JC36: Geology & biology of the Whittard Canyon


Cruise diary

22 June 2009
Location: NE Atlantic 48° 11’ N, 10° 37’ W

Lucy writes:

We set sail from the port of Brest in Northern France three days ago and headed west towards our first science station. (Fig 1) The seas were fairly calm, but for a few of us who have never been on a research vessel before, it did not feel quite so serene. Dry crackers, lots of fresh air, and a day later we arrived at the science station feeling much fresher and ready to explore the depths.

Fig 1. Boarding RRS James Cook in Brest

Using the TOBI data collected by the previous cruise JC35 the Principal Scientist, Doug Masson, selects our launch sites for our Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), ISIS.  A team of pilots and navigators ‘fly’ ISIS through the ocean and along the seafloor and an engineer controls two robotic arms to collect animals and sediments. The team are guided by five cameras which record the dive through video and still photographs of the unexplored world beneath the ocean. 

Fig 2. ISIS returning to the ship.

Today ISIS passed a major benchmark and completed its 100th dive. ISIS was launched at around 2 am and dove to the seafloor, which is over 3600m deep here, passing a school of fish on the way down. In the murky depths ISIS explored the muddy bottom sediments encountering several species of Holothurians (sea cucumbers), which are one of the organisms highly sought after for study by the biologists. Holothurians are some of the most abundant large animals found in the deep sea, and despite their resemblance to cucumbers they are actually most closely related to brittle stars, starfish and sea urchins. They are an interesting group to study as they are such a major part of deep sea ecosystems. Also, because they feed on fresh phytoplankton sinking from surface waters they may be vulnerable to climate change as the supply of phytoplankton to the animals of the deep sea changes.  As ISIS surfaced, early this afternoon, a crowd gathered on deck awaiting its return (Fig 2) to the ship, all eager to see the creatures collected from the deep sea floor, including one massive 53 cm long purple holothurians individual of the species Psychropotes longicauda.  

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