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On every cruise, it’s tradition to send decorated Styrofoam cups down on one of the instruments to shrink them.  Styrofoam is mostly air, so when cups made of Styrofoam are sent to the depths, as the pressure increases with depth, the air inside the cups is compressed, and the cups shrink accordingly.  Once they shrink, they stay that way, as Styrofoam isn’t particularly flexible – it doesn’t expand again when it comes to the surface.  This year, we received a set of beautifully decorated cups from Theresa McCaffrey’s Advanced Art Classes at Tualatin High School.  Ruth Musgraves, who developed and runs our Creep into the DEEPEND summer camps ( has a daughter in one of these art classes, and they heard about the shrinking cups through her.  They send out a box of cups, and the artwork is quite amazing, as you can see in the photos below.   The best part is that they made some cups for us as well.

I’m really thrilled about that, because I’m pretty much still at the stick figure level when it comes to my artistic endeavors.


There is a pretty careful protocol that we must follow to package the cups, so that the cups shrink without collapsing inside of each other as they shrink at different rates.  If two cups shrink together, one inside of the other, they’re almost impossible to get apart without breaking one.  They must be loaded in mesh bags with open ends facing each other, with each row separated by tie wraps so they don’t float together and collapse together. 

We can load 14 cups per bag, and two bags per CTD rosette.   The CTD rosette is deployed to collect water samples at various depths, monitoring conductivity (C – as a measurement of salinity) and temperature (T) as a function of depth (D).  We have to be careful that the bags do not interfere with any of the sensors or closing mechanisms on the bottles, so we never load more than two  bags per deployment.

We had just finished shrinking all the cups, and the CTD was down, cupless this time, when a squall came through, and 10 foot swells came along with it.  The CTD had to be brought to the surface immediately, and it was quite a dangerous recovery trying to keep the CTD from swinging like a pendulum with safety lines.  As you can see, the cups are just attached by tie wraps, and in those seas, the bag might have snapped off or cups damaged when the protective frame around the rosette was pulled next to the ship to prevent swinging.   We lucked out on that one!   

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Posted by on in News

Written by: Matt Woodstock – DEEPEND graduate student, Nova Southeastern University

Hello, my name is Matt Woodstock and I am a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University working with the DEEPEND Consortium. This is my first time on a research cruise and I wanted to share a bit of my experience so far. Our ship, the R/V Point Sur, is equipped with all the supplies we need to do our science.

Pictured here (Left to Right): Gray Lawson (Technician), Joe Lopez, Travis Richards, Laura Timm, Tracey Sutton, Jon Moore, and Rosanna Boyle

 My job aboard the ship is to help Travis Richards (PhD student at Texas A&M Galveston) pull tissue samples for genetic sequencing. An average day for us begins early in the morning, hauling nets in from the tow the night before. We sort through each sample, dividing the fishes, crustaceans, squids, and jellyfishes.

Pictured here (Left to Right): Tammy Frank, Tracey Sutton, Mike Vecchione

After being identified by our experts, the animals are measured, weighed, and organized so they can be sent to different labs that study each species. We are currently freezing animals for stable isotope analysis, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) analysis, and parasite analysis (my thesis study).

 A Red Velvet Whalefish, Barbourisia rufa, caught between 600-1000 m that was sampled for stable isotope and genetic sequencing

Three Helmet Jellyfish, Periphylla periphylla, caught in an oblique tow (0-1500 m) is a deep-sea bioluminescent jellyfish

Other animals are persevered and sent to several different labs for later studies. We do this twice a day (day and night) and observe differences in the distribution of animals on a diurnal cycle. Occasionally we will take a break from our sample processing to see anything cool happening on the deck. This morning, we saw the sunrise.


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Posted by on in News

Hello everyone!

Well, our first day of sampling was a success! We managed to deploy the MOCNESS twice at Station B081 (check out our home page to follow the ship!). While retrieving the night trawl we saw a lot of bioluminescence in the water which turned out to be pyrosomes, Pyrosoma atlantica, seen in the picture below. Each pyrosome is a colony of animals called tunicates which related to sea squirts. They form a tube which can pump water to allow them to vertically migrate. The longest species of pyrosome can get up to 20 m in length! We also saw some flyingfish which were being chased and eaten by dolphins!


Today we continued on to B082 and completed two additional successful trawls. Below are some images from the team processing the catch.


Here several of us are emptying the codends and sorting the catch.


