JC36: Geology & biology of the Whittard Canyon


Cruise diary

18 July 2009
Location: Whittard Canyon, 48º 39' N / 10º 02' W

Sven writes:

Life at ocean depth is the common, not an exception, on Earth. Organisms withstanding the pressures of the water column above them must tolerate pressures that are up to several magnitudes higher than what we have to cope with, walking on dry land. One of the purposes of JC36 is the trial of an experimental hyperbaric tank system, the so-called IPOCAMP, at sea. IPOCAMP is a unique prototype infrastructure that allows the creation of a high-pressure environment and long-term maintenance of animals, both in the laboratory and at sea.

Very little is known about the physiological responses of life to changes in hyperbaric pressure and it is thought that the diversity and distribution of aquatic organisms is largely dependant on a species’ individual limits to tolerate pressure, temperature, or a combination of both.

The IPOCAMP system is accommodated in a standard container system, which provides a mobile lab unit. The system has been used successfully during JC36. The set up involved a couple of technical problems that first needed to be overcome; however, this is what trials are needed for and there is no guarantee that any new equipment used successfully on land, behaves the same way first time at sea. Sea-going cruises are thus necessary to make any new technology better and appropriate for the use on board a ship.

Using the ROV Isis, we’ve caught specimens of the deep-water crab genus Chaceon, which is a common seafloor predator. In the IPOCAMP, specimens were exposed to a pressure routine lasting 6 days for each treatment. Over this period heart beat reaction and respiration rates in response to pressure levels were recorded. The heart beat sensor is externally attached to the cardiac region of the crab using dental wax (in blue, see image), thus not causing any damage to the specimen. Some specimens will be taken back to the lab at NOCS in order to continue the study and results will be compared with pressure tolerances of other deep-sea and shallow water species.

The IPOCAMP container on the dock at NOCS

The pressure chamber

The crab species Chaceon

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