Saturday, July 31, 2010

Student Profile: Conor Ryan

I am a PhD student from Cork in Ireland. I am studying baleen whale ecology at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology using stable isotope analysis and molecular genetics. My project is primarily investigating fin and humpback whales in Irish waters whose movements and ecology are poorly studied to date. I received an Ireland-Newfoundland Partnership grant to visit Memorial University of Newfoundland to take baleen samples for my project, so I'mlooking forward to spending a few days there when we get ashore. Bill Montevecchi kindly secured me a place on this cruise as a seabird and marine mammal surveyor.

I have surveyed on several research cruises in the eastern North Atlantic, but this is my first time at sea on this side of the pond. I'm enjoying the sunshine (a rare treat in Ireland!) and the slightly different selection of bird species. The good food, company, weather and abundance of blubber are making the cruise very enjoyable!

Student Profile: Cherisse Du Preez

Surprisingly, I’m not breathing compressed air, my feet aren’t wet, and I’m not enclosed in a foot-thick sphere of steel. It feels like I could be on the bottom of the ocean but I’m actually in a comfy armchair, coffee and ginger cookie at my side, aboard a Canadian Coast Guard Vessel. I’m surrounded by a dozen of my peers and the room we’re in would be pitch dark if it wasn’t for the twenty-two huge flat screen monitors displaying, in real-time, the deep seafloor from hundreds to thousands of meters directly below us. It’s misleading to refer to it as the “deep sea”, what I’m looking at could be mistaken for the tropics, some coral reef in Thailand or Bahamas, not the temperate Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. The colours of the rainbow are splashed all over the seafloor: sponges, anemones, hydroids, and corals cover seemingly every inch of rock there is, and schools of fish swarm in huge groups above them.

That should elude to a bit about me but let me formally introduce myself, “Hi , my names Cherisse Du Preez and I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, British Columbia”. I’m one those lucky people that work their dream job (even Gorge Costanza from Seinfeld wishes he had my job), I’m a marine biologist. I’ve temporally joined the crew of the CCGS Hudson to explore the ocean depths with the remotely operated platform for ocean science, or ROPOS. My part to play in our dives to the seafloor is a story staring deep-sea sponges, corals, and rockfish. Basically the story goes something like this: seafloor structure is to some bottom fish like trees are to birds. I am investigating fishing practices which trawl to catch their target fish and the impact on the preferred structural habitat of sponges and corals. I’ve already done work on this subject on the West coast of Canada and CHONe, with its nationwide scientific initiative, is giving me the opportunity to replicate that work on the East coast of Canada. The video imagery we collect during this cruise will feed directly into my PhD thesis, as well as open up doors for collaborations with other CHONe students and scientists.

Cherisse Du Preez
CHONe Outreach and Student Committee member

Researcher Profile: Anna Metaxas

Anna Metaxas is a benthic ecologist, interested in the factors that regulate populations of marine invertebrates, particularly early life-history stages, in different habitats ranging from the shallow subtidal to the deep sea and from temperate regions to the tropics. She holds a BSc in Ecology from McGill University, a MSc in Oceanography from University of British Columbia, and a PhD in Marine Ecology from Dalhousie University. After completing her PhD, she spent 2 years at each of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a postdoc, where she became initiated in deep-water research. She has used occupied (Alvin, Johnson Sea Link, Clelia) and remotely operated submersibles (ROPOS) for research in the Caribbean, at cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico, hydrothermal vents in the south and northeast Pacific, and the Discovery Corridor including the continental slope in the northwest Atlantic. She is a Professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University.
On this cruise, Anna and her students (Myriam Lacharité and Jessie Short) are continuing a long-term project that aims to identify potential dispersal pathways and associated patterns in population connectivity across the different habitats in the Discovery Corridor. These habitats include relatively shallow (150-300 m depth) muddy and sandy bottoms, and rocky outcrops in the Gulf of Maine (Jordan Basin, Georges Basin); the Northeast Channel coral conservation area (300-900 m depth); and the mostly soft-sedimented continental slope (900-3000 m depth). To achieve our goal, we are using a multi-prong approach: (1) with video and acoustic measurements, we will obtain the distribution of habitat types across the Discovery Corridor (in collaboration with Peter Lawton at SABS); (2) using a large collection of video amassed over three cruises since 2006, we will obtain measures of abundance for epifaunal macrofauna (organisms that live on the sediment surface and are large enough to identify visually on video) in each habitat type; (3) using deployed settlement plates and deep-water plankton tows, we will measure rates of larval supply to the bottom in different habitats; and (4) we will combine this information with a regional circulation model to identify potential sources and sinks of dispersing individuals from different species. Understanding patterns of population connectivity and the identification of source and sink populations will allow us to better manage these highly utilized, but in many ways quite unique, ecosystems.

