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. Click image for larger view and image credit.
Lophelia II 2010: Oil Seeps and Deep Reefs
October 14 – November 4, 2010
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.
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.