Deep Coral Expert Leads Research Aboard Google Executive’s Philanthropic Research Vessel
From August 26 to September 6, Schmidt Ocean Institute Fellow Peter Etnoyer is serving as chief scientist aboard the R/V Falkor, owned by the institute, as part of sea trials for the new vessel and its equipment. Researchers and crew will employ the Global Explorer MK3 remotely operated vehicle and its state-of-the-art 3-D video and biological sampling technology to look for deep-sea corals as deep as 2000 meters below the waves.
The ship left St. Petersburg Saturday to steer around tropical storm Isaac’s path; it is on course toward a safe location in the Gulf of Mexico. This cruise represents a milestone in the partnership between the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the institute, an ocean exploration foundation established by former Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt.
The cruise will follow on reconnaissance and exploration conducted by NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer in April and May of 2012. Samples collected will also contribute to recent studies like the Lophelia II: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks Expeditions and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for Deepwater Horizon.
Here are Peter’s responses to some questions from Schmidt Ocean Institute:
1) What is your primary scientific objective on board this cruise? What are you hoping to learn?
The primary scientific objectives are to find, document, and collect deep-sea corals and their associated invertebrates like sea stars, shrimp, and crabs; and to document water chemistry in and around deep-sea coral habitats. We will be exploring some newly mapped sites for the very first time, and revisiting some established sites where we’ve put out ‘markers’ to study deep-sea coral community’s health and growth. Deep-sea corals provide important habitat to many associated species, so coral health can belie the fate of an entire community.
2) What are some of the most important pieces of scientific equipment that you will be using?
The most important tool we’ll be using is the Global Explorer MK3 remotely operated vehicle (ROV). This is essentially a robot, like Curiosity, designed to collect samples undersea to 3000 meter depths. MK3 has a manipulator arm, slurp gun, 2D and 3D cameras. It’s also equipped with thermally insulated drawers, buckets, and quivers that we can collect animals into. The next most important tools are the water sampling devices. We’ll have 7 bottles on the ROV for water samples near the seafloor and 24 bottles on the CTD-rosette for water samples in the water column. We’ll use these to measure temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and total alkalinity to understand aragonite saturation, basically the amount of calcium carbonate available for organisms to grow their shells and skeletons.
3) What are your expectations for working on board the R/V Falkor, seeing that this will only be her second scientific expedition?
I’ll expect what everybody does, to get some good dives in, try some new things, meet some new people, and collect some useful information. RV Falkor and Global Explorer MK3 both have excellent crews, and I am sure they are highly motivated to accomplish the tasks ahead. We will definitely be bringing back some stunning 3D imagery of the deep-sea environment. The camera system on MK3 is exceptional.
4) Do you have any concerns about working onboard the R/V Falkor?
None at all. The ship is state of the art, and there is a nice camaraderie among the crew. I felt very comfortable in their able hands.
5) Aside from the Schmidt Ocean Institute, are you collaborating with any other institutes or scientists on this research project?
The expedition will include scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Temple University, Florida State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the United States Geological Survey, or USGS.
6) Is there anything else that you would like the public to know about your work on board the R/V Falkor?
The Deep-Sea Coral Ecology Laboratory at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is proud to partner with Schmidt Ocean Institute and honored to take part in the ROV shakedown of the RV Falkor with Deep-Sea Systems International. This is a great team, and a research vessel with a bright future.