MEZCAL Cruise, July 2018

The MEZCAL (MEsoZooplankton in the northern CALifornia current) research cruise on the RV Sally Ride was both invigorating and demanding for everyone on the ship. Over the 10 day, 24/7 operation there was a routine of sampling and analyzing, but no iteration of deployment or sample processing was the same as the next. 

 

This NSF-funded project is a collaboration between the Cowen-Sponaugle lab at OSU and the Sutherland lab at UO.  Photos and text by Isabella Garcia, summer undergraduate journalism intern.

The Equipment

The team on deck, preparing the MOCNESS.

Resident technician, Kelsey Vogel, Dr. Bob Cowen, and PhD candidate Keely Axler retrieving the MOCNESS.

PhD candidate Kelsey Swieca pulling a net to be processed.

The team on deck, preparing the MOCNESS.

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One major part of the sampling is the Multiple Opening and Closing Net and Environmental Sampling System (MOCNESS), a metal frame rigged with 10 fishing nets that are remotely opened and closed at different depths by a computer. The frame is deployed off the back deck where the water flows through the nets, catching krill, phytoplankton, jellyfish, fish larvae, and other organisms. The MOCNESS is then pulled on deck and the nets are processed.

The Catch

One of the two wet labs on the RV Sally Ride. The door leads onto the deck.

Dr. Kelly Sutherland studying organisms under a microscope while students pick samples out of a collection tray.

PhD candidate Jessie Masterman examining a pyrosome.

One of the two wet labs on the RV Sally Ride. The door leads onto the deck.

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Once the nets are sprayed down, the cod ends are processed. Some nets are picked through for specific species that are preserved for biomarker testing like gut contents and lipids, while others are rinsed and preserved as is. Pyrosomes, colonies of individual organisms called zooids that form rubbery cylinders, are new to Oregon waters and while they weren’t a focus of the cruise, they were still counted and measured before being thrown back overboard. Not all marine biologists get to engage with their subject matter so up close and the uniqueness of this opportunity is not lost on the team.

The Process

Sutherland showing Masterman how to identify the various jellies in the picking tray.

Sutherland scooping a gooey jellyfish into a sample bag.

A Pleurobrachia, or comb jelly, being pulled from a tray of samples collected by the one of the MOCNESS nets.

Sutherland showing Masterman how to identify the various jellies in the picking tray.

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The samples collected during the cruise serve several different purposes, including gaining information on understudied organisms and collecting data for future student projects. For Jessie Masterman, the cruise provided her a space to collect species for her first experiment as a PhD candidate. Masterman, a marine biologist who’s new to jellyfish research, collected Pluerobrachia for biomarker analysis—a topic that may inform the next six years of her life and future career.

The Risks

The cable attaching the MOCNESS to the ship frayed while the nets were deployed in rough waters.

Cowen and his lab fixing the ISIIS, an underwater imaging machine he designed.

The cable attaching the MOCNESS to the ship frayed while the nets were deployed in rough waters.

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Field work comes with the added challenge of unpredictability. Equipment breaks, conditions change, and plans must adapt. Taking these challenges in stride and seeing the adjustments as success in spite of adversity rather than failures is a necessary perspective.

The Motivation

Masterman and masters student Aliza Karim taking a photo of a pyrosome.

The crew watching the sunset from the deck.

Cowen on deck at sunrise.

Masterman and masters student Aliza Karim taking a photo of a pyrosome.

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Curiosity is at the root of the cruise. Through the trials of field work, the desire to learn more about their passions keeps the team of marine biologists going.