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2009 Daily Log

08/09/09 – Treasure Hunts


Sunday morning – The first hunt of the morning

sub with kellogg samplerA special collection container, called a Kellogg Sampler, was placed on the front of the submersible for Julie Galkiewicz’s first dive. This sampler is designed to collect individual coral samples in separate, well-insulated compartments. For Julie's work, it is important to keep the micro-organisms associated with each coral sample isolated from the other samples and to be able to keep the temperature of the samples as close as possible to the cold natural conditions in which they were collected. Julies say she is on a “treasure hunt” to try and find out what micro-organisms, such as bacteria, are living on deep water corals. She is working with  Dr. Chris Kellogg to see if using strange and unusual culturing methods might lead them to strange and unusual micro-organisms.

The Kellogg Sampler is made out of a strong resin, with cup like wells for holding the samples. Each well has a sliding door which is left open during the descent, and then closed when the submersible reaches the bottom. When the scientist has identified a small piece of coral to collect, the pilot opens the door and drops the coral sample inside and closes the door immediately.

As soon as the submersible returned to the ship, Julie began processing the living samples that were collected during her dive. For each sample collected, Julie preserved a piece to examine later, extracted DNA, and used the tissue and mucus produced by the corals for a culture. Julie then placed the cultures in a cold room so that they could grow at the same ambient temperature from which they had been collected in the deep sea. In previous studies, bacteria has been found growing in association with the coral.

Julie discovered her passion for underwater research thanks to her high school teacher who taught a marine biology class — in Minnesota! As part of the class, the students got SCUBA certification and could participate in field trips to dive in the Caribbean. Many of her classmates enjoyed the experience, but Julie knew it was what she wanted to do for her career. Julie finished her undergraduate studies at William and Mary and is pursuing a PhD in Biological Oceanography at the University of South Florida.

Sunday afternoon – The final hunt of the day

On Friday, August 7 the Microlander — a special piece of gear equipped with a time lapse digital video recorder, a redording hydrophone and a current meter — was attached to the sub, taken down to the bottom of the ocean and then left on the sea floor. After carefully recording its coordinates and turning on its “pinger”, we left the area with fingers crossed, hoping that we’d be able to retrieve the lander when we returned on Sunday. So, it was with both excitement and trepidation that we approached Sunday afternoon’s dive. We had several questions: Will we be able to find the lander? Did the components remain water-tight and working? Did it record any data?

The sub went down around 4:30 pm with Dr. Martha Nizinski in the front and Stacey Harter in the back. Their first objective was to find the Microlander. They had the coordinates for reference, and would also listen for the “pinger” attached to the Microlander. Their search went according to plan and they found the lander within 10 minutes of reaching the bottom.

Before the Microlander was reattached to the sub, Martha and Stacey collected samples of nearby coral. (It made more sense to do the collections without the added weight of the Microlander on the front of the submersible.) After a few samples were gathered, it was time to secure the lander. The original plan was that the pilot would “fly” the arms of the sub into the brackets on the lander, but that strategy proved difficult. What did work was having the pilot pick up the lander with the robotic arm and pull it onto the arms until the Microlander's latch locked into position.

Several members of the science team watched the return of the Microlander to the deck of the ship. Precise planning and measurements ensured that the feet of the lander passed over the top of the ship’s railing without incident. Dr. Murray Roberts removed the lander from the sub and rinsed it with fresh water. He then weighed the housing to make certain the containers had remained water tight, and that no saltwater had leaked into the compartments. When the weight came back as desired, Murray opened the housing — a task made more difficult because the water pressure and cold temperatures of the deep ocean had tightened the seal. Murray brought the components into the lab and switched them on. He was rewarded by a flashing LED light next to a label that said “happy.”

image taken from microlanderMurray connected his laptop to the Microlander and waited anxiously as the computer said “attempting to connect.” Within a few seconds the “connected” message came up. Murray broke into a big smile when he saw that there were 712 MB of data in the file. One click and suddenly he saw all the images that had been taken by the Time Lapse Digital Video Recorder while the Microlander was deployed — one frame every 20 seconds for 19 hours! At first glance the images appeared to be very similar, but after watching the footage several times, Murray was able to pick out new details, such as a crab marching over the sand or a fish swimming by.

The hydrophone had recorded 60 separate files during its deployment. In addition to listening to the file, Murray converted them into sound spectra. Surprisingly, the Microlander’s hydrophone picked up the sound of the submersible during its deployment on Friday, as well as the sub-to-ship hydrophone communications for every dive since Friday, even though we were more than 5 miles away!

All channels of the current meter recorded data. The temperature recorded at the bottom was in the right range, and there appeared to be some regular variability in the current (perhaps related to tides). We believe that this is the first current data from this part of the ocean and we look forward to future analysis and modeling of the data.

At the end of the day, our results were conclusive: the Microlander was a success. If Murray had an LED indicator, it would be flashing “happy.”

08/09/09 - Q & A
08/09/09 - No Data

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