We’ve reached the end of this 3rd and final week of the 2014 R/V Point Sur Chief Scientist Training Cruise. As we bring this blog to a close, we have many people to thank for this opportunity. Many thanks to UNOLS, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories for their support, and to all those who invested great time and effort to make this program possible. A special thanks to Kenneth Coale, Mike Prince, Jon Alberts, Rose Dufour, Tim Schnoor, marine technicians Stian Alesandrini and Dan Powers, and the crew of the R/V Point Sur. Thank you for all your support.
As we wrap up the cruise, make our farewells and head back to our respective homes, the crew of the R/V Point Sur is starting a transition of their own. As it happens, our cruise was the last overnight cruise on the Point Sur’s schedule – UNOLS is retiring the ship at the end of the month, and its future after that is currently uncertain.
Due to the coming change, the mood on board was a bit bittersweet. The ship is home to a lot of memories for many of the crew and scientists at Moss Landing, as well as the countless others who’ve sailed with her over the years.
In celebration of the coming retirement, cook Tara Patuszek went all-out with an elaborate spread for the final dinner. She’s done a fantastic job keeping us all well-fed, and this last supper went above and beyond. Feeding a group this size is no mean feat on dry land, let alone with a kitchen that rolls to and fro and utensils that don’t always stay put.
Throughout the cruise, many in the science party remarked at how excellent the crew was to work with. On a small ship like this, every person on board matters, and the cohesion and camaraderie among the crew can affect the atmosphere and productivity of the whole trip. This was a fantastic group.
Our heartfelt thanks to Captain Rick Verlini and the entire crew of the R/V Point Sur for sharing your home(-away-from-home) and your considerable talents with us this past week. It was truly a privilege sailing with you, and we could not have had such a successful and productive cruise without you. Best wishes to you all in whatever lies ahead.
Continuing our sea monster theme, we have some special footage for you today courtesy of scientist and videographer Charlotte Frank, who accompanied us on the cruise. MOCNESS (which stands for Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System, mentioned previously in this blog) is an elaborate net system where individual nets can be triggered to open and close separately so that multiple distinct sample collections can be taken during a single tow. For example, you might want to sample at different water depths to see how biodiversity and abundance changes with depth. It’s also equipped with various sensors to collect water column data (such as temperature, salinity, depth, chlorophyll levels, etc.) during the tow. Scientists can use this real-time data feed to better decide when and where they want to sample.
Its multiple nets make it a very practical tool, and give it a monster-like appearance, with long, delicate nets streaming out from a single rectangular frame. Watch its tentacles unfurl underwater as we launch it for sampling:
One of our first net deployments brought up a rather unusual fish.
This little guy looks like a juvenile oarfish. Although this one fits nicely in the palm of your hand, some varieties of oarfish can grow to be over 10 m (>30 ft) long! Encounters with giant oarfish are quite rare, but you can imagine how running across one in the wild could be disconcerting. In fact, giant oarfish are thought to be the inspiration behind many tales of sea serpents and sea monsters.
In addition to its unusual size and shape, oarfish have a very unusual way of swimming, keeping its body very straight and using its long dorsal fin to stabilize and propel itself through the water. For more on this fascinating and mysterious fish, check out this short piece from NPR’s Science Friday, including some nice video footage of live sightings.
by Dr. Mike Lowe
During 24-hour scientific operations, night side is the right side.
Most organisms follow a natural, 24-hour cycle of biological processes (aka, circadian rhythm) that is tuned to external cues such as daylight. The typical ‘internal’ clock of an oceanographic scientist on land is predicated on waking at or before sunrise, consuming copious amounts of coffee, working long hours, consuming more coffee, working some more, and then sleeping. Repeat. This cycle can be severely disrupted during research cruises and most scientists will let out an audible grown upon hearing they have been assigned to the “midnight to noon” shift. However, splitting the scientific crew into day and night shifts not only maximizes the capabilities of a research vessel during at-sea operations, it gives biological oceanographers, the opportunity to witness (and study) one of the more substantial circadian rhythms in the marine environment; the discovery of which is equally interesting.
