Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

On January 30, 2012, the Schmidt Ocean Institute ship Lone Ranger returns to the Sargasso Sea for a third time with Ken Smith and Alana Sherman aboard to continue their study on the effects of climate variation on the sea-surface communities and deep-sea ecosystems. This third Sargasso Sea research expedition is a collaborative effort of MBARI, the Marine Science and Technology Foundation, and the Schmidt Ocean Institute. Smith and Sherman first journeyed to the western North Atlantic Ocean to begin their time-series study in February 2011, returning in August of that year to collect samples from the surface and the seafloor. Follow this latest endeavor as daily updates are posted on this website with images and information about the research as it happens.


Day 14: Arriving in Freeport, Bahamas
February 12, 2012

Winds gusted to 45 knots on a cold and blustery morning as we approached Freeport, Bahamas.Read more...

Day 13: Steaming to Bahamas
February 11, 2012

We began the 40-hour journey toward the Bahamas late last night and will arrive early tomorrow morning, one day ahead of schedule. Read more...

Day 12: Sargassum surveys from space and sea
February 10, 2012

The Sargasso Sea expedition is using remote sensing at multiple scales to help understand Sargassum dynamics.Read more...

Day 11: Deploying the observatory
February 9, 2012

In addition to recording animal life, the time-lapse camera on the Sargasso deep-sea observatory has provided a window into physical dynamics on the seafloor. Read more...

Day 10: Drifting through Sargassum
February 8, 2012

The winds and waves also seemed ideal for Sargassum as we passed several large aggregations. We saw the most extensive raft today in the late afternoon, an extensive windrow with patches nearly half the size of the Lone Ranger. Read more...

Day 9: Views from the observatory
February 7, 2012

With the Sargasso deep-sea observatory safely secured on the ship, the science team began the job of processing the data and samples and servicing the instruments for another deployment.Read more...

Day 8: Recovering the deep-sea observatory
February 6, 2012

The deep sea is cold, dark, and under tremendous pressure, yet it is the largest habitat on planet Earth and home to many kinds of life. For deep-sea scientists, much of the challenge is getting instruments into this remote habitat.Read more...

Day 7: Sampling at Station 6
February 5, 2012

The winds reduced enough through the night for us to return to sampling today, even though the ocean swell remained substantial. But first we had to find Sargassum. Read more...

Day 6: Rough Seas
February 4, 2012

The winds increased through the night as we approached our next sampling location. When we prepared to launch the tender boat in the morning, it became clear that the weather was just too rough to continue. Read more...

Day 5: Sampling Station 5
February 3, 2012

With stormy weather approaching, the science team focused on collecting and processing Sargassum samples as quickly as possible during the morning while conditions were still adequate for operating the tender boat. Read more...

Day 4: Calm winds and kytoons
February 2, 2012

Light winds and calm seas contributed to a smooth transit during the day. The conditions were also just right for the KAI team to deploy a specially-designed kite balloon, also called a kytoon.Read more...

Day 3: Sargassum at Station 3
February 1, 2012

Today’s experience highlighted the efforts of the Kite Assist Institute (KAI) team to provide supporting imagery of Sargassum and its distribution patterns for the science team. Read more...

Day 2: Life in the Sargassum
January 31, 2012

The science team completed sampling at Station 1 today, processing nearly 13 liters of Sargassum material. This was well above the targeted 10 liter objective, a sometimes challenging goal at several stations last February and August when Sargassum coverage was more sparse.Read more...

Day 1: Leaving Bermuda
January 30, 2012

Today the Schmidt Ocean Institute ship the Lone Ranger departed from Bermuda to begin the third segment of the Sargasso Sea research project. Read more.


The western North Atlantic Ocean is a unique ocean habitat. Known as the Sargasso Sea, it is named for the free-floating brown algae, Sargassum—also called “gulf weed”—and their associated community of plankton, invertebrates, and fish, many of which are found only there. Over a period of two years, Smith and his team will conduct four research cruises in the area in order to observe how this community has been altered by warmer surface waters and increased acidity. They will also study how the effects of climate variation on the surface life ultimately affect the food supply of the area's deep-sea ecosystems.

On their first cruise in February 2011, Smith and his team spent three weeks in the Sargasso Sea on board the Schmidt Ocean Institute research vessel, Lone Ranger. During that cruise, the research team collected samples from within the Sargassum and the surrounding surface waters, and deployed a deep-sea observatory to photograph the seafloor and collect particles of debris that drift down from the surface. The data collected by this observatory will contribute to the global effort to monitor the effects of warming ocean waters on both surface and deep-sea ecosystems.

During their second cruise from July 27 to August 10, 2011, Smith’s research team collected additional samples from the surface waters, and recovered and redeployed the deep-sea observatory they left on the seafloor in February 2011.

During this third cruise of the time series, the researchers will again sample the surface waters of the Sargasso Sea, collect data from the deep-sea observatory, and perform a final deployment of the observatory, which will be retrieved later this year. One additional resource the team will have at their disposal on this cruise is the Kite Assist System. Just as it sounds, this system consists of kites of varying sizes to suit varying weather conditions, sea states, and wind speeds. The kites will be fitted with cameras and launched from the ship, providing an aerial platform from which video, stills, and a live feed can be captured to assist in locating Sargassum for local collections from the ship and ground-truthing for remote satellite (MERIS) data.

Learn more about the Sargasso Sea and the research team's objectives.

Read daily updates from the researchers aboard the Lone Ranger.

Ken SmithResearch Team
Meet the members of the research team on this cruise.

ROV PhantomEquipment
Descriptions of the equipment used on this expedition.

Cruise 1:
February 2011

Read daily logs and learn more about the research projects.

Cruise 2:
Summer 2011

View the photo log of images sent back from the ship.