We begin our second field year of the current 4-year, multi-agency project with an unprecedented effort. We will embark on 4 cruises this year, one in the Gulf of Mexico and three in the Atlantic Ocean (see Study Sites). The Atlantic cruises will examine deep coral ecosystems off Florida and North Carolina. The Gulf cruise will involve returning to deep coral sites visited in previous years as well as exploring new target locations on the West Florida Slope and a deep ship wreck. The primary research objectives are to examine and classify deep coral reef habitats and their associated fauna and compare them with non-reef environments. Our work involves collecting and identifying organisms associated with the reefs, including the tiniest microbes up to the largest fishes and invertebrates. These specimens will be used to characterize the biological diversity, population connectivity, and food webs of deep coral habitats. Additional samples of coral will be collected to address questions regarding coral reproduction, growth rates, and distribution. Coral will be used as proxies to generate long-term records of past ocean conditions, such as temperature and productivity. Detailed, multibeam mapping of the deep coral environments off Cape Canaveral are also planned for this summer. These maps are essential for planning future cruises as well as characterizing the topographical features that define these ecosystems. In addition to the multibeam sonar, we will use a sophisticated submersible and a remotely operated vehicle. When these vehicles are not in the water, we will be sampling these ecosystems with a great variety of methods and will have a scientific crew operating on 24 hour watches the full time we are at sea.
Two benthic landers, provided by our European colleagues, that were deployed in the Gulf last year will be recovered and re-deployed in the Atlantic in 2009. These landers collect long-term measurements of temperature, salinity, productivity, currents and other oceanographic parameters which will enable us to better understand the environmental conditions in which deep-corals thrive. In addition, the landers record time-lapse video, documenting the behavior of reef-associates and visitors during the time between our visits.
Lastly, each cruise will incorporate an education and outreach component, including provision of at sea education and real-time communication with the public through our website. Please stay tuned as our first cruise departs Fort Pierce on August 6th. Cruise schedules are as follows:
Cruise One: R/V Seward Johnson, 6-17 Aug, using the 4 person submersible Johnson-Sea-Link (JSL) (plus many other methods) in deep water off Cape Canaveral
Lophelia II Cruise: NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown, 19 Aug - 12 Sep, using the ROV Jason to explore new areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Two USGS scientists, Cheryl Morrison (USGS-LSC) and Amanda Demopoulos (USGS-Gainesville) are participating on this interdisciplinary cruise (See NOAA site for details)
Cruise Two: NOAA vessel Nancy Foster, 2-8 Sep, using the Global Explorer ROV and multibeam sonar in deep water off Cape Canaveral
Cruise Three: R/V Seward Johnson, 14-25 Sep, using the JSL submersible through a large part of the eastern and north-central Gulf of Mexico
Cruise Four: R/V Cape Hatteras, 1-9 Dec, to deploy three benthic landers for long-term observations on deep coral banks off North Carolina and conduct a variety of other sampling