Central California Carbon, pH, and O2 (C3PO) Expedition

Eric Fitzgerald and Jacki Long recovering the CTD rosette on the R/V Western Flyer

MBARI Expedition #469

Expedition goals: The main objectives of this research expedition are: 1) fill observational gaps for carbon dioxide (CO2) chemistry along the Central California Coast to develop calibration routines for pH sensors on underwater gliders in this region; 2) determine the rate of acidification along this region of the coast over the past decade; 3) test the Digi-DIC, a new chemical analyzer for total CO2, developed in the chemical sensor lab at MBARI. This weeklong expedition will conduct three transects going 250 kilometers (155 miles) offshore, spanning from Monterey Bay to Point Conception.

Expedition dates: July 23- 29, 2019

Ship: R/V Western Flyer

Research technology: CTD rosette, Spray underwater glider with Deep-Sea-Durafet pH sensor, Digi-DIC chemical analyzer

Expedition chief scientist: Yui Takeshita

The California coast is a hotspot for ocean acidification and hypoxia (low oxygen). This is because upwelling brings deep, low-oxygen and low-pH waters towards the surface. Over the last year, the Coastal Biogeochemical Sensing Group has worked to equip the Spray underwater glider with a pH sensor to better observe the acidification process along our coast. Gliders are autonomous platforms that profile down to 1,000 meters (3280 feet), and can be navigated from shore. They collect data as they rise to the surface, and then relay their data via satellite. They are particularly well suited to measure the coastal ocean. However, in order to routinely operate this new pH-technology, we need a calibration routine that can be easily implemented that does not rely on research vessels. We plan to take advantage of the fact that deep ocean waters are relatively stable and predictable, and calibrate the sensors at depth. Our goal is to determine how deep and how far offshore we need to go to conduct a reliable calibration.

Over the next six days, we will be collecting water samples down to 2,000 meters (1.25 miles) at approximately 20 stations spanning from Monterey Bay to Point Conception. Water samples will be analyzed onboard the ship, which we have equipped with our analytical instrumentation. We will also be testing prototype chemical sensors we have developed to measure total CO2. We are sailing with four students who have never been out to sea before, and we are very excited to provide them this opportunity!

Updates from researchers on the R/V Western Flyer:

Monday, July 29, 2019
Research Technician Marguerite Blum 

All the samples ever!

Marguerite ready to collect samples.

Someone once asked me to describe my job. In the most sarcastic description I could think up, I said: I poke holes in the ocean to watch them fill back up to see who or what recolonizes the empty area. After a month, I then poke another hole to take them away again. I do this 12 times a year, at least. My primary investigator has been doing this for 30 years.

Thus, I am a water-collecting machine. During this cruise, we are focusing on understanding the chemistry of the ocean. At each station, we collect samples for pH, dissolved inorganic carbon, oxygen, total alkalinity, and nutrients. We use the rosette to take two casts of water samples, which contains 24 samples of water. Each of those samples will be divided into the five samples described previously. Thus, 120 samples per station at 20 stations is 2,400 samples. We also have several other sampling instruments to take various measurements, often while we are underway.

In just this cruise along we will  collect 2,400 samples! We also collected 2,400 samples back in May. Thusly for this year, we have collected 4,800 samples. That’s a lot. For your information, I have two more day cruises, as well as a 12-day cruise, throughout this year. I can multiply that number by double again, and then add another 20+ samples of different varieties per cast/station. By the end of the year, I can collect over 20,000 samples of water.

Only a subset of the 2,400 samples collected on this cruise.

MBARI is known for being able to collect many, many samples and has a fabulous data-storage policy as well. For 30 years, my primary investigator (Scientist Francisco Chavez) has been collecting water samples at many locations in the ocean. More recently, samples we have been collecting data via autonomous vehicles. We have several multi-terabyte computers that store data and are able to cross compare all that data. We also pride ourselves in being able to collaborate with groups at other institutions, colleges, and private companies. MBARI is a non-profit organization, so we profit by giving as much back to our community as possible.

Updates from researchers on the R/V Western Flyer:

Saturday, July 27, 2019
Research Technician Jacki Long 

The food pyramid on a ship:

Michelle Obama, if you’re reading this, stop right now.

One of the most bittersweet things about being at sea—did someone say sweet? I’m hungry.

Sorry, had to go to the galley. Anyway, all the food. All the delicious food is the bittersweet thing about being at sea. And without much to do other than run samples, your thoughts quickly become consumed by consumption. For example, here are the real catalogued thoughts of a scientist at sea:

Food log:

11:08 Start new cast! Should celebrate…

11:13 Swedish Fish candy (sustainable fishing is important. Better leave at least half the fish in the bag…)

11:15 Loaded sample! I definitely deserve a snack now.

11:17 Sour Patch Kids! Kids get lonely… I better eat a few so they have friends.

11:24 Loaded another sample! Such a win. When’s lunch?

11:25 Crystallized ginger! I’m not sea sick anymore, but just in case…

11:34 New sample! And lunch time!!

11:34.5 I don’t want to get hungry before lunch… should grab some roadie peanuts.

11:35 LUUUNNNCHHHH!!!!!! Yum, yum, yum.

12:18 More samples… ooh cashews.

12:20 Only four hours and 40 minutes until dinner!

It’s pretty clear that this ends up in less-than-healthy decisions, forming a “new” food pyramid that is dominated by snacks.

Updates from researchers on the R/V Western Flyer:

Friday, July 26, 2019
Scientist Yui Takeshita

And we’re off!

The C3PO expedition is off to a great start! We started off the cruise by testing out our emergency gear, a.k.a. Gumby suits. The struggle to get these suits on was real, but in the end we persevered and all got into them safely!

It has been non-stop action since we left port. We have been conducting 24-hour CTD operations, and we are about half way done with our stations! Above, Emily Bockmon from Cal Poly is helping deploy the rosette. We use these lines ot keep the rosette from swinging too much before it hits the water. The weather the first couple days has been a bit bumpy though; don’t let the pictures above fool you! It looks calm, but it has taken a couple days for many of us to gain our sea legs out here.

Once we collect the samples from the rosette, we bring them back into our laboratory-at-sea and the real work begins. We collect over a hundred bottles at each station, and have to process the collections before we arrive at the next station. Before we can analyze the samples, they need to be brought up to near room temperature by keeping them  in small “water baths,” seen on the left. However, not all analyses are done at sea. Some bottles are preserved, and brought back to shore and analyzed later. On the right, Addie is preserving samples for total alkalinity.

A big part of work at sea is troubleshooting instruments. No matter how much we sweet-talk, praise, or pet our instruments, they will always find a way to misbehave. I guess they, too, get seasick! One of the most effective ways to fix problems is to stare at them contemplatively, and will them back to health.

MBARI cruise participants

Other cruise participants:

Emily Bockmon, Sara Gray, Addie Nogaard, and Maddie Verburg, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Kyle Conner, MBARI summer intern