Ask an Explorer

Questions were sent to the science party during this expedition. Selected questions and answers are offered below.

Questions from:  Tara, Los Angeles, California

What's it like spending a long period of time at sea on a mid-sized vessel? Do you get enough exercise?

Answers from:  Nick Loomis, Graduate Student, MIT, 3D Optical Systems Group; and Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

From Nick Loomis: Tara, thanks for the questions!  There are definitely some interesting differences between land and sea, including some creative problem solving that comes with having limited resources.

Our boat is relatively small, and the exercise room is being used for storage for our large crowd of researchers.  Instead, we've come up with creative ways to exercise: running laps around the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), playing slip-'n-slide in the hydraulic oil on deck, hauling buckets, jogging up and down stairs, keeping track of "whack-a-roach" points. Oh, and the divers have gotten some swim time, but that's obvious! In short, we're all looking forward to getting back to some of our regular exercise habits, with or without hard hats.

From Gwen Noda:  The boat is large enough to find some elbow room and fresh air (even though there are 61 of us on a ship made to accommodate 40), but not so large that someone can't be found in a few minutes (the phone system onboard helps). The biggest problem we have, though, is that if we want to have a meeting, there is only one room where more than six of us can get together comfortably — the mess hall — and that still doesn't really accommodate everyone onboard (although, I guess someone needs to pilot the boat…). 

Like Nick says, there is an exercise room, but it's in the hold that is a constant 90º F and 100% humidity — and all the equipment is improvised (concrete dumbbells, burlap sack punching bag) or somewhat dilapidated (one pedal on the stationary bicycle). I have seen some of the crew use the equipment, though. Scuba diving is the main exercise that I've gotten, and one day the non-divers had a swimming day and jumped off the upper decks and swam around. We do go up and down stairs quite often (my room is on the 01 Deck and the mess hall is one floor down on the main deck level and the hold is two levels below that). Oh — and yes — hauling buckets of water from over the side of the ship to fill the large kreisel is my new favorite pastime. It's a good upper body workout (although, not so good for my lower back)!

Questions from:  Yadira, Marine Biology Student

How can you tell that the gene pools are mixed?  How does it change the population?

Answers from:  Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

Your question about mixed gene pools is insightful. Knowing how organisms that look very similar are related is difficult, and certainty only comes by analyzing differences in DNA or RNA. The new techniques for genetic analysis that are being used now are changing our view of life in the oceans. For example, the moon jelly, Aurelia, that is displayed in lots of public aquariums (such as the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and the Cabrillio Marine Aquarium in San Pedro), is found in most of the oceans around the world. All Aurelia look pretty much alike, and for years it was assumed that it was the same species everywhere. Then the genus was divided into four species based on careful study of morphology (characteristics of the medusa’s body or of its benthic stage). Now, with DNA analysis it is estimated that there are about 30 different species around the world!

This new approach to taxonomy (classification) is leading to exciting new ideas about the ocean’s ecosystems and evolution. We are learning that the ocean’s ecosystems are a lot more complex than we once thought. This is the result of better sampling and more measurements of physical and chemical characteristics, and from the fact that organisms that we thought were genetically very closely related are in fact different and must have changed to adapt to local environments.

Your second question, about how a mixed gene pool affects the population, is an important one. If the genes in individuals of a species in a particular location are slightly different, it is always possible that one set of genes makes that individual better suited to its environment.  Then it and its offspring will survive better than some of its relatives, and through generations its offspring probably will dominate the population. This mixture of genes is particularly important when the local environment changes in some way. Some individuals will be able to adapt to the changes more successfully than others. For example, when the ocean water around corals gets too warm, many corals “bleach.”  They look white because their zooxanthellae (colored symbiotic algae) are ejected and you can see the white carbonate skeleton through the coral’s transparent tissue.  But some corals survive the warming water better than others; probably because of their genetic makeup.

New techniques and new ideas are changing many long-held views about the ocean. It’s an exciting time to be a marine biologist or oceanographer!

