North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences Website
Life on the Edge Home
Integrated Curriculum
Daily Research Log
Multimedia Gallery
Ask Questions
Questions and Answers
Meet the Researchers
Related Links
Search

Questions & Answers

08/21/03

Tim, from McDowell County, North Carolina, asked:
Has there been a 2-3 degree drop in water temperature in that area as well as the coasts compared to past years at this time? Consequences if temperature drops continue? Any Theories?

Our data available for comparison is extremely limited (3 sites), and discrepancies within these sites create variables that could skew interpretation. That said, the data from these sites, taken as a set, does not conclusively suggest a 2-3 degree drop in temperature.

In the western Atlantic, the Gulf Stream pushes warm waters in a northerly direction along the coastline. The Labrador current meanwhile (from out of the Labrador Sea), is pushing cold waters in a southerly direction. These colder waters usually move into the central Atlantic, in a spiraling motion called a gyre. On occasions however, these cold currents make it around Nova Scotia and continue in a southerly direction along the coastline. When this happens, as has occurred this summer, unusually cold waters are felt in locales normally experiencing warmth.

If, on a global scale, waters were to drop by 3 degrees, the consequences would be far-reaching. With colder waters, there would be less evaporation, hence less rain. There is a subduction zone in the North Atlantic from which all worldwide currents essentially emanate (taking ~16,000 years to circumvent the globe). A three degree drop in temperature could cause a cessation of this conveyor of water currents, creating a virtual stagnation of water. This would imminently bring forth another Ice Age.

Andrew Flynt, from NCSU asked about findings regarding the "Snowy Wreck." He also wanted to know about food webs from deep coral habitats, as well as what kind of information has been found on large fish habitat in these areas.

The Snowy Wreck was first brought to scientists? attention by fishermen. Though nothing was known about this site (i.e. what exactly was there, if anything), fishermen knew of it as a location where fish (particularly the snowy grouper) appeared to be abundant. Our mission deployment of an ROV confirmed for the first time that it is indeed a wreck ? that of a metal-hulled fishing vessel, approximately 125 ft. long. It is not in a location that would be suitable for a sub. dive, therefore for the time being, that is all that is known.

Data from deep coral habitats have not yet been analyzed. Information regarding food webs in these areas is an on-going project.

Regarding large fish, we do know that dolphin feed in Sargassum because it has been found in their stomach content. Furthermore, the juvenile fish associated with Sargassum have also been found in dolphin stomach contents. Scamp and other groupers are clearly associated with low relief rocky outcrops along shallow slope edges. In deeper water, wreckfish are associated with large submarine ridges on which Lophelia grows.

Mike from Alachua County, Florida asked:
How do deep-sea creatures make that light so they can see?

Many animals in the deep sea produce light. The most common way to produce a blue/green glow is through an enzymatic luciferan/luciferase reaction. This is the same reaction used by the more commonly known firefly or lightning bug. Almost all of the bacteria in the deep sea will glow, so some fish species make use of this glowing bacteria by having special "pouches" where the bacteria accumulates. This provides distinctive spots of light. For example, the lantern fish has crescent shaped pouches behind its eyes. Many species of deep-sea fish also have black or silvery linings in their stomach to hide the bacteria glowing from within. Some, however, take advantage of this light and have clear "windows" which allow the light to become a distinctive part of their markings.

Of course, some organisms make their own luciferan and are not dependent upon the bacteria.

Almost all marine bioluminescence is blue in color, for two related reasons. First, blue-green light transmits farthest in water (which explains why underwater photos usually look blue, because red light is quickly absorbed as one descends). Furthermore, most organisms are sensitive only to blue light. They lack the visual pigments that can absorb longer (yellow, red) or shorter (indigo, ultraviolet) wavelengths. Some fish species (e.g. Malacosteus) do have the ability to produce red light, giving them a huge advantage over other creatures of the deep. Although this light doesn't travel very far, it allows them to illuminate prey without alerting said prey, or any competing predator.

You asked how these fish make the light to see by, but bioluminescence is not strictly for seeing. Though there exists no definitive method of proving all the reasons for bioluminescence, speculation points to sight (illumination), prey attraction, predator avoidance and mate attraction.

Jon, from Chatham County, North Carolina asked if Doni Angell had been down in the submersible yet, about her impressions and how she will relay that experience to her students.

Her reply:

"I am scheduled for an 8 a.m. dive this morning. It is 6:15 a.m. now. To say that I am excited would be a gross understatement. I realize that I am merely one of many persons who will have descended to the depths of the ocean, but my emotions are presently not listening to this logic, and I feel as if I'm about to set forth on a perilous and fascinating journey, a first of its kind! Shortly after disembarking the sub from the ship, a crewmember informs the bridge that the hull is tight, as it should be. "We have a seal" is the exact terminology, words that my restless sleep has turned over in the night and made me equate to "Houston, we have liftoff!"

I hope that photographs of the dive process, as well as of some of the fish and other creatures of the deep, will enable me to convey what it was that I saw while on the dive. As for conveying the total experience, aside from my enthusiasm and personal descriptions of sights, thoughts and feelings, I think that it will be a nearly impossible task. I equate it with trying to tell someone what it feels like to see the Grand Canyon, or watch a baby being born, or feel the coolness of the ocean waves, if they've never experienced these for themselves."

After her first sub dive:

"I partook in the dive at the Southern Lophelia Banks site this morning (22 August 2003), and came away with a variety of impressions. It was one of the most memorable moments in my life, perhaps the most memorable.

