Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
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Behind the scenes - 2015

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Graph of sea-surface temperatures at M1 mooring

Mooring maintenance from diver's perspective

Last week, MBARI divers conducted routine maintenance on the M1 mooring in Monterey Bay, about 20 kilometers west of Moss Landing. The M1 mooring was installed in 1989 when the Institute was only two years old. Since then, the buoy, equipped with dozens of different scientific instruments, has collected over 25 years of data.

Biofouling is a significant problem for oceanographic moorings and therefore require regular maintenance. Larvae and spores settle on the moorings and foul the sensors. The photo to the left was taken by a diver conducting subsurface cleaning of M1. You can see the diver’s air bubbles at lower left. Schools of juvenile mackerel and halfmoon fish surround the mooring. A very inquisitive common murre accompanied the divers throughout their dive.

Photo by George Matsumoto.

—October 29, 2015

Graph of sea-surface temperatures at M1 mooring

A hot time in Monterey Bay

MBARI researchers have been monitoring seawater temperatures at our M1 mooring in the middle of Monterey Bay since 1990. Biological oceanographer Francisco Chavez has been analyzing these data to find out how they reflect conditions in the Pacific Ocean as a whole. This week Chavez noted, "On October 17, 2015, we set a new record for the warmest daily sea-surface temperature ever measured by the M1 mooring during it's 26-year history—18.74 degrees Celsius (65.7 degrees Fahrenheit). El Niño is here."

Image: Sea-surface temperatures at MBARI's M1 buoy at different times of year. Average temperatures for 1990-2014 are shown in green. 2015 temperatures are shown in red. Click to enlarge image.

—October 20, 2015

Anchovies stuck in the light housing on the remotely operated vehicle

Covered in anchovies

When remotely operated vehicle Ventana dove near the head of Monterey Canyon yesterday, in the area of intense whale activity, the vehicle was surrounded by the very thing attracting the whales—an incredibly thick school of anchovies. While the whales were breaching around the research vessel Rachel Carson at the surface, the ROV pilots were having a hard time installing a seafloor instrument below because the anchovies attracted to the vehicle lights were hindering visibility. The pilots turned off all the main vehicle lights and only used a small LED intermittingly. That was enough to clear the anchovies and allow the pilots to complete the mission. When the ROV was brought back onboard the ship, about 250 anchovies were stuck in a grate at the bottom of the vehicle and another 50 were stuck on the lights, instruments, hose clamps, hoses, and other parts of the vehicle.

Image: When the remotely operated vehicle Ventanareturned to the surface, it was covered in anchovies, some of which were stuck on the lights and instruments (above) and on a grate at the bottom of the vehicle (below).

—October 7, 2015

Photomontage of sparrowhawk biplanes in wreck of the US Macon

Return to the USS Macon

On August 18, researchers on board the research vessel Nautilus used the ROVs Hercules and Argus to dive on the wreck of the USS Macon, a rigid-frame dirigible airship that crashed off the Big Sur coast in 1935. MBARI researchers helped discover this wreck in 1990 and led a 2006 expedition that mapped much of the wreckage, including several Sparrowhawk biplanes that were carried inside the hull of the airship. Researchers hope to compare detailed maps made during the current expedition with those created in 2006 to study how seawater is affecting the duraluminum frame of the airship.

Image: This newly created photomontage shows wreckage of two of the Sparrowhawk biplanes amidst the wreckage of the USS Macon. The image was created by Ken Israel of Integral Consulting, using still images taken by MBARI's remotely operated vehicle Tiburon in 2006.

—August 18, 2015

Bathochordaeus larvacean

Observing the feeding currents of larvaceans

On July 27, Kakani Katija and collaborators Alana Sherman, Dale Graves, Chad Kecy, and Bruce Robison tested DeepPIV (particle image velocimetry) using MBARI's MiniROV. The DeepPIV instrument consists of a laser and optics that can illuminate "slices" through transparent animals (such as larvaceans) using a single plane of light. By analyzing video from the MiniROV’s high-definition science camera, Kakani hopes to quantify the flow of water in and around larvaceans' bodies, and to discover new details about the gelatinous structures that larvaceans use to filter particles from the water around them.

Image: A Bathochordaeus stygius larvacean "house" illuminated by DeepPIV’s red laser. Kakani Katija (c) 2015 MBARI

—July 31, 2015

flapjack octopus

Finding Opisthoteuthis

Last Thursday, MBARI Postdoctoral Fellow Stephanie Bush and her team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium went to sea aboard the R/V Rachel Carson in Monterey Bay. They were on a mission to collect octopuses in the genus Opisthoteuthis to be used for species description and display at the aquarium. These small flapjack octopuses (about eight centimeters across) eluded capture last month, but this time the team was successful. Using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana, the researchers located and collected five individuals.