Question from:  The Life Science Class, Lincoln Southeast, Lincoln, Nebraska

What is the size of the holographic equipment? It is difficult to tell the dimension from the photo

Answer from:  Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

Since we are in the last day of the expedition, Nick Loomis has already packed his digital holographic imaging (DHI) apparatus, but he told me the way it was set up in the lab, from end to end it was about 2 ½ feet long. He also said that the distances between various components varies depending on the volume he is measuring, and that the package they are developing for use underwater might be as small as 1 ½ feet long. (I am estimating the span between his hands as he talked about it!) I gather it is easier to shrink the electronics than it is to make the camera and lenses smaller.

Questions from:  Yanira and Yesenia, Mr. Ozuna’s Marine Biology Class, Roosevelt High School

Does everyone in your crew use the ROV?

How does it feel "walking in space"?

Have you gone to the Pacific Ocean to do bluewater diving? If you did, how does it feel?

When was the last time you went bluewater diving?

Is the water clear when you go scuba diving?

At what time is the latest you could be diving? 

Answers from:  Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

The ROV is an important research tool on this trip. The chief scientist makes decisions about where we will deploy the ROV (he chooses a place on the map at a depth that he wants to explore), and the three ROV operators "fly" the vehicle around. Many scientists help decide what animals we should collect and which ones we should photograph. The camera on the ROV shows us live video from its location and when we send the ROV down, almost everyone on the ship watches the TV monitors that we have set up. So, in a sense, we all do use the ROV, but the big decisions on where to explore and for how long are up to the lead scientists.

If you do it right, scuba diving can feel like you are floating weightless. The water has been very blue and clear here. When we bluewater dive, we are each attached by a 30-foot long tether to a center hub and when we swim as far away from each other as possible, we can still see each other. That means our visibility through the water is at least 60 feet, but I would guess that most days it is 100 feet or more.  That's some really clear water! All the diving we have done on this trip has been in the Celebes Sea. I went on five diving excursions during this trip (all of them were bluewater dives), so my last dive was only a couple of days ago. I have been diving in the Pacific Ocean, though. I learned to dive in Southern California, where the water is cold, so I had to wear a thicker wetsuit and more weight to compensate. The Celebes Sea is very warm and I don't need to wear a wetsuit for warmth, but I wear a thin one anyway to help protect me from stinging jellies or siphonophores.

Question from: Jason, Mr. Pelien’s Marine Biology Class, Long Beach, California

As part of the global environmental science academy, I have a few questions:

1) As you go deeper and deeper to the ocean's floor would you expect to find any organisms that can survive the harsh conditions? If so, how are those organisms different from the organisms near the surface of the ocean?

2) What types of ecosystems do you expect to find, and how will your studying them help marine biology?

Thank you!

Answers from: Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

Response to Question 1: We do find living organisms as we go deeper, all the way down into the Marianas Trench, which is the deepest place in the ocean. The sea floor there is about seven miles down. (On a map draw a straight line from your school or home equal to seven miles on the map’s scale. That’s a long way to drop a ROV or manned submersible under the water!) A sea cucumber and some shrimps were photographed in the Marianas Trench from a Japanese ROV, and some new bacteria have been found there as well. The density of animals decreases with depth because the amount of food available limits the number of individuals who can survive there. Very little exploration has been done in the deepest parts of the ocean, but I am sure that more life will be found at depth in the future.

How these deep-sea organisms are different from organisms near the surface is an excellent question, and one that whole books are written about! But I’ll be brief and mention just a few adaptations to life in the deep (which is frustrating, because the biology of deep sea animals provides wonderful stories about strange critters). Factors that deep-sea animals must adapt to are high pressure, absence of light, cold water (generally about 1º to 3º C), low oxygen in some areas, limited food (no living plants — no sunlight, no vegetarians!), fewer prey for carnivores, and low density of animals of the same species, making it difficult to find a mate to reproduce.

Enormous pressure isn’t a big deal for organisms that don’t have any air or gas filled spaces within their bodies. Gasses expand and contract with pressure change, but liquids don’t, or only a very little at very high pressure. In the deepest parts of the ocean, below 4,000 meters (m), researchers have found animals in which enzymes function only under high pressure. But, in general, pressure isn’t as important as other factors.

