From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution via National Geographics: “If alien life exists in our solar system, it may look like this”

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

National Geographic

National Geographics

November 11, 2019
Nadia Drake

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Pictures of deep-sea vents hidden below ice offer some of our first looks at creatures thriving in conditions akin to those on watery moons.
A red shrimp makes its way past a glass sponge in the zone where the Aurora hydrothermal vent field pumps heat and nutrients onto the desolate floor of the Arctic Ocean. This image was captured by a tow camera tethered to the Norwegian icebreaker R.V. Kronprins Haakon in October.
Photograph by OFOBS, AWI team

Icebreaker R.V. Kronprins Haakon, off GreenlandOutside, the sinking sun is coloring the autumnal sky a brilliant lavender, a rich hue that lingers over a vast blanket of ice. Here, off the northern coast of Greenland, the Arctic Ocean is masquerading as land, a snowy patchwork of smooth ice floes and abrupt, jagged piles of crystalline debris. Only the subtle shifting of our ship, the Norwegian icebreaker R.V. Kronprins Haakon, betrays the landlocked illusion.

It took longer than expected to get to this icy wonderland from the small coal-mining town of Longyearbyen, the most populated port in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Now that we’re here, Chris German isn’t paying much attention to the dramatic seascape. Instead, he’s staring intently at a live feed of the seafloor, and he’s trying on hats. Every 10 minutes or so, he plops a different hat on his head, rotating through haberdashery that includes a faux sealskin ushanka, a woven orange fez, and a beanie from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he works.

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The icebreaker Kronprins Haakon cuts a dark path through Arctic ice cover as scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution get ready to launch the Nereid Under Ice robotic submersible.
Photograph by Luis Lamar, Avatar Alliance Foundation; Dimitri Kalenitchenko, CAGE, UiT

The costume changes help German pass the time while we wait for the first glimpse of our quarry: a broken patch of seafloor that’s pumping smoky, superheated fluids into the darkness, perhaps helping to power one of the most alien ecosystems on Earth. This elusive zone is called the Aurora hydrothermal vent field. It’s the most northerly vent field yet known, and it’s among the deepest in the world, sitting nearly 2.5 miles below a permanent covering of sea ice.

Exploring the deep sea, like venturing into deep space, is a high-risk endeavor. The abyssal seafloor is an unforgiving place for even the hardiest robots, and this mission has seen its share of mishaps, including a few heart-stopping days when it seemed like the team had lost its main underwater rover to the freezing polar ocean.

But on this violet evening, after hours of drifting over a muddy seafloor, a high-resolution camera towed beneath the ship at last passed directly over a gaping maw in Earth’s crust. Beamed onto screens throughout the ship, the footage revealed an angry black plume erupting from a crater measuring nearly five feet across—an astonishing span for this flavor of undersea smoker.

“That is a big f***ing plume,” German said, his rotating headgear paused on the ear-flapped ushanka. “This is a lot more than we knew was here.”

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OHN KAPPLER, NG STAFF.
SOURCES: NASA; NATIONAL SNOW AND ICE DATA CENTER
Studying vents below the ice. On September 19th, the research vessel, Kronprins Haakon, departed Longyearbyen, Svalbard headed toward the Aurora hydrothermal vent field, located along the Gakkel Ridge some 4000 meters below the arctic ice. After several days meandering through thick sea ice, the vessel reached its destination on September 28.

Later that night, the same camera would fly over the site twice more; and multiple passes over the next week would reveal wildly rugged terrain populating the southern slope of the Aurora seamount. The images revealed that the vent field is covered with extinct chimneys, heaps of extruded minerals, and not just one, but at least three black smokers.

The results offer our best look yet at such an exotic, ice-shrouded ecosystem. Better understanding this remote biosphere could help scientists figure out how creatures move through Earth’s deep oceans, and whether Arctic waters form a pathway for animals moving between the Atlantic and Pacific basins.

“The idea is to really understand this area when it’s still pristine,” says deep-sea ecologist Eva Ramirez-Llodra, the project’s lead scientist from the Norwegian Institution for Water Research. “If climate change gets rid of the ice, this will become a more used route to go to the Pacific, and it could become an open area for potential mining, for fisheries … it’s good to know what’s there.”

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A red shrimp nearly two inches long swims over an outcrop of pillow lava decorated with large glass sponges and the sediment-dusted stalks of dead sponges in the Aurora hydrothermal field. The site, 200 miles north of Greenland, is about 2.5 miles below the ice-covered surface.
Photograph by OFOBS, AWI team

What’s more, the Aurora vents could hold the keys to detecting life-forms in the deep oceans on alien worlds. For now, Aurora is one of the closest Earth-analogs to the seafloor vents that are thought to be erupting on faraway ocean worlds, including the ice-encrusted moons Europa and Enceladus, which are considered among the best places to look for existing extraterrestrials.

“Alien oceans beyond Earth are so compelling in the search for life elsewhere,” says National Geographic Explorer Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who took part in the Aurora expedition. “Wherever we’ve looked on planet Earth and found liquid water, we’ve found life.”

