Out at Sea at Last!

By Dr. Craig Smith, Chief Scientist
May 14, 2018

Loading the ship at Pier 35 in Honolulu.

Loading the ship at Pier 35 in Honolulu. Image courtesy of Regan Drennan, DeepCCZ expedition. Download larger version (jpg, 1.6 MB).

After many months of preparation, we have finally embarked on the main research cruise for the DeepCCZ project, heading to the equatorial Pacific. To call it a “cruise” is actually a bit of a misnomer. When I tell my friends and relatives I am going out on a 32-day cruise, they picture a carefree month on the sundeck of the Love Boat. In fact, we are embarked on a research expedition, which requires a huge logistical effort to acquire all kinds of high-tech scientific supplies and sampling equipment (from a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to autonomous deep-sea landers), ship all our gear to our port of embarkation (Honolulu) from places as distant as Scotland, and load 20 tons of scientific equipment and supplies onto the research vessel, the RV Kilo Moana, before we can even leave port. The loading and staging of gear on the working deck of the vessel required three days.

Once aboard, we must plan out our daily sampling activities—the ship time is an incredibly valuable resource and the vessel will conduct science 24-7 for the 22 days in our study areas (no heaving to for a restful night!). The remaining 10 days of the cruise will be transit to and from our study areas—this time too will be incredibly busy planning the 24 hours of data collection each day, prepping, rigging and testing our seagoing gear, especially the “seafloor landers” that will descend autonomously to the seabed 5,000 meters below, collect all kinds of data, including photographs and videos of deep-sea animals, geochemical measurements on the sediments, and rates of oxygen uptake (respiration) by the diverse biota of microbes, worms and crustaceans living in the abyssal ooze.

Marta and Annabell assembling one of the landers.

Marta and Annabell assembling one of the landers. Image courtesy of Annabell Moser, DeepCCZ expedition. Download larger version (jpg, 2.4 MB).

Research cruises are very exhausting but also perhaps the most exciting times of an oceanographer’s life. Exploring new areas of the deep sea always reveal exciting discoveries, including new species, novel adaptations, and bizarrely beautiful animals. We are all very eager to get started with our science in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.