From Schmidt Ocean Institute: “From Mesocale to Naked Eye”

From Schmidt Ocean Institute

Aug 16, 2019
Christine Lee

Deep Coral Diversity at Emperor Seamount Chain 2019

Hawaiian seamount chain. Wikipedia

We have passed the halfway mark of our cruise’s journey having sailed over 3,200 nautical miles during the past eighteen days. The Schmidt Ocean Institute’s ROV SuBastian [below] has made eight dives so far to depths ranging from 1500-2400 meters deep at the seamounts; Hess Rise, Suiko (north end), Suiko (south end), Yomei, Godaigo, Nintoku (deep), Nintoku (shallow), and Jingu. I was able to witness an amazing show – in real time – of the ancient and young corals, sponges, and other deep sea life observed through the ROV Cam. I can not imagine now how any other live streaming video can compare to seeing nature’s beauty in the deep ocean. Read on to learn about the first two projects I have started while onboard the Falkor, inspired by eddies and by some of the collected specimens we have acquired from the dives.

HES 102-1 sample: Paragorgia with Brittle Star collected during the Hess Rise dive Christine Lee


The swirling of ocean water into currents that flow in a somewhat circular motion are known as mesoscale eddies, with the rotation dependent on the temperature and salinity of the water masses inside and outside the eddy. Cold eddies rotate cyclonically and warm rotate anti-cyclonically. I have been embroidering on paper the estimated averages of the eddies located in the rough area our cruise has been conducting dives. I am using the gradient numbers that characterize the Bell curve for each eddie calculated by Glenn Carter, associate professor in the Department of Oceanography at UH Manoa, to determine the stitching pattern. Since our region of research is in the northern hemisphere, I use cooler tones stitched counterclockwise for eddies under the sea surface and warmer tones stitched clockwise for eddies above.

In progress: My hand-stitched map of eddies within our research regio Christine Lee

Naked Eye

During each dive, the ROV collects specimens as designated by the scientists watching through the live video feed, observing the organisms in their habitat. After the specimens have been documented and preserved, I have been capturing some of them using the Autodesk photogrammetry program ReCap Pro to create an archive of 3D scans, and ROV Supervisor Jason Rodriquez has helped me to 3D print them at various scales. Chief Engineer Allen, with Fitters Edwin and Alex, modified a piece of equipment to create a small platen press where even pressure is applied to transfer a low relief pattern or texture to the surface of a piece of paper or other thin substrate. We used this process to transfer the surface topology of the 3D printed object made from the HES102-1 sample to paper, as well as to a piece of tin sheet. I am now preparing a series based on the antiquated look of ceiling tins to reference how the corals we observe today may become extinct and part of our history.

Chief Engineer Allen and Fitter Edwin helping me to create a blind embossing on paper with the 3D printed model. SOI / Monika Naranjo Gonzalez

3D printed object made from the HES102-1 sample (left) and blind embossing paper test (right). Christine Lee

Tin sheet test embossing. Christine Lee

Coming Up…

When we observe these corals, sponges, and other organisms, there are similar characteristics they share – yet when their DNA is analyzed, they may be from totally different families. I am curious about this occurrence as well as another research question begging to be investigated on board: how does the environment trigger similar morphology across diverse species? Of the variety of characteristics exhibited by the collected specimens and viewed in situ, I am amazed by their surface quality, textures, and colors. We are able to see these with a light source from the ROV, but what do the inhabitants “see” in the deep dark abyss? Perhaps textures and touch interactions are one of the threads that connect us. Stay tuned for the next blog to read about the other projects I have started looking at inspiration from micro to the molecular!

Christine Lee threading the shapes of the different eddies in this region, inside the diameter of one of Falkor’s portholes. SOI / Monika Naranjo Gonzalez

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Schmidt Ocean Institute RV Falkor

Schmidt Ocean Institute ROV Subastian

Schmidt Ocean Institute is a 501(c)(3) private non-profit operating foundation established in March 2009 to advance oceanographic research, discovery, and knowledge, and catalyze sharing of information about the oceans.

Since the Earth’s oceans are a critically endangered and least understood part of the environment, the Institute dedicates its efforts to their comprehensive understanding across intentionally broad scope of research objectives.

Eric and Wendy Schmidt established Schmidt Ocean Institute in 2009 as a seagoing research facility operator, to support oceanographic research and technology development focusing on accelerating the pace in ocean sciences with operational, technological, and informational innovations. The Institute is devoted to the inspirational vision of our Founders that the advancement of technology and open sharing of information will remain crucial to expanding the understanding of the world’s oceans.