2009 Pacific Northwest Expedition

MBARI's research vessel Western Flyer and the remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts are on a nine-week expedition to the waters off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. A multidisciplinary group of MBARI scientists and collaborators will explore and conduct research experiments on gas hydrates, the behavior of carbon dioxide in the deep sea, underwater volcanoes, and the animals that live in the midwater.

The expedition is divided into five “legs” with different research objectives for each leg, as described below. In between Map of expedition dive siteseach leg, the ship will dock in Newport, Oregon, where one group of researchers will go ashore, the next group of researchers will board the ship, and the ship's crew will replenish fuel and supplies.

The research vessel Zephyr will also participate in this expedition, serving as a support ship for the autonomous underwater vehicle D. Allan B., which is equipped with multibeam sonar for mapping the ocean floor. The maps created by data from the D. Allen B. will help researchers aboard the Western Flyer determine the best places to explore with the ROV Doc Ricketts.

Throughout all five legs, scientists will be posting daily updates. You can find out more about the cruise and the researchers on this website.

Leg 1 - Laser Raman Spectroscopy
Chief Scientist - Peter Brewer
July 7 - 21, 2009

This expedition will use in situ laser Raman spectroscopy to study sediment pore-water profiles and Clathrate hydrates from Hydrate Ridge and Barkley Canyon. At both sites we will conduct several sampling lines obtaining in situ measurements in the sediments near hydrate outcrops and or actively venting gas vents. A few push-core samples and hydrate gas samples will be collected from each site as well in order to compare collected samples to the in situ measurements. In addition, at Hydrate Ridge we will conduct a gas replacement experiment where we will study how fast CO2 will substitute for methane in Clathrate hydrates at in situ conditions.

Leg 2 - Midwater Ecology
Chief Scientist - Bruce Robison
July 25 - 30, 2009

The Midwater Ecology Group will use the remotely operated vehicle to conduct midwater surveys in Astoria Canyon for comparison with the midwater community and oxygen profiles of the Monterey Canyon. Samples of midwater animals will be collected for taxonomic comparisons, carbon analysis, and respiration measurements. This expedition may include some nighttime operations to conduct midwater trawling and squid jigging when the ROV is not in the water.

Leg 3 - Gas Hydrates
Chief Scientist - Charlie Paull
August 2 - 12, 2009

Autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) mapping and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) diving operations will be focused on investigating known gas vents, chemosynthetic biological communities (CBC), and gas hydrate bearing sites along the North American margin. The plans for the expedition involve collecting a series of AUV mapping surveys from the R/V Zephyr at four sites. This data will then be used to direct ROV Doc Ricketts dives to ground truth the mapping surveys and to help direct the design of other experiments and installations. Among the sites to be included are the two summits of Hydrate Ridge (Oregon), Bullseye Vent (Canada), and Barkley Canyon (Canada). These sites continue to be targets for exploration and experimentation by researchers at MBARI and many other institutions.

The installation of a seafloor observatory to monitor natural variations in gas and gas hydrate dynamics and to conduct perturbation experiments remains one of the most supported concepts within the various Ocean Observing Initiative efforts. Bullseye Vent and Barkley Canyon are both sites for the planned installation of gas hydrate observatories, as part of NEPTUNE Canada. The other candidate for a cable-connected system is Hydrate Ridge. While an initial deployment of instruments is planned for NEPTUNE Canada in 2009, detailed high-resolution mapping is still lacking in parts of these areas and is necessary for the long-term planning for expansion of hydrate observatory infrastructure. This can be best (and perhaps only) provided with a system like the MBARI mapping AUV.

A particular focus of this expedition is the nature and origin of the micro-topography associated with these gas-rich seafloor environments. Visual observations in many such environments have already shown that the seafloor where CBCs are on the surface and gas hydrate are believed to be in the near subsurface is commonly associated with seafloor blisters or mounds of various sizes, shallow depressions (e.g., approximately three meters wide and one meter deep), as well as an occasional small up-turned ridge of truncated strata. The origin of this topography remains unexplained, yet is potentially critical for assessing the extent to which gas hydrates are geo-hazards and to understand how gas hydrates may shape the seafloor. Moreover, up-to-date maps that document these features do not exist, largely because of the limitations of previously available surveying tools. We are interested in documenting these features and evaluating possible processes that may play a role in creating these features. The area around these vents may be experiencing seafloor modification because of gas hydrate growth. Subsurface gas hydrate formation may inflate the seafloor producing pingo-like features that range from 1 to 10 meters in height and width.

Leg 4 - Submarine Volcanism
Chief Scientist - David Clague
August 16 - 26, 2009

This leg of the cruise will include a) collecting the 2-m thick volcaniclastic section exposed near the rim of Axial Seamount to determine how the clasts are formed and deposited, and b) collecting young and old flows inside and on the rim of the caldera based on our existing AUV maps to determine the timing of caldera formation at Axial and the changes in lava chemistry through time.

Leg 5 - Submarine Volcanism
Chief Scientist - David Clague
August 29 - September 9, 2009

This leg of the cruise focuses on sampling lava flows that erupted since the 1980s on the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Mid-Ocean Ridges, and comparing them with the surrounding, older flows. We visited these sites in 2005 with the ROV Tiburon, and will extend that work with the ROV Doc Ricketts and high-resolution bathymetry acquired by the Mapping AUV and R/V Zephyr as part of this expedition.


R/V Western Flyer

The R/V Western Flyer is a small water-plane area twin hull (SWATH) oceanographic research vessel measuring 35.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. It was designed and constructed for MBARI to serve as the support vessel for ROV operations. Her missions include the Monterey Bay as well as extended cruises to Hawaii, Gulf of California and the Pacific Northwest.

ROV Doc Ricketts

ROV Doc Ricketts is MBARI's next generation ROV. The system breaks new ground in providing an integrated unmanned submersible research platform, with many powerful features providing efficient, reliable and precise sampling and data collection in a wide range of missions.

R/V Zephyr

R/V Zephyr is the primary support vessel for MBARI's autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) program. This 26-meter vessel is also used to maintain environmental moorings, collect time-series data along the California Current, and support scuba divers as they study near-shore habitats.

AUV D. Allan B.

The MBARI Mapping AUV is a torpedo-shaped vehicle equipped with four mapping sonars that operate simultaneously during a mission. The multibeam sonar produces high-resolution bathymetry (analogous to topography on land), the sidescan sonars produce imagery based on the intensity of the sound energy's reflections, and the subbottom profiler penetrates sediments on the seafloor, allowing the detection of layers within the sediments, faults, and depth to the basement rock.