2010 SouthernExpedition

Day 4 – Location, location, location
July 25, 2010

About 200 meters south of the mound
Latitude N 33° 47.944’
Longitude W 118° 38.852’

We awoke this morning again to calm seas and immediately sent the ROV down to see how the D-ESP had performed overnight. It was running in fully autonomous mode, following a mission that had been programmed nearly a month ago. Once we plugged in the ROV, we learned that there had been a minor glitch at around midnight last night, and the machine stopped (gagged, as some call it). The error was in a simple section of the code, never seen before, and the fix took about five minutes before the D-ESP was able to continue. As my friend Alana has said and other engineers nod in agreement, “there is no test like putting your instrumentation into the ocean.”

The glitch was fortuitous. The D-ESP had been moved 70 meters east of the mound, and upon analysis of our data, we saw that the microbe population was little changed from that directly on the mound. Perhaps we did not move away far enough. So we used this break in the mission to move the D-ESP another 200 meters away, where it is sampling right now. We are hypothesizing there will be a decrease in methane-loving organisms as we get further away from the mound, but won’t know anything until tomorrow.

Benny sitting at the CTD winch
Perry Shoemake controlling the CTD winch, seen behind him.

Plugging into the D-ESP to check-in and charge the batteries has only required four hours per day. The remaining time has allowed various types of water collection and analysis, lead by Bill Ussler, as well as CTD rosette casts, which allow us to collect twelve 10-liter samples of water. Because of the time available, we’ve been able to collect in a defined grid pattern around the mound, to understand how currents throughout the entire water column influence the methane concentration as gas continues to bubble out of cracks all over the mound.

Dr. Chris Preston teaching Brent Roman how to pipet
CTD operator Mike Burczynski, and Bill Ussler discuss where to collect water.

Our shortened dive day also allowed the ROV pilots to repair a nagging problem with one of the manipulators, or arms, on the ROV. The arm would sometimes move erratically, seemingly with a mind of its own, and we didn’t want to risk smashing instrumentation with a wild, run-away robotic arm. The ROV pilots had experience with this problem, and fixed it for tomorrow’s dive.

Tomorrow we will dive the ROV and recover the D-ESP, collect a little more water, and then start the two day transit home.

—Jim Birch

Scott Jenson learning how to fill bottles
ROV pilots Knute Brekke, Randy Prickett, and Buzz Scott repair a malfunctioning ROV manipulator arm.
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Leg 1

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.

Deep ESP

The ESP is a self-contained robotic laboratory that collects samples of seawater and tests these samples for different types of microorganisms, either their genetic material, such as DNA, or proteins they may secrete, such as toxins from a harmful algae bloom. Because of the immense pressure in the deep sea, MBARI's researchers had to build a special pressure housing to protect the delicate instrument. They also had to design and build an automated system to "depressurize" seawater before it could be introduced into the ESP.

CTD Rosette

A CTD rosette is a cylindrical frame holding a group of plastic water-sampling tubes. Attached to this frame are instruments for measuring water temperature and conductivity (salinity) at various depths. Also attached to the rosette are instruments for measuring parameters such as chlorophyll, nutrients, and particulate matter in the water. As the frame is lowered over the side of a ship, water samples are taken automatically at various depths. Then the frame is raised to the surface again.

Push cores

A push-core looks like a clear plastic tube with a rubber handle on one end. Just as its name implies, the push core is pushed down into loose sediment using ROV Tiburon's manipulator arm. As the sediment fills up the core, water exits out the top through one-way valves. When the core is pulled up again, these valves close, which (most of the time) keeps the sediment from sliding out of the core tube. When we bring these cores back to the surface, we typically look for living animals and organic material in the sediments.

 Research Team

chris scholinChris Scholin
President and CEO, MBARI

After earning his PhD in Biological Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chris came to MBARI as a Postdoctoral Fellow. In 1994 he joined the MBARI staff as a Scientist with a focus on development and application of molecular probes for detection of a variety of waterborne microbes, in particular toxic and harmful algae. Working collaboratively with a team of engineers, his group pioneered development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), an instrument that collects water samples autonomously, concentrates microorganisms and automates application of molecular probes to detect particular species and substances they produce. In November 2009, Chris was made MBARI's President/CEO.

jim birch Jim Birch
Director of SURF Center, MBARI

Jim joined MBARI as Instrumentation Lead Manager. He currently serves as Director of MBARI's Sensors: Underwater Research of the Future (SURF) Center. The theme for the center is the continued development, extension, and applications of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP).

scott jensenScott Jensen
ESP Systems Lead Engineer, MBARI

doug pargett Doug Pargett
Deep-water Operations Lead Engineer, MBARI

brent romanBrent Roman
System Control Lead Engineer, MBARI

Brent has been playing with computers and control systems since the late 1970s. He wrote embedded control software for video tape editing while attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a B.S. in Computer and Information Sciences in 1985. His main technical interests are computer operating systems, languages and feedback control systems. Brent wrote most of the custom software driving the current generation of the Environmental Sample Processor. He also enjoys sailing.

chris prestonChris Preston
Senior Research Technician, MBARI

bill usslerBill Ussler
Senior Research Specialist, MBARI

burczynskiMike Burczynski
Instrumentation Technician/ROV Pilot, MBARI

Mike has worked at MBARI for over 10 years in a variety of technician roles including Research Technician, Instrumentation Technician, Marine Operations Technician, and ROV Pilot. His current role combines all his previous experience in support of the Marine Operations Division. Mike's main task on this cruise will be to operate one of our CTD rosettes profilers on a hydrowire of the stern of the ship. As the instrument package is lowered through the water column, it will collect a variety of physical and chemical data from the array of sensors that are mounted on the rosette. The package will also collect water samples at specified depths that are brought back to the surface and analyzed in the ships lab by scientists.

Suni Shah
US Naval Research Laboratory

Suni is currently at the US Naval Research Laboratory but soon to be a NOSAMS postdoctoral scholar at WHOI. Her main goal on this cruise is to operate and maintain the in situ mass spectrometer (ISMS) that will be deployed with the D-ESP. The ISMS was developed by Peter Girguis, a former MBARI scientist who was on her doctoral committee at Harvard University in 2008. It will detect dissolved gases in seawater, like methane and hydrogen sulfide.