Behind the scenes - 2014
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute was thrilled to host 17-year-old A.J. Wright as he fulfilled his wish to meet marine scientists at the institute. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions, arranged yesterday’s visit for A.J. and his family, who toured the campus and met Scientist Bruce Robison. Together they watched video footage of A.J.’s favorite sea creature, the gulper eel, and many other midwater animals. A.J. is passionate about marine life and showed Robison and video lab members his journal filled with detailed drawings of his favorite sea animals. Afterwards, A.J. and his family took a behind-the-scenes tour led by George Matsumoto. They saw the test tank and various underwater equipment such as a mini remotely operated vehicle and the Benthic Rover. As part of his wish, A.J. will also visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A.J. Wright (far right) brought his family to visit MBARI.
—August 28, 2014
During a recent remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive, MBARI researcher Rob Sherlock observed an ambitious Solmissus jelly eating a siphonophore, Praya dubia. Last week, MBARI’s midwater ecology group conducted research from the R/V Western Flyer using ROV Doc Ricketts in Monterey Bay. Using ROVs, MBARI scientists have uncovered previously unknown complex predator-prey relationships between midwater gelatinous organisms.
—August 12, 2014
On Monday, the R/V Rachel Carson departed for a 32-day expedition in the Pacific Northwest. The trip is comprised of four legs with two port stops based out of Newport, Oregon.
During the first leg, water samples will be collected for Senior Scientist Bob Vrijenhoek near Bodega Head, off the coast of northern California. His research group is using the Gulper autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to sample chlorophyll in the subsurface ocean. An abundance of chlorophyll indicates high concentrations of phytoplankton.
The last three legs of the expedition will consist of seafloor surveys for Senior Scientist Dave Clague. His research group will conduct surveys along the volcanic spreading centers of the Gorda Ridge and the Juan de Fuca Ridge. They will use the mapping AUV to survey numerous sites. Remotely operated vehicle Ventana will also be deployed to conduct low-altitude surveys with a new ocean-imaging system developed at MBARI. The Rachel Carson will return to Monterey Bay on August 28.
The Gulper AUV (left) and the mapping AUV (right) are secured aboard the Rachel Carson. This is the first time the Carson has had both AUVs and the ROV Ventana on the back deck.
—July 31, 2014
Using maps produced by the AUV, MBARI researchers on the Western Flyer have identified hundreds of hard surfaces on the seafloor south of Santa Cruz Island. With the ROV Doc Ricketts, researchers can visually confirm and identify these objects, many of them man-made. In only two ROV dives, they have found thousands of mounds covered in marine invertebrates. These mounds likely formed when sea animals settled on the objects on the seafloor. Researchers are interested in exploring these areas to take stock of the habitat as it exists today. These animals are not especially suited to live on man-made debris; rather, they opportunistically take advantage of the hard substrate provided by the object.
A large mound of sponges, anemones, and tunicates provides habitat for mobile animals like crabs and shrimp.
—July 10, 2014
On Monday, a group of MBARI scientists led by Peter Brewer headed south along the California coast on the Western Flyer. They are revisiting an area south of Santa Cruz Island that was previously used as a disposal site for both civilian and military debris. Last year, Brewer and his team explored the area using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to identify and map possible targets–objects that protrude from the seafloor. Last year they discovered many empty 55-gallon barrels and canned goods in the area. They later were able to inspect only some of these targets with the video camera on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). This week, Brewer’s group and Flyer crew members will conduct AUV and ROV operations simultaneously. As the AUV maps unexplored areas on the seafloor, the ROV searches for targets that were previously identified by the AUV. The new maps created today by the AUV will be processed tonight and guide the group on where to send the ROV next. Photo Credit: Dave Caress.
—July 9, 2014
MBARI’s Board of Directors visited the institute last month for our annual Day of Engineering, Science, and Technology (DOEST) to hear presentations from scientists and engineers about current research projects at the institute. The theme, “Understanding Changing Ocean Landscapes”, underscores MBARI’s overarching goal to understand the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the ocean.
