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Click below to go to the Cruise Logs - (photo credit: Lophelia Coral - Open-File Report 2008-1148 & OCS Study MMS 2008-015)


Cruise Log: 9/14/2009    

Into The Unknown

Steve W. Ross, Chief Scientist

The box core is being lowered onto the main deck by Lorendz Boom - click to enlarge
The box core is being lowered onto the main deck by Lorendz Boom - click to enlarge
As we leave port for our second submersible research cruise of this season, the crew is busy arranging the labs and deck gear in preparation for when 24 hour sampling begins. We have about a two day sail to our first study area in the western Gulf of Mexico off Florida. This area is exciting as it represents unknown territory. Last year we mapped bottom depths with multibeam sonar (see blogs for last year's Leg II) and marked many rugged bottom features. One goal of our explorations in this area is to determine whether these features represent deep-sea coral mounds or some other bottom type. Our collaborators, who just ended a cruise in the Gulf (see www.oceanexplorer.noaa.gov), briefly visited this area and found mostly a rocky bottom with scattered corals, but there is much territory here left to explore. This is an important area to survey for all of our project objectives as it represents a possible bridge between our study sites in the Atlantic and those of the north-central Gulf. An important consideration guiding our scientific objectives is that the deep ocean world is connected via massive water current systems (such as the Loop Current in the Gulf and the Florida Current/Gulf Stream in the Atlantic). Comparative analyses of a great variety of data across similar habitats and communities from the Gulf of Mexico through the southeastern US to North Carolina (and beyond) allows us to understand whether each area is unique or part of a larger ecosystem and to what extent communities are interconnected. Such data collected over a large geographic area are critical to management of these deep-reef ecosystems.

Amanda Demopoulos and Kaitlin Kovacs assemble push cores - click to enlarge
Amanda Demopoulos and Kaitlin Kovacs assemble push cores - click to enlarge
We have brought a huge arsenal of equipment and expertise to collect as much information as possible and take full advantage of this expensive ship time. That is one reason we work 24 hour shifts. Our crew is composed of veterans, most of whom have worked together now for several years. They go about the business of setting up ship quickly and efficiently. Our most sophisticated tool is the Johnson-Sea-Link (JSL) submersible. This four-person (two scientists) submersible can dive to just over 900 m and carry a large payload of sampling gear. We use it to conduct video camera transects and video recordings of collections, to collect samples with a grab, a suction device, with cores, and to deploy traps and other experiments. It has instruments to record basic water chemistry data (salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen). We will use the JSL to conduct two dives per day, each lasting around 3 hours.

In addition to the JSL, we will operate more standard oceanographic sampling gear. We will deploy a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth, + other measurements) instrument to record water column data at every site. We will use a small research trawl to give us background data on the bottom communities surrounding the deep reef habitats. Box cores will be used to bring back an intact bite of the bottom which will be analyzed for its geological construction as well as the biota it contains. A variety of traps will be deployed at some sites to collect larger animals that cannot be caught by other methods.

We have high expectations. Stay tuned as we work our way through the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

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