Low light levels and the total absence of light have led to distinct differences between animals living in shallow, sunlit depths, in the mesopelagic zone, roughly 200 m to 1,000 m, the lower limit reached by sunlight, and the bathypelagic and abyssopelagic zones from 1,000 m down to more than 6,000 m. In the mesopelagic zone, fishes, sharks, squids, and octopi have large eyes to see better in the dimmest light. Bioluminescence is common and used to scare predators away, catch prey, find mates. Below that zone, predators generally hunt for prey with senses other than vision. Another adaptation to darkness is the appearance of red and black forms of animals that have transparent or silvery relatives in shallow water. (For more information, scroll down to see my reply to Jenna and Elleen from Woonsocket High School.)

In the mesopelagic zone, a realm we are visiting on our cruise, oxygen levels are low. No phytoplankton lives there to produce oxygen, but the number of organisms is still relatively high and they use up much of the available oxygen. Gelatinous animals such as jellyfish don’t require much oxygen so they are dominant macroplankton at these depths. Other animals such as Vampiroteuthis, the vampire squid, also can live in the oxygen minimum layer. Going deeper, the amount of oxygen increases again because cold bottom currents transport it around the globe and because the number of living organisms that need oxygen is low.           

Food comes from prey living in the same zone and from sources higher up, in the epipelagic zone. “Ambush” predators are very common, using bioluminescent lures (such as the angler fish) to attract dinner, or setting a fishing net of tentacles (such as siphonophores and ctenophores).  Not chasing down prey saves a lot of energy!  “Dead falls” (carcasses of large animals, such as whales), decaying plankton, and fecal material all drop through the water column. Many deep water animals have fine chemical detectors that can guide them along odors drifting down current from “smelly” food. (Emory Kristof takes advantage of this adaptation when he baits his RopeCams with fish carcasses.) Others deploy mucus nets to catch the rain of small particles, much as a spider uses its web, then these clogged mucus nets are in turn a food source for planktonic worms, small crustaceans (such as copepods), and other denizens of the water column. Many deep-sea fishes are relatively small but have sharp teeth and large mouths to catch and swallow large prey. Many are flabby and not streamlined because they don’t chase prey, but they are adorned with bioluminescent fishing lures that dangle over their heads or under their chins to attract animals they can eat.

Response to Question 2: We are looking at the water column in the epipelagic, mesopelagic, and bathypelagic zones, and at the sea-floor in the bathypelagic zone. The depth of our explorations is limited by the depth rating of our ROV, which is 3,000 m. Less than 1% of the deep ocean has ever been explored, so everything new that we learn on our cruise contributes to our understanding of these ecosystems, about which we have little information. Descriptions of previously undescribed species will contribute to the accumulating list of organisms in the global Census of Marine Life being carried out around the world. Knowing what lives where in the present may help us understand what happens in the oceans when climate changes. ,Information about the biology of deep sea creatures — what they eat, who eats them, where their larvae go — will help scientists better understand global carbon cycles and how the shallow ocean and deeper ecosystems interact.  That can help us better understand the distribution and migrations of marine organisms that people catch for food, for example.           

Two unexpected findings on this cruise were made on a ROV dive to the bottom at more than 1,300 m, almost 1 mile down. We saw enormous heaps of decaying sea grass carried down by currents from the rich sea grass beds around the islands. This must provide an enormous food resource for scavengers on the sea floor in the deep basin of the Celebes Sea; this is uncommon in the deep ocean elsewhere. Our second finding was that not just sea grass is accumulating 1 mile below the sea surface, but also great piles of human trash — cardboard, plastic, glass, wire, cans, all the stuff you find in the city dump. Our Filipino colleagues on the cruise were horrified! They are taking copies of the ROV video back to Tawi-Tawi as ammunition for developing better management of trash disposal on the islands.

Question from: Mary Mar, OceanBio Laboratory, University of the Philippines in the Visayas, Iloilo, Philippines

I am very much aware that life can exist at the greater depths in the ocean, but I am truly wondering how these animals have been able to survive and adapt in such extreme environments? How do they behave? How do they eat? Are they mostly scavengers, or are they carnivorous? What particular group of animals/zooplankton are usually found here and why?

