Mail Buoy: December 7, 2011

Dear Sofia,
Thanks for your bunch of questions.
1. Thank you for the great idea to construct a Winogradksy column using sediment and water from the brines. Yesterday Jason dived into L'Atalante Basin and Dr. Bernhard and Colin Morrison kept the leftovers of the sediment cores for Kostas Kormas and Hera Karayanni. So they have wonderful mud that they can use for the experiment.

2. Yes, most of them. Some students, for example, did their internship aboard, so I assume they won't work with samples from here. But all other scientists bring their own samples home. Or actually we have to ship some, because we don't want to transport big boxes of samples on dry ice together with all our luggage in the airplane. So, a world courier service will help us with that!

3. 0.65 µm filters from Millipore (47mm in diameter) Durapore fabric is what I used.

4. Yeah, I guess some organisms which were adaptive to a broad range of salt may have had the chance to withstand the new conditions. But I guess that can just be true for a very small proportion of the original community. When conditions change that much, you must think about those salt dissolvements as a catastrophe-like impact. And salt-specialist organisms that came by (e.g. as cysts driven by turbidity via low salt waters) had the chance to build up their new habitat. Maybe it’s comparable to a forest that burned down and small pioneer plants have the first and best chances to settle down.

Thank you for your interest in our expedition.

Alexandra Stock, Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Germany

Hi Ally,
Probably the most complex piece of scientific equipment that the ship has installed is our multibeam system. The multibeam is an instrument mounted underneath the ship that sends out hundreds of beams of sound that fan across the seafloor. It then listens for the echoes of each individual sound beam. Based on the time for it takes to echo, we can calculate how deep the ocean is where that beam hit. Sending out so many beams at one time allows us to accurately map the seafloor very quickly.

The reason this instrument is so complicated is that in order to produce an accurate map, the instrument has to also incorporate data it gets from GPS, a satellite clock, a motion sensor, a heading compass, and a seawater temperature and salinity sensor all in the same split second that it is sending out these hundreds of beams of sound!

Catie Graver

Dear Brendan,
Food on board the Atlantis is actually all three types you mentioned. It is self-service, on a tray where you make your own dishes from salad to main dish (two choices) and desert. Of course, it cannot be like homemade because we all come from different homes and so each one of us misses his/her favourite home-cooked dish! But I assure you that the quality is such that you can get in a lot of restaurants! The guys in the kitchen are taking good care of the scientists and crew. And, just between you and me, I have gained a couple of pounds—OK, maybe three— since we started the cruise; and this says everything about food on Atlantis!

Dr. Konstantinos Kormas
University of Thessaly

Hello Stephen,
That is a good question, and the answer to it is on our Dive and Discover site. If you follow the link for “What are DHABs?” and go to the section on “Geology of DHABs,” you will find interactive illustrations of where the salt comes from. Check it out!

Cherie Winner

Hi Jayme,
Those are great questions. It’s miserable being seasick, as you know. Some people are more prone to seasickness than others, but there’s no way to tell if you’re one of them until you get on a boat. I found out the hard way that I am one of them, too. The seas have been so calm during most of our trip that it hasn’t been a problem, but our first day out, I got sick, and yesterday when the wind and waves kicked up, I got sick again.

To prevent seasickness, some people take a prescription medication like Dramamine or wear a skin patch that delivers Scopalomine to your system. You have to start taking those medications before you feel sick, though. If you wait until you’re sick, they won’t work.

Ginger is supposed to relieve nausea, so when I got sick yesterday, friends on the ship gave me little ginger candies that you suck like a cough drop. They helped. I’ve also heard that some people wear a bracelet that applies pressure to a point on your wrist, and that is supposed to help.

Sometimes, what you’re doing on the boat can make it worse. Reading, working at a computer, or looking through a microscope are the worst things you can do if you’re seasick. Getting outside for fresh air is always good, and looking at the horizon helps because the horizon stays flat and steady even if your boat is moving around a lot.

Many people eventually get used to the movement of the ship and no longer get sick. Or they might get sick the first day or two of a trip, but then their stomach settles down and they are fine. But some people never get over it, even if they are experienced sailors. So you are not alone!

Good luck in your future travels.

Cherie Winner

Hi Tina,
Aha, you have asked a very perceptive question. When we talk about the brine lakes being anoxic, which means having no oxygen, we mean that they contain no molecular oxygen, O2. That is the form of oxygen most organisms use for respiration. O2 is dissolved in normal seawater, in high enough concentrations for fish, clams, plankton, algae, and other organisms to use. But DHABs contain no dissolved O2, and that’s why we say they have no oxygen.

As you correctly point out, though, the element oxygen is present. However, it is bound up in other molecules such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3), sulfates (SO4-), and of course, water itself (H2O). The oxygen in these molecules is not available to organisms for use in respiration.

