Ideally, tomorrows should be better than yesterdays. And so, getting salty on the RRS James Cook with an international cast of colleagues is destined to be a novel experience. My initial impression after coming aboard in St. John’s, Newfoundland was “Wow, what a terrific oceanographic ship!” Nine days and more than 800 miles later, I am convinced that this massive platform, its cavernous labs, comfy staterooms, satisfying cuisine, and a state-of-practice robotic submersible (ISIS), will nurture the teamwork needed for a successful research cruise. We’re all determined to learn something new.
“Is there life in the deep sea” is a fatuous question in the 21st century. We’re still finding and describing new species in the water column and on/in the sea floor. Answers to a companion query “How have deep-water species adapted to survive in cold, sunless, hyperbaric environments” remain elusive and incomplete. On this cruise we’re exploring, sampling and monitoring differences in the distribution, abundance and interaction of deep-living fauna with bottom landers, sediment traps, and mega-corers. These pursuits are usually challenging and often opportunistic. Further, a comprehensive utilization of the tethered, remotely operated vehicle (Isis) and the special cameras, sensors, and samplers the submersible carries allows us to gather pertinent ecological information about benthic (=seafloor) and pelagic (=water column) animals.
ISIS was lifted from the sea about 0200 h this morning after working for only 8 of a continuous 22 h dive schedule! Why? One of the fiber optic lines inside the umbilical cable had broken, causing a loss of control functions. On the positive side, prior to the malfunction three, 500-m transects along the sea floor were surveyed with HD video to continue mapping the invertebrate animals (including sponges, anemones, worms, crinoids, brittlestars, starfishes, sea cucumbers, crustaceans, and tunicates) that reside 2300 m below the surface. Repairing the ROV is underway and should be completed in about 12 h. 2000 m of tether were unwound from the winch drum, streamed overboard to mitigate tension, and respooled . A proximal section, where the break was found, was cut and the tether reconnected.
The mega, multi-corer was deployed before breakfast and came back empty. Baffling. For some inexplicable reason, coring at this site is always problematic. Mark Shields is happiest when he can slice, sieve and squeeze gobs of gooey mud.
Acoustic signals sent to the mooring of another sampler, an amphipod trap, failed to activate the release mechanism. Bummer. Grant Duffy was dismayed but undaunted. The ROV, when repaired, will dive to rescue the device, which he predicts will be festooned with squirming crustaceans.
A separate autonomous lander, baited and deployed 24 h ago for studying the diversity, abundance and behavior of deep-sea demersal fishes, was successfully recovered by the ship’s crew. Such retrievals are routine but the operation involves several obviously experienced seafarers. Monty Priede is confident the camera on the lander recorded another fishy feeding frenzy.
Good news from the reigning microbiologist, Iain Douglas, bacteria from distant seafloor sediments are growing on his agar plates.
At 1430 a new, ultra-low light camera to image any bioluminescent activity was attached to the tethered CTD rosette frame to pass down and up (yo-yo) through the 2000+ m water column and record bioluminescent flashes from a variety of organisms when they impact a “splat” screen. These data provide an indication of where such fauna are concentrated and perhaps an indication of their diel vertical movements as well. Eight round-trip cycles will be conducted in the next 10 h. Good Luck, Jessica Craig and Phil Bagley.
Stay tuned for daily updates. You’ll be glad you did.