Answers from: Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

I started with Jason’s questions (see above), and I think that my replies to him answer most of yours. On the sea floor, there probably are more scavengers than carnivores. One of the most interesting zones we’ve looked at on this cruise and in other parts of the deep ocean is the benthopelagic zone, the interface between the substrate and the water column. Fishes swim along just above the surface, of course, but we also see ctenophores and medusae there, trolling for small crustaceans or other small prey that might be startled off the bottom. We photographed and collected holothuroids (sea cucumbers) that feed on particles attached to sand they swallow, just like shallow-water sea cucumbers feed. But these holothuroids are different because their tube feet have been modified to create swimming appendages, and they lift off the sand like little blimps, carried by the currents to settle in a new location. This behavior has been reported for deep-sea holothuroids elsewhere, but perhaps we will find that the ones we found swimming along at almost 3,000 m depth are a new species.

Question from:  Renee and Lynn, Mr. Pelien’s Marine Biology Class, Long Beach, California

How are your conditions with weather and temperature? Have you made any significant findings with species, observations, and samples?

Answers from:  Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

The first day of the cruise en route to our destination in the Celebes Sea was quite rough. Almost everyone went to bed early that first night. Large waves were created from the low pressure that was passing through the northern Philippines and really tested whether or not everything on the boat was taped and tied down as it should be!  (It wasn’t!)  Since we arrived in the Celebes Sea, the ocean has been extremely calm and sometimes even glassy like a lake. The water is incredibly blue and clear here.  The top 10 feet (ft) are really warm, about 30º C, then there is a sudden drop in temperature. Depending on where we are scuba diving, we sometimes hit another thermocline within the top 90 ft. The first few days were overcast and gray, which kept the daytime temperatures comfortable.  The last few days we have had lots of blue sky and beautiful cumulous clouds in exchange for getting scorched by the intense sun every time we walk outside.           

We have seen lots of interesting and strange things on this trip. We've been looking at the sea floor between 2,000 and 3,000 m with the ROV (its maximum working depth). We might have discovered a new species of ctenophore that is black and floats just a few inches off the sea floor. We have also seen these incredible worms that alternately swim and hang neutrally buoyant in the water column. They look like they have the arms of a squid (without suction cups) at the oral end of the body of a polychaete worm, with long, clear bristle-tipped legs down their sides. We have also seen crinoids, sea anemones, brittle stars, deep sea fish, and about four or five species of sea cucumbers (both benthic and pelagic). One thing that we did not expect to see was the piles of trash on the sea floor at 2,000 m. It surprised and saddened all of us. (See answer to Jason’s question above.) We have seen beautiful ctenophores, jellies, and siphonophores while scuba diving. The Tucker trawl has brought us fish and jellies of all shapes and sizes. We are actually doing a Tucker trawl now and hopefully we will be able to get it all the way down to 1,000 m so we can see what lives in the midwater there. 

Some of the organisms we’ve found are unfamiliar to any of the scientists, and some look slightly different from similar ones seen before. It will take more detailed study of the photographs and preserved specimens to know for sure whether they are really new. We are pretty certain that some of the ones we’ve seen have never been described.

Question from:  Mrs. Loomis’ Life Science Class, Lincoln Southeast High School

How does the holography imaging work with something like a jellyfish that is clear material?

What we really want to know about is Nick Loomis. Did he get seasick?

Answers from:  Nick Loomis, Graduate Student, MIT, 3D Optical Systems Group

Response to Question 1: For perfectly clear animals, we can measure another property of light, something called the “time delay.” This gives us a guess about the animals. Usually, though, (even in a transparent object) the light undergoes “total internal refraction,” which means that at the edges the light gets bent so much that it can’t pass through the object. (You can see the same effect with a drinking glass.  It looks perfectly clear, but the edges appear dark.) This gives us information about the structures inside certain animals; their guts, feeding appendages, and cilia are sometimes visible. This is especially true for small salps, medusae and ctenophores (all animals for you to look up!) — except for the rare black ctenophore we found earlier this week.

