An orange brisingid basket star on the large Lophelia pertusa reef at 450 m depth in Viosca Knoll 826. At the top of the image is a school of Beryx fish swimming over the top of the reef.

An orange brisingid basket star on the large Lophelia pertusa reef at 450 m depth in Viosca Knoll 826. At the top of the image is a school of Beryx fish swimming over the top of the reef. Click image for larger view and image credit.

A down-looking mosaic of a coral community at 1400m depth, including a variety of hard and soft corals.

A down-looking mosaic of a coral community at 1400m depth, including a variety of hard and soft corals. Click image for larger view and image credit.

Lophelia II 2010: Oil Seeps and Deep Reefs

October 14 – November 4, 2010

NOAA Vessel Ronald H. Brown Ship Tracker Map

camera icon Click here to view the latest underwater video from this expedition.

camera icon Click here to view an image slide show.

This is the fourth cruise in a four-year project to discover and characterize deep-water coral communities in the Gulf of Mexico, to conduct a variety of experiments and analyses that will help us to predict where other communities will be found, and to understand why we find them where we do. This project is sponsored by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, a division of the Department of the Interior. The scientists involved come from several universities, including Florida State, Louisiana State, Temple and Penn State, as well as from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the US Geological Survey.

During our previous cruises, we have discovered numerous new sites; we will be returning to many of those to continue our studies, as well as exploring a few new sites that we believe are also likely to host lush coral or seep communities. We will be collecting small pieces from many coral colonies for genetic studies to explore the connectivity between sites in different parts of the Gulf, for studies that will help us to understand how corals respond to stress (such as oil exposure) on the molecular level, and to take live corals back to our home laboratories for further study of their response to a variety of environmental variables. Of course, we are not only studying corals; we are also studying the animals that live with the corals, some so intimately that they are considered symbionts and are always found closely associated with a particular species of coral.

Mosaic of a Callogorgia community.

Mosaic of a Callogorgia community. Click image for larger view and image credit.

Although this project began long before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it has taken on new relevance since the spill, because we have collected a variety of detailed pre-spill data that may prove to be very valuable to measure and understand any impact of the spill on these potentially fragile communities in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These “baseline” data include 18 photomosaics that cover between 20 and 100 m2 portions of 8 different coral community sites between 300 and 1500 m depth in the Gulf. Each of these sites are well marked and the mosaics so well navigated that we can return to specific corals to see if they are still alive, if they have grown and if there are any visible signs of damage since our last visit.


Updates & Logs
Click images or links below for detailed mission logs and updates.

November 3 Log November 3 Log Our final dive of this expedition was an exploratory dive to an area 7 miles to the SW of the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and to the same depth as that site.

November 2 Log November 2 Log Catching a scientist for an interview simply means you must search out one of the labs. But looking for Safety Officer Bryan Begun required a different tact.

October 31 Log October 31 Log Growing up near the Pacific Ocean in Oxnard, California, Walter Cho always loved the ocean, so going into biology in college was not a big leap.

October 30 Log October 30 Log Although it will take a while to quantify the numbers of animals we saw on the GulfOil, many of the ‘usual suspects’ were observed at the wreck.

October 29 Log October 29 Log A shipwreck is a bit different but still works in concert with the biology and geology. The priorities in terms of documentation are laid out with leeway to adapt and change.

October 27 Log October 27 Log Tina Enderlein wears many hats at the lab. She uses her GIS expertise to help with the photo mosaics and to organize data.

October 26 Log
October 26 Log Studies suggest black corals grow slowly, and reach sexual maturity at very old age. In fact, black coral colonies are the oldest living animals on Earth; recent studies have dated black coral colonies that are thousands of years old, with the oldest being over 4000 year old!

October 25 Log
October 25 Log While decidedly less scenic than the corals, the sediment around these reefs is also important. At sites around the Gulf, Amanda Demopoulos, from the U.S. Geological Survey, has been using Jason to take sediment cores that she analyzes to learn about the worms and other critters that live in the seafloor.

October 24 Log October 24 Log Greenhorn. Rookie. Novice. When it’s your first time out at sea, these are all phrases that you hear pretty often. The first time someone called me a greenhorn, I was annoyed. After all, it said ‘Scientist’ on my door, right?

October 23 Log October 23 Log Jason gives us amazing access to the deep-sea. This is my third expedition with Jason and the technology keeps getting better.

October 21 Log
October 21 Log One focus in this project is to document what octocoral species live in the Gulf and how they are related to each other. We are also interested in what processes (environmental, dispersal, historical) influence where octocorals live.
camera icon Collecting corals with the Jason manipulator arm.
camera icon Rock outcropping covered with gorgonian and scleractinian corals, including Lophelia.

October 20 Log
October 20 Log Using biochemical methods to determine the activity of certain enzymes in the coral tissue, we can learn how well certain coral species can adapt to water containing various oxygen levels, or periods of no oxygen at all.
camera icon Hoplostethus & Conger Eel
camera icon Sixgill Shark

October 19 Log October 19 Log This past weekend, the cruise visited a new, unexplored area called Green Canyon 246, chosen for its wonderfully varied seafloor bathymetry, as well as its multiple bright and dim seismic amplitude anomalies.

October 18 Log
October 18 Log One objective of this cruise is to learn why we find deepwater corals where we do. An important factor is that these corals require hard bottom to settle and grow. Such hard substrate is rare on the muddy seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico, except in the occasional area with exposed carbonate rock.

October 17 LogOctober 17 Log Biological and chemical oceanographers need to observe a specific place over time to understand the natural patterns of how material, both biological and inorganic, moves around and reaches the deep ocean.

You can access the Ocean Explorer Lophelia II 2010 News Feed here:NOAA RSS 2.0 Feed