August 28, 2007
Mark Schrope - @SEA Correspondent aboard the R/V SEWARD JOHNSON
Location: Fort Pierce, Florida

Expedition a "Total Success"

We made it to Lucaya, near Freeport, by about 1:00 pm yesterday and most everyone got to spend some time ashore. Having now safely arrived back in home port at Harbor Branch Oceanographic, Fort Pierce, we can claim a Deep Scope first: unlike either of the preceding expeditions, we didn't have to dodge a single hurricane or tropical storm. The weather was, in fact, about as good as we could have ever hoped for, but that was just one positive note in a long list.

"It was a total success" says this year's chief scientist, Sonke Johnsen , of the mission, "and to me the neatest thing about it has been that all the five major projects work now. Before, they were just some pretty crazy ideas."

The Eye-in-the Sea (EITS) performed flawlessly and returned a wealth of information about the secret life of the deep sea. The most precise measurements ever of the types and kinds of light that reach the deep were finally collected. And methods for videotaping and analyzing the use of various types of camouflage and visual tricks that allow animals to "break" the camouflage are also now fully functioning programs.

The Long View: What Comes Next

Based in part on earlier Deep Scopes research results, Misha Matz has already received funding to expand his fluorescence research and Edie Widder's Deep Scope EITS research helped her secure funding from the National Science Foundation for a more advanced version of the system to be part of a permanent ocean observatory in California Monterey Bay. The other lead scientists, Sonke, Tammy Frank, and Justin Marshall all also have plans for testing hypotheses that have grown out of the expeditions. "These cruises gave us just an amazing opportunity to perfect a lot of ideas," says Sonke.

The Short View: What Has Already Been Accomplished

But the research results of the expeditions also stand alone as significant accomplishments, independent of what may come next. Among other highlights, the team has likely discovered a number of new species, including a large squid; has identified "new" vision techniques that some marine animals may very well depend on for their survival; and has been the first to observe a variety of deep-sea species' natural behaviors.

On the more applied side, the research has led to the discovery that methane hydrates, a potential energy source, are highly fluorescent, a fact now being explored as a means for searching for hydrate deposits; and of new fluorescent compounds that may someday be used in biomedical research. Work to understand how marine animals camouflage themselves may also help researchers understand the decline of some populations in waters where light levels, and, hence, camouflaging abilities, may have been diminished by pollution.

Clearly there is much to be gained from expanded ocean exploration, and the rapid pace of discoveries during Deep Scope and other expeditions makes it clear that we're still a long way from anything approaching a complete understanding of the deep.

Many thanks to Captain George Gunther (left) and the sub and ship crews for their willingness to perpetually accommodate the many needs of the scientific team. Without the crews' expertise and professionalism, such a successful expedition would not have been possible.

© 2007, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute