Conservation & Science

For deep-ocean science, nothing beats being there

Today’s guest post on the importance of ocean science comes from Nancy Barr of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), our partner institution.

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Creatures of the deep sea. Photo © MBARI

The casual observer of the ocean might notice day-to-day changes in the waves and currents, or in the water’s color or smell. But how do we know what is going on far below the surface, if we are not there to observe it?

One key focus of MBARI technology development is to create a “persistent presence”—being where changes are taking place, as they happen. It means placing instrumentation in the deep ocean for extended periods of time, instead of relying on the occasional research cruise to make observations and collect data.

Tracking seafloor movement

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First Mate Paul Ban assists with the recovery of a tripod frame onto the R/V Rachel Carson, Photo by Roberto Gwiazda © MBARI 2017

Sediment moves from the continents into the deep sea both gradually, and in large bursts. This movement plays an important role in providing nutrition to deep-sea organisms. But it can also harm seafloor infrastructure, like underwater Internet cables—and it could possibly trigger geohazards like tsunamis.

MBARI engineers and scientists devised several instruments to record sediment-moving events as they happen. For the past two years, MBARI scientist Charlie Paull and an international research team have been monitoring movement in Monterey Canyon with a suite of instruments and sensors. The effort proved its worth in 2016, when the instruments detected a movement so strong, it swept a large volume of sediment down the canyon—carrying a one-ton steel tripod more than 3 miles down the canyon and burying it deep in the mud.

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Dispatch from the Farallones: White shark family portraits

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s white shark tagging team recently made its annual visit to the Farallon Islands outside San Francisco Bay. The goal: to continue its long-term efforts to monitor a genetically distinct population of adult white sharks, which gathers at the islands each fall to gorge on seals and sea lions.

 During the trip, team members took photos to identify individual sharks by their dorsal fin patterns, collected tissue samples for genetic research, and attached electronic tags to study these majestic ocean predators. Presley Adamson, associate producer and editor for the Aquarium’s film team, reports back on his experiences in the field.


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Approaching the Farallones.

It’s been two hours since we lost sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and, with it, any sign of civilization. Dr. Salvador Jorgensen, senior research scientist for Monterey Bay Aquarium; and Scot Anderson, a pioneering white shark expert and seasonal researcher for the Aquarium, are somehow sleeping through the relentless rocking and rolling of our sailboat. I’m too excited to sleep.

Choppy waves have kept us stuck on shore for six straight days. Today, the waters are finally calm enough for us to cross the 25 miles of open ocean between San Francisco and the Farallon Islands.

The Farallones are technically part of the City of San Francisco, but we won’t find any subdivisions or grocery stores here. The islands, their surrounding waters, and their plant and animal inhabitants are protected in the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, within the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

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A whale fluke surfaces near our sailboat as we near the Farallon Islands.

More elephant seals and sea lions than people visit the Farallones. The abundance of blubbery pinnipeds attracts some of the largest white sharks in the world, who hang around the islands looking for a meal.

Sal and Scot have brought me along to document this year’s research season. I’m armed with six cameras that need to be set up before we get to the Farallones. I also need to put on foul-weather gear—boots, life jacket, raincoat, and other gear to stay warm and dry. But I’m distracted by a pod of humpback whales next to our boat, showing off their giant flukes as they go about their own morning commute.

I can just start to make out a lone pinnacle emerging from the sea. We’re almost there.

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Camera to crack a white shark mystery

The idea seemed like a long shot: Build a video camera that could attach to a great white shark for months at a time, withstand ocean depths of more than 3,000 feet, and sense the shark’s movements to selectively capture footage of its behavior.

But Monterey Bay Aquarium Senior Research Scientist Salvador Jorgensen, a white shark expert, thought it might have a chance if he joined forces with the talented minds at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

“Some of the engineering team said it was an impossible job,” MBARI Engineer Thom Maughan recalls with a smile. “But I’m attracted to those opportunities.”

So Thom and Sal teamed up on a high-tech mission: to capture video footage of great white sharks in their most mysterious habitat.

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Overfishing: There’s a hack for that.

A coder, a designer and a project manager walk into an aquarium.

That’s not a joke—it’s a Fishackathon.

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Participants in the first Fishackathon bed down in front of the Kelp Forest Exhibit. Photo by Isha Dandavate

Over Earth Day weekend, April 22-24, tech-savvy folks will come together at sites around the world, including Monterey Bay Aquarium, to geek out for ocean health. Working in teams, they’ll hatch innovative tech solutions like websites and smartphone apps with a common goal: to tackle the problem of worldwide overfishing.

The Fishackathon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is now in its third year. And this one promises to be the biggest yet, with more than 400 coders in 12 host cities in the United States, and more than three dozen worldwide. Already, there are plans for events in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region. An expert panel of judges will select a winner from each site.

A team from UC-Berkeley hosted at the Aquarium won top prize in the first Fishackathon in 2014. Photo by Isha Dandavate
A team from UC-Berkeley hosted at the Aquarium won top prize in the first Fishackathon in 2014. Photo by Isha Dandavate

The Aquarium was a host site for the first Fishackathon back in 2014. One of the teams we hosted, from the U.C. Berkeley School of Information, won the top national prize for a State Department challenge. Maybe napping near schooling sardines and leopard sharks had something to do with it.

“We had a blast!”  Isha Dandavate, a member of the  winning team, told the UC-Berkeley news service. “I can’t even express how cool it was. Having the hackathon in an aquarium has sort of ruined us for all other hackathons.”

We’ll share more Fishackathon stories during the event! And, we’ll be looking for tech teams and individuals to join us in Monterey.

 

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