This species of octopus has relatively large eyes, with ear-like fins that add to their adorable appearance, hence the possible name of Opisthoteuthis adorabilis. Stephanie is in the process of describing and naming this new species. Watch videos about this unusual animal by Science Friday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a KSBW-TV news broadcast.

Top: Stephanie Bush watches from the ROV control room during collection of the flapjack octopus. Image: © 2015 MBARI
Bottom: A flapjack octopus in Monterey Canyon.

—July 13, 2015

la paz departure

A fleet of three long-range AUVs launched from R/V Paragon

Last week, a group of MBARI engineers deployed three long-range autonomous underwater vehicles (LRAUVs). Developed at MBARI, LRAUVs can travel several thousands of kilometers in the ocean, collecting data as they go. They were instrumental in supporting the spring 2015 CANON (Controlled, Agile, and Novel Observing Network) field experiments recently conducted in Monterey Bay. The CANON project aims to observe how marine microbiological communities respond to various physical, biological, and ecological processes.

LRAUVs enable better observations of microscopic marine organisms through space and time. They can be programmed to execute a specialized goal and can be coordinated to operate together. During this particular deployment, one LRAUV drifted in the water, providing a view of the ocean environment as the plankton experience it. Another LRAUV tracked this vehicle using sound to locate it, and repeatedly surveyed the surrounding ocean volume. An autonomous surface vehicle (not pictured) tracked both vehicles while they traveled below the surface and sent this information to researchers on shore. The third LRAUV collected water samples.

Image: (from left) Ben Yair Raanan, Brian Kieft, and Brett Hobson prior to the deployment of three long-range autonomous underwater vehicles from the R/V Paragon in Monterey Bay. Photo by Todd Walsh.

—June 11, 2015

la paz departure

Postdoctoral Fellow Kakani Katija at TEDWomen conference

On May 28, MBARI Postdoctoral Fellow Kakani Katija presented a talk at the TEDWomen conference in Monterey about her research studying how marine organisms interact with the fluid world. As a bioengineer, she is interested in the underwater “footprints”, or wakes that organisms leave behind as they move through the water. Kakani uses dyes, lasers, and other technology to make these translucent structures visible and measurable. 

TEDWomen is a three-day conference with a program of speakers and workshops that encourage females to be creators and instigators of change and innovation. Kakani presented her talk to a professionally diverse audience at this star-studded event, joining notable speakers such as Jimmy Carter, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin. 

Photo Credit: Marla Aufmuth

—June 3, 2015

la paz departure

Distressed sea lions in Monterey Bay

If you’ve visited beaches in the Monterey Bay area earlier this year, you may have seen young California sea lions stranded on the beaches, weak and emaciated from lack of food. Recently, the Marine Mammal Center has reported that juvenile and sub-adult sea lions have also been stranding on beaches as a result of domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a phytoplankton that can form toxic algal blooms. Consuming domoic acid can lead to lead to seizures, brain damage, and sometimes death in marine mammals. Because this toxin accumulates up the food chain, sea lions can be affected by eating fish that have been feeding in toxic algal blooms. MBARI scientists studying the water in Monterey Bay have been observing local algal blooms. The Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System conducts predictive modeling of domoic acid. If you see a distressed marine mammal in Monterey Bay avoid getting too close or making any contact. Notify the Marine Mammal Center at 831-633-6298. You can help marine biologists tracking ocean animals by reporting stranded marine life to JellyWatch

Image: This sea lion was on the beach, lethargic and swaying its head, typical of domoic acid poisoning. MBARI staff called the Marine Mammal Center, which sent a team to rescue this animal. Later, this sea lion was sent to the organization’s Sausalito hospital for treatment.

—May 26, 2015

la paz departure

SeeStar camera system displayed at Maker Faire

Scientist Steve Haddock, Electrical Engineer Chad Kecy, and Mechanical Engineer François Cazenave introduced the SeeStar camera system at the Bay Area Maker Faire, a large festival held May 16th and 17th to celebrate invention and creativity by showcasing creations that relate to science, engineering, or art. The SeeStar camera system was originally built for Haddock, who wanted a cheap and easy way to document jellyfish blooms. MBARI engineers, led by Kecy, developed the SeeStar system using inexpensive, off-the-shelf components. It is available as an open-source project so that others can easily learn how to build their own SeeStar system. Haddock and Kecy introduced SeeStar to thousands of visitors at the Maker Faire including engineers and technologists with great ideas and suggestions. Read more about the camera system.