Plethora of vents

In general, oceanic hydrothermal vents arise when seawater seeps through cracks in Earth’s crust and mingles with hot rocks beneath the surface; those buried molten rocks heat the saltwater and fuel chemical reactions that erupt in a roiling mass through vents in Earth’s crust. The continual extrusion of mineral-rich, superheated seawater provides the heat and energy needed for some organisms to thrive in these cold, dark depths, including a menagerie of vent-specific gigantic tube worms, foot-long clams, blind shrimp, and extreme microbes.

For a long time, canonical wisdom had suggested that hydrothermal vent activity could only exist at the fastest spreading mid-ocean ridges—places like the East Pacific Rise, where Earth’s tectonic plates are hustling away from one another at speeds of around seven inches a year. At these bursting planetary seams, the brisk spreading of Earth’s crust means that fresh magma is always available to fuel the vents.

Over the years, though, German and his colleagues have found vents populating a variety of ridges, including some that languidly go their separate ways. Our most recent target, the Gakkel Ridge, is a volcanic rift bisecting the Arctic Ocean that is spreading at the stultifying rate of less than half an inch a year.

“Nowhere is precluded from having hydrothermal activity,” German says. “We can dispense with that myth now.”

Scientists first went prospecting for hydrothermal plumes along the Gakkel Ridge in 2001.

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Main bathymetric features of the Arctic Ocean, taken mainly from Weber 1983 ‘Maps of the Arctic Basin Sea Floor: A History of Bathymetry and its Interpretation’ on a base of a screenshot taken from the Nasa WorldWind software. 2 October 2011

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Gakkel Ridge. U Hawaii

During that cruise, a layer of murky water detected near the seafloor hinted at vent activity, and a rock-dredge pulled up the remains of an extinct chimney. Both observations could be explained by black smokers, the sort of vents that launch towers of dark, hot plumes into the water.

During a second cruise in 2014, German and his colleagues returned to Aurora aboard the icebreaker Polarstern. They searched for vents by looking for hydrothermal signatures in the water column and, toward the end of the cruise, they dropped a high-resolution camera into the deep. Just two hours before it was time to head home, the team caught their first glimpse of a small chimney, a fleeting photobomb by a smoking vent that slid into the margins of several frames.

But the vent signatures written into the freezing sea suggested that something much more massive must lie below. Buoyed by that discovery, this year’s expedition, known by the acronym HACON, aimed to put the Aurora vent field into context. How extensive is the entire system? What kind of chemistry is involved? Can the vent support a deep-sea ecosystem, and if so, what kinds of organisms live there?

During a second cruise in 2014, German and his colleagues returned to Aurora aboard the icebreaker Polarstern.

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https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:130195/mmsi:211202460/imo:8013132/vessel:POLARSTERN

They searched for vents by looking for hydrothermal signatures in the water column and, toward the end of the cruise, they dropped a high-resolution camera into the deep. Just two hours before it was time to head home, the team caught their first glimpse of a small chimney, a fleeting photobomb by a smoking vent that slid into the margins of several frames.

But the vent signatures written into the freezing sea suggested that something much more massive must lie below. Buoyed by that discovery, this year’s expedition, known by the acronym HACON, aimed to put the Aurora vent field into context. How extensive is the entire system? What kind of chemistry is involved? Can the vent support a deep-sea ecosystem, and if so, what kinds of organisms live there?

And, for the astrobiologists on board, what insights might the site bring in efforts to detect life on ice-covered ocean worlds across the solar system?

Bad champagne

Answering these questions presented challenges even before the icebreaker left port. The high-resolution camera that proved so vital to the mission, called the Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System, or OFOBS, was initially mis-bundled with gear destined for a different polar expedition.

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Worse, a deep-diving, remotely operated submersible from Woods Hole called Nereid Under Ice, or NUI, was very nearly lost to the deep.

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Nereid Under Ice [NUI]. (Photo by Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
NUI is a state-of-the-art, $2.5-million submersible roughly the size of a minivan. It can spend half a day underwater before being recharged, can swim more than 25 miles from the ship, and can dive three miles down without imploding, allowing it to work under thick ice cover.

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Nereid Under Ice two-body system deployment from the Polarstern during August 2014 sea trials. The mated-depressor and tow-body are lifted above the vehicle to facilitate a single point lift. (Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The bright orange submersible has an on-board brain that lets it function human-free, yet it can also be remotely piloted, meaning that scientists watching a live feed from its cameras can tell it to pluck specific animals from the deep-sea floor, dunk collecting tubes into particular sediments, and dip specially designed probes straight into the effervescent, sulfuric fluid erupting from a hydrothermal vent. Geochemist Eoghan Reeves of the University of Bergen, who once (accidentally) took a swig of the seafloor libation, and says the bubbly mixture resembles bad champagne: “It smells just terrible, and it tastes exactly like it smells.”

But two days after arriving at the Aurora seamount, NUI dove and did not come back up. As the sub neared its target depth, its onboard systems blinked off one by one. Engineers tried to coax it to float back up on its own, triggering a fail-safe mechanism that should have released its dive weights and restored buoyancy. Instead of rising, NUI stopped moving, its depth reading becoming a foreboding line that marched across a screen in the ship’s control room.