Presenters discussed in detail MBARI’s wide array of observational platforms and sensors, the data captured from these systems, and the societal benefits yielded from their research. Board members were given tours of MBARI labs and workspaces. Among other things, they learned about the manufacturing capabilities of MBARI’s machine shop, and observed various equipment and autonomous robots that facilitate scientific research.
MBARI Research Chair Bruce Robison gave a presentation to the Board called "Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) in MBARI's past, present, and future: Connecting the water column to the benthos."
—July 1, 2014
MBARI’s summer internship program began earlier this month, with 18 students arriving from across the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Germany. The summer internship is an opportunity for college students to work alongside MBARI staff on a project for ten weeks. The interns are working on various topics, including ocean acidification, submarine canyon processes, chemical sensors, and bioluminescence and jellies.
Ben Burford, a recent graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is returning to the internship program this year as intern logistical coordinator. He commented, “The MBARI summer internship program has proven to be a truly life-changing experience. The opportunity to learn from and work with the brilliant scientists and engineers of this wonderful institution has provided me with invaluable skills, experience, and connections. I am thrilled to be here and am looking forward to enjoying this summer with an exceptional group of talented young people!"
In front of MBARI’s research vessel Rachel Carson, this year’s interns are (from top left, clockwise) Jennifer Durden, Nathan Reed, William Symons, Corinna Breusing, Cordelia Sanborn-Marsh, Ben Yair Raanan, Laughlin Barker, Jon Steck, Kate Thomas, Lisa Ziccarelli, Ashley Maitland, Katherine Willis, Zena Jensvold, William Truong, Ben Burford, Vanessa Izquierdo Pena, and Jesse Lafian.
—June 24, 2014
Inside the machine shop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is a rectangular metal box that looks like it could be a large refrigerator with a built-in microwave. In actuality, this enormous container is a three-dimensional (3D) printer, one of two professional 3D production systems at MBARI.
“Since the machine shop manufactures most of the parts for the institute,” explained Machine Shop Supervisor Ray Thompson, “they were added as another tool to be used for manufacturing purposes.” In-house 3D printing reduces both costs and production time. Instead of hiring a printing company to build a customized part and waiting a week for its delivery, MBARI machinists are equipped to produce parts in less than a day.
Traditional manufacturing methods are typically subtractive–a block of material is cut or drilled down to the desired shape. The 3D printing process, called additive manufacturing in industrial jargon, involves adding layer upon layer of material to form a product. At MBARI, mechanical engineers envision a product then create a digital file that acts as a blueprint for a 3D printer. The file is then sent to the machine shop for production. With two high-definition 3D printers in the machine shop, MBARI can produce more parts on the spot. “We make parts that are used not just for design, but for function,” Thompson said.
—June 11, 2014
The ocean’s surface waters and the deep sea provide contrasting living conditions for marine animals. The deep sea is cold with high pressure and limited food and oxygen. The surface is warm with low pressure and more food and oxygen. The ctenophore Bolinopsis infundibulum has evolved to survive in both habitats. Steven Haddock’s research group recently collected this species near the surface during SCUBA dives and as deep as 2,000 meters using a remotely operated vehicle. With collaborators Erik Thuesen and Joseph Ryan, Haddock and his colleagues are comparing the physiology, proteins, and genes of individuals that live at the extremes of the depth range. This work gives insight to how marine organisms adapt to life in the deep sea.
—May 29, 2014
Far below the ocean’s surface, sunlight does not reach the deep sea. But many deep-sea animals display an astonishing array of vibrant colors when they are illuminated by the bright lights on MBARI’s remotely operated vehicles. The digestive organs of some jellies contain red or orange pigments that mask the blue light from glowing animals they have eaten. Other animals take on the coloration of their prey, giving scientists an insight into what they eat. Some animals glow green due to fluorescent pigments in their bodies. Others display a rainbow of colors as light diffracts through transparent tissue. During a recent Western Flyer expedition, Steve Haddock and his colleagues witnessed animals of many colors.