Response to Question 2: Seasick? Only a bit. On our first day out of Manila we had some rough waves, but I got some tips from other people which helped.  Meanwhile, while I was feeling the effects of a rolling ship, the lucky scientists who weren’t seasick were holding a party in our main lab. Actually, my biggest problem on board is low ceilings and bulkhead doors — the ship isn’t designed for really tall people!

Question from: Ron, Marine Environmental Science Health Academy, Los Angeles, California

Your explorations sound fascinating and seem a lot of hard work. Once you have your collected species or data, what do you do with it? What is a typical day of exploration for the Hamner team?Another question, how are the accommodations for the researchers and the team?

Answers from: Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

The Hamner team is busy! Bill Hamner and I have been bluewater diving several times to help collect and observe jellies, ctenophores, and siphonophores (and whatever else we find) in the midwater down to about 100 ft.  When the ROV team does a dive, I watch the TV screen that shows us what the camera sees during the dive and take notes on what we see, the depth where we see them, and where on the video tape they are recorded so we can go back and look at them later if we want.  When the ROV surfaces, we have to move the organisms into the lab quickly and try to put them into cooler water, closer to what they are used to (so that they might stay alive or at least so they don't degrade so fast). I help with this as well and have learned a lot about the ROV and its samplers.           

As you have seen, Peggy Hamner and I have each written a daily log for the NOAA Web site. Peggy has been busy coordinating the daily logs from the scientists on board. There are also lots of daily tasks that we help out with when needed. For example, before each ROV dive and before each scuba dive we have to fill our sampling containers with water. For the ROV, we have 12 containers that would implode at depth if we didn't fill them completely with seawater. The one-pint plastic jars for collecting specimens on scuba also need to be filled with seawater before we take them to depth. These jars won't implode like those on the ROV, because we don't go as deep, but if you take a jar full of air down deep enough, it does become impossible to open! There are lots of seemingly insignificant, but important (and sometimes time-consuming!) things like that to do every day. 

Also, we sometimes have to change the water in the kreisel, which requires a bucket brigade to scoop out the old water and replace it by pulling up about 10 buckets worth of water from over the side of the ship and carrying them inside to the lab. Once we collect species from bluewater diving, ROV dives, and trawl nets, we put organisms in one of the two kreisels or in glass dishes so that they can be photographed by the scientists and professional photographers. We try to identify all organisms as best we can to the species level, if possible.  We have shelves full of books and many electronic files of identification keys for all kinds of animals and, of course, a boat full of expert scientists!  Ultimately, we preserve (in ethanol or formalin) most of what we collect, but we do release some specimens if we have seen and collected enough of them. The tissue that is preserved in ethanol (or labeled “RNA Later”) will be used for genetic work when we return home.           

The 61 of us are a little crowded on a ship built to accommodate 40, but fortunately everyone here is pretty easy to get along with. We all pitch in and our spirits have stayed pretty high despite all the equipment problems we have had. Larry Madin and Emory Kristof and the two pairs of married scientists (the Hamners and the Romeros) have been loaned officers’ cabins on the main deck. Accommodations for the rest of us are not so roomy! The male scientists and photographers are bunked six to a cabin on the lower deck; and the four single women are sleeping in the sick bay on the upper deck on two hospital beds and two cots that pretty well take up all the floor space. On the plus side, we get our own bathroom, although we share it with a zillion small cockroaches!           

I think our caterers are used to feeding smaller appetites, so I'm just pretending that I'm on a diet! I have really enjoyed all the fruit that I've had here, though. Mangosteen, rambutan, lanzones, mangos, and papaya are very delicious, but the best things are the bananas.  I don’t know what it is, but they have the most wonderful flavor. Cabell Davis described the difference between our bananas in U.S. supermarkets and the bananas here as the difference between skim milk and 2% milk — and I think that's a good analogy.

Question from: Adriana and Christine, Marine Environmental Science Health Academy, Los Angeles, California

We have been interested in the ocean since we were young, and we were wondering what exactly we should do to become marine scientists and be able to do what you do?