Once we've sorted the catch, our team of taxonomic experts identify each organism to species. From front to back we have Dr. Tracey Sutton, Nova Southeastern University who specializes in fish identification, Dr. Jon Moore, Florida Atlantic University who also specializes in fish identification, Dr. Tammy Frank, Nova Southeastern University who specialized in shrimp identification, and last but not least, Mike Vecchione, NOAA's National Systematics Lab specializes in squid identification.


Here, Laura Timm, PhD student at Florida International University takes the species identified by Dr. Frank and samples them to run genetic analyses back in her lab after the cruise.


Travis Richards (foreground) is a PhD student at Texas A&M Galveston whose research involves stable isotope analysis, however, on this cruise he is taking tissue samples for the fish genetics team with the help of NSU graduate student, Matthew Woodstock (middle). I'm at the end of the line in this picture measuring fish lengths.


Our DEEPEND mascot, Squirt, hangs out with us in the lab making sure we're doing our job! You'll see more of him this week on instagram - @deepend_gom

The acoustics team have detected some very large animals under the ship. They will be blogging all about their new gear and what they are "seeing" with sound later this week!

Thank you for following our blog and stay tuned for more!


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Posted by on in News

by Mike Vecchione

We are at sea. We finally got under way at 11:00 last night. We were ready at 9 PM but had to wait for two container ships to come in and get safely docked before we could go past them. One belonged to Dole and the other to Chiquita. Both were loaded with bananas. We literally had to wait for a couple of banana boats!

We made good time last night because the wind came around astern and we surfed our way out here. "Here" is almost at our first station and quite close to the  wreck of the Deepwater Horizon. Seas have been running 6-8 ft (moderately unpleasant) but now they are beginning to settle down and we should be able to begin sampling this evening. We are finally out in Sargassum and water that you can see through, a big contrast with Gulfport. There was a dolphin feeding in the lights of the ship before we left and you could not see it until it broke the surface. We are surrounded by huge oil rigs in the distance. There is an support ship practicing with its very impressive water cannons for fighting fires on the rigs. There are flying fishes around but most of the birds I have seen are land birds that were blown offshore by the storm. We are all looking forward to working tonight.


Figure 1. Screen shot of the ship's navigation computer, showing oil rigs around our location.


Figure 2. Water cannons from a oil-rig support ship, presumably a fire-fighting drill.

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Posted by on in News

We spent part of Friday getting the lab set up and everything tied down, the acoustics group moved their heavy gear onboard and worked feverishly to get everything connected, our MOCNESS tech got the MOCNESS frame put together so that we could attach the nets, all in time for a Friday night departure.  And …… here we sit.  The winds are howling, and we have whitecaps (little waves) in the harbor.   What howling winds and whitecaps in the harbor mean is 10-15 foot waves and even stronger (perhaps shrieking) winds on the open ocean.  Our options were to try and get out anyway, spend three days bouncing around in horrible weather with most of the scientific party seasick, and finally completing the 20 hour transit in 60 hours for an early evening arrival on station Monday night, or spending several days at the dock, leaving Sunday night, and spending 20 hours transit for an early evening arrival on station Monday night.  Being scientists, we of course considered the pros and cons of each option, and since option 1 had no pros, we settled on option 2.  

Written by: Dr. Tammy Frank

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Posted by on in News

Hi Everyone!  Quick update that the DEEPEND team is currently staging/getting underway for our 5th DEEPEND cruise of our project!  Stay tuned for blog updates as well as updates to the shiptracker on the home page as coordinates are available.  You can also watch where our glider is moving in the GoM and we are planning to retrieve it later in the cruise.  The team will be returning to port by May13th.  Stay tuned!  We here on land are excited to see what they discover this trip!



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We are pleased to present you with the fourth in a series of teaching and learning modules developed by the DEEPEND (Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics) Consortium and their consultants. Whenever possible, the lessons will focus specifically on events of the Gulf of Mexico or work from the DEEPEND scientists.

All modules in this series aim to engage students in grades 6 through 12 in STEM disciplines, while promoting student learning of the marine environment. We hope these lessons enable teachers to address student misconceptions and apprehensions regarding the unique organisms and properties of marine ecosystems. We intend for these modules to be a guide for teaching. Teachers are welcome to use the lessons in any order, use just portions of lessons, and may modify the lessons as they wish. Furthermore, educators may share these lessons with other school districts and teachers; however, please do not receive monetary gain for lessons in any of the modules.