(click for full image) top row: Tiburonia granrojo, Crossota millsae, Halitrephes maasi, Poeobius meseres, bottom row: Lilyopsis fluoracantha, Colobonema sericeum, Solmissus sp., Arctapodema sp.
—May 27, 2014
Last Saturday, MBARI participated in the first annual Monterey Bay Sanctuary Celebration at the Santa Cruz Wharf. In association with the wharf’s 100th anniversary, the event showcased marine recreation and research in the Monterey Bay area. Local research and environmental organizations, artists, birders, boat makers, and marine experts joined the festivities to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the public. MBARI staff showed deep-sea video clips, discussed ongoing research with visitors, and displayed one of MBARI’s Environmental Sample Processors. The celebration was a fun and educational opportunity for the public to interact with local individuals and organizations whose work focuses on the ocean.
—May 22, 2014
Ctenophores, or comb jellies, are typically found in the water column, far above the seafloor. Yet a few species manage to live on the bottom of the ocean. MBARI Scientist Steven Haddock and his colleagues are currently at sea on MBARI’s research vessel Western Flyer, studying ctenophores and other deep-sea animals with ROV Doc Ricketts. Using the ROV’s manipulator arm, they plucked a bouquet of benthic ctenophores at a depth of 2,800 meters. They are interested in sequencing the transcriptomes of these beautiful animals. The researchers also came across brittle stars showing amazingly bright bioluminescence and fluorescence, especially on the tips of their arms.
(top) The benthic ctenophore uses its mouth to hold on to stalked animals that are attached to the seafloor. (bottom) The brittlestar's arm tips glow with bioluminescence and fluorescence.
—May 20, 2014
Amy Zimmerman, a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI, recently conducted field experiments to study the interactions between viruses and nutrients in the ocean. She traveled to the Sargasso Sea (in the North Atlantic Ocean) to investigate how these interactions impact picophytoplankton, the smallest community of phytoplankton.
Marine phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that reside in the ocean's upper layer where there is sufficient sunlight for these photosynthetic organisms to use for energy. Picophytoplankton populations are controlled by many factors. For example, their numbers can increase when there are enough available nutrients and decrease when they are grazed by predators or when attacked by viruses.
Viruses are largely made up of nucleic acids, which contain phosphorus, a nutrient that is scarce in the Sargasso Sea. Scientists hypothesize that the low phosphorus levels impact the growth and development of viral infections. Therefore, Zimmerman aimed to study whether virus-related deaths in picophytoplankton depend on the available nutrients, namely phosphorus, in surrounding waters. She is currently analyzing the data she collected.
Collaborators from the virus-nutrients project returning from a five-day expedition to the Sargasso Sea on the R/V Atlantic Explorer, which is stationed at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. (left to right) Amy Zimmerman (MBARI), Magdalena Gutowska (MBARI), Hugo Dore (University of Arizona), Brady Cunningham (University of South Carolina), and Jacob Waldbauer (University of Chicago).
—May 12, 2014
Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts successfully completed its 600th dive yesterday. Since February 2009, Doc Ricketts has explored the deep sea as far north as the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the Pacific northwest coast and as south as Baja California, Mexico. We congratulate the R/V Western Flyer crew and the ROV pilots for their significant contribution to hundreds of science and engineering missions.
ROV pilots in front of Doc Ricketts, from left, Randy Prickett, Mark Talkovic, Ben Erwin, Knute Brekke, Bryan Schaefer.
