Expedition goal: The principal goal of this expedition is to measure oxygen consumption rates of select deep-sea animals using a custom-designed tool, the Midwater Respirometry System (MRS), at both shallow and deep locations. We will also be observing and collecting midwater animals to investigate their ecology, physiology, and behavior in conjunction with onboard collaborators from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Expedition dates: June 11- 17, 2019

Ship:  R/V Western Flyer

Research technology:  ROV Doc Ricketts, Midwater Respirometer System

Expedition chief scientist: Bruce Robison

The Midwater Ecology Group will continue its research into the respiration rates (oxygen consumption) of deep-sea animals using the Midwater Respirometry System (MRS). The MRS allows the group to measure these animals’ metabolic rates where they live as opposed to in the laboratory at surface pressure. Understanding the energy requirements for these animals will allow a clearer understanding of the biological pump and the energy transfer from the surface, through the ocean’s midwaters to the seafloor. The group’s studies over the last three decades have shown the area of the deep ocean where the oxygen level is lowest is growing. The midwater team has documented the vertical expansion of the oxygen-minimum zone by 60-to 80-meters in relation to ocean warming. This expansion has fragmented the midwater community by shifting the distributions of some midwater animals. Long-term studies like this are necessary for first detecting shifts in communities and then predicting how communities will respond in the future to further changes in the environment

Midwater cruises also include exploration of this large habitat, where light does not penetrate from above, and the seafloor is not in sight below. Such explorations have led to many significant observations and discoveries about this habitat and the animals that live there—and their behavior.

The ethereal siphonophore, Erenna richardi, was spotted at 850 meters. The nectophores (swimming bells) were purple and the end of the tail (siphosome) was laden with eggs. We estimated it to be a whopping one meter (three feet) long! These gelatinous animals are armed with a battery of powerful stinging tentacles and have been observed ensnaring fish just above the seafloor.

About this expedition:

Eve Lundsten and Charlie Paull

A team of 11 from MBARI will be participating in an international research expedition on the Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) icebreaker Araon from August 21 to September 17, 2022.  MBARI will be providing state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to study the seafloor under the Canadian Beaufort Sea along the southern edge of the Arctic Ocean. On this expedition we will investigate the effects of thawing submarine permafrost in this remote area of the Arctic Ocean.


Korea icebreaker Araon

Permafrost is ground that remains frozen throughout the year. Global warming has focused considerable attention on the decomposition of permafrost on land and its impact on shaping the landscape. In contrast, almost nothing is known about the decomposition of relict permafrost under the sea. The Arctic Ocean is rimmed by vast shallow areas, such as the continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea. During periods of low sea level associated with glaciation, these shallow areas have been periodically exposed to the frigid air temperatures suitable for permafrost formation. Because of the lack of moisture in the Arctic, this area was not blanketed in glaciers and therefore experienced mean annual air temperatures that were often -15°C (5° F) or colder. These cold air temperatures caused the development of thick permafrost. In contrast, when sea level rises during interglacial periods, as happened about 12,000 years ago, the permafrost is flooded by the relatively warm seawater. Because the permafrost here was so thick and the diffusion of heat was so slow, ancient Pleistocene permafrost bodies that are still 100’s of meters thick remain beneath the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, even after 12,000 years.

The first systematic high-tech mapping along the edge of the continental shelf of the Canadian Beaufort Sea was conducted in 2010. These maps revealed a band of unusually rough seafloor terrain along a 95-kilometer (59-mile) stretch of the shelf, roughly 180 kilometers (110 miles) offshore. This rough topography coincided with what was once the seaward edge of that relict Pleistocene permafrost. Sections of this topography were subsequently remapped multiple times using MBARI AUVs. These repeated surveys show that multiple new sinkholes have formed in this area over just a few years. The volume of the largest new sinkhole, developed in less than 9 years, is equivalent in size to a city block of 6-story apartment buildings. The rate of morphologic change associated with the decomposing relict permafrost seen here is among the most rapid seen anywhere on Earth.

Route that the Araon will take during the 2022 Arctic expedition. MBARI will be participating in the second leg (in red), from Utqiagvik to Nome.

Route that the Araon will take during the 2022 Arctic expedition. MBARI will be participating in the second leg (in red), from Utqiagvik to Nome.

On this upcoming expedition in August 2022, the MBARI science party will be boarding the Araon in Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly Barrow), along with other researchers from Korea, Canada, and the US. From Utqiagvik, the Araon will transit east passing along the entire north shore of Alaska before entering into the study areas in Canadian waters.

MBARI is contributing to the expedition two AUVs that are designed to map the seafloor. These untethered, free-swimming robots will descend to and independently navigate over the bottom terrain to map the seafloor along pre-programmed routes. The AUVs carry multi-beam mapping sonars that collect data at a resolution that exceeds what can be collected with a ship mounted system. These highly-detailed maps help illuminate the processes that shape the seafloor and, when conducted at repeated intervals, reveal how dynamic areas like these change over time.

MBARI’s MiniROV will be used to explore and sample the freshly altered seafloor. This ROV was designed to be small and robust so that it could be easily shipped to remote ports, providing access to study areas beyond the west coast of North America. The MiniROV utilizes an articulated arm to collect water samples, sediment samples, and animals, while recordings from a high-resolution video camera provide insight about the precise context of their locations.

Pre-cruise preparations

Expeditions like this take years to plan and require an enormous amount of work from numerous people from all of MBARI’s divisions. Engineering efforts, permitting acquisition, funding agreements, and safety training all begin years before we can set foot on the boat. It is only with considerable organization, and a little bit of good luck, that it all comes together to allow us conduct the research of interest to our team.

Physical preparations for this expedition began at MBARI in the fall of 2021 with the building of new ROV control room specifically designed for this expedition. The space was fabricated within a 20-foot shipping container with just enough floor space reserved to house the two mapping AUVs during shipping.

Tests of the new ROV control room were conducted at sea in Monterey Bay through early 2022 to ensure everything worked prior to packing, which commenced in March 2021. Two additional shipping containers were needed to hold the MiniROV, the ROV winch, and other assorted equipment needed for the expedition.

Our three shipping containers had to make an arduous journey from Oakland, California to Korea before heading up to the Arctic. Transpacific shipping delays and backlogs left some of our gear behind­–fortunately, it caught the last possible ship, arriving in Busan, Korea, just in the nick of time. To our knowledge all the MBARI gear is safely stowed onboard the Araon, awaiting our arrival in Utqiagvik.

The two container ships which carried MBARI’s equipment to Korea.

Maritime safety training

MBARI staff enjoyed a unique experience completing a required 5-day safety training and survival class that included the basics of fighting fires, CPR, first aid, and at-sea survival. Far outside our normal routines as scientists and engineers, it had us in full fire fighter gear, donning a self-contained breathing apparatus to put out a fire in a confined space, and we had to practice jumping off a mock ship (a high dive) and flipping an overturned life raft. It was a wonderful experience that we hope to never have to use in real life.

Learning how to work as a team to advance on a fire during firefighting training.
Life raft flipping test.

Expedition Logs



Jong Kuk Hong (Korean Polar Research Institute), Young Keun Jin (Korean Polar Research Institute), Tae Siek Rhee (Korean Polar Research Institute), Scott Dallimore (Geological Survey of Canada). Mathieu Duchesne (Geological Survey of Canada)