Image: Steve Haddock and Chad Kecy debut the SeeStar camera system at a booth at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. Photo taken by François Cazenave.

—May 19, 2015

la paz departure

Western Flyer departs the Gulf of California

The Gulf of California expedition is nearing its end, with one more leg led by Chief Scientist Charlie Paull starting on May 7. The R/V Western Flyer and its crew have been in the Gulf of California since early February and have completed six research cruises, each for a different MBARI science team and their collaborators with different research goals. Between each cruise, the Western Flyer made port stops in La Paz, Mexico, for the crew to take a short break and restock the ship, and for science teams to swap out. This week, the Western Flyer made its last departure from La Paz, Mexico, for a six-day transit to San Diego, California, where Paull and his science team will hop onboard to study how tectonic faults create change in the seafloor structure.

—April 29, 2015

Fishing line wrapped on strut between hulls of Western Flyer

Divers remove line caught on Western Flyer

On March 17, MBARI's research vessel Western Flyer returned to the dock in La Paz after a two-week midwater-biology cruise. While the ship was at the dock, researcher Steve Haddock and ROV Pilot Randy Prickett dove underneath the boat to clear a line that had become wrapped around part of the boat. The ROV pilots spotted the offending line during an ROV launch when visibility was particularly good. Earlier in the Gulf of California expedition, MBARI's mapping AUV became tangled in a fishing line 450 meters (almost 1,500 feet) below the surface.

Top: Steve Haddock and Randy Prickett prepare for a SCUBA dive to remove the line from the hull. Bottom: Still image from ROV Doc Ricketts showing a line wrapped around the strut between the Western Flyer's twin hulls.

—March 23, 2015

Johnny with ship's propeller

Recycled propeller installed at MBARI front entrance

MBARI has a new art piece in front of its main entrance—an old propeller from one of its research vessels, the Rachel Carson. The bronze propeller is five feet across and weighs 1,000 pounds; a crane was required to install it in place. The R/V Rachel Carson originally operated as an oil field supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. MBARI purchased the ship in July 2011 and transited it from La Rose, Louisiana, to Alameda, California, for extensive refitting at the shipyard. The propeller was removed during the refit.

Image: top, Louis Martinez, Eric Fitzgerald, and John Ferreira position the propeller as Greg Voogd operates the crane. bottom, John Ferreira tightens the nut into place.

—February 27, 2015

pH meters in test tank

MBARI engineers compete in third phase of XPRIZE competition

Last fall, MBARI hosted the first two phases of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE competition. The competition challenged teams to design robust pH sensors that could accurately and affordably measure ocean acidification. Eighteen teams participated in the first phase of the competition; 14 teams made it to phase three. The third phase took place earlier this month, when instruments that survived the first two phases were tested in challenging coastal conditions in Seattle, Washington. The instruments were placed in a test tank built near the Seattle Aquarium, with continuously pumped seawater from Puget Sound. The purpose of this phase was to test the instruments’ resistance to biofouling. Ken Johnson, a senior scientist at MBARI, and Hans Jannasch, a senior research specialist, are members of Team DuraFET, one of the teams that participated in the phase-three testing.

Image: An XPRIZE photographer took a photo of some members of Team DuraFET with the three pH sensors they submitted to the competition. (top row, from left) Ronnie Van Dommelen of Satlantic, Phil Bresnahan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Hans Jannsach. (bottom row, from left) Yui Takeshita of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Dave Murphy of Seabird. Photo taken by Matt Huelsenbeck of XPRIZE.

—February 18, 2015

FOCE in Antarctica

Ocean acidification studies in Antarctica

Ocean acidification poses a threat to the life and diversity of marine ecosystems. MBARI scientists and engineers have designed a sophisticated tool for studying the effects of ocean acidification that can be applied to various marine environments, from shallow-water kelp forests to the deep sea. This tool, called the Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment (FOCE) system, allows researchers to study the impacts of ocean acidification on marine animals in their natural habitat. The system is available as an open-source package to researchers wanting to use FOCE technology in marine environments of interest. The FOCE system developers at MBARI help researchers install systems in these environments. Outside of Monterey Bay, the FOCE system has been installed in the bay of Villefranche-sur-mer (France) and Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. Recently, John Stark and Glenn Johnstone, of the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of the Environment, sent word from Antarctica that their system (called antFOCE) was installed successfully and is functioning properly.

Image: antFOCE is deployed in 14 meters of water under ice in O’Brien Bay approximately five kilometers from Casey Station, Antarctica. 

—January 14, 2015

Last updated: Oct. 29, 2015