Answers from:  Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

To be a marine scientist, it helps to make sure you take all the science classes that you can. Physics, chemistry, and biology are all really important to understand if you are going to work in marine science. It also helps if you can write well, so writing and composition classes are also important because you need to be able to communicate your scientific findings to others. Volunteering at an aquarium or museum can help you learn a lot from and work with scientists. This firsthand experience taking care of animals and teaching the public are important experiences to have and a good way to network with people in a field in which you want to work someday! If you can, try to volunteer in a scientist's laboratory or help a scientist with field research. That is really good experience and whomever you volunteer or work with will be a good person to ask about what kinds of things you should do next to become a marine scientist. I think all the marine scientists who I know have gone to college and most of them have a graduate degree (a master’s or PhD) as well. In college, you'll take lots of science and math courses if you major in a science.

Question from: Martin and Gloria, Marine Environmental Science Health Academy, Los Angeles, California

We just want to know how it is working as a professional marine biologist, and what it is like operating ROVs.

Answer from: Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

What you actually do every day as a marine biologist depends on your specialty or what you are interested in. You might spend a lot of time working with a microscope in the lab, or out on deck towing nets through the water, or scuba diving, or taking photographs.  Everyone seems to spend at least some of their time working on a computer or microscope to identify what they've found, writing about their findings and making graphs to share the information with others on the ship. Some of our scientists have also written a daily log for the NOAA Ocean Explorer Web site because they want to share their work with everyone, an important part of science. It's not all hard work, though. Scuba diving to collect and observe organisms has been a wonderful and tranquil experience. The waters are a beautiful blue color, and the other day some people took advantage of the chance to have some fun and go swimming from the ship in the middle of the ocean. Some people jumped off the upper decks of the ship into the water!           

We have three men on board who operate the ROV. They trade off working the winch, driving the vehicle, and coordinating with the bridge on the speed and direction of the boat and water currents. Our main ROV pilot is Joe Caba. Sometimes during long ROV deployments (up to 12 hours), Toshi Mikagawa or Mike Nicholson fly the vehicle to give Joe a break. Joe has many hours of experience flying ROVs and is also an experienced airplane pilot. Toshi is still a relatively new ROV pilot, but we celebrated his successful capture of a pelagic worm last night in the deep ocean using the sampling jar on the front of the ROV. From what I've seen, piloting a ROV takes patience, practice, and good communication with your fellow ROV operators. Our ROV pilots say that they have a lot of fun flying ROVs. They like the experience of piloting, finding new species, and exploring inner space. In addition to science expeditions, they also look for other things in the deep sea. For example, their last job was exploring Arctic waters to find a U.S. submarine that sank during World War II. So they don't always do marine biology research when they are flying the ROV.

Question from:  Jesus, Marine Environmental Science Health Academy, Los Angeles, California

What makes these species different from others?

Answer from:  Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

Please see the answer to Jason’s question above, which includes information related to your question. There are many more interesting facts about how these marvelous creatures have adapted to their environment. I hope you’ll use the Web to look up more information about deep-sea organisms.

Question from: Jenna and Elleen, from Ms. Woods’ Oceanography Class, Woonsocket High School, Rhode Island

What do deep-sea zooplankton look like, and do they look like "regular" zooplankton?

Answer from: Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate & Co-director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

The general body plans of deep-sea zooplankton are much like those that live in shallow water, but there are some differences in appearance because many deep-sea species are not the same as the ones near the surface. One contrast is size: deep-sea zooplankton often grow larger than do their shallow-water relatives. Another difference is that the bodies — or parts of the bodies — of many deep-sea zooplankters are red or black. Transparency is great camouflage for animals living in sunlit waters, but at depths below the penetration of sunlight, visual predators can’t see red or black in the dark. The pigments help protect deep sea zooplankton from being eaten by predators who use their eyes to hunt for food.

Many of the tinier animals that deep-sea zooplankters eat are bioluminescent, and a pigmented body conceals flashes of light emitted by prey inside their guts that might reveal them to a hungry hunter. However, there are also many transparent zooplankters in the deep sea. During our cruise, we hope to photograph both pigmented and transparent zooplankton in the depths, and their portraits will be posted on the expedition’s Web site so you can see them yourselves.

Questions from: Patrick, from Ms. Woods’ Oceanography class, Woonsocket High School, Rhode Island

What kind of camera equipment do you use underwater? What computer software do you use for 3D optical information underwater?

