2013 Pelican Cruise #5: PE14-09

October 14, 2013: end of cruise

In the last post, I described how our team was able to deploy a new deep sea lander system in the Gulf of Mexico at one of our study sites near a natural oil seep. After that, our next task was to service this new lander, and also to recover an older lander from the same location. These operations require the use of a remotely operated vehicle (an ROV), or basically an underwater robot, which we had brought with us from the MMRI shop at Ole Miss. Our first two attempts to do this work were not successful, due to some electrical issues. An attempt to acoustically recover the old lander was also not successful. It was beginning to look dangerously likely that we would not be able to complete our mission. Thankfully, the engineers we brought with us on the cruise worked day and night to resolve the issues, and we were able to get back in the water with the ROV with a few hours to spare, completing all of the needed lander operations in record time. It was an amazing accomplishment that required tenacity, patience, optimism, and a little bit of luck!

The old lander that we recovered returned unique samples that will help scientists in our team to understand how microbes living in sediment at the bottom of the Gulf respond to oil and gas inputs over time. The lander also returned proto-type sensors that help scientists to understand changes in the physical and chemical environment at the bottom of the Gulf. The new lander will allow the scientists to continue these novel deep-sea records for the next several months until the next cruise.

While we were waiting for the ROV to be fixed, other student scientists on the ship took advantage of the down time to collect other samples.  This included collecting samples of water to examine the concentration of methane and microbes in the water above natural oil and gas seeps, and also the collection of surface slicks of oil above these natural features. All in all, the cruise was a big success!

October 11, 2013: Lander deployed

ECOGIG Benthic lander system ready for deployment from RV Pelican with I-Spider. Photo courtesy of Dr. Beth Orcutt (ECOGIG).

A lot has happened since my last post, thankfully. Within 24 hours of leaving the dock, and less than 36 hours from some team members arriving and starting to set up, our team was in the midst of one of our primary objectives for this cruise - deploying a new deep sea lander system at a natural oil seep. Scientists and technicians alike dug deep into our reservoirs of energy to make this happen, and the payoff was amazing. Like finding a needle in an underwater haystack, we were able to locate the exact position where we wanted to deploy the system on the seafloor, to allow us to continue a long term study of oil and gas cycling in the deep Gulf of Mexico. This was enabled by using a video-guided system from the MMRI shop of Ole Miss, which allows us to see the seafloor before we deploy the experimental package. Pretty neat!

Yesterday was also filled with water collections using the CTD Niskin rosette and a custom in situ water sampler, as well as collections of oil slick samples from around our study site. Today, we are reconfiguring the camera guided system to deploy the remotely operated vehicle we hope to get in the water later today. Stay tuned!

October 9, 2013: Day 2 reloading

The first leg of the cruise ended this morning around 8:30AM when the first team arrived back in the port of Cocodrie. Most of that team is en route to southern Mississippi already, and a new team (including me!) is loading on to the ship for the second portion of this cruise, which will focus on benthic lander operations and camera deployments. A few of us have made it to the ship so far, and the team from Ole Miss with the lander equipment and ROV are on their way. I'll try to check back in this evening with an update once we set sail.

October 8, 2013: (Mostly) Successful first day at sea!

Benthic lander systems deployed on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico near a natural seep of oil and gas. Photos courtesy of the I-Spider of MMRI from the PE13-21 cruise.

The news from our team on the RV Pelican today provides a big relief to many of the science teams that are part of ECOGIG. At the crack of dawn, the team arrived at the research station near the Macondo wellhead and were able to recover a moored sediment trap array. This trap has been collecting particles out of the water continuously over the course of a year, which will enable determination of the amount and type of carbon and other elements that sink from the surface of the ocean down to the depths of the Gulf. Within twelve hours, the team had refitted the mooring system and deployed it for another year of sampling.

In the meantime, the team also visited a nearby study site at a natural oil and gas seep, to attempt recovery of other observatory instruments from the seafloor. One of the systems was recovered successfully, while another decided that it liked the deep sea better than the deck of the research vessel. Hopefully we will be able to recover this errant system during future operations!

The team is now headed back in to port. We will be meeting up with them tomorrow afternoon to swap out gear and personnel. I am looking forward to getting back on the Pelican again soon. Thankfully the marine weather forecast for the next few days looks really good; I am optimistic! Our first tasks will be to deploy and recover lander systems with instrumentation and sampling equipment designed to quantify the amount of oil and gas seeping from the seafloor, similar to those shown in the figure.

October 7 cruise update PART 2

Very happy to report that the second lander leg is now a go! Seems that the instrumentation that we need is repaired, which is a big relief. Now all hands are in immediate cruise mobilization planning in an effort to get to the Louisiana coast by Wednesday morning. Stay tuned for more details.

October 7, 2013: RV Pelican cruise update

I am happy to report that six members for our science party are currently aboard the RV Pelican, heading out to one of the ECOGIG study sites to recover a sediment trap mooring. They hope to arrive on site just before dawn tomorrow to begin work. We wish them fair seas and following winds! The team of six is lead by Dr. Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi.

The rest of our team is still on land, waiting to hear about some important instrument repairs. Stay tuned!

October 6, 2013: And we're almost off!

Hopefully, the RV Pelican will have similar lander systems loaded on the back deck again soon. Photo courtesy of Dr. Beth Orcutt (ECOGIG).

It's a little bit awkward to write the first cruise blog post while still on land. If everything went according to plan, our team would have left land yesterday morning, heading out on the RV Pelican towards our field sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Things rarely go according to plan, however. In the days leading up to our departure date, a tropical storm system basically developed right over our field site - this has kept us in port. Our team has kept our eyes glued to the marine weather forecast to evaluate when the ship can safely set out; we are hopeful that some team members will be able to leave this evening if the current forecast holds. As it turns out, I will not be one of those team members, since an instrument that is needed for my portion of the operation program is undergoing repair. We are optimistic that it will be ready in the next few days, and that we will then be able to load the ship later in the week. Stay tuned!

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