My first time at sea was on the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) research vessel, Endeavor. Dr. Ballard’s Institute for Exploration in collaboration with URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) chartered the ship for a rare transit across the Atlantic Ocean to explore the Aegean and Black Seas in the spring of 2006. In the Black Sea, off Ukraine, I found my first (of many) ancient shipwrecks, Chersonesos A, with Endeavor. I had left a list of the next two high priority side-scan targets to dive on with Hercules and went to bed around 1:00 AM. I’d just fallen asleep when Dr. Ballard burst into my room and yelled “We got one!” We returned to excavate Chersonesos A the following year.
I’ve been to sea every year since, the past five years on Nautilus, although we focused our attention on the coasts of Turkey rather than Ukraine. In my role now as Expedition Leader for the exploration vessel, I am the liaison between the captain and crew, operations team, science team, and educational outreach teams aboard and ashore. On this first leg of the 2013 expedition season, we are working with the ECOGIG consortium to document changes in deepwater corals and other elements of the ecosystem to study potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We are working in conjunction with none other than R/V Endeavor. While Nautilus explores the seabed, URI’s ship is studying and sampling the midwater with CTDs and other instruments.
Yesterday, we sent the small boat from Nautilus over to Endeavor with Dr. Erik Cordes, lead scientist of this expedition, and a few other members of the Nautilus team. Dr. Cordes snapped this picture of both ships together from the boat. This is a unique operation using two research vessels, both streaming their live video into the Inner Space Center at GSO. We are now completing our fifth dive in the Gulf of Mexico with many still to go. The use of these two ships reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the research being conducted here and the many scientists and institutions involved.
The ECOGIG expedition is part of a larger research program focused on examining the ecosystem-level response to oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. This research group, the ECOGIG Consortium, is made up of scientists from a wide variety of disciplines studying current flow, ocean chemistry, microbial activity, deep-sea coral communities, and everything in between. The group is looking primarily at natural oil and gas seepage into the Gulf, but using these natural processes to learn more about what happened after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.