“The likelihood that it’s resting on the bottom is pretty high—in which case, game over,” Andy Bowen, director of WHOI’s National Deep Submergence Facility, finally said. Without NUI, even catching a glimpse of the vent meant relying only on OFOBS, the high-resolution camera. But that camera isn’t steerable and could merely be towed along behind the ship, which meant that successfully spotting the undersea plume depended on cooperatively drifting ice or floes thin enough to break.

“We knew coming out there would be difficult, that we would face challenges, but this is beyond any of our expectations,” said Benedicte Ferre, a physical oceanographer at the University of Tromsø.

Mordor of the deep

Fortunately, NUI resurfaced after three days; the fail-safe had simply taken a little longer to work than anticipated. Even better, while NUI was being fixed up, the icy patchwork covering Aurora allowed the ship’s captain to fly the OFOBS camera directly over the Aurora vent site.

That evening, scientists were clustered around TV screens throughout the ship, anxiously watching the seafloor drift by under the inky twilight. Soon, a layer of nearly black gravel crept into view, carpeting the sticky beige mud that had slid by for hours. Brilliant orange and yellow patches appeared, and the camera began climbing, moving up a stunningly steep, craggy wall.

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NASA scientist Kevin Hand (left), engineer Andrew Klesh, and biologist Dimitri Kalenitchenko of UiT–The Arctic University of Norway investigate the ice cover over the Aurora hydrothermal vent field during the October expedition. The team is interested in whether the ice above the vent holds signatures of the chemistry and biology churning along the seamount far below.
Photograph by Luis Lamar, Avatar Alliance Foundation

The 50-foot-tall formation came out of nowhere—pinnacles of volcanic material vomited from beneath the seafloor. The pumice-like sediments grew darker and darker, and then, for a moment, a violently churning cloud tickled the corner of the image, followed by the curving jaw of a giant, toothed crater. As the ship drifted, the cloud expanded into a massive black plume that engulfed the camera and continued billowing upward for nearly half a mile. This smoker was clearly a behemoth that dwarfed the average chimney. Later tows would reveal even more black smokers on the seafloor.

“Satanic, like the satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution. Mordor,” German said of the giant vent. “We knew there had to be more than what we saw in 2014.”

Based on the extensive heaps of sulfides and extinct chimneys, the Aurora vents have almost certainly been active for millennia, perhaps seeding the Arctic seafloor with heat and minerals since before humans first arrived in the Americas.

But exactly how long the site has been erupting is still an open question, as are many of the other mysteries the team set out to solve. Without many samples from the site’s life-forms, for instance, the team doesn’t have the genetic material needed to easily answer several of their pressing questions about how creatures move between ocean basins.

Silica skeletons

More puzzling, at least in some ways, is that the Aurora ecosystem appears to be unusually sparse, at least in the images collected from this cruise. Here, there are no obvious tubeworm meadows, sharp beds of mussels, or colorful carpets of anemones. Even microbial mats, although visible in some areas, are conspicuously lean. This vent, it seems, is the realm of small snails and scavenging, shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods.

“It’s nothing compared to vents in other oceans, where you have huge amounts of animals,” says Ramirez-Llodra, who adds that “we just have a few images. And they are great images, but we haven’t really surveyed the area in detail.”

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NatGeo

Ana Hilário, an ecologist from Portugal’s Universidade de Aveiro, was particularly stunned by the absence of Sclerolinum, a type of polychaete worm that’s abundant elsewhere in the deep sea. She and Hans Tore Rapp, a taxonomist from the University of Bergen, suspect that the Arctic seafloor might be sparsely populated primarily because the north polar ocean is still geologically young—roughly 60 million years old—and deep-sea fauna may not have had enough time to find their way into these waters and adapt to the extreme conditions.

The only organisms that really appear to thrive in the area are two types of glass sponges, creatures named for their filigreed, glassy skeletons. Sometimes measuring more than three feet across, and with lifespans predicted to span centuries, these glass sponges are occasionally said to be barely alive. Perhaps less than five percent of their biomass is organic, and the rest is silica, the same stuff that makes sand and glass. Fortunately, NUI dove to the seafloor after being fixed up and collected some glass sponges from a spot near the vent.

Rapp suspects that these sponges can thrive in a potentially nutrient-starved, carbon-choked ecosystem precisely because they don’t require much particulate organic carbon. Instead, they’ve adapted to survive on low concentrations of dissolved organic matter and make their skeletons out of more readily accessible building blocks.

“Silica in the deep is always easily available,” Rapp says. “There’s almost no cost to build skeleton.”

The observations raise some tantalizing possibilities for what might be lurking in the seas beyond Earth, where sunlight is scarce and the only reliable form of energy might be chemically generated by the heaving innards of an ice-crusted moon.

Kevin Hand says that a lot of the work he’s doing at NASA involves figuring out what kinds of biosignatures to look for in the icy sheaths cocooning alien seas. That’s one of the reasons he’s studying Aurora’s ice, to figure out if it holds signs of the life-supporting vents that scientists can learn to recognize—on Earth and, perhaps, on other worlds.

“Using the ice as a window to the ocean below,” he says, “this is relevant to how we actually learn about these oceans that are beyond Earth.”

See the full article here .