—April 30, 2014
Aboard the Western Flyer, MBARI’s Midwater Ecology Group is halfway through an eight-day expedition in Monterey Bay. Yesterday morning, the team and crew members excitedly observed a fangtooth fish using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. MBARI researchers have seen this fish fewer than 10 times with ROVs. Fangtooths (Anoplogaster cornuta), found worldwide at depths ranging from 500 to 2,000 meters, have a large jaw and an armored head. The fangtooth in the photo has its tail curled to one side, a behavior observed only once before with ROV Ventana. Chief Scientist Bruce Robison is eager to learn what this behavior indicates.
—April 29, 2014
Last week, MBARI’s Midwater Ecology Group, led by Bruce Robison, embarked on an eight-day expedition aboard the R/V Western Flyer to conduct research in Monterey Bay. The lab will use a midwater toolsled, equipped with sampling chambers and an underwater “vacuum cleaner,” to collect animals in the deep sea. The toolsled is attached to the bottom of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. In this photo, ROV Pilot Randy Prickett operates the crane while (from left to right) Mark Talkovic, Bryan Schaefer, and Ben Erwin align the ROV as it is lowered onto the midwater toolsled in preparation for the expedition.
—April 28, 2014
The Benthic Rover slowly creeps along the seafloor, settles at a random study site for two to three days, and then moves along to the next site approximately ten meters away. The Rover was built by a team of MBARI engineers and scientists, led by Ken Smith and Alana Sherman, to measure oxygen consumption of benthic, or seafloor, organisms as a way to understand the supply and demand of carbon in the ocean’s deepest waters. While the rover drives to each new site, built-in cameras survey the area and capture images of the seafloor. Two respirometer chambers are inserted a few centimeters into the sediment to measure the amount of oxygen consumed by the organisms contained in the chamber. The respiration rate helps scientists approximate the amount of food (carbon) the seafloor community is consuming. These data combined with those measured with other nearby instruments will help scientists understand how climate change affects the ability of seafloor organisms to obtain food in the deep ocean.
Earlier this month, the Benthic Rover was recovered for maintenance after three years of nearly continuous deployment on the seafloor at Station M, located about 220 kilometers (140 miles) off the coast of central California, at a depth of 4,000 meters. Moving parts, along with cables and connectors, will be serviced or replaced as needed. One of the most important upgrades is the installation of a redesigned hibernation board that conserves battery power in the field. The Benthic Rover will be redeployed in October.
Mechanical Technician John Ferreira helped build the Benthic Rover, seen here in the MBARI Machine Shop.
—April 25, 2014
A group of researchers led by MBARI geologist Charlie Paull are conducting an expedition this week on R/V Western Flyer. Among other research techniques, they are using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts to collect samples of sediment that will help them identify the location of the San Gregorio Fault Zone where it crosses the northern flank of the Monterey Canyon.
Katie Coble from the US Geological Survey controls the science camera on ROV Doc Ricketts from the Western Flyer control room. The video screens show the ROV manipulator collecting a "push core" to from layers of sediment in Monterey Canyon, 1,600 meters below the ocean surface.
—April 17, 2014
As their name implies, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) navigate through the ocean on their own. In situ sensors on the AUVs measure physical characteristics (such as temperature and salinity) that are useful for scientists. But how and when do MBARI scientists access these data from AUVs? Dorado must be recovered after its missions and brought back onto the ship before its data can be uploaded. Tethys, a long-range AUV, can send information when it surfaces but the data are highly compressed.
MBARI’s engineering team understood the scientists’ dependence on real-time data during field experiments so they looked to the Wave Glider, a commercially manufactured instrument, to alleviate data-retrieval issues. Software Engineer Brian Kieft and his team used the Wave Glider to rendezvous with an AUV and serve as a hotspot to better communicate live data to scientists onshore. Last Friday, the team recovered the Wave Glider hotspot after a successful mission. The hotspot transferred high-resolution data from a long-range AUV and buried seafloor instruments (called Benthic Event Detectors) to shore.
Brian Kieft (left) and Liam Chaffey (right) positioned the Wave Glider hotspot before it was hoisted aboard the R/V Paragon with the help of Thom Maughan and Mark Chaffey (not shown).