Our dive took us to approximately 1400 feet below the ocean's surface and was filled with wondrous moments. Words can scarcely express my wonder at being in the submersible, of being enveloped by calm and quiet (a stark contrast to the never-ending noise on the ship), of seeing so many awesome sights and having fish, attracted to the sub's lights, seemingly come to pay a visit to the stern's viewport. Though we saw many intriguing looking creatures, the biggest impact of the dive was not the sights nor the sounds (or lack thereof), but the emotions I experienced as a traveler through this mystical world below."

Mike, 18, from Wake County, North Carolina, asked:
What got you interested in the work you are doing now?

Since we weren't sure exactly who you had in mind, we asked a variety of people onboard the ship how they got interested in the jobs they have now.

Margot Bohan, science program coordinator for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration, got her first exposure to science as a child while vacationing in Cape Cod. She attended an educational fair for kids at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. While there, a scientist who was researching possible cures for cancer invited her to look through his microscope at a squid. From that moment on, she was hooked. Since earning a degree in marine biology, her jobs have been opportunistic, and a lot of fun.

Stewart Bell, lead deck hand for Harbor Branch's Seward Johnson research vessel, says he got this job purely by accident. He is from Ecuador, and was a farmer whose business venture was falling through. He saw an advertisement for his job with Harbor Branch and decided to apply. Three years later, he says it's an interesting job.

Frank Chidsey is the Seward Johnson's marine technician. He originally read about the job in a listing of the top 10 computer jobs in the world. He has an almost inborn love of computers, but didn't want a job where he would face the monotony of sitting in a cubicle, tapping away at keys. His childhood neighbor in Jupiter, Fla., is an oceanographer and nurturing a love of the sea, which was coupled with an already present love of boats. This job combines all of Frank's interests. Needless to say, he loves his job!

Michelle Hoogstra is a crew seaman on board the Seward Johnson. Last year, while still in college, she interned as a scientist on board this same ship. She fell in love with idea of working at sea and two months ago, applied for a steward's assistant position (galley help) which she says she enjoyed, but missed being outside. She's been in her current position for three weeks, is still learning on the job, but enjoying it immensely.

Jim Pierce is one of the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) pilots and a submersible technician for Harbor Branch. His background is in electronics, refined while in the U.S. Navy. He worked for some time as a civilian in telecommunications, and then one day broke his leg on the job, forcing a five-month hiatus from work. This break turned out to be a turning point for Jim as he realized that he wanted to do something different and more fulfilling with his life. He soon enrolled in ROV school in Houston (the only one of its kind), and upon graduation applied to Harbor Branch, Woods Hole, and the Navy for a position in engineering. Harbor Branch was the first to call for an interview and since March of 2001 he has worked for them.

Martha Nizinski, zoologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, first got interested in her work while in college. She took a marine biology class that took place in the Florida Keys and involved living on a sailboat for a month. During this time, she found out that you could make a living doing just that, which she thought was pretty cool. Her research over the years has centered mostly on shallow water -- coastal and estuarine studies, much of which was in the Florida Bay. Jackie is a G.I.S. (Geographic Information System) specialist with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. She began by analyzing satellite pictures, which led to more work with remote sensing and development. She worked in a lab for 16 years, through the years when LANDSAT (land satellite) was developed. Interpretation of these images was used for monitoring natural resources. Jackie's work focused on determining whether this monitoring method actually worked.

Jacquie Ott is a G.I.S. (Geographic Information System) specialist with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. She began by analyzing satellite pictures, which led to more work with remote sensing and development. She worked in a lab for 16 years, through the years when LANDSAT (land satellite) was developed. Interpretation of these images was used for monitoring natural resources. Jackie's work focused on determining whether this monitoring method actually worked.

She earned her master's degree at the University of Delaware using historical land satellite images to map the Everglades. This work was instrumental in the abolition of several man-made structures (dikes and dams) that impeded the natural flow of the "River of Grass." Although she enjoyed her work, she wanted to be closer to her subject, to have her hands in her work. Then G.I.S. evolved into a practical, affordable means of imaging into PC systems, allowing Jackie to switch over to this field of work. Of her work, she says it is something that is grassroots, exciting and "basic" (as opposed to "applied") research.

Travis Brewer, a second assistant engineer with Harbor Branch aboard the Seward Johnson, started out in the U.S. Navy. His work there centered on electronics and mechanics, and was based out of San Diego - both characteristics he liked. When his current job came open two years ago, he decided it was the job for him, and though he misses his native Texas, he enjoys what he does.

Kristen Heron is an intern with NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration. She first saw this job listing on the Internet. It said that the position would spend time on boats at sea, the thought of which appealed to her. She had no previous experience with work of this kind. Though she enjoys the job, she admits it is a lot of time at sea (currently in her sixth straight week). She did get one and a half weeks off between this cruise and her last. She will also take a bit of time off after this - in Hawaii - while she awaits her next departure from that same locale.

Ken Sulak is a fish biologist/researcher with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). He is also chief scientist for the "Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Water Habitats" research mission. Growing up in West Virginia, he was always interested in the outdoors. In college he became interested in geology. Then he heard about a graduate-level ichthyology course, and soon got a buddy of his interested in taking it with him. The course involved collecting fish, and took place in Panama - hence the attraction. During that course, he got truly hooked himself!

This is but a small window into the lives of a few people involved in making this mission a success. I hope that it satisfies your question.