You can download the module and view our other modules here;


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Posted by on in Teachers

The saying “all good things must come to an end” is a cliché I do not want to use, but it is the only saying that will give my DEEPEND Teacher at Sea experience any justice. This amazing journey has shown me things I have never seen or experienced before.  Many things that I discovered on this trip could no way have been taught in a classroom by a lecturer.  The first-hand accounts I have discovered produced a new found passion for the deep sea.  I plan on building on the things I have learned and I plan on sharing them with my family, friends, and my COAST students at Cutler Bay Middle School. 

I want to thank Dr. Sutton, Dr. Judkins, Dr. Moore, and Dr. Cook for allowing me to participate on this incredible journey, and for keeping me laughing throughout the trip!  Thank you to my lab partner Mike and all the scientist on board the Point Sur that have helped me learn the lab routine.  You all truly made me feel like a part of the team from the start. 

I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Martinez, Mr. Bas, Mr. Callahan, Mrs. Mills, Ms. Carnall, Mr. Squirrell and my brother Jason for taking great care of my fish tanks, getting my classroom ready for the excited students Monday morning, and for getting things ready for an exciting school year!  I want to thank my principal, Mr. Pfeiffer, for allowing me to continue my education and participate as the DEEPEND Teacher at Sea.

My COASTIES, we have so much to talk about when I return!  I have plenty of stories and pictures to share that I am sure you all will also grow a new found passion for the deep sea just as I have.

I want to give a special thanks to my family, especially my daughter who was sad to see me leave, but understood how important this trip was.  I love you very much!

This trip has been everything I could have imagined!  Thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you.  I hope you had as great of a time reading my blogs, as I had creating them.


Signing off,


Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea


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Posted by on in Teachers

With only a couple days left in the trip, I am still amazed by the different creatures we continue to examine.  Some are big and some are small; but all are unique.  This trip has opened my eyes to deep sea organisms and the adaptations they have evolved in order to survive in such a harsh environment.  

Some animals use bio-luminescent photophores that give off a fantastic light show.  Some animals are very scary looking with gigantic teeth and over sized mouths.  Many have very large eyes that are able to take in the faintness of light in the ocean’s depths.  Some animals are colored red because this color is almost invisible in deep dark waters, so these animals use it to their stealthy advantage.  Some creatures use parts of the body as a lure to attract its prey and others swim around until they find something to eat. Some of these creatures have very long tentacles and others are missing some of the traditional fins that are present on their shallow water counterparts.  

These animals have really adapted well to live so far below the surface. These past two weeks I have grown an appreciation and fascination with the deep sea!

Since tomorrow is our last day at sea, I wanted to share some pictures of the creatures I have been able to examine while aboard the Point Sur.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did discovering them!



Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea





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Posted by on in Teachers

Bio-acoustics is a major component to the DEEPEND research.  Whereas the MOCNESS net collects physical organisms, the bio-acoustical team collect sound samples.  They are then able to use that data and transform the auditory world in to a visual one. 

 “It’s like a fish finder on steroids”, explains Ben from Florida International University, as he describes the system.  He is able to use the data to determine not only biomass, but he is able to identify different species while creating taxonomic data from sound. He is able to send different vertical sound frequencies and pulse lengths through the water to identify individual fish and crustaceans. He is also able to use target areas of interests to get multiple reads in order to create a well-documented profile of the target.  Ben is also able to record migration patterns of different organisms and is hoping to determine why certain patterns exist.

In the early hours of the morning, before the sun has started to rise, a mass migration of pelagic organisms begins its descent to the mesopelagic zone. The cycle reverses itself in the evening, as many crustaceans and fish species migrate back towards the surface to feed through the night. Using multiple frequency scientific echosounders (sonars), scientists can discriminate between taxonomic groups using a technique known as decibel differencing. This is made possible by the unique “acoustic fingerprint,” or echo that each group of organism produces when pinged at different frequencies. In the figure below you can see these taxonomic groups highlighted in different colors, and their corresponding migration pattern recorded over a 24hr period in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.


Although the focus of the trip is to study the deep scattering layer and the diel migration patterns of the organisms that form it, chance sightings of larger fish can occur. In this echogram a school of larger animals were observed swimming through an area of high biomass (brighter color = higher concentration of organisms), which could indicate foraging! (Pictured below)






Chris Valdes, Teacher at Sea

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