Alana's focus is on developing oceanographic instrumentation. In particular, she has worked on several imaging systems, underwater vehicles (both remotely operated and autonomous), and a water sampling system for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

Watch video:  Alana Sherman talks about the expedition equipment, going to sea, and how her career has developed.

Jake EllenaJake Ellena
Research technician, MBARI

Cruises 1 & 2:  Jake works in the Smith lab and ensures that all of the team's specialized equipment gets to the ship. He coordinates the sample and data collection at sea and supports the deployment and recovery of instruments.

Watch video:  Jake discusses the expedition equipment, and going to sea in general.

Dale GravesDale Graves
Engineer and ROV pilot

Cruise 1:  Pilot and engineering support for the remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Research interests:  Dale's current interest is the development of a new small/portable ROV system that can provide additional capabilities for science.

Watch video:  Dale talks about going to sea and the Phantom ROV.

Mike RisiMichael Risi
Software engineer

Cruise 3: Mike will be assisting Alana Sherman in the recovery and redeployment of the deep-sea observatory.

Research interests:  Mike is currently involved in developing in situ respirometers to study the impacts of ocean acidification. Mike also works on automated control for remotely operated vehicles (ROV).


John RyanJohn Ryan
Biological oceanographer

John's role in this research is to provide a bird's-eye view of the cruise track. He is collaborating with researchers from the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Europe to use remote sensing from satellites and the international space station to detect and map Sargassum aggregations. They will rapidly process the remote sensing data, interpret the data, and send relevant information and images to the ship. This near-real-time information will help target where to stop the ship for observation and sampling of Sargassum communities. With other data such as sea surface temperature and ocean current velocity, they will be able to relate the patterns of Sargassum distribution to ocean water masses and circulation patterns.


Susan Von Thun Susan Von Thun
Marine biologist

Cruises 2 & 3:  Susan will be sorting and identifying the organisms in the Sargassum seaweed samples as they are collected from each science station. She will also be helping process samples from the deep-sea observatory sediment traps and process images from the camera tripod on the observatory.

Research interests:  Susan works in the video lab at MBARI, where she is a senior research technician. Her primary role at MBARI is to help manage and annotate the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) video archive. Observations about the biology, geology, and equipment in ROV videos are logged using software designed by MBARI engineers called the Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS).


Debbie Nail MeyerDebbie Nail Meyer
Outreach coordinator

Debbie's job is to communicate about the science to the public and support the science team with sample collection and processing. She will take pictures and video to illustrate science in action and write about the research for the web.

Research interests:  With a background in oceanography, technology, and communications, Debbie is interested in communicating the wonder of science to students and non-scientists. She is excited to participate in the research and to learn as much as she can about the Sargasso Sea.

Dan Barshis Daniel Barshis
Marine ecophysiologist
Schmidt Ocean Institute/
Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University

Cruise 1:  Dan is the lead scientist on the project studying genetic connectivity of fauna associated with Sargassum. He will not be at sea on the expedition but will be advising graduate student Judit Pungor remotely on what/who/how many samples to collect once she has a better sense of what's available. Dan's role has been the conception and design of the project, as well as planning and gathering supplies for the expedition. He is interested in the question of how well connected are populations of animals in the Sargasso Sea. Is it one giant similar population or are there sub-populations in different locations?

Research interests:  Dan uses manipulative field and laboratory experiments to investigate local adaptation and acclimatization to environmental heterogeneity. He is especially interested in the use of genomic and proteomic tools to identify the functional basis behind the evolution of species tolerance limits and range distributions. His approach is to investigate species that naturally occur at the edges of their physiological tolerance limits in order to understand the mechanisms that underlie the survival and dominance of some individuals over others. By understanding how organisms have naturally evolved to tolerate environmental change, we can then begin to predict how populations may respond to the accelerated rates of future global climate change.


Watch video:  Dan discusses his research and demonstrates the equipment he designed for the expedition.

Jeffrey DrazenJeffrey Drazen
Associate professor of oceanography
University of Hawaii

Cruise 1:   Lead scientist for the mobile scavengers project.

Research interests:   Jeffrey studies the role that fishes play in deep-sea ecosystems. He is interested in their foraging strategies and energetics and the role of environmental variability plays in mediating their food-web roles. He uses a variety of methods ranging from classic food habits analysis, to the development of high-pressure vessels to work on these animals alive in the laboratory. Jeffrey is interested in examining the distributions and behaviors of deep-sea fishes using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), submersibles, and autonomous camera systems.

Kathleen Sullivan SealeyKathleen Sullivan Sealey
University of Miami

Cruise 1:  Kathleen will be contributing her marine ecology and water quality experience in the region, and she will be collaborating with the mobile scavengers project. She is also responsible for scientific outreach to our Bermuda and Bahamian colleagues.

Research interests:  Kathleen's research interests are in island ecosystems and ecology of tropical marine environments.


Judit PungorJudit Pungor
Graduate student
Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University

Cruise 1:  Judit's role is to fill in for Dan Barshis, and collect samples from the microbial communities that live on the Sargassum for Dan's genetic connectivity studies.

Cruise 3: Judit will be assisting with the collection and processing of samples.

Research interests:  Judit's research focuses on the visual systems of cephalopods (squid, octopus, and their relatives). Cephalopods are highly visual animals, using their complex, image-forming eyes for almost everything in their lives, from predator avoidance and prey capture to mating and aggression displays. In her work, she is examining the functional connections and biochemistry of their visual processing centers.

John Yeh John Yeh
Oceanographic instrument/data specialist
University of Hawaii

Cruise 1:  John works in Jeff Drazen’s lab at the University of Hawaii designing and fabricating oceanographic instruments, conducting research, and publishing the results. For this cruise he will be responsible for maintaining and operating the time-lapse camera systems being deployed for the mobile scavengers study. These are the same instruments that he built for his master’s research.

Research interests:  From a biological perspective, John's research interests lay in the ecology of deep-sea scavenging animals and, in particular, cataloging their diversity and distribution on a global scale. In 2009 he collected a lithodid crab, Paraloomis sp., in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He is still trying to work out its taxonomy with other investigators, but the closest relative of this crab is found near Antarctica. It is fascinating that this crab has dispersed over such a broad range.

From an engineering perspective, John is interested in developing instrumentation to answer questions about the deep sea. For John, it is exciting to start with a scientific question, then design and build an instrument to help answer that question, and then actually go out to sea and deploy the instrument and collect data and observe how it performs.

Don Montague Don Montague
Kite Assist Institute (KAI)

Cruise 3: Don’s background as a professional windsurfer on the World Cup Tour and as a professional kitesurfer has put him on the cutting edge of sail and kite development for the past 25 years. As a co-founder of Makani Power, Don has multiple patents pending on innovations in both sports and energy systems using kite technology. Don will contribute his expertise during this mission with a suite of specialized kites, each instrumented with cameras and sensors and flown above the Lone Ranger to aid the science team in their search and imaging of Sargassum.

Web links:,

Joe BrockJoe Brock
Kite Technician
Kite Assist Institute (KAI)

Cruise 3: Joe brings a background in physics and engineering to his job at KAI with the kiteboat project. On this mission, his role as kite technician involves rigging and launching the various kites, as well as working with the camera systems, and mounting hardware, and other gear. Joe has previous experience as a commercial fisherman in Alaska for eight summer seasons; he also built a sailboat that he sailed from Washington to Alaska, and down to Mexico. Joe is looking forward to deploying the kite systems from the Lone Ranger as a unique field testing opportunity. The ship’s remote location in the open sea will allow the team to operate the kites at greater heights than they can closer to shore where air traffic must be avoided.