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The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Vision & Mission

The ocean is a defining feature of our planet and crucial to life on Earth, yet it remains one of the planet’s last unexplored frontiers. For this reason, WHOI scientists and engineers are committed to understanding all facets of the ocean as well as its complex connections with Earth’s atmosphere, land, ice, seafloor, and life—including humanity. This is essential not only to advance knowledge about our planet, but also to ensure society’s long-term welfare and to help guide human stewardship of the environment. WHOI researchers are also dedicated to training future generations of ocean science leaders, to providing unbiased information that informs public policy and decision-making, and to expanding public awareness about the importance of the global ocean and its resources.
Mission Statement

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.

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From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Women in STEM “Searching for the limits of life” Taylor Heyl

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

October 23, 2019
Evan Lubofsky

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WHOI deep-sea biologist Taylor Heyl (in foreground) explores Lydonia Canyon in the OceanX submersible NADIR during a dive in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. (Photo by Luis Lamar for National Geographic)

Taylor Heyl is a deep-sea research scientist in the biology department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She has been on over 20 oceanographic expeditions to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf of Alaska, Gulf of Mexico and Antarctica. She explores the extreme and unknown environments of the ocean’s hadal zone—the deepest region of the ocean extending down to 11,000 meters (36,000 feet)—to investigate the ecological processes associated with these habitats in the deep sea.

How did you become interested in ocean science?

As a child I always lived by the ocean, in Costa Rica, Haiti, and in many different locations along the coastal shoreline of New England. I always imagined myself an ocean explorer. I began by snorkeling off islands but continually found myself farther and farther from the surface, turning back from the deeper, darker waters when my eardrums could no longer stand the pressure. I became scuba certified at the Virgin Island Environmental Research Station (VIERS) on St. John, but was frustrated when limits were placed on the depths I could dive and the time I could spend at deeper depths. In college, while recovering hagfish traps in the Gulf of Maine for a senior thesis project, I became increasingly curious about what lay beyond the continental shelf, into the deepest depths of the ocean. From there, I knew my career would involve deep sea exploration and trying to understand the connection between animals and their extreme environments.

Why do you study the ocean?

Marine science has been the portal through which I have explored the world, both above and below the surface of the ocean. The curiosity and desire to find out what exists below the limits of human tolerance is something that inspires and drives me to investigate the deep sea. In graduate school I investigated the interaction between deep-sea clams and cold seep environments dominated by methane and sulfides; chemicals that are toxic to humans but a food source for animals in the deep. I am now interested in the effects of global climate change and shifting methane signals on biological communities at cold seeps in the Arctic.

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Heyl mounts an underwater camera to Orpheus, WHOI’s newest vehicle for exploring the deepest parts of the ocean known as the hadal zone. (Photo by Evan Lubofsky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Why WHOI?

When I was 9 years old, my father, then a Lieutenant-Commander in the Coast Guard, was bringing International Naval Officers from the Naval War College for an Informational Program visit to WHOI. He brought me along as an aspiring scientist. I listened to a presentation on seafloor mapping using mathematical models and saw others working in the deep sea with Alvin. That’s when I knew I wanted to explore and do research like that at WHOI.

What is the most surprising discovery you’ve made while here?

It was surprising to discover new hydrothermal vent sites during a research expedition to the Galapagos Rift in 2005. Using the ROV Jason, we imaged and characterized new biological communities and witnessed new seafloor being formed. Most recently, it has been exciting to be a part of the institution’s HADEX program, dedicated to investigating the hadal zone of the ocean which extends down to 36,000 feet at its deepest point. I have enjoyed being a part of the verification cruises to test our latest hadal autonomous underwater vehicle, Orpheus, and to realize that we are embarking on a new era of discoveries and understanding within the deepest parts of our ocean.

See the full article here .

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Vision & Mission

The ocean is a defining feature of our planet and crucial to life on Earth, yet it remains one of the planet’s last unexplored frontiers. For this reason, WHOI scientists and engineers are committed to understanding all facets of the ocean as well as its complex connections with Earth’s atmosphere, land, ice, seafloor, and life—including humanity. This is essential not only to advance knowledge about our planet, but also to ensure society’s long-term welfare and to help guide human stewardship of the environment. WHOI researchers are also dedicated to training future generations of ocean science leaders, to providing unbiased information that informs public policy and decision-making, and to expanding public awareness about the importance of the global ocean and its resources.
Mission Statement

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.

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From University of Washington: “Swordfish as oceanographers? Satellite tags allow research of ocean’s ‘twilight zone’ off Florida”

U Washington

From University of Washington

November 4, 2019
Hannah Hickey

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Two tags were attached to this swordfish off the coast of Florida in August. A small antenna on the fin sends data when the fish breaks the surface. The black rubber bulb takes detailed measurements of water pressure and temperature. The two tags, made by Wildlife Computers, communicate with the scientists via satellite.Steve Dougherty

Researchers from the University of Washington are using high-tech tags to record the movements of swordfish — big, deep-water, migratory, open-ocean fish that are poorly studied — and get a window into the ocean depths they inhabit.

The researchers tagged five swordfish in late August off the coast of Miami: Max, Simone, Anthony, Rex and Oliver. Their movements can now be viewed in near-real time. And although swordfish are a prized catch, these ones aren’t at higher risk, researchers say, since the website updates only every few hours and these fast-swimming fish spend most of their time far from shore.

