By Caitlin Adams, Web Coordinator, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Ryan Gasbarro, PhD Student, Temple University
Jonathan Quigley, Research Technician, U.S. Geological Survey
Natasha Vokhshoori, PhD Student, University of California, Santa Cruz
August 22, 2018
After an amazing first dive at Pea Island seeps, the weather was not on our side this morning at Pamlico Canyon. The winds were blowing consistently around 25 knots, and there was no indication that conditions would calm anytime soon. Instead of waiting out the weather in the north, we’ll spend the day heading south to the Stetson Banks region. It’s nearly a day-long transit, but that will hopefully allow us to get south of the rough weather conditions and begin our coral work on a number of promising dive targets.
The transit time is also giving everyone on board a chance to replenish after yesterday’s first frenzied sample processing day. With not much else to report about the onboard goings-on, we’ve asked three members of the DEEP SEARCH team to share about their experiences so far—for all three, it’s their first time on an offshore research expedition.
My first offshore cruise experience has, to this point, been extremely memorable. The preparation and organization required to make a cruise like this happen is eye opening. The Cordes lab arrived three days before departure from port, and we had plenty to do between unpacking and configuring the lab spaces on the ship. I have been on a few short research cruises in protected waters of British Columbian fjords, so acclimating to the rollicking sea of the offshore Atlantic took some time. But, I got over that in a hurry as the excitement of Alvin dives lay ahead. As a budding deep-sea biologist, seeing the Alvin launch and recover in person, along with getting a tour of the inside, felt like a significant career benchmark.
After the sub comes up, the different groups dash to process water, sediment, and biological samples, and the buzzing of the labs throughout the day and into the night is busy fun. I have heard people say that things change very quickly at sea, but this cruise has given me a taste of how necessary Plan Bs, Cs, etc. are for a successful scientific expedition, especially with how multidisciplinary DEEP SEARCH is. We are still early in the cruise and our plans shift daily at our after-lunch science meetings. But, there are many prospects for exciting discoveries ahead! Last but not least, the food is great on the ship—I’m eating better here than on land.
U.S. Geological Survey
As a lab tech, I've had experience sorting through samples from multiple research cruises, but I have never had the opportunity to join the team in the field. At home, I've been regaled by other technicians with stories of sub dives, long nights, and stressed-out chief scientists. Among these researchers, it seems almost as if these cruises are a "coming of age" and an initiation into a close-knit community of the deep-sea obsessed.
Arriving in Woods Hole, I wasn't sure what to expect. As I loaded my gear with the other folks in my lab, it was like tagging along on someone's return to summer camp. Researchers greeted each other excitedly like old friends, but what made the biggest impression on me was seeing the same reactions between members of the crew and people in our lab. Everyone was thrilled to see each other and immediately it felt like being embraced by a new family.
After overcoming a touch of first-day sea sickness, I was eager to get to work. When the samples hit the deck, it was just as I had been told. Everyone snapped into action and you could see the excitement in the principal investigators' eyes while they practically salivated over their fresh samples. The first night of processing was long, and I was deliriously tired at the end, but the whole experience was unlike anything I've done before. More samples are on their way up today, and I can't wait for the show to start again.
University of California, Santa Cruz
It’s nearly 100 percent humidity and the ocean temperature is the same 23°C (80°F) as the air. I’m standing starboard side with my newly established sea legs and am fully coated in a sheen of salty sea spray as we motor against the Gulf Stream Current. The bow continuously hits a swell just right to make a big splash! If I were down below in my bunk, I would hear “BOOM, ba boom BOOM!”
It’s Day 5 of our two-week expedition at sea and thus far, every morning our plan has been thrown out the window and a new plan made on the fly. This is my first time out on a multi-day research cruise, and it absolutely amazes me how much time, money, technology, and crew of people it takes to do deep-sea research. I came onto the R/V Atlantis to investigate how these newly discovered massive deep-sea mussel beds at methane seep sites are reaching their nitrogen demands. Nitrogen is an important element because it is the backbone for building proteins. In surface waters of the rocky intertidal ocean, mussels filter-feed nitrogen in the form of small particles of organic matter (dead and living phytoplankton and algae); however, at 1,400 meters (~4,500 feet) deep, only one percent of that amount organic matter makes it to seafloor. It’s quite extraordinary that any living thing can flourish, let alone survive, the deep abyss.
The mussel’s secret for successfully adapting to deep-sea environments is symbiosis. Mussels partner with bacteria such that the mussel provides a living space in its gills for bacteria to concentrate, and in return, bacteria oxidize the surrounding methane gas into a form that mussels can use to build biomolecules. It is still unknown where nitrogen fits into the puzzle and translates into the greater food web. This expedition will hopefully help to get closer to answering this question. The weather however, has the ultimate say on where we go and what we can do. It is truly a humbling experience.