Celtic Explorer 2010, Week 2

CE 100014 Cruise Blog- Week 2

Another eventful week has been had onboard the Celtic Explorer! Life beyond the science is now typically tinged with cabin-fever but without the sea sickness! Anna is constantly dreaming of Smurfs. Kirsty absent-mindedly put custard on her battered cod yesterday (and then announced that as she doesn’t particularly like custard OR battered cod then it really didn’t make much difference to her dinner). Inge saw another ship on the horizon today and immediately announced there must be dolphins here. That logic was lost on the rest of us.

The 'Broccoli Coral'

There was an incident when broccoli from someone’s dinner plate got into the coral samples identifications and was classified as “Broccoli coral”. News from the stores is that we have run out of washing powder, but it seems that fairy liquid is almost as good, if used in small doses. Eoin has found that an early morning sauna helps him get to sleep after a long night shift. I have been going through a cold turkey stage craving chocolate! We still are functioning as scientists onboard and more now about what we’ve been doing last week in-between cabin feverish states and Vampire Diaries  marathons…

CTD WATCH NEWS

The CTD watch team last week worked hard gathering chemical data from the Arc Mounds area. To gather this data we conducted many CTD profiles and collected lots of water samples for chemicalanalysis.  We also looked after recording  ER60 fisheries echo-sounder transects over coral and non-coral areas. The deepest CTD profile of last week was to down to 2800m in a canyon west of the Arc Mounds.  It took almost an hour each way to get the CTD up and down to those depths. Patience, I am now learning is a very important quality to become a chemical oceanographer! Something that I am going to have to work on!

The CTD (for sampling for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth)

The CTD going into the water

Last week was a big week for me personally,  as I was trusted enough to conduct the titration of the oxygen samples we have been collecting. Oxygen titration is a wet chemical method used to determine oxygen concentration in water. The water samples are taken during the CTD profile by closing bottles on the CTD at different depths from the surface to the bottom. I now do the titrations along with chlorophyll sampling and fixing the oxygen samples.

My scary moment of the week occurred  when a storm petrel flew into the wet lab whilst I was fixing oxygen samples!  After having watched the Vampire Diaries it gave me a fright and I almost splashed the chemical I was using to fix oxygen on my skin as I ran away from the bird. This was made worse by the fact that I had been told many times, that the chemical I for fixing oxygen, NaINaOH is HIGHLY corrosive! I managed to get the crews’ messroom and one of them came to my rescue, removing the bird! So thankyou Agor for saving me and the bird!

All three of us at this stage are looking forward to getting back to shore and a return to daylight hours!

ROV WATCH NEWS

Even though the diving  at the Arc Mounds was delayed due to bad weather during our transit from the Logachev Mounds and the first day on site, we still managed to complete video transects at all three coral sites and three control sites as planned.

The Arc Mounds are relatively small compared with the mounds in the Logachev region, and that seems to be reflected in the quality and diversity of the habitat.  We have seen fewer octocorals here, but  abundant stony corals.

Many of the sites have had unusually high amounts of marine snow, large particles of organic matter, in the water column, which has dramatically reduced visibility – this probably signals the onset of the spring bloom. We still managed to see lots of interesting fauna including lots of sea cucumbers, some monkfish and sharks.  On one dive we inadvertently disturbed a squid, which decided to squirt the ROV with its ink; luckily no damage was done to either party. Our favourite animal so far (except for Inge, who only loves fish), must be the Carrier Crabs (Paramola sp), which constantly hold small fragments of coral, or anything else they can find, over their backs (carapace) whilst going about their daily lives.  I guess because it is pitch black down there that this is like hiding under a coral branch and acts to  protect them from predators.

So far we have collected coral samples using  a Day grab and also during ROV dives using its suction sampler  or mechanical claw for Kirsty to for her molecular genetics studies.

Sampling with the suction gun on the ROV

Sampling a fan coral with the ROV arm

The suction sampler is remarkably effective and either sucks the chosen specimen from the seafloor straight through to an aquarium fixed on the base of the ROV or into a nozzle where they are held until they can be placed in the ROV’s hydraulic sample drawer for recovery to the surface. We were lucky to find a large Lophelia stony coral colony containing two colour morphs:  pink and a beautifully clean, pearly white. The polychaete worm Eunice norvegica which lives amongst the branches of the stony coral and causes the coral to overgrow its own paper tube with a boney outer layer, has made an appearance in several of our Lophelia samples. This is a particularly large and aggressive worm with black pincer-like jaws. One unfortunate specimen snapped closed its jaws whilst being examined closely in Inge’s palm and was consequently flung up in the air for its trouble as it gave Inge a fright! Brittlestars, seastars, bivalves, small crabs and gastropods are also found clinging to the stony coral skeletons we recovered. Sponges, hydroids, black corals and sometimes even gorgonians grow on the rubble framework of the dead stony corals.

We finished up at the Arc Mounds on Monday night after collecting samples for Kirsty and sailed 130 miles to the east (and only 60 miles from land!)  to the Belgica Mounds, part of a coral Special Area of Conservation.  We had to apply for a special license to work in the area and are looking forward to what we see there.

So cross your fingers that this oceanographic treasure hunt will continue to be a success and I’ll let you know how it all goes next week in the final cruise blog installment…!

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