Answer from: Gwen Noda, Program Coordinator, COSEE-West, University of California, Los Angeles

We actually have three professional photographers onboard, so I asked Emory Kristof, Nick Caloyianis, and Michael AW about their underwater camera equipment.

Emory says that he doesn't scuba dive any more, but the RopeCams that he (and Ralph White and Michael Cole) will deploy later in the cruise are equipped with a Panasonic 3CCD PV-GS400, which will be programmed to take 90 seconds of video (at a resolution of 680 x 880 pixels) every 15 minutes. During that 90 seconds, a higher resolution still photo will also be taken every 10 seconds.

The ROV has two cameras. One is a high-definition (HD) Panasonic VeriCam that is cube shaped. Even though $75,000 seems expensive for a camera, most others that are equivalent are more than twice the cost. The other camera is a Canon that takes 3MB still images.

Nick Caloyianis has brought all HD video cameras, because his job on this cruise is to film the television episode for National Geographic. He has a VeriCam (like the one on the ROV, but it's shaped more like a traditional video camera) that is the world's first HD camera with a variable frame rate. You can set the camera to take from 4 to 60 frames per second. Nick says he'll use a variety of speeds, but he mostly works in 24 frames per second. The underwater housing for this camera is one of a kind. He and a partner worked together to custom build it. As far as he knows, it was the first housing built for this kind of camera. Additionally, he has an AG VX 200 Panasonic that also has a variable frame rate. He can adjust the frames per second from 10 to 60 on that camera. He uses hertz metal halide (HMI) underwater lights with special custom-built housings.

Michael AW will be taking still images with digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras. He has a Nikon D2X (12 MB) and a D200 (10.5 MB) that have SeaCam underwater housings. He also has a Sony SR7 high definition 1080i. For lighting, he has 3 units of DS200 Ikelite strobes and a 250 watt HMI.

Emory has created 3D images, but we do not have any of that equipment with us for this cruise.

You really should look up the work of these three gentlemen to see their talent for yourself. You will find that they are responsible for a large number of incredible photographs, books, magazine articles, television shows, movies, and other visual projects.

Question from: Dick, Los Angeles, California

The Marine Conservation essay on the expedition Web site states: "An intriguing feature of the Celebes Sea is its shallow rim, which has insulated its deep waters from the frigid water that flows through virtually all other deep oceans. As a result, for 25 million years the water there has remained warmer, even at great depths." So! How much warming is there? How deep? Is it still warmer than 4º C, even 3,000 m down? Is the seasonal variation similar to that in the U.S. (with seasons reversed of course)?"

Answer from: Peggy Hamner, Staff Research Associate and Co-Director, COSEE-West,
University of California, Los Angeles

I am passing on the temperature data published in 2003 by researchers who worked in the Celebes Sea and other Indonesian basins. Figure 1 in their article compares temperatures with depth in the Celebes Sea and in the Pacific Ocean just outside the Sangihe Ridge that connects the southeast Philippine Islands to the northeast end of North Sulawesi. (See the maps on our Web site. North Sulawesi is the curved finger of land along the southern edge of the Celebes Sea and the Sangihe Ridge runs northward from its tip to the southern end of Mindanao Island.) They recorded a constant temperature of about 1.2º C in the Pacific Ocean from their deepest sample at 6,500 m up to around 3,500 m. In the Celebes Sea, the temperature stayed relatively constant at 3.4º to 3.5º C from their deepest station at 4,500 m up to almost 2,000 m. Temperatures in both water masses rose to meet at about 4º C at about 1,300 m, above the barrier sill. Above that, the temperatures in both water masses remained similar. (The reference is A. L. Gordon, C. F. Giulivi & A.G. Bahude, 2003. "Deep topographic barriers within the Indonesian seas." Deep-Sea Research Part II, vol. 50: 2205-2228.)

There isn’t any seasonal temperature variation at depth, and not much variation in shallower water. (See the QuickTime movie of monthly sea surface temperatures on our Web site.) We are not far enough south to have reversed seasons. We are working at 5º to 6º north of the equator. And we sure know we are close to the equator: out on deck, in full sunshine, it is swelteringly hot and humid — even though it is officially fall!