Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deep-sea exploration beneath Katrina’s wake

02.09.2005


A scene from Viosca Knoll


Image from video of world’s first known fluorescent shark


Expedition team dodges storm and returns to gulf seafloor

Despite having to evade hurricane Katrina, a team of scientists from Harbor Branch and other institutions is returning to port this Sunday with new tales from the deep after completing their second annual Deep Scope expedition. The group has discovered a mysterious visual capability in a deep-sea crab; captured new video of a large, recently discovered squid species; and took clear video of the world’s first known fluorescent shark. The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the mission to sites around the Gulf of Mexico.

The expedition, which began Aug. 19, is taking place aboard Harbor Branch’s Seward Johnson research vessel and the Johnson-Sea-Link I submersible, capable of diving to depths up to 3,000 feet. The mission’s overall purpose is to use a variety of new technologies to gain a better view of deep-sea life, and to understand how that life itself views the deep sea.



The team has targeted hardbottom landscapes such as a coral mound about 200 miles west of Tampa and the Viosca Knoll, about 140 miles southeast of New Orleans. Though the team was able to conduct dives at both locations early on, hurricane Katrina forced them to run for Galveston, Tex., where they took shelter for 3 days before heading back out.

The ship’s crew took special precautions as they cruised from Texas back to the Viosca Knoll to avoid hurricane debris. They encountered extensive garbage, but nothing that threatened the ship. They also saw signs of damage on oil rigs and heard reports from other ships that all rigs within a 50-mile-wide swath beneath the hurricane’s path appeared to be thrashed beyond operable condition.

Amidst calm seas, submersible dives resumed today and will continue through Saturday, Sept. 3, offering ample opportunity for additional discoveries.

"Considering that a category 5 hurricane just went through this area, I’m surprised that we can be out here and diving again so soon," says Chief Scientist Tammy Frank, a visual ecologist from Harbor Branch, "it really is astonishing how quickly the seas have laid down."

Frank has been conducting detailed studies of how the eyes of animals on the deep seafloor work, in collaboration with others aboard. Working with animals collected in special light-tight devices that avoid damage to delicate deep-sea eyes, Frank has discovered a species of deep-sea crab that can detect ultra-violet light, despite there being no known ultraviolet light in deep water. UV sensitivity is common in animals that live closer to the surface, but has never been discovered in a deep species. The reasons for this seemingly bizarre ability are not clear, but the sensitivity could point to a deep-sea light source about which researchers are not aware, or to some unknown characteristic of known light sources such as bioluminescence--the light chemically produced by countless open ocean organisms.

One key instrument used on the expedition to help humans see in the deep sea is the prototype Eye-in-the-Sea camera system, which was designed by Edith Widder, former Harbor Branch senior scientist who recently founded Ocean Recon in Ft. Pierce, Fla. This system is deployed on the seafloor using the submersible and left for 24-hour or longer intervals to film animals and activities using very low levels of infrared light virtually invisible to deep-sea animals. This allows an exceptionally sensitive intensified camera to capture natural behaviors and footage of animals that have evaded scientists that used other, more disruptive tools such as relatively loud ROVs and submersibles with their bright lights.

Last year, the system captured footage of a six-foot squid believed to be a new species. This year, at a site hundreds of miles away, the camera caught footage of what appears to be the same species, which would suggest that the squid is not rare, and would also illustrate how poorly explored the deep sea remains if such a large animal could have gone undiscovered. The squid appears to have been attracted by a flashing light lure designed to mimic a deep-sea jellyfish’s bioluminescent display. Much remains unknown about how animals use bioluminescence, and one of the key goals for Eye-in-the-Sea beyond basic observation is to use the bioluminescence lure and other techniques to learn how animals use the light they produce.

Based in large part on the success of last year’s expedition, Widder has been awarded a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to build a more advanced Eye-in-the-Sea in collaboration with Harbor Branch engineers, a project now underway.

Prior to the hurricane, the Deep Scope team was also exploring fluorescence given off by deep-sea animals. Fluorescence occurs when an animal or object absorbs light of one color and then reemits light of, or glows, another color. In the ocean, detecting fluorescence can allow scientists to spot animals that would otherwise be too effectively camouflaged to see. Fluorescence is also important because the proteins that allow animals to fluoresce are used in genetic research and new fluorescent animals may contain proteins that offer novel benefits in such work.

Mike Matz, of the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory in St. Augustine, and others aboard are using powerful lights mounted on the front of the submersible to illuminate animals whose fluorescence is then captured on the sub’s video camera using a filter that blocks non-fluorescent light reflected back.

Last year, using this technique, the group discovered the world’s first fluorescent shark, a previously known species called a chain dogfish whose fluorescence had never been observed. To their dismay, though, the team was unable to capture the fluorescence clearly on film. During this year’s expedition, Matz was ecstatic when he came upon a shark kind enough to rest on the bottom in front of the sub, allowing him to record incredible video footage of the animal’s intricate fluorescent pattern, not unlike that of the fictional glowing "jaguar" shark in the film The Life Aquatic, which it may be worth noting came out months after the team made its discovery.

Daily dispatches from the expedition team and extensive background material on their work is posted at oceanexplorer.noaa.gov, with additional materials at www.at-sea.org.

Mark Schrope | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.hboi.edu
http://www.at-sea.org
http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht When corals eat plastics
24.05.2018 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>