—March 31, 2014
Beginning in 2009, a team of MBARI engineers (led by Andrew Hamilton) designed a wave-power buoy—an instrument that utilizes ocean waves to produce useable electricity (typically 300-400 Watts on average, depending on the weather). The power buoy (see graphic) has a surface float 2.5 meters across and a long tether connected to a large metal plate hanging in the water 30 meters below. A hydraulic generator is incorporated in the system, near the surface float. The power buoy will eventually provide oceanographic instruments with a more generous and accessible supply of electricity at sea. The engineering team has tested the instrument at sea numerous times and is currently working to improve its longevity. Mechanical Engineer Francois Cazenave explains, “We are designing a new submerged plate that will be more stable and will reduce the load on the tether in case of very large waves.” The longest deployment of the power buoy so far was for six weeks. The team is aiming for a six-month deployment, beginning in early summer 2014.
In these 2013 photos, a team of MBARI engineers prepared the power buoy for deployment. The deployment went well overall, but after 25 days, the system failed due to wear. The engineering team is currently working on increasing the power buoy's longevity.
—March 26, 2014
For the past 12 years, Mandy Allen has provided vital support to MBARI by ensuring that the institute continues to operate smoothly. It’s no surprise that Mandy was asked by her supervisor a few years ago to present at a conference in Ireland to discuss her professional experience in obtaining permits for one of MBARI’s biggest accomplishments, the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS). Mandy secures the necessary environmental permits required of MBARI as a research facility in a national marine sanctuary.
Mandy also coordinates the internal proposal process. Every year, project managers submit proposals outlining the current status and future plans for their research. Mandy facilitates this process by setting deadlines, organizing meetings, collecting and compiling all materials, and communicating feedback from management to project teams.
On top of all this, Mandy provides invaluable support to multiple directors on special projects. When asked what her favorite aspect of her job is, she commented, “In addition to working with brilliant, fascinating people who do amazing things, I enjoy the fact that I do so many different things that no two days are ever the same.”
—March 19, 2014
When MBARI researchers deployed an environmental sample processor (ESP) from a ship to collect and analyze water samples about 100 miles off the coast of Hawaii a few years ago, communications between the ship and ESP were very weak. Satellite phone communications were spotty and the direct radio link from the ship was reliable only when the ESP was within 400 meters. The ESP team spent precious time chasing the instrument in order to communicate with it.
Satellite phones, cellular phones, and direct radio links each present their challenges in this scenario, so Brent Roman, a software engineer at MBARI, thought “if only we could combine a kite with a balloon, we could keep a radio relay above the ship in any wind.” Brent began to build a device called Helikite that could act as a very low satellite tethered to a boat and communicate via radio to reach instruments five to 10 miles away. This extra range will allow ships to monitor multiple instruments without having to trail them. Brent recently tested the Helikite, without a radio, for its first flight onshore. It was a successful test—the Helikite flew for about an hour and reached up to 350 feet. The next shore-based test will include the first radio payload.
Brent Roman conduct’s the first Helikite test flight on the beach just outside of MBARI in Moss Landing, California. The Helikite is filled with helium to generate lift.
—March 13, 2014
Bill Ussler, a senior research specialist at MBARI, is investigating techniques for cultivating bacteria in the deep sea. Attempts to cultivate deep-sea bacteria in the laboratory have generally failed because most the bacteria do not survive the transit to the surface and it is difficult to create incubation systems that mimic the deep sea. Bill designed an in situ microbial incubation system to circumvent these problems. Gas permeable bags are hung on a fiberglass frame (shown here on the deck of the R/V Rachel Carson). Six months ago, the frame was sent down to the seafloor where the ROV Ventana filled the bags with seawater. Bill added nitrate to the water in the incubation frame’s bags, in hopes of stimulating growth of bacteria that use nitrate as an energy source. Because it is thought that deep-sea bacteria are slow-growing, this frame was left on the seafloor for half a year. This experiment is located near MBARI’s MARS cabled observatory in Monterey Bay. Bill plans to connect future incubation systems to the MARS cable so he can manipulate and monitor the experiment remotely in real time.
