February 7 – May 16, 2015


MBARI scientists are making their third expedition to the Gulf of California to build on research conducted during expeditions in 2012 and 2003. They will continue many ongoing investigations in this 1,130-kilometer-long (700-mile-long) finger of water that separates the peninsula of Baja California from mainland Mexico.

The Gulf of California holds special scientific appeal because of its nutrient-rich surface waters filled with life, its extensive layer of oxygen-poor water, and the many hydrothermal vents, undersea volcanoes, and zig-zag faults that have shaped its seafloor. In addition to studying these diverse physical environments and the fascinating creatures that inhabit them, MBARI’s scientists hope to compare life in the gulf to life in the extensively studied ecosystems of Monterey Bay. In particular, the warm, low-oxygen waters of the gulf may offer a window into the future of Monterey Bay under some climate change scenarios.

Research Plans

This will be a two-ship expedition. Seafloor mapping with an autonomous underwater vehicle operating from research vessel Rachel Carson will provide high-resolution bathymetric data. The data will be processed into maps, which will be passed along to science teams aboard research vessel Western Flyer. The high-resolution maps allow the scientists to pinpoint the perfect targets for remotely operated vehicle dives during which they can collect data, samples, and video, and conduct experiments.

Giant tubeworms, left, a brooding octopus, and a lava pillow are just a few of the amazing finds from MBARI’s 2012 expedition to the Gulf of California.

Giant tubeworms, left, a brooding octopus, and a lava pillow are just a few of the amazing finds from MBARI’s 2012 expedition to the Gulf of California.

The expedition will be made up of several segments, each approximately 11 days long. Each segment will give a different chance of researchers to conduct their work in the area of particular interest for their specialty. Geologic studies will focus on the dynamics of continental margin tectonics and deep-sea volcanoes. Biological oceanographic studies will focus on variability in upper ocean biological productivity,  the influence of low-oxygen and other climate-related changes in ocean conditions on midwater and benthic sea life, chemosynthetic animal communities inhabiting vents and seeps, and biological patterns in the Cabo Pulmo National Park—a study led by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. During the expedition, scientists will be posting frequent updates to these pages about their work. MBARI’s previous two expeditions to the Gulf of California yielded many intriguing observations, and prompted new scientific questions that MBARI researchers are hoping to answer. The 2015 expedition should produce more exciting finds, and will add to the legacy of scientific exploration in this unique and remote marine environment.