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The Recovery of our Benthic Lander

May 16, 2013
Lander at surface with container ship in background

The lander bobbed to the surface just off the bow of the R/V Ron Brown. Image courtesy of Liz Baird, Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOE/USGS

It is always traumatic to deploy very expensive science gear into the marine environment.  Like fishermen, the military, or anyone who uses the ocean, sometimes gear is lost.  For us, this risk is even more troublesome because in addition to perhaps losing equipment worth many thousands of dollars, we also lose invaluable data and experiments.  But, if we do not take these risks, we will learn nothing, and the quest for knowledge that will help us understand and manage our ecosystems is of vital importance.

—Steve W. Ross and Sandra Brooke

happy scientists

Everyone was all smiles when we found the lander.
Image courtesy of Liz Baird, Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

This morning we successfully recovered the first UNCW lander  deployed last fall. Imagine a triangular bunk bed outfitted with a variety of instruments.  There are probes for monitoring water chemistry, such as dissolved oxygen. A wide variety of settling plates of different materials hang on the structure. Some made of of steel, some of limestone, some of sandstone for examining microbial growth. There were other plates made from plastic foam and mesh for determining if texture plays a role in settling. A rotating sediment cup trap, which collects samples for 30 day periods before switching to a new cup, is on it, as well as a current meter called an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler). This data allows us to do some interesting things, such as matching the sediment by month with the current data for that month. That might allow us to say “this flow brings organic matter,” or “this flow has sandy sediment,” etc. We will be able to tell when the current reverses and can characterize water masses in the canyons by looking at things such as speed, direction, temperature and salinity.  This long-term data will give us a more complete picture of what is happening over time, which will complement the “snapshot” we get with an ROV dive.

Mike and Kirstin looking at lander

Mike Gray and Kirstin Meyer looking at the experiments that have come up on the lander. Image courtesy of Liz Baird, Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

Soon after the lander hit the bottom last year, the ship triangulated its position. This gave us an approximate position of the lander to go by this morning. We hovered over its calculated position and Mike Rhode (UNCW) signaled its acoustic releases to drop the 600 pound weight that anchored the lander to the seafloor.  By constantly pinging the lander for its range, he could tell it was rising off the bottom.  Based on its rate of ascent, we estimated it would get to the surface at 7:10.

eggs  on lander

These eggs are one of the things found attached to the lander. Image courtesy of Liz Baird, Deepwater Canyons 2013 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

Everyone was scanning the horizon, and right on time, the lander surfaced just off the bow of the R/V Ronald H. Brown. We could see the red flag and yellow floats as well as the trailing float line. Several Common Dolphins were spotted nearby, we suspect attracted to the pinging of the lander. The ship steamed alongside the lander, grappling its recovery line, and used a crane to lift the lander on board. The sea swells this morning made the lander swing as we brought it on deck, which was challenging. However the ship’s crew and science team got it on board safely.  After being tied down, the lander was surrounded by scientists taking pictures, examining their experiments, and getting it ready to redeploy later today.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. megan permalink
    May 17, 2013 7:43 am

    Hoorayyyyyyyyyyy! What a great recovery! Are those octopus eggs?

    • lizbaird permalink
      May 17, 2013 12:07 pm

      We are so glad it made it up – and we got the second lander this morning! We are all curious about the eggs but have not determined what they are. Octopus was one of my guesses too!

  2. May 17, 2013 10:57 am

    Congrats on recovering your lander! I’m really curious about those eggs…do you know what species?

    • lizbaird permalink
      May 17, 2013 12:06 pm

      Hi Jay
      We are curious about the eggs too. Unfortunately we do not have the references we need out here to figure them out. My best guess to date is some type of octopus, but I really am not even confident in that guess!
      thanks for following along!

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