Three weeks ago, Bill Ussler recovered the microbial incubation system from the seafloor near MBARI's MARS cabled observatory.
—February 24, 2014
Comb jellies were included in Science News’ list of top genomes of 2013. Last year, MBARI Scientist Steven Haddock was an author on a paper that highlighted these fascinating and wondrous creatures. In this study, researchers compared the genomes of organisms, including that of Mnemiopsis leidyi, a comb jelly native to the coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. They found striking evidence that comb jellies rather than sponges are the sister lineage to all other animals. This is fascinating news to biologists since comb jellies possess muscle and nerve cells while sponges do not. These findings prompt a new way of thinking about animal evolution. A Science News article provides more detailed information about this study.
After sequencing the genome of Mnemiopsis leidyi, researchers in this study compared its genomic data to other ctenophore species including this comb jelly, Bathyctena chuni.
—February 14, 2014
Students from Pajaro Valley High School participate in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s WATCH (Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitat) program. They conduct field experiments alongside scientists on environmental research projects they designed themselves. In a video by Eco Company, the students are at Elkhorn Slough to observe yellow shore crabs that they’ve collected in plastic and metal traps. They also conduct water-quality testing to check pH, dissolved oxygen, and salinity levels. MBARI researchers Chris Lovera, Linda Kuhnz, and George Matsumoto are among the researchers who work with the students. In the video, Lovera says, “They work hard to come up with a question that inspires them, that challenges them. It’s a very goal-oriented process and that’s really a life lesson—setting goals and achieving them.”
Chris Lovera (left) and a student check a plastic trap that was placed underwater to collect specimens in the Slough.
—February 5, 2014
Seven MBARI geologists and biologists spent the day at nearby Moss Landing Marine Laboratories learning how to use a sophisticated instrument called a scanning electron microscope (SEM, top image). Unlike traditional microscopes that produce images using light, SEMs focus a beam of electrons on a sample. The electrons interact with the object to generate an image onto a connected computer screen. The image unveils information about the sample’s morphology and chemical composition. This information can be used to determine the composition of rocks or sediment or identify the species of an animal.
The bottom picture shows a practice image that reveals a tiny structure (25 microns) made of calcium carbonate from the body wall of a deep-sea animal called a holothurian, or sea cucumber.
—January 29, 2014
The R/V Western Flyer, MBARI’s larger research vessel, has started the new year at a shipyard in northern California for maintenance. Among other repairs, the ship’s thruster motors require service and the motors’ housings need to be replaced. In order to easily remove the motors and their housings, the shipyard crew cut large access hatches in the underwater pontoons (see photo). Andrew McKee, the Flyer’s master, said that work is going well and progressing rapidly. The ship is set to return to Moss Landing in February.
The Western Flyer was hauled out to dry dock at Bay Ship and Yacht in Alameda, California, for maintenance. In the bottom image, you can see one of the access hatches that were cut in the ship’s hulls to remove the thruster motors and their housings.
—January 17, 2014
Sea butterflies in Monterey Bay
Stephanie Bush, a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI, is studying the biodiversity of pteropods, also known as sea butterflies because they have wing-shaped membranes located on each side of their heads. The sea butterfly Corolla spectabilis can sometimes be found in large aggregations in Monterey Bay. The Monterey Abalone Company farms its product in barrels hanging below the Monterey Municipal Wharf, where it has collected pteropods swimming alongside the abalone for Stephanie. She will extract the pteropod DNA and compare it to that of others she has previously collected. Read more about Stephanie’s work with pteropods in our expedition logbook.
Stephanie Bush uses a long pole with a cup attached to collect sea butterflies in the waters below the Monterey Municipal Wharf.
—January 13, 2014