“These are animals that migrate into the ocean’s twilight zone that we know next to nothing about,” said Peter Gaube, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. “Swordfish in different regions have very different behavior. We hope to learn more about these amazing animals and their environment as they migrate between regions.”

This is the first time satellite position tags have successfully been placed on swordfish caught off the coast of the United States.

Earlier tags on swordfish relied on measurements of temperature and light to approximate the animal’s position, which resulted in errors greater than 60 miles (100 km). The new tags act together as a pair: One records detailed temperature, light and depth measurements as the fish is swimming, while the other beams back the precise location when the fish surfaces each day.

By comparing the saved observations with computer reconstructions of ocean conditions, the researchers can re-create an individual fish’s precise travel path in three dimensions, allowing for the first time scientists to understand where these animals feed and providing new insight into deep-sea ecosystems.

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Peter Gaube (wearing purple gloves) and Camrin Braun (far right) attach a satellite tag on a swordfish in August 2019 off the coast of Florida.Steve Dougherty

Gaube and collaborator Camrin Braun, a UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences, have placed similar satellite tags on other ocean predators, including great white sharks, blue sharks, whale sharks and manta rays.

“Swordfish are different from the surface-oriented fish that have been tagged, like sharks or whales — these are deep-sea fish,” Braun said. “But because they migrate up and down every day, they break the surface, and the new types of tags allow incredibly fast communication.”

Swordfish often jump at the surface, a behavior that helps make them a popular target for sport fishing.

“That’s why we’re so excited,” Braun said. “Swordfish are a particularly good platform to help us make observations in the deep ocean, while at the same time giving us a better understanding of why and how this predator makes a living.”

Recently, the UW researchers customized satellite tags made by Wildlife Computers of Redmond, Washington, to work on swordfish. These top predators swim long distances, commonly reach 10 feet (3 meters) in length, and are named for the long, flat bill they use to slash and injure prey.

The fish can swim at 50 miles per hour and typically spend the day at a third of a mile (550 meters) deep. They rise to the surface at night, along with millions of other fish and squid, upon which the swordfish feed.

A recent paper by Braun, Gaube and collaborators, published in June in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, analyzed 16 swordfish tagged with simpler tags in the western Atlantic, off Florida and the Grand Banks, and in the Northeast Atlantic, off the coast of Portugal. The results show that juvenile swordfish tagged off Portugal tended to stick to that area, while the mostly adult individuals tagged in the western Atlantic swam long distances between the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and the waters near Cuba.

With the new Florida-based project the team hopes not only to learn more about swordfish but to further explore the mesopelagic, or “twilight zone” of the Atlantic Ocean. These partially lit waters from a tenth to half a mile (200 to 800 meters) in depth are hard to reach and poorly studied, even as fishing is beginning to target these environments.

In January the researchers plan to tag more swordfish in the Red Sea, off the coast of Saudi Arabia.

“This will provide the baseline data we need to understand this ecosystem before it is exploited any further,” Gaube said.

The initial phase of the Florida swordfish-tagging project was funded by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Researchers are looking for support from community members, in the sport fishing community, environmental groups or others, to monitor other swordfish and gather more data.

Next the team is designing new tags that can hold more sensors that could measure properties such as acceleration, depth, water temperature, muscle temperature and stomach temperature. The next-generation tags could also include cameras that could be set to trigger based on various behaviors, such as when the fish dives to a certain depth. They hope to eventually use results from the Florida tagging project to guide shipboard sampling of the marine environment alongside swordfish “oceanographers.”

See the full article here .


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So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

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From Schmidt Ocean Institute: “High-Tech Sensors Prepared to Study Sea Surface Microlayer in Fiji”

From Schmidt Ocean Institute

11.11.19
Antonella Wilby

While mapping the gaps in existing high-resolution bathymetry around the Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the primary scientific objective on this transit from Hawaii to Fiji, R/V Falkor remains abuzz with other scientific activity. In preparation for Falkor’s next cruise in Fiji, Carson Witte, a PhD student in Ocean and Climate Physics at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has been installing a large variety of sensors around the ship which will facilitate the study of the sea surface microlayer, which is the boundary between the atmosphere and the ocean formed by the top 40-100 microns of the sea surface.

Data from these sensors, which include infrared cameras for measuring sea surface temperature, differential GPS for precisely calibrating the ship’s position, and three-dimensional wind sensors, will be used to understand the dynamics of the sea surface microlayer (SML) and the complex physical, chemical, and biological processes that take place within it.

One of the sensor platforms which will be deployed on the next cruise is a drifting buoy carrying four CTD sensors, which measure the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the surrounding seawater. Each CTD is arranged to collect data at a different point in the water column, with one logging data close to the surface, another about 1.5 meters below, and a third midway between the first two. A fourth CTD will be mounted on a linear actuator controlled by a stepper motor, which will move slowly up and down in the water column collecting CTD measurements with high spatial resolution. This buoy will be deployed from Falkor to drift freely with the ocean currents for eight to twelve hours, retrieved to download data and swap batteries, then re-dispatched to resume its floating mission in the currents around Fiji.