During WWII, the United States Navy began developing undersea acoustics for SOund, NAvigation, and Ranging (SONAR). The overly simplified idea behind SONAR was that a high-powered pulse of sound (or ping) broadcast into the water would reflect off of the target (bottom or submarine), and, using complex computations, the distance between the sound source and the target could be calculated. The development of this technology led to the discovery of a consistent, horizontal layer of ‘echoes’ at a depth of 400 m (1314 ft) in the open ocean during the day that became more diffuse and spread out in the upper surface layers during the night. This phenomenon was described as the ‘sound scattering ’ or ‘deep scattering’ layer.
Advancements in both SONAR and sampling gear technology (such as the MOCNESS; see photo below) have revealed that the deep scattering layer is composed mostly of a group of small fishes that account for a significant proportion of the global biomass of fish in the ocean and collectively are the most abundant vertebrate group on the planet.
Mesopelagic fishes migrate from the ocean depths, where they live during the daytime to avoid being consumed by large predators such as whales and other large fish, to surface waters to feed on abundant phytoplankton and zooplankton at night. This process is known as “diel vertical migration,” occurs everyday in the open ocean, and plays a very important role in the open ocean food web and ecosystem dynamics.
Mesopelagic fishes collected during both day and night operations during the Chief Scientist Training Cruise aboard the R/V Point Sur will serve multiple purposes. First, PI David Cade (Stanford University) will use the samples to make associations between the daytime and nighttime depth distribution of mesopelagic fishes (and krill) with the distribution of marine mammals detected during passive acoustic monitoring (i.e., listening to whale calls). Secondly, the samples will be shared with scientists at the Moss Landing Marine lab and used to improve our understanding of the mercury cycling in the pelagic marine environment.
Though the work is hard and our own daily circadian rhythms are disrupted, we get to not only conduct our own research, but also bear witness to one of the greatest migrations of animals occurring on earth each day… although we are a long way from verifying that last statement!
In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of cruise planning, we’re getting the rare chance to participate in other researchers’ projects and learn about the science they do. The 8 participants come from a broad range of marine science fields, creating a fantastic cross-disciplinary experience. Geologists are assisting biologists with their sampling and vice versa.
My own background is in geology – I primarily study volcanic processes at mid-ocean ridges (the volcanic system that creates the oceanic crust) and ocean islands. Even though I’ve been to sea many times, I’ve never taken the kinds of samples and measurements that the marine ecologists and oceanographers on board are interested in. Nets! CTDs! Krill! Phytoplankton! Sediment cores! Mud!
Sailing with such a diverse group of scientists has given me a broader perspective on the sorts of data used in these fields, and a first-hand look at how those data are obtained, processed, and analyzed. It’s also a good reminder that sometimes one person’s rejects are another person’s data.
As we consider the roles we might play as future chief scientists, this sort of cross-disciplinary understanding could prove incredibly valuable. Sometimes projects get combined so that completely unrelated projects sail on the same cruise. Having some basic level of understanding of the equipment frequently used by different disciplines, the kinds of measurements that are important to them, and related logistics would be extremely helpful for effective planning. As many times as I’ve been to sea, I’d never used a net for anything (not very useful for picking up rock samples!), let alone experienced the operation (and cleaning…!!) of a big tucker trawl net. When managing a cruise with unfamiliar equipment or methods, clear communication about the logistics that go along with that is crucial.
The hunt was on.
It was time to chase down and retrieve the two hydrophones we deployed the first morning of the cruise. But first we’d have to find them.
Attached to floats, they’d been freely drifting on the currents for about 48 hours, recording underwater audio. While we had some guesses as to where they might go (and even had a friendly bet going to see who got closest to their final locations), we wouldn’t know for sure until we found them.
Scientist Dave Cade, the PI in charge of this acoustic monitoring project, will be using the data from the hydrophones to identify and study the marine mammals in the area. Here’s a summary of the project, courtesy of Dave himself:
Passive acoustic monitoring has the potential to illuminate the movement, behavior and feeding ecology of vocalizing marine mammals. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is undertaking a long-term passive acoustic monitoring project at the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) observatory site at the mouth of Monterey Canyon. To collect preliminary data on the acoustics of the region, we are deploying 2 autonomous floating hydrophones above the MARS site. Marine mammals in the area that we hope to detect on our system include beaked, humpback, blue, fin and killer whales.
