Notes from the Nautilus Blog: First ROV Dive

IEEE Earthzine’s Jenny Woodman is blogging from the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. Read more about her journey here.

Gary Williams from California Academy of Sciences in E/V Nautilus wet lab after Monday’s dive; he is one of the world’s experts on octocorals, deep-sea corals and coral reefs

Gary Williams from California Academy of Sciences in the E/V Nautilus wet lab after Monday’s dive; he is one of the world’s experts on octocorals, deep-sea corals and coral reefs. Image Credit: Alex DeCiccio, OET/Nautilus Live

Shortly after dinner on Sunday evening, around 6 p.m. PST, the team on board the E/V Nautilus kicked off the first dive of the expedition in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).  This dive focused on Bodega Canyon, 10 miles north of Cordell Bank. While areas north and south of the canyon have been explored – giving scientists some expectations about what they might find – this dive covered unexplored territory, according to Dani Lipski, lead scientist for the expedition.

The ROVs were deployed for 22 hours. Expedition Leader Dwight Coleman described the dive path: “We crisscrossed the canyon, working along the south wall to north wall and back to the south; we went from west to east, from 2,400 to 1,700 meters.”

Using a 3.5 kHz sub-bottom profiler, the scientists identified locations where rocky substrates were likely to be found. The profiler emits an acoustic signal and measures the speed and strength of the return signal to determine characteristics of the seafloor. Rocky habitats are more likely to be home to coral and sponge communities.

Dani Lipski, lead scientist for the expedition and research coordinator at Cordell Bank, explaining the science behind the mission before Monday’s dive

Dani Lipski, lead scientist for the expedition and research coordinator at Cordell Bank, explains the science behind the mission before Monday’s dive. Image Credit: Alex DeCiccio, OET/Nautilus Live

When the science team determined that a sample should be collected, the ROV Hercules’ pilots used its robotic arm – a Kraft Predator – to retrieve deep water coral samples including several bamboo, black and primnoid corals. The team collected glass sponges, hydroids, sea pens and a serpent sea star as well as water samples; they also logged temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. This data will be studied and used to guide policy and marine resource management; it also will serve future research.

At the end of a long dive, you might think everyone would be tired, but the excitement is tangible. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Lipski. “It far exceeded my expectations.”

Everyone is working diligently to ready the ROV for the next dive, which will launch late Monday evening; we’ll continue to explore Bodega Canyon and it is expected to last approximately 20 hours. You can tune in any time and follow the dives live at www.Nautiluslive.org.

Jenny Woodman is a science writer and Writing Fellowship Coordinator for IEEE Earthzine; she lives Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter: @JennyWoodman

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