Common Threads

Bacteria genes, microscale turbulence and ocean optics, pteropod species and distributions, salp physiology, anoxic basins, internal waves, iron complexes and oxidation, amphipods in oxygen minimum zones, nitrous oxide in water and sediments, pore water radon, phosphorites, viruses.

Over the past week the participants of NH1212 have gathered samples and data, discussed and linked these research areas. They have shared the latest ideas and methods, statistical packages, pictures, stories, lack of sleep and close quarters.  What are the common threads?

I can think of many.  First, the scientists aboard are accomplishing new research on diverse questions from a single research vessel.  We call these vessels multi-purpose for good reason.  This week R/V New Horizon has towed multiple opening and closing nets, hosted atmospheric gas sensors, pumped ocean surface water to filters and sensors, lowered novel current meters, triggered rosette samplers, cored the seafloor, and been a laboratory for complex sample processing and measurements.  Second, and more importantly all these activities concern the ocean, that 70% of our planet that has evolved life and climate, and continues to influence where we live, our atmosphere and weather, and what we eat. I’m excited we have many bright minds studying our oceans.  I will wager many in this group will work together again and find many of the hidden threads that are essential to the fabric of Earth’s ocean.

Mentor Clare- waxing poetic

Catching Critters

On this trip we are using two types of nets to collected critters. One is called a Bongo net. This is actually two nets connected side by side in a metal frame. The connected round frames look like bongo drums. This design allows the nets to attach to the wire without it going through the middle of the net opening, which could damage organisms going into the net. Bongo nets are done in oblique tows, where the net is open on the way down and back up.

A salp collected with the bongo net

The other net we are using is a MOCNESS, known as the MOCNESS monster to the midnight to noon crew. It stands for Multiple Open Closing Net Environmental Sensing System. There are 9 nets stacked on top of one another in a rectangular frame. It is equipped with a temperature and salinity probe, and can have other probes such as oxygen sensors. There are electronics on the net that allow the person running it to use a computer program to close the nets, and get real time readings of information such as temperature and volume of water filtered. The bottom bar of one net is the top bar of the net below it, so when one net opens it is closing the net below it. The MOCNESS is deployed with the lowest net in the stack, net 0, open the entire way down in an oblique tow. Once the net reaches the deepest depth net 1 is open, which closes net 0. The MOCNESS then carries out discrete tows on the way up. An example tow is to send the net down to 400m, and open net 1, towing it at 400m, then the net is brought up to 350 meters and net 2 is open, net 3 is open at 300, net 4 at 250 meters etc, with the final net, net 9 remaining open as it is pulled out of the water. All this is done while paying careful attention to the speed of the boat, the speed of the net coming up, the angle of the net and a few other variables to ensure it is fishing effectively and there is no risk of blowing out one of the nets. The two resident technicians on board, Meghan and Rob have done a wonderful job teaching us how to “fly” the MOCNESS.

The MOCNESS net being recovered. The bars on the bottom of the square are the stacked net bars, with the top net open as it comes out of the water.

Each net has a plastic cod end that everything caught washes into. When we recover the MOCNESS we put each cod end in a labeled bucket and sort them quickly, then put them in the cold room at 8C to ensure the organisms are still in good condition. The nets are small enough so larger organisms are able to avoid it. The critters we are fishing for are zooplankton. Some of the zooplankton we caught so far includes lots of krill, copepods, salps, hatchling squid and others.

Lloyd and Stephanie sorting through a MOCNESS code end, which includes a large pyrosome (midwater tunicate)

Post and pictures by Leanne Elder

Science gets gritty…

…or muddy, or sandy, or really any sort of dirty if you’re lucky. By lucky, I mean that the multi-corer recovers usable cores for sampling. This sampling can include sectioning, profiling, squeezing, and pressing. Whatever you’re interested in, it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t end up being clean.
The first few coring casts we did came up with great cores! All four tubes with sediment and the ever important sediment-water interface, and on the first try to boot! It would seem that our luck is on empty (pun intended), as many of our more recent casts have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. Yesterday the sediment was too soft and we had no interface; today the sediment was too sandy and we would lose the core on the way back to the surface.
Thankfully, with the help of good research techs and dedicated winch drivers, usable cores were taken from almost every site of interest. I spent most of yesterday (Monday) sampling sediment cores, and maybe part of it playing in them. I section at least two cores from each station for microbial community assessment and porosity. I am interested in identifying pollutant-resistance genes that I may be able to link to historical pollution data. I also squeezed a third from one station for porewater. I stripped the porewater for radon and saved it for nutrient analyses. As you can see, I did not end up clean- but that’s where the fun is. (Photos will be up soon.)

-Shelby LaBuhn

Day 1 – Knowledge Transfer

After a couple of days of traveling and our first night aboard the R/V New Horizon, the participants of the 2012 UNOLS Early Career Chief Scientist Training Cruise awoke in San Diego to begin their training in earnest. Most scientific cruises begin with a period of acclimation and orientation to the vessel, the crew and the objectives of the mission and this cruise was no different. Thus, our first breakfast in the mess was followed by quick introductions and a day of engaging lectures designed to familiarize the cruise participants with the UNOLS fleet.

Jon Alberts and Lisa Levin gave an introduction to UNOLS and its fleet, which ranges from smaller in-shore vessels, to ice-breakers for polar research, to Global Class ships including Atlantis, the mothership of the deep water submersible Alvin. As a scientist who is just starting to write grant proposals for marine research, I was amazed not just by the breadth of capability offered by the UNOLS vessels, but also by the willingness and openness of the UNOLS staff to facilitate successful acquisition of time aboard them. It is comforting that even in the current climate of economic austerity, there remains a significant push to promote and encourage use of these resources to further human understanding of the natural world.

After a quick break for lunch, Resident Technician Meghan Donohue and Captain Ian Lawrence took us on a detailed tour of what is to be our home and laboratory for the next week. Normally, pre-cruise tours are primarily safety-oriented, so it was great to get an opportunity to see the engine rooms and learn about design considerations when building a new research vessel. After the tour we were assigned our lab space before more lectures on radioisotope usage aboard UNOLS vessels, how to avoid prison time for accidentally exporting US secrets, and the chemical analysis and oceanographic data support offered by the Oceanographic Data Facility here at the Scripps Institute. Jon then guided us through completing a Ship Time Request form as part of a proposal application before dinner.

To round off the day, David Checkley gave a great introduction to the oceanography of the California Current System, describing how this well-studied area is affected by upwelling, regions of anoxia and eddies and the effects of these phenomena on the spawning of important species such as sardines, anchovies, squid and hake. There is considerable data from the CalCOFI cruises running in this area since 1949 to suggest that the local oceanography is currently being affected by climate change. Finally, Clare Reimers closed proceedings with an overview of the role of Chief Scientists from proposals through to post-cruise debriefing.

After a long, but interesting day we were grateful for the opportunity to decompress at a local brew pup where our pub quiz team, The Geek Squad, came close to winning the trivia quiz before fatigue and a lack of sports and music knowledge took their toll. In the end, we finished fourth before retiring back to the New Horizon to get some much needed rest before tomorrow’s preparations for departure.