Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

2011 Expedition


Cruise Background

Continuing their 24-year-long time-series study of the coupling of open-ocean food supplies and the responses of seafloor communities, Ken Smith and his research team will retrieve and redeploy deep-sea observation equipment and the Benthic Rover at Station M, approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) off the coast of Point Conception in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. The seafloor at Station M, 4,100 meters (13,500 feet) below the ocean's surface, is flat and muddy and composed of silty clay sediment and seasonal deposits of detritus.

Time-lapse photography at Station M has revealed abundant evidence of bioturbation—the mixing of sediment by organisms burrowing into the seafloor—and other activity by animals living on and in the sediment such as trails, furrows, and mounds that can be centimeters to meters across. Smith and his colleagues will now have the opportunity to analyze a new set of time-lapse photographs taken by a camera mounted on the deep-sea observatory they deployed in November 2012 and will recover on this expedition. They will also process samples from the observatory's sediment traps to obtain values for organic carbon and nitrogen, as an estimate of the food supply to the benthic community. A sedimentation event sensor (SES) that photographs settling particles for comparison with the sediment traps will also be recovered.

The Benthic Rover, which has been traversing the seafloor for the past five months, will be recovered, serviced, and redeployed.

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts will be used to conduct transects of the seafloor in order to assess the abundance and size of seafloor animals. The ROV will also be used to collect seafloor animals and place them in respirometers on the seafloor. The respirometers measure the animals' oxygen consumption, an indicator of how much food the animals consume.

Related Links

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 6
June 19, 2013
Preparing for the next mission

Day 5
June 18, 2013
The sediment event sensor

Day 4
June 17, 2013
Recovering the Benthic Rover

Day 3
June 16, 2013
Making the most of good weather

recovering the mooring Day 2
June 15, 2013
Deploying the elevator

camera tripod Day 1
June 14, 2013
Weathered out


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, the 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, each with an effective mouth opening of 0.25 m2, are moored at 600 meters and 50 meters above the bottom at 3,500- and 4,050-meter depths, respectively. Trap sequencers are programmed to collect sinking particulate matter in sampling cups every 10 days. 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. 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 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-centimeter-wide (12-inch) sample chambers into the sediment, where probes record oxygen levels. Two acoustic scanners use ultrasound (in 4-MHz pulses) to look 10 centimeters (four 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.

Benthic elevator

The benthic elevator allows us to carry more than the ROV itself can carry. Loaded with sediment enrichers, it is deployed from the ship before the dive and free-falls to the bottom where the ROV pulls the equipment from the elevator for use. After the ROV is recovered, the elevator anchor's acoustic release is triggered from the ship, and the elevator freely ascends to the surface and is recovered.

Camera mooring

The time-lapse camera consists of a Benthos 377 camera mounted on a titanium frame at an angle of 31 degrees from horizontal with the lens approximately two meters above the seafloor. The camera is equipped with a 28-millimeter Nikonos lens, providing angular coverage of 50 degrees in the horizontal and 35 degrees in the vertical plane, and holds 400 feet of 35-millimeter color-negative film. Up to 3,500 images can be collected in 4.6 months. Two strobe lights, one mounted on either side of the camera housing, illuminate approximately 20 square meters of the seafloor beginning at a distance of 1.8 meters from the camera frame and extending approximately 6.5 meters from the base of the camera frame. In June 2007 a high-resolution digital camera was added to the frame.
 Research Team

Ken SmithKen Smith
Senior Scientist, MBARI

Ken is an open-ocean ecologist with 40 of 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 coordinate 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.

Alana Sherman Alana Sherman
Electrical Engineer, MBARI

Alana specializes in instrumentation. On this cruise she will be deploying three instruments: the Benthic Rover, the time-lapse camera tripod, and Lagrangian sediment traps.

John FerreiraJohn Ferreira
Mechanical Engineering Technician, MBARI

John will help with all the mechanical maintenance and repair of the Benthic Rover, the sediment traps, and the seafloor camera tripod.

rich henthorn Rich Henthorn
Software Engineer, MBARI

Rich has been at MBARI since 2000 working 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. The Rover will be retrieved from the seafloor and then redeployed for six more months.

Crissy HuffardCrissy Huffard
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

Crissy is a senior research technician in Ken Smith’s lab. On this cruise she will be supporting shipboard operations and instruments, and overseeing samples collected from the sediment traps.

Paul McGill Paul McGill
Electrical Engineer, MBARI

Paul specializes 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.

Henry Ruhl Henry Ruhl
Head, DEEPSEAS Group
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Researching the links between climate variation and deep-sea ecology has been a primary focus for Henry. In particular he's interested in understanding how changes in climate are related to the role of the deep ocean as a carbon sink. During the cruise he will be researching the abundance and distribution of animals on the seafloor, as well as their respiration rates using specialized chamber systems. Respiration is a good indicator of carbon utilization and provides key input into estimates of carbon flow and the importance of biodiversity at the seafloor.