Dr. Peter Auster: Conducting Research at Sea
The primary task at sea all the time is trying to collect as much data as you can using the facilities that you have because going to sea is very expensive and often you spend 1 or two or three weeks at sea trying to collect the data that you're going to use the entire, rest of the year to get your research done. My role on the latest expedition was studying the ecology of... was dealing with the ecology of fishes part of the research. We had a very diverse and interdisciplinary group of scientists on the ship. Some with geophysics, others, many others, looking at the various components of ecology of corals and other invertebrates and I was the soul guy on board looking at animals with backbones.
There are a number of challenges at sea. One is simply just operating on the deck of the ship which is unlike anything you ever experience when you walk into the office in the morning. There are technical challenges using any kind of electronics in a marine environment as well as weather keeping it from getting your job done. I've had cruises that have totally been blown off by hurricanes that have moved through as well as technical difficulties from using very advanced, state of the art, under water vehicles and other kinds of tools.
We saw some incredible things on this expedition. This is the 3rd in a series of cruises focused on seamounts in the Western North Atlantic. And this time we were able to look at the Eastern part of the chain in the Corner Rise seamounts because we were able to start the expedition in the Azores in the Eastern Atlantic. And we spent nearly 11 days under water using the Hercules ROV and the landscapes were just other worldly. The landscape isn't like on land. It isn't populated by trees and shrubs and things. These landscapes are populated by corals and sponges and then we have the wildlife, the fishes, moving amongst them. We saw a number of species that we hadn't seen before. Many times this is the first time that light is falling on these species of fish and we're actually seeing them operating in their environment for the first time. Most of these species have been collected before but by nets. So we have this fish that's isolated from its environment flopping on the deck of a boat, or people study them dead in jars in museums. And these are all valuable intellectual pursuits, but actually seeing how these animals operate within their environment is both unique and gives us a picture on those things that are important to their life's history.