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The San Diego Coastal Expedition

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The San Diego Coastal Expedition is a two-part student-led research program to characterize the marine environment of the coast of San Diego County. In June and July, scientists participating in SDCoastEx I discovered a methane seep off the coast of San Diego (Union Tribune Story, KPBS Story), located a sunken whale and studied the physics and chemistry of the offshore environment. We also collected numerous animals that live on the seafloor and in the water column.

Showing off my fresh catch (photo credit: Jim Wilkinson).

Showing off my fresh catch (photo credit: Jim Wilkinson).

Offshore of San Diego there exists a deep layer with very low oxygen (called the Oxygen Minimum Zone, or OMZ) and “acidic” waters. Climate scientists predict that much of the ocean will become more hypoxic and more acidic in the coming years. We want to know what will happen to the animals that live here. The upcoming cruise will allow us to make seasonal comparisons with what we saw in June and July, and follow up on earlier discoveries. We will be back on the R/V Melville from December 8 to 15.

There are 5 research teams on this expedition:

1) The Shelf Team will sample the seafloor community using a scientific bottom trawl and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)- an undersea robot equipped to videotape and make collections in the deep-sea environment.

2) The Pelagic Environment Team will sample water properties such as temperature, salinity, pH and oxygen, using a variety of sensors and water sampling.

3) The OMZ Sediments Team will collect bottom sediments from a range of depths to study the biogeochemistry of the sediments as well as the small animals that live on the seafloor.

4) The Seeps Team will use the ROV to explore previously discovered seep sites and will collect sediments and animals from these sites.

5) Midwater Team - I will be collecting animals that live in the open ocean using a midwater trawl net, and observe the animals in their environment using the ROV.

Three species of flatfish, caught in the scientific bottom trawl (credit: Amanda Netburn)

Three species of flatfish, caught in the scientific bottom trawl (credit: Amanda Netburn)

As you can see, we have a lot of goals for only 8 days at sea. We are bringing along several generous volunteers to help us accomplish this work, and operations will occur 24 hours a day. I look forward to sharing the journey.

The sea time for this project was awarded by the UC Ships Funds Program, which provides a unique experience for students to serve as Chief Scientists at sea. Christina Frieder led the first cruise of the SD CoastEx program with great success, and we look forward to repeated success with Chief Scientist Benjamin Grupe on the second leg of the expedition. More information on the San Diego Coastal Expedition can be found here.

A typical catch in from the midwater trawl. Shown here are several species of lanternfishes and a hatchetfish.

A typical catch in from the midwater trawl. Shown here are several species of lanternfishes and a hatchetfish.

A crab, caught in the scientific bottom trawl (photo credit: Amanda Netburn)

A crab, caught in the scientific bottom trawl (photo credit: Amanda Netburn)

A tiny hermitcrab, collected from sediments.

A tiny hermitcrab, collected from sediments.

Amanda Netburn About the Author: Amanda Netburn is a PhD student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research focuses on the role of deep hypoxic waters in structuring midwater fish communities off the coast of California. On the San Diego Coastal Expedition, she will be studying animals that live in the open ocean, while other student researchers investigate the role of oxygen and methane seeps in structuring marine communities on the seafloor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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