Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Gulf of Tehuantepec

We spend the day transiting the famously capricious Gulf of Tehuantepec, but today winds were calm, and we were able to cut across the bay in good time. At the southern end of the gulf is an underwater seamount, so we maneuver the Sorcerer over the seamount in hopes of encountering an upwelling. An indeed there are numerous dolphins in the area feeding on fish. We take a CTD sample just as the sun is setting, and I spend the rest of the evening processing the filters.

Two dolphins caught in mid-leap by our captain Charlie Howard.

Two dolphins caught in mid-leap by our captain Charlie Howard.

Acapulco Harbor, Mexico

There probably isn’t a harbor in Mexico more impacted by tourism and development than Acapulco. We pull into the stunningly beautiful harbor and sample in front of an area of high rise hotels. The depth of the spot we sampled is only 40 feet, so we just take a surface water sample. Of particular interest to our collaborators is the viral fraction, so we spend the rest of the afternoon concentrating the 200 liters of harbor down to 1 liter of viral concentrate, which will be further concentrated back at our institute in La Jolla.

Adjusting the water filters in Acapulco Harbor, Mexico

Here I (Jeff McQuaid) am adjusting the water filters in Acapulco Harbor, Mexico.

Sampling Blooms in Cabo Corrientes

Just south of Puerto Vallarta is Cabo Corrientes, and our satellite data indicate a large bloom extending 25 miles off the coast. As we enter the bloom the water turns an intense green, and there are numerous fish feeding in the area. Sampling conditions are ideal: bright sunshine, light winds, moderate swell. We deploy a large plankton net which rapidly fills with algae and zooplankton. Karen McNish looks at the larger diatoms and zooplankton under the scope while the rest of the crew prepares our instrumentation for deployment.

Satellite image of phytoplankton blooms along the Mexican coastline, March 2009.  The Ilsa Cedros bloom is halfway down the Baja peninsula on the west side, the Cabo Corrientes bloom is the red area in the lower right corner of the image.

Satellite image of phytoplankton blooms along the Mexican coastline, March 2009. The Ilsa Cedros bloom is halfway down the Baja peninsula on the west side, the Cabo Corrientes bloom is the red area in the lower right corner of the image.

The CTD profile of the water column at Cabo Corrientes showing a surface phytoplankton bloom.

The CTD profile of the water column at Cabo Corrientes showing a surface phytoplankton bloom.

From the aft cockpit we deploy a CTD equipped with a sampling hose. A standard CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth: our unit also contained a pH probe and a fluorometer for measuring chlorophyll concentration. As we lower the CTD through the water column, we generate a profile of the ocean at Cabo Corrientes down to 40 meters in depth. At left you can see the CTD plot: depth is plotted on the y-axis as a change in pressure, and pH (black) and temperature (red) are plotted on the top two x-axes, with oxygen (blue) and fluorescence (green) plotted on the bottom two x-axes. In this case, the peak fluorescence (green trace) is at 8 meters in depth, and after that, the concentration of oxygen (blue trace) falls from 90% saturated to 5% saturated. The peak fluorescence indicates the location of the chlorophyll max (or Chlmax), where most of the photosynthetic plankton are located, and the oxygen minimum (or O2 min) indicates an area of intense respiration immediately under the Chlmax. Both of these areas contain a wealth of undescribed microorganisms, and understanding the relationship between photosynthesis and respiration in the ocean is one of the keys to understanding the global carbon cycle. We took samples at 8 meters and at 35 meters before continuing our southward trip.

Puerto Vallarta: Investigating the Influence of Coastal Development

Sampling today starts before sunrise when we arrive at Puerto Vallarta. In conjunction with our Mexican collaborators, we are investigating the influence of coastal development, particularly intensive tourism, on marine microbiota, so we take a sample of surface water in Banderas Bay and leave the harbor with the rising sun.

Strong Winds

Winds have picked up considerably in the last 36 hours, and tonight they are blowing in the 25 to 30 knot range, below gale force but still too strong to safely deploy our instrumentation. We sail past the plankton bloom near Cedros Island without stopping, but you can see the sparkle of the bioluminescent plankton as the Sorcerer plows on through the night.

Blooms and Clear Skies

We left under clear skies and light winds, and within hours of heading out, we were sampling the waters off of the Coronado Islands near the US/Mexican border and plotting our sampling schedule for the next few days. The team passed around the latest satellite data from SeaWiFS, NASA’s global orbiter for monitoring levels of chlorophyll in the ocean. We noted the locations of several large phytoplankton blooms along the Mexican coastline, and we made plans to sample the large bloom near Cedros Island, about halfway to Cabo San Lucas near the ‘spur’ of the Baja Peninsula.

J. Robert Beyster and Life Technologies 2009-2010 Research Voyage Launch

After two years of intensive sampling in the waters off California and the west coast of the United States, the Sorcerer II Expedition embarked once again on March 21, 2009. Our destination: the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas. Funded by generous donations from the Beyster Family Foundation Fund of The San Diego Foundation and Life Technologies Corporation, the Sorcerer II Expedition will continue the metagenomic study of the microbiota living at or near the ocean’s surface (mostly marine) water samples are analyzed.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (right), J. Robert Beyster, Greg Lucier (left) and other representatives from the Beyster Family Foundation, San Diego Foundation and Life Technologies joined local collaborators, JCVI staff and friends to bid bon voyage to expedition leader J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., and his crew of five sailors and scientists.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (right); Dr. J. Robert Beyster; Greg Lucier, CEO, Life Technologies (left); Bob Kelly, President and CEO, San Diego Foundation (next to Lucier); and other representatives from the Beyster Family, San Diego Foundation and Life Technologies joined local collaborators, JCVI staff and friends to bid bon voyage to expedition leader, J. Craig Venter, Ph.D. (center), and his sailing/scientific crew.

The successful 2003-2005 global circumnavigation has resulted in the discovery of more than 20 million new genes to date. The team and its supporters are eager to see what microbial DNA secrets these relatively isolated European seas may hold.

The team set sail under sunny, clear skies and cool breezes despite reports of a possible off shore gale. They soon encountered somewhat rough seas but that did not deter onboard crew scientist, Jeff McQuaid, from his water sampling duties. As in previous expeditions, water is collected every 200-300 nautical miles to gather organisms for sequencing and analysis.  Not necessarily the easiest job on stormy waters!