Part of this project falls under the CHONe NSERC Strategic Network.

Saturday July 31, 2010

Another sunny, calm day on the waters of Jordan Basin.

Last night we were fortunate enough to encounter a pod of approximately 20 pilot whales as they passed by the Hudson, including two of this years calves. A highlight of the day for all (along with the pizza for supper). Yesterday we also sighted the fins of a small shark, trying to get some of the greater sheerwaters surrounding the boat, along with several whales in the distance, and a few sunfish basking near the surface.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jordan Basin Dives

The Jordan Basin "Rock Garden", named in 2006 for its dense epifaunal coverage, was found successfully. However, we did not find the larval settlement collectors placed in 2006. We did, once again, see a highly diverse community of filter feeders and other species including: anemones, sponges, cold water coral, brachiopods and sea stars with sparse sightings of cod and red fish and a monk fish.

Jordan Basin Dives

Because of some unfortunate heavier than expected wind and a medical emergency bringing us into port in Shelburne our first two sites (Brown's Channel and German Bank) have been postponed. Our first dive will now commence in Jordan Basin.
Jordan Basin is the largest basin in the eastern Gulf of Maine - it is more than 8000 square km with a maximum depth of 311 m. Jordan Basin is mostly covered in soft sediment, but our ROPOS dives in 2006 surveyed two large rock features with abundant filter feeding communities. Larval settlement collectors were placed one of of these rock features which we will attempt to retrieve during this mission. We will also conduct transects along the rock features using the ROPOS to collect high definition video and take larval tows.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cruise Schedule

There are 28 science staff, 6 ROPOS crew and 33 Canadian Coastguard crew currently on board the Hudson who work in 12 hours shifts. The 2010 field program spans two weeks and includes the deployment of a remotely operated deep water submersible (ROPOS) at depths up to 3000 m, in 5 major study areas: Brown's Channel, Jordan Basin, German Bank, Northeast Channel and Northeast Fan. The field program will happen in two legs shown in green and black in the figure above.

The ROPOS is scheduled for 12 hour extended operations from 7 AM to 7 PM daily. It is equipped with both forward-looking and downward-looking high definition cameras, and one forward looking DSC camera. For sampling the ROPOS has two robotic arms, sampling jars, a rock box and a bio-box.

Microbial samples (using a water rosette sampler and attached Conductivity Temperature Depth water column profiler (CTD)) along with cores of soft sediment bottom will be taken throughout the nights, but also sometimes during the day, as time permits. These operations are mainly scheduled from 7 PM to 7 AM daily.

Seabird and marine mammal surveys are also taking place from the bridge during daylight hours.

Overview of Hudson Cruise 033 2010

The 2010 mission is the second of two explorations of the offshore portions of the Gulf of Maine Discovery Corridor, jointly funded by the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe), National Science Research Council (NSERC), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Specifically, the scientific programs are undertaken by researchers and students from Dalhousie University, Memorial University, Université Laval, and University of Victoria, in collaboration with DFO researchers from DFO's Maritimes Region (Bedford Institute of Oceanography and St. Andrews Biological Station). The general objective is to increase our knowledge of the Discovery Corridor and it's species from shallow to relatively unstudied deeper depths.

The exploration will be conducted using the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Hudson, Canada's oldest operational research vessel. For those interested, please follow the links provided for more information on the CCGS Hudson's current position and weather in the area (Environment Canada Marine Forecast & NOAA's National Weather Service Marine Forecast).