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The drifting CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) profiling buoy from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, which will drift with ocean currents collecting data during the next SOI cruise around Fiji. Bailey Ferguson / SOI

One of my tasks during this transit was assisting Carson with the stepper motor that controls the position of the fourth CTD sensor. A stepper motor is able to precisely control its angular position using a series of geared electromagnets, which when energized rotate a central gear into a specific position. By electrifying each electromagnet in sequence – a “step” – the motor can make a full rotation while keeping a precise position every step of the way. The stepper motor on the buoy is connected to a linear actuator called a lead screw, which converts this precise rotational motion into precise linear motion, thereby controlling the position of the CTD measurements with high spatial accuracy. In the wetlab aboard R/V Falkor, we wired up the stepper motor and motor controller to a power supply, and tested its functionality in the lab to ensure everything worked properly before installing it permanently on the buoy.

3
Bench testing the stepper motor and linear actuator for the CTD buoy in the wetlab aboard R/V Falkor. Bailey Ferguson / SOI

Other components inside this high-tech buoy include a wave logger, which tracks the height, period, and position of waves as the buoy drifts, and data loggers which log all the measurements coming in from each CTD and track the current position of the stepper motor. We wired up these components inside the buoy on the aft deck of Falkor, only occasionally having to stop to cover up the sensitive electronics when a tropical rainstorm rolled by.

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Wiring components inside a floating buoy designed to take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth measurements at the ocean’s surface. Antonella Wilby / SOI

5
A rainstorm approaches from the port side of R/V Falkor, temporarily halting all activities involving expensive uncovered electronics.
Antonella Wilby / SOI

6
Carson Witte installs a data logger inside a drifting buoy designed to take 24 hours of Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) measurements at the ocean’s surface. Antonella Wilby / SOI

See the full article here .

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Our Vision
The world’s oceans understood through technological advancement, intelligent observation, and open sharing of information.

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.

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From CSIROscope: “Keeping it plutonic with underwater hot rocks”

CSIRO bloc

From CSIROscope

4 November 2019
Francis Chui
Edward Clennett
Karin Orth
Matt Marrison

1
Titans of science! Geologists on board RV Investigator examine rock samples from the underworld.

CSIRO RV Investigator. CSIRO Australia

Roman mythology is full of both epic love stories and epic battles. Take Pluto, the god of the underworld. His chief duty was to meet the newly dead after they rowed across the River Styx. He then bound these souls in chains and escorted them to judgement.

For times of trouble, Pluto had been gifted a helmet of invisibility and would ride into battle on an ebony chariot drawn by four black horses.

But the underworld wasn’t all bad. The Romans recognised that many good things came from under the earth – such as gold, silver, and their crops. So Pluto and his domain were not considered to be all that terrible.

Jump forward a few thousand years (stick with us on this one) and we find new gods of the underworld at the centre of our story – marine geologists. Instead of a helmet of invisibility and a chariot, our marine geologists have a rock dredge and a high-horsepower research vessel.

It’s an epic story of a different kind. One in which our rockstars uncover underwater rocks.

So, let’s look at what was dredged up on RV Investigator’s recent voyage to the Coral Sea.

Studying the underwater underworld

In some locations on Earth, the underworld is much closer to the surface than others. In these places, hot molten rock rises as plumes from deep within the Earth’s mantle to create hotspots. These hotspots often create volcanic chains on the surface as tectonic plates move over them. Where this happens underwater, chains of seamounts – undersea volcanic mountains – can form across the seafloor.

Undersea volcanic activity has been critical in the evolution of the Coral Sea region. So, scientists on our RV Investigator set sail to study it in August 2019.

Scientists tested competing hypotheses for how hotspots had influenced the evolution of the Australian plate.

Associate Professor Jo Whittaker from the University of Tasmania led this team. They set about uncovering the story of the epic battles between tectonic plates as they jostled and fought like Titans on our planet’s surface.

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Voyage Chief Scientist, Assoc Prof Jo Whittaker, UTas and Prof Simon Williams with their helmets of health and safety.

A sudden feeling of dredge

Our story takes place at the site of Dredge 37. This location is a gateway to our underwater underworld, being the junction between the deep Pocklington Trough and the wide Louisiade Plateau near Papua New Guinea.

The Pocklington Trough is a trench 850 kilometers long and around 5200 meters deep. It marks a meeting of worlds between the northern margin of the Coral Sea and the southern margin of the Woodlark Basin and Papuan Peninsula. There is no evidence of the plate currently being dragged into the underworld (known as subduction). It’s actually thought to be a relict trench from where the Australian plate drove beneath Papua New Guinea.

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Map to the underwater underworld studied during the voyage.

Our geologist’s chariot, RV Investigator, has advanced instruments for mapping and measuring the seafloor’s depth. These instruments work by emitting sound pulses through the water and recording the echoes from that signal. It allows scientists to calculate the water’s depth and interpret the seafloor’s structure.

Target sites for dredging are first mapped and then reviewed by scientists on board. When they find a suitable site for sampling rocks, the location is given to the bridge and deck crew standby to release the rock dredge. The vessel meanwhile is carefully manoeuvred into position to begin its dredge run.

