Deep Sea Coral Shakedown

As part of the planned series of shake-down cruises in the Gulf of Mexico, research vessel Falkor, the flagship of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, will depart from St. Petersburg, Florida on August 26, 2012 for 12 day long ROV field trials that will conclude in Pascagoula, Mississippi on September 6, 2012. This cruise will focus on the development of safe practices and standard operating procedures for the deployment and operation of remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), as well as for the ROV data and video management and distribution onboard. Testing and calibration of R/V Falkor oceanographic instruments will continue through the rest of 2012.

Schmidt Ocean Institute invited scientists from NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Ecology Program, Temple University, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to participate in this cruise to provide realistic research context for the planned field trials. Participating researchers aim to describe coral community characteristics, obtain specimens for shoreside laboratory analysis, and collect water samples that would help better understand the effects of ocean acidification on deep-sea coral communities.

Dr. Peter Etnoyer of NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science was invited to serve as a Chief Scientist for this cruise. Dr. Etnoyer stated that his main objective for this cruise would be to “find, document, and collect deep-sea corals and their associated invertebrates like sea stars, shrimp, and crabs” as well as “document water chemistry in and around deep-sea coral habitats.”

Research objectives of Dr. Etnoyer and his team will be accommodated, where logistically possible, as part of the planned Schmidt Ocean Institute field trials of the ROV Global Explorer MK3 onboard R/V Falkor.  The Global Explorer is a remotely operated underwater vehicle capable of operating in water depths down to 3000 meters. It has a manipulator arm, 2D and 3D cameras, a slurp gun for collecting samples, thermally insulated drawers to contain animal specimens, and other features that Dr. Etnoyer and his team intend to use in support of their research. Seven water sample collection bottles will be attached to the Global Explorer to collect water from near seafloor, and a 24-bottle CTD rosette will be operated from R/V Falkor to collect water samples throughout the rest of the water column. Collected water samples and measurements will provide valuable data on temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and calcium carbonate in the sea water. The researchers plan to use these data to gain insight into the effects of ocean acidification upon the deep-sea corals and other marine calcifying organisms.

Several members of Dr. Timothy Shank’s laboratory from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will also be joining the cruise. Ph.D. Candidate Santiago Herrera and Research Assistant Catriona Munro will participate in the cruise to continue their current research on corals and their symbionts, as well as animals that live on and with the corals. Specifically, Dr. Shank and his team would like “to see if the corals and their symbionts in the DeSoto Canyon area are more similar to those in the deep Atlantic than to the more proximal Gulf of Mexico species.” Dr. Shank’s team will accomplish this by sampling old and new deep-water coral sites to look for patterns of host-symbiont relationships, as well conducting gene flow studies to determine potential migration patterns in the Gulf of Mexico.

As much is still unknown about deep-submergence science, Dr. Shank states that ships like the R/V Falkor are “necessary to bring expertise to bear on new and exciting questions and discoveries.”

Also joining the cruise will be Dr. Erik Cordes from Temple University with his students Jay Lunden and Conall McNichol. Dr. Cordes will be focusing on the response of gorgonian corals to the presence of oil and other dispersants, as well as the attempting to determine the current state of ocean acidification on corals in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Cordes will collect live samples of Lophelia using the Global Explorer MK3 ROV and bring the samples back to his lab, where they will be subject to further ocean acidification experiments. This cruise will mark the first time Dr. Cordes has been on board the R/V Falkor: “I have never been on a new ship like this before, so I am excited for the opportunity.”

Of the R/V Falkor and her crew, Dr. Etnoyer says, “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 R/V Falkor with Deep-Sea Systems International. This is a great team, and a research vessel with a bright future.”

2014 Cruise Update

The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has recently recommended that deep-sea coral aggregations at the sites along the West Florida Escarpment be protected as part of the coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (Coral HAPC).  If the recommendations are adopted, all bottom contact fishing gear will be restricted in order to sustain the fragile corals observed during this 2012 Falkor Expedition.

Multibeam data from FK-008T catalyzed the 2015 exploration of Mesoamerican Reef by EV Nautilus and ROVHercules, supported by Ocean Exploration Trust. Nautilus devoted six days to mapping and exploration of nearby Belize, partly due to the success of SOI sponsored research activities in Roatan. EV Nautilus intended to dive and explore the Roatan sites mapped by Falkor, but an equipment failure caused four days to be lost, and Roatan was subsequently dropped from the itinerary.

by Jimmy Mack and edited by Victor Zykov

The 24-bottle CTD rosette being launched over the side of the R/V Falkor. The rosette will be used to collect water samples throughout the water column at various depths.
The R/V Falkor during initial test cruises in Norway.

Data & Publications

The resulting bathymetric data from the multibeam mapping of the West Florida Escarpment using Falkor’s Kongsberg EM302 and EM710 is being stored at, and is downloadable from, NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center. The multibeam mapping was conducted August 27 – September 1, 2012, with Falkor departing from St. Petersburg, FL and returning to Pascagoula, MS.

The Deep-Sea Coral Habitats Progress Report, provides a summary of research activities conducted by Dr. Peter Etnoyer (NOAA) and his laboratory staff under a long-term Memorandum of Agreement between Schmidt Ocean Institute and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

  • Rittinghouse, M.T. (2014).  Habitat characterization for deep-sea coral reef communities in Roatán, Honduras. Benthic Ecology Meeting. Benthic Ecology Meeting Society. University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL. Poster presentation.

  • Janson, X., Hurd, G.and Kerans, C. (2014). Carbonate Gullies, Channels and Canyons Morphometrics, Annual research conference of the Reservoir Characterization Research Laboratory, University Of Texas at Austin, TX.

  • Anderson, R., Reveillaud, J., Eren, A.M., McDermott, J., Seewald, J., Stepanauskas, R., and J.A. Huber. (2016). Strain-level variation of subseafloor microbial populations from venting fluids at the Mid-Cayman Rise. Oral Presentation, International Society for Microbial Ecology General Meeting, Montreal, CAN.

  • Georgian, S., DeLeo, D., Durkin, A., Gomez, C., Kurmann, M., Lunden, J., Cordes, E. (2016). Oceanographic Patterns and Carbonate Chemistry in the Vicinity of Cold–water Coral Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico: Implications for Resilience in a Changing Ocean. Limnol Oceanog 61: 648-665. doi:10.1002/lno.10242.