The hydrophones, affectionately named Bucket and Zebra by their creator, had transmitters to help guide us towards their approximate location, but then it was up to us to spot them visually. Each had a brightly colored flag on top for easier spotting, but even that can be hard to see amongst the swells on the open ocean. Close to a dozen scientists and crew members carefully scanned the horizon (or the airwaves!).
Fortunately, the transmitters worked perfectly, and it wasn’t too long before we spied the first one bobbing on the surface ahead of us. Both Bucket and Zebra were soon back on board safely.
Judging by the amount of mammal activity we’ve seen during our time out here, it seems likely the hydrophones will have a story to tell. Later today on a transit to our next sampling site, we were joined by a playful pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins riding the ship’s bow and wake! I’ve spent months at sea and never seen as much whale and dolphin activity as we’ve seen in just a few days around Monterey Bay.
Anyone who’s worked at sea for a while knows not everything goes as planned. When some instrument breaks or starts acting up, you can’t exactly drive to the nearest hardware store, or call up your local MOCNESS help desk for assistance. One of the more challenging (and rewarding!) aspects of working at sea is troubleshooting problems with the resources available on board. And of course those resources include the people around you. Creativity, ingenuity, and flexibility are valuable qualities in this line of work.
We hadn’t even left port yet when we had technical difficulties during a video conference call. As we struggled to hear the people on the other end, Chief Scientist and mentor Kenneth Coale came up with this quick solution:
For the past couple of days, we’ve been struggling with the multicorer. Scientist Kelly Gibson is trying to use it to collect mud samples from the seafloor. The multicorer is lowered to the seafloor and, when everything’s working properly, the cores sink into the underlying sediment and trap the mud inside them. The trapping mechanism was failing to release properly, so the cores kept coming back empty. The marine technicians and ship engineers pooled their expertise and skills and MacGyvered a quick fix. Within hours, it was back in the water and bringing up mud. (Although, some among the science party are fairly certain the successful recovery is all thanks to their special mud dance, performed with great feeling and enthusiasm during the coring…)
Geologists use cores like this one to look back in time. A vertical section of seafloor sediment gets progressively older towards the bottom of the core. According to Dr. Gibson, mud at the base of this one probably formed about 500 years ago. She will measure nitrogen isotopes in these sediments to reconstruct recent changes in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific denitrification signal.
by Dr. Diane Adams
What I learned my first day as Co-Chief Scientist:
1) Plan for contingencies – for when things go bad AND when things go faster than you think.
We had planned for bad weather and not being prepared, but we hadn’t planned for breezing through sampling and stations. On the first day (day shift) we had planned 5 activities at one station and 3 activities at a second station. We went so fast that we added 3 more stations each with multiple activities!!
2) When you’ve got your eye on making the whole cruise a success, it’s hard to get your own work done properly (or at all!).
The job of a chief scientist is to make sure the cruise is a success – for everyone. It’s developing a plan to meet everyone’s goals. That was a real challenge for a short cruise and essentially 8 PIs, each with different multidisciplinary goals. It doesn’t give you a chance to focus narrowly on your own science. Best advice – make sure to have a minion (uh… I mean technician or graduate student) to get your work accomplished.
3) Make sure your PIs actually looked at the cruise plan. You need their expertise.
While you and your co-chief may have poured over the details in developing the cruise plan and now see the chart in your head, many PIs may have only glanced to make sure their main objectives were covered. It is important that the PIs also pay attention to the details. On a multidisciplinary cruise, the chief(s) will not be intimately familiar with every sampling scheme. We NEED the PIs input to make the entire cruise successful. Everyone is busy, busy.
4) Choose a great group to work with that is flexible and fun.
We are extremely lucky to have a fantastic group of early career scientists from biology, geology, acoustics, physical oceanography, and geochemistry. Everyone has a great attitude for this cruise and has pitched in to learn brand new techniques, tricks and trades. It’s really nice being out with a group about the same age with diverse backgrounds that are willing teach and share. I truly believe that new collaborations will form from this cruise.