Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

2011 Expedition


Cruise Background

Station M is situated approximately 200 kilometers off the coast of Point Conception in the eastern North Pacific, and is subject to strong seasonal pulses of surface productivity (Smith et al., 1992). The seafloor at 4100 meters has very little topographic relief (less than 100 meters over 1,600 square kilometers) and is composed of silty-clay sediment with seasonal deposits of flocculent phytodetritus. Currents near the seafloor average 3.8 centimeters per second, can reach a maximum of 18.2 centimeters per second and flow to the south during periods of highest current speeds and towards the north and west during the periods of low current speeds (Beaulieu and Baldwin, 1998).

Time-lapse photography has revealed abundant evidence of bioturbation and other epifaunal activity at the site in the form of numerous trails, furrows, and mounds that can be centimeters to meters across (Smith et al., 1993). Recent research has shown that climate variation can affect levels of photosynthetic activity at the sea surface (Smith et al., 2001). Photosynthetic activity levels then affect the quantity and quality of particulate organic carbon (POC) flux to the seafloor (Smith et al., 1994). Amounts of POC flux can affect the size and abundance of benthic fauna (Ruhl and Smith, 2004) as well as macrofauna (Ruhl et al., 2008).

Further Reading

For the complete citations of the above-mentioned publications and other further reading, please visit our main pelagic-benthic page.


The vast muddy expanses of the abyssal plains occupy about 60 percent of the Earth's surface and are important in global carbon cycling. Changes in the Earth's climate can cause unexpectedly large changes in deep-sea ecosystems. Based on 18 years of studies, MBARI's Ken Smith and his coauthors showed that such ecosystem changes occur over short time scales of weeks to months, as well as over longer periods of years to decades.

This video shows a series of time-lapse still images of animals on the deep seafloor. The images were taken at one-hour intervals over a period of about three months in spring 2007. These images were taken at "Station M," a long-term research site about 4,000 meters below the surface and 220 kilometers west of Point Conception, on the Central California Coast. MBARI marine ecologist Ken Smith has been conducting research at Station M since about 1990.

Cruise Homepage


Day 7 - Wrapping up
May 26, 2011

Today we made the most of our last day here at Station M. We sent the ROV Doc Ricketts, down to the ocean floor once more...

Day 6 - Sedimentary
May 25, 2011

The free vehicle grab respirometer (FVGR) being pulled out of the water after its brief stay on the seafloor.

Day 5 - Preparing and Exploring
May 24, 2011

One of the 4,000 images taken by the deep sea observatory. This one was lucky enough to catch an unusual visitor, a dumbo octopus!

The view from the Control RoomDay 4 - Photos from the Deep
May 23, 2011

A view of the monitors in the Control Room, showing the live feed from the ROV Doc Ricketts at 4000m underwater. It went down to visit the Benthic Rover, seen on the screen.....

Recovering the TransducerDay 3 - Bad Weather, Good News
May 22, 2011

Recovering the transducer after communicating with the Benthic Rover

A marker buoy is deployedDay 2 - Deployment Day
May 21, 2011

A buoy is attached to many of the instruments we deploy, to help us locate it when we bring it back to the surface. The buoys have not only a large brightly colored flag to provide a visible cue above the waves, but they also carry both a light and radio strobe, both important to indicate where our machines surfaced.

A pod of dolphins visiting the RV Western FlyerDay 1 - Departure
May 20, 2011

A mixed pod of both Pacific White-sided and Northern Rightwhale Dolphins came up alongside our ship this evening.

Cruise logs will updated when they are received from the ship. Please check back soon.


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.

Long Term Sediment Trap

Sequencing conical sediment traps are programmed to collect sinking particulate matter in sampling cups poisoned with 3.0 mmol HgCl2. In the laboratory, the collected particulate matter is analyzed in duplicate for total and inorganic carbon.

Push cores

A push-core is 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. When the cores are brought back to the surface, scientists typically look for living animals and organic material in the sediments.

Benthic Rover

The Benthic Rover is a mobile physiology lab. In a series of experiments, the rover measures how much oxygen seafloor animals are using. Precise motors lower two 30-centimeters-wide (12-inch) sample chambers into the sediment, where probes record oxygen levels. Two acoustic scanners use ultrasound to look 10 centimeters (4 inches) deep into the sediment for large animals, such as worms.

High Frequency Suction Samplers

This midwater toolsled contains a High Frequency Suction Sampler (HFSS). You can see one of the 12 collection buckets in this image. This sampler acts like a vacuum cleaner sucking up samples and depositing them into one of the 12 buckets.

Free Vehicle Grab Respirometer (FVGR)

Oxygen consumption (a measure of biological activity) of the organisms living in the sediment is measured using a Free Vehicle Grab Respirometer (FVGR) with grabs that retrieve the sediments for faunal examination and chemical analyses.

Camera Mooring

The camera mooring consists of Cannon EOS 5D digital camera mounted on a titanium frame at an angle of 31° from horizontal with the lens approximately two meters above the seafloor. Up to 3500 images can be collected over a period of four months. The camera is housed with a PC104 processor and external memory drive. These components are used to control the camera and store images.

 Research Team

Ken Smith
Senior Scientist, MBARI

Ken is an open-ocean ecologist with 40 years experience going to sea and studying extreme ecosystems ranging from the deep ocean to Antarctic icebergs. The main thrust of his research is to understand the impact of a changing climate on deep sea and polar ecosystems. On this cruise, he will be coordinating the deployments of autonomous instruments to continue long time-series studies at Station M on the Monterey Deep-Sea Fan at 4,000 meters depth.

Jacob Ellena
Research Technician, MBARI

As lab technician, Jake's responsibility is to make sure everything runs smoothly so samples can be collected at sea and analyzed in the laboratory. He'll handle much of the organizing of the equipment being taken to sea, and will ensure everything works during the cruise. Once ashore he'll take all the samples and analyze them in a variety of ways with the goal of achieving a better understanding of how the ocean works.

Rich Henthorn
Software Engineer, MBARI

Rich has been at MBARI since 2000. Rich has spent time on many types of projects, but mostly writing software for MBARI's autonomous vehicles. On this cruise Rich is responsible for the control system on the Benthic Rover.

Paul McGill
Electrical Engineer, MBARI

Paul specializies in underwater vehicles and instrumentation. On this cruise he'll help prepare, deploy, and recover the drifters, crawlers, and landers being used to study the deep ocean at Station M.

Alana Sherman
Electrical Engineer, MBARI

Alana's focus is on developing oceanographic instrumentation. She has worked on several imaging systems, underwater vehicles (both remotely operated and autonomous), and a water sampling system for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). On this cruise she will be deploying three instruments: the Benthic Rover, the time-lapse camera tripod, and Lagrangian sediment traps.

Judit Pungor
Graduate Student
Stanford University

Judit is a graduate student at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. By day, she studies cephalopod visual systems. By night, she helps Ken Smith's lab lift heavy objects. On this cruise, Judit will be working to document the research projects for the cruise logbook.