The rock dredge is a simple but trusty tool. It’s got a chain net mounted to a sturdy steel mouth, filled with large triangular teeth. The dredge is lowered thousands of metres to the target site, where is it then crashed into the seafloor to bite chunks of seafloor rock to capture for the geologists above.

Dredge 37 yielded a bounty of rocks from the underworld. This is where our story starts to heat up.

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Behold! The mighty rock dredge used to sample the underworld.

I like you but not in that way – igneous rocks

Our boy Pluto gives his name to plutonic rocks. They’re igneous rocks formed from molten rock deep in the Earth’s underworld. Don’t confuse them with platonic rocks though! They’re rocks that you have strong feelings for but not in a romantic way (your ‘friend zone’ rocks).

There wasn’t a lot of love for plutonic rocks on this voyage. It was their extrusive cousins (molten rock that flowed and formed on the surface) which hold the secrets, history and formation of the Coral Sea region. Within the matrix of these extrusive rocks are minerals researchers can use to date the age of the seafloor. They do this using the Argon-Argon dating technique.

The most prized rock within a sample is basalt. A dredge containing fresh volcanic basalt is prize greater than diamonds or gold for our marine geologists!

Dredge 37 gave up some of this precious rock. The altered basalts collected indicated some fierce battles had taken place after they formed. Many of the basalts were fractured, with a variety of veins and infill, including calcite, zeolite, and quartz.

Other igneous rocks in the dredge showed the scars of similar underworld battles. Plutonic dolerite, which forms at great depths, was altered with infiltration by quartz veins. This is a possible sign of hydrothermal activity where hot fluids flow through the already formed rock.

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Altered basalt, a prized haul for our geologists. Image: Science team.

This relationship is going nowhere – sedimentary rocks

In contrast to the rocks formed in underworld fires, the dredge also brought forth rocks that formed during the slow settling of sediments and other materials. This included rudstone, carbonate mudstone and volcanic breccia.

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Volcanic breccia containing many different types of rock. Image: Science team.

The rudstone and carbonate mudstone were white and dark grey, indicating the presence of calcium carbonate. Rocks containing white calcium carbonate may point to a time the seafloor was above or closer to sea level, even though it may now be many kilometres below the surface today.

Breccia generally has a more violent origin. It’s made up of different rock fragments cemented together and can tell us about past volcanic eruptions. This provides context for the type of eruption that occurred. They’re either effusive with flowing lava, or explosive where lava and rock fragments were blasted up into the air and water.

Breccia samples from this location contained more than one rock type within them (termed polymictic volcanic breccias). These point to a mixing of sediments and materials from nearby volcanic eruptions.

It’s time for a change – metamorphic rocks

Dredge 37 also recovered the beautiful serpentinite. Not to be confused with Pluto’s wife, the beautiful Proserpine, who he kidnapped and took to the underworld to live with him.

Serpentinite is a metamorphic rock. It forms when certain rocks (ultramafic for those playing at home) are altered in underwater environments near the Earth’s surface. Its formation can point to a battle between worlds, as grinding tectonic plates open fractures into the underworld, allowing fluids to penetrate and alter the dry rocks beneath.

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The beautiful serpentinite formed by water percolating through the dry underworld. Image: Science team.

How will this all end?

The underworld is the source of many stories that both captured the imagination and guided the ancient Romans in their daily lives. The research on this voyage into our underwater underworld of the Coral Sea is no different.

It will increase our understanding of the age and evolution of the Coral Sea’s seafloor, and the chains of seamounts formed. It will also help define the extent of Australian continental crust in the Coral Sea – where one world ends and the next begins.

Scientists from all over the world will now work on these rocks, giving them the material to tell the story of our underworld, creating a new understanding of the battles that took place to form the surface of our planet – above and below the waves – in bygone eras.

Modern-day bards of the internet will tell the tale of this voyage for years to come!

See the full article here .


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SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

CSIRO campus

CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

#csiroscope, #oceanography, #paleoanthropology, #undersea-volcanic-activity-has-been-critical-in-the-evolution-of-the-coral-sea-region

From University of Washington: “UW team sending autonomous surfboard to explore Antarctic waters”

U Washington

From University of Washington

October 23, 2019
Hannah Hickey

1
The Wave Glider is being lowered into the water in the Beaufort Sea in September 2018. The black solar panels provide electrical power, the white bulb provides satellite communication and the orange paddles drop down to give a forward push in wavy seas.San Nguyen

This week, a surfboard arrived in Antarctica. Not only was it missing a surfer, but the unique board was covered in parts that let it move independently and measure the surrounding seawater.

The University of Washington project will first use the Wave Glider to investigate the summer conditions near Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula, to better understand how the warming ocean interacts with ice shelves that protrude from the shore.

Then in February, the cybernetic surfboard plans to head north into Drake Passage, braving some of the stormiest seas on the planet that even large research ships try to avoid. The device uses wave power to propel itself, so the monster waves common in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current can help it move forward.

“We hope to learn more about the connections between the ocean, atmosphere and sea ice in this dynamic environment,” said principal investigator Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory and professor of civil and environmental engineering.

As it surfs along, the board will measure turbulence in the upper part of the Southern Ocean, which helps to measure how heat and other properties move between the water and the air. The board sends information back via satellite, and researchers will retrieve it once the mission is complete.

