Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2010 SouthernExpedition


Day 5 – Recovering the D-ESP
July 26, 2010

Somewhere off the California coast near Oxnard
Latitude N 34° 09.2227’
Longitude W 119° 23’

Today we have started the steam home. The undisputed star of the cruise has been the D-ESP, which performed almost flawlessly, generating data the likes of which has never been seen. Last night we completed our second "off the mound" run, and the plan this morning was to dive the ROV, collect more water samples as well as some incubation experiments Bill Ussler had dropped off five days ago, and then recover the D-ESP.

We hoped to send an acoustic signal from the ship down to the elevator, which would close a circuit that would pass current through a "burn-wire," which would then corrode and trip a mechanism that would detach (drop) a 115 kilogram weight. This would make the D-ESP positively buoyant, and it would float on its own back to the surface. That was the plan, anyway.

DESP before ascent
The D-ESP just before we released the drop weight and it started its ascent.

With the ROV on the seafloor, we sent the signal and watched. Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, much to our delight, the D-ESP lifted off the seafloor. The ROV pilots then gathered up the drop weight, and returned to the surface. About twenty minutes later we gathered on the bow to scan the seas for the bicycle flag that helps us see the elevator when it floats, and only about 12 centimeters of it sticks above the water. Luckily it was a calm day, and the D-ESP was spotted about 200 meters off the bow. Then the ship’s crew sprang into action, preparing the deck, launching the RHIB boat, and zipping out to secure the floating elevator and slowly drag it back to the Western Flyer. From the time we commanded the burn wire to burn, to the time we started home, 2.5 hours had elapsed; a world record!

ROV collects drop weight
The ROV collected the drop weight after the D-ESP started ascending.
rib boat
The boat crew launching the rib boat.
Benvenuti and Shoemake in rib
Dan Benvenuti and Perry Shoemake approaching the D-ESP.

Tomorrow after breakfast we plan to stop for an hour off Point Conception to collect one more CTD rosette full of water and run some as a sample through the D-ESP on deck while we continue traveling home. This water is far away from the methane mound, and will make a nice comparison to the data collected these last four days, in case our "off mound" samples were still being influenced by the methane spewing from the undersea cracks in the mound.

So, that’s it from the Western Flyer. For Chris Scholin, the crew and ROV pilots of the R/V Western Flyer, and the entire ESP team, thanks for following along!

—Jim Birch

Scholing, Shah, and Jensen
Chris Scholin, Sunni Shah, and Scott Jensen scanning the horizon for the D-ESP after it surfaced.
Duffy and Burczynski
Pat Duffy and Mike Burczynski stabilizing the D-ESP as it’s brought on board.
DESP cooling
Our make-shift cooling system to keep the reagents inside the ball fresh until we get back to Moss Landing.
Previous log




Leg 1
 Equipment

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.

Deep ESP

The ESP is a self-contained robotic laboratory that collects samples of seawater and tests these samples for different types of microorganisms, either their genetic material, such as DNA, or proteins they may secrete, such as toxins from a harmful algae bloom. Because of the immense pressure in the deep sea, MBARI's researchers had to build a special pressure housing to protect the delicate instrument. They also had to design and build an automated system to "depressurize" seawater before it could be introduced into the ESP.


CTD Rosette

A CTD rosette is a cylindrical frame holding a group of plastic water-sampling tubes. Attached to this frame are instruments for measuring water temperature and conductivity (salinity) at various depths. Also attached to the rosette are instruments for measuring parameters such as chlorophyll, nutrients, and particulate matter in the water. As the frame is lowered over the side of a ship, water samples are taken automatically at various depths. Then the frame is raised to the surface again.



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 ROV Tiburon'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.



 Research Team

chris scholinChris Scholin
President and CEO, MBARI

After earning his PhD in Biological Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chris came to MBARI as a Postdoctoral Fellow. In 1994 he joined the MBARI staff as a Scientist with a focus on development and application of molecular probes for detection of a variety of waterborne microbes, in particular toxic and harmful algae. Working collaboratively with a team of engineers, his group pioneered development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), an instrument that collects water samples autonomously, concentrates microorganisms and automates application of molecular probes to detect particular species and substances they produce. In November 2009, Chris was made MBARI's President/CEO.

jim birch Jim Birch
Director of SURF Center, MBARI

Jim joined MBARI as Instrumentation Lead Manager. He currently serves as Director of MBARI's Sensors: Underwater Research of the Future (SURF) Center. The theme for the center is the continued development, extension, and applications of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP).

scott jensenScott Jensen
ESP Systems Lead Engineer, MBARI


doug pargett Doug Pargett
Deep-water Operations Lead Engineer, MBARI


brent romanBrent Roman
System Control Lead Engineer, MBARI

Brent has been playing with computers and control systems since the late 1970s. He wrote embedded control software for video tape editing while attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a B.S. in Computer and Information Sciences in 1985. His main technical interests are computer operating systems, languages and feedback control systems. Brent wrote most of the custom software driving the current generation of the Environmental Sample Processor. He also enjoys sailing.


chris prestonChris Preston
Senior Research Technician, MBARI


bill usslerBill Ussler
Senior Research Specialist, MBARI


burczynskiMike Burczynski
Instrumentation Technician/ROV Pilot, MBARI

Mike has worked at MBARI for over 10 years in a variety of technician roles including Research Technician, Instrumentation Technician, Marine Operations Technician, and ROV Pilot. His current role combines all his previous experience in support of the Marine Operations Division. Mike's main task on this cruise will be to operate one of our CTD rosettes profilers on a hydrowire of the stern of the ship. As the instrument package is lowered through the water column, it will collect a variety of physical and chemical data from the array of sensors that are mounted on the rosette. The package will also collect water samples at specified depths that are brought back to the surface and analyzed in the ships lab by scientists.


Suni Shah
US Naval Research Laboratory

Suni is currently at the US Naval Research Laboratory but soon to be a NOSAMS postdoctoral scholar at WHOI. Her main goal on this cruise is to operate and maintain the in situ mass spectrometer (ISMS) that will be deployed with the D-ESP. The ISMS was developed by Peter Girguis, a former MBARI scientist who was on her doctoral committee at Harvard University in 2008. It will detect dissolved gases in seawater, like methane and hydrogen sulfide.