Throughout the cruise, we received several questions from you via the Front Page of our website.
Cruise participant and Scripps graduate student, Emily Kelly, took the time to investigate the answers to your questions and here they are!
Thanks for participating this week!
What was the most exciting find on the expedition?
The great thing about research expeditions is that there are many scientists all working on many different types of research at the same time. Some of the exciting finds have been pulling up lots of urchins from 300m, seeing squid using the ROV, and finding worms in deep ocean sediments. I have been working on the team analyzing water chemistry and we have been able to examine the different layers of water in the ocean by collecting samples at many depths up to 1200m.
What has been your favorite discovery since you started researching?
My favorite discovery on this research expedition so far has been seeing siphonophores from the ROV camera. Siphonophores are related to jellyfish and corals. They are colonies of jelly-like organisms that float through the water eating little bits of food that drift by them.
What are you doing over there?
We are a group of scientists doing research. Our work on this expedition is focused on researching cold methane seeps near San Diego and assessing the sensitivity of San Diego's marine communities to climate change. We have five different research teams that work in close collaboration with each other. I am working with the chemists and oceanographers, and the CTD is our main research tool since it allows us to measure and collect water from many different depths. However, the OMZ team uses the multicore to retrieve mud samples from which they measure chemical compounds, bacteria, and microscopic animals. And the shelf and midwater teams are using Scripps' ROV to observe larger animals yet.
Is it hard to find the rocks and sediments under ground with the camera?
Great question! It is challenging to look at the ocean floor from above the water on the boat. Some of the scientists on board use sound waves coming from sensors on the bottom of the ship to help them see the ocean floor like the way bats can use sound waves to see in the dark. We also have a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on board that has a camera mounted to it, and we can drive that ROV from the ship to see what is below us. We also use tools to sample below us and bring those samples up on the ship's deck so we can look at what's below us more closely.
Do you have a sonar?
We do have a sonar mounted on the bottom of the ship. This allows us to see what the ocean floor looks like below us.
What fish do you see in the robot?
From the ROV we can see a lot of different types of fish! Hagfish, rockfish, and ratfish to name just a few. We've also seen jellyfish (which aren't actually fish at all), siphonophores, squid, clams, brittle stars, and more!
How far do you guys go out on this expedition of yours?
We've traveled 75 kilometers offshore of San Diego, CA, but we've sampled within eyeshot of the coastline!
How deep is the ocean?
On average the ocean is a little bit over 4000 meters (>13,000 feet) deep but the deepest part of the ocean in the Mariana Trench is almost 11,000 meters (>36,000 feet) deep! The deepest part of the ocean we're sampling on this expedition is about 1200 meters (about 3/4 of a mile).
What kind of animals do you find?
We've found lots of different types of fish and invertebrates, and some scientists on the ship even use different ways of studying or seeing microbes. Check out some of the posted photos to see some of the critters we have found!
What is methane?
Methane is a gas. You might be familiar with it as a major component of "natural gas" that might heat your stove or home. We are interested in methane because it is one of the major fluids that comes out of cold seeps on the ocean floor. Some microbes can produce energy using methane, and cold seeps have specially adapted communities that depend on this microbial food and are surrounded by chemicals that are toxic to us, such as sulfide.
Are the gases harmful?
If you were exposed to pure methane, you would not want to breathe it in. However, you cannot smell methane, so utility companies add a smelly chemical to natural gas so that if there is a dangerous leak in your house, you will detect it and fix the problem. In a larger sense, methane is a greenhouse gas, so when it is released in large amounts it allows the atmosphere to trap heat, resulting in a warmer earth. Since the methane coming out of seeps is deep underwater, it is not directly harmful to a human, but some scientists are concerned that the amount of methane being released could increase as the oceans get warmer. That would be harmful to all of us.
If you get sick on the ship, what happens?
Great question! I get seasick very easily so I take some medicine to help me from getting sick. If you catch a cold or get another type of illness, you can get treated on the ship very easily, because there is always an officer well-trained in first aid techniques. Sometimes ships may have to return to port if a scientist or crew member is seriously hurt or ill.
Is it really cold over there in the ocean?
It can be cold out here for sure! Some days get sunny and warm, but at night it is almost always around 50 or 55 degrees fahrenheit. As I write this blog, I am currently wearing a hat and two jackets to stay warm while we bring in the CTD at 3:30 am. (That's right, someone has to work the red-eye shift!)
Did you find a lot of sea animals?
Yes!!! We found a bunch of animals, from different species of fish to jellyfish to crabs to siphonophores to squid to clams to brittle stars and more! Here is a picture of an Pacific electric ray!
Who makes a globe that shows underwater features like trenches and fault lines and plate boundaries as we know them?
Google ocean is a great resource! www.oceanexplorer.noaa.gov also has some great lessons on plate tectonics and other topics. Enjoy!