The UW team’s previous project in late 2016 sent the same autonomous platform across the 500-mile channel between Antarctica and Argentina, with resulting papers in Oceanography magazine and the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. This time the board has more capabilities, including a winch that can lower an instrument to measure water temperature, salinity and pressure — key oceanographic observations — down to a depth of 150 meters (about 160 yards).

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The robot surfboard will explore near Palmer Station, a U.S. research station on the Antarctic Peninsula. It will also measure conditions in Drake Passage, the stormy channel between Antarctica and South America.University of Washington.

The revamped system also uses sonar to measure turbulence in the ocean and in the atmosphere, as well as a motion sensor to measure the waves. These measurements quantify the strength of the mixing occurring in the notoriously stormy region.

The board is a modified version of a Wave Glider made by Liquid Robotics, a California-based subsidiary of Boeing Co.

“The ability to collect vertical profile data with the new winch is a game changer. It makes the platform complete as an autonomous research tool,” said James Girton, an oceanographer at the Applied Physics Laboratory and affiliate assistant professor of oceanography.

Girton and Ryan Newell, an oceanographer at the Applied Physics Laboratory, are putting the instrument out in the water this week from the icebreaker research vessel Laurence M. Gould. An outreach team is providing live interaction from the ship through Nov. 2.

The coastal monitoring is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research Network at Palmer Station, a U.S. research station on an island off the Antarctic Peninsula. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

See the full article here .


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So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

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From CSIROscope: Women in STEM-“Saltwater science and sea country research” Mibu Fischer

CSIRO bloc

From CSIROscope

25 October 2019
Mibu Fischer

1
Mibu Fisher, Quandamooka woman and CSIRO scientist.

“There was a calming connection for me when I woke in the early hours of our departure. The ship was being quietly guided through Moreton Bay, home to the Quandamooka People. I myself am a saltwater woman, a Quandamooka woman, with connections to all three clan groups. I am also a marine scientist with Oceans and Atmosphere here at CSIRO.”

Saltwater scientists

Coastal and marine researchers are increasingly aware of the marine rights and interests that Traditional Owners have. As collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities becomes commonplace, so does the blending of two different knowledge systems.

There is a growing demand for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners to lead sea country research. Traditional Owners should also be appropriately acknowledged for their involvement in collaborative projects.

Many, including the Marine National Facility, are exploring the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can and currently engage in marine science.

Those with a connection to sea country, from marine scientists to sea rangers, know the management, conservation and understanding of Australian coastal systems with both knowledge systems only enhances all Australians’ livelihoods.

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Mibu testing water on RV Investigator.

Indigenous engagement a first

RV Investigator’s recent Brisbane to Darwin voyage provided the opportunity for some of its first Indigenous engagement and science on board.

A project, led by Dr Rachel Przeslawski of Geoscience Australia, included detailed habitat mapping in Wessel Marine Park.

Researchers have only mapped around 3 per cent of the seafloor in this area. It’s relatively data-poor yet is culturally significant and home to many endangered species like the Mududhu (Olive Ridley Turtle) Wirrwakunha (Hawksbill Turtle).

The area is recognised as sea country for the Yolngu people and managed by the Gummur Marthakal rangers. From the beginning, researchers consulted local ranger and Traditional Owner groups to inform them of the research’s direction.

Jane Garrutju Gandangu is one of the Golpa Traditional Owners of this area.

I met with Jane in Darwin after the mapping work was undertaken where we showed her through the RV Investigator. She also met members of the project team on board, who showed her the mapping of the area and video from the underwater camera.

Part of the area surveyed includes a ‘hole’ in the seafloor recognised as a sacred site – an area Jane already knew from songlines. Traditional Owners have sung these stories and passed them down through the generations from when the land was dry. Golpa walked on that land more than 10,000 years ago.

The project team are continuing to work with the Golpa and sea rangers to enable the valuable information gathered to support the management of their sea country.

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Deepsea Country, piece by Shara Delaney. Her work hangs up in RV Investigator.

A voyage to collaboration

The link between both knowledge systems was even clearer on RV Investigator’s latest voyage.

The Marine National Facility commissioned a piece by Aboriginal artist Shara Delaney. Shara is an Aboriginal contemporary artist from Quandamooka Country, inspired by stories of her Elders, the generation of One Mile. Her piece reflected the strong connections that Quandamooka People have with the ocean as Saltwater People.

A copy of the artwork takes pride of place on board the vessel while the original hangs at our office in Hobart.

Future careers

While it’s good to promote what we’re doing with Traditional Owners, we’re hoping to extend the opportunity for other Indigenous scientists.

The Marine National Facility has developed an Indigenous Time at Sea Scholarship program. It aims to increase engagement and capability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to participate in the ship’s scientific voyages.

This program will enable practical experience and expose students to connecting with experienced researchers and like-minded students.

It has been wonderful to see how we’re identifying opportunities for partnerships, education, engagement and employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in saltwater science, recognising the value of this shared knowledge.

See the full article here .


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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

CSIRO campus

CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

#as-collaboration-with-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-communities-becomes-commonplace-so-does-the-blending-of-two-different-knowledge-systems, #csiroscope, #mibu-fischer-a-quandamooka-woman, #oceanography, #women-in-stem