Thank you for writing. Keep thinking!

Cherie Winner

Hello Julia,
We haven’t been able to view any of the microbes in their natural color yet, so we can’t tell you if any of them are pink. That will have to wait until the scientists get the fixed (preserved) cells back to their laboratories on land, where they have all the equipment and chemicals needed for microscopic examination.

If you are referring to the loriciferan pictured in our “Life in the DHABs” information, that specimen was not naturally pink. The pink came from a dye that was used to stain the loriciferan so its anatomy would show up better. Biologists use many different dyes to study microbes. Some stain just the DNA, some stain lipids, some stain proteins of various kinds. Which one is used on a given specimen depends on what the scientist wants to see most clearly.

Thanks for following our expedition.

Cherie Winner

Dear Taryn,

We are no experts in this, but we interviewed Craig Taylor for you, one of the inventors of the SID-ISMS unit. Here is basically what he told us:

The SID-ISMS system is linked with the computer lab aboard via a telephone-like connection within three insulated copper wires encased within steel hydro-cable that is wrapped on the ship’s winch. DSL-like information is transmitted back and forth between a laptop in the ship’s computer lab and the SID in the deep water (about 3,500 meters depth), much like multiple conversations are transmitted back and forth in a DSL telephone system. Sensors on the SID tell us about the salinity, temperature, and depth of the instrument, along with measurements of oxygen content and turbidity. The turbidity sensors have been especially helpful in positioning the instrument exactly where we want to sample within the brine interface, which is only about 2 meters thick, or in the concentrated brine just below. The salinity meter and oxygen sensors also confirm the instrument’s location and report important properties of the water we wish to know. With specially designed SID software we can input commands to the instrument, telling it to begin sampling. It also transmits data back telling us the volume of sample collected, how fast sample water is being pumped, etc.

Thank you for your question. Keep tracking.

Lea Weinisch & Alexandra Stock
Technical University of Kaiserslautern,

Three questions, same answer:

Elaine, Govin and Ivy,
You all have good questions! Actually, with your questions, you answer each other. In deep-sea brines, there is no light but organisms need to make their living somehow. This means to grow and reproduce. So both lifestyles you mention can be found in DHABs. Heterotrophs consume living organisms (e.g bacteria or other protists) or non-living organic matter (e.g organic particles suspended in the water falling from the surface. Have you heard about “marine snow?” We actually saw it with the Jason cameras). Autotrophs can synthesize organic matter using CO2 and a source of energy. In DHABs where light is lacking, there are no photo-autotrophs (that perform photosynthesis), but microorganisms can gain energy from the oxidation of organic or inorganic substances, for example from the oxidation of sulfide, which is found in high concentrations in some of these DHABs. So, it seems that heterotrophic or chemosynthetic bacteria are at the base of the food web in deep brines.

Hera Karayanni
University of Ioannina

Two questions, same answer:

Hanna and Michelle, thank you for your questions! Prokaryotes and unicellular eukaryotes have already been found in DHABs. Another study reported that a multicellular organism of the phylum Loricifera spends its entire life cycle in a Mediterranean DHAB as well. Prokaryotes are mainly bacteria but also archaea. Common unicellular eukaryotes are dinoflagellates, ciliates, and kinetoplastids. If you check Dr. Edgcomb’s reply to dvir in the Mail Buoy of Dec. 3, you’ll see that we expect to find lots of rare protozoa, but first we need to examine samples under the scanning electron microscope and do molecular analysis to look at microorganism gene sequences.

For the project to be accomplished, different scientists and technicians from different disciplines need to collaborate before, during, and after the cruise. I hope that in the future you will have the chance to collaborate with such a wonderful team!

Hera Karayanni
University of Ioannina

Dear Mary,
We cannot reach ocean depths without Jason people, but Jason people cannot perform the biogeochemical analysis of samples. To get good samples and to perform a nice analysis and interpretation of results, different people from different disciplines need to collaborate. We all like our jobs and if a colleague of ours gets a credit for a discovery, then we are all be happy for having contributed in one way or another to this.

All the best,
Hera Karayanni
University of Ioannina, Greece

Hi William,
The Egyptian refugees were on board from the evening to the next morning around 9 a.m. We have discovered lots of interesting things, such as what these brine lakes look like, images of protists from the water samples, etc., but most discoveries will have to wait until we are back in the lab and can really study our samples. See you soon! Hi to all my seventh-graders at Falmouth Academy!

Dr. E

Hi Lachlan,
It will be great to see you guys again, too! To answer your question about how Jason works, go to the D&D website and there is a nice blog about it and how it works if you search on the right day. The sampling with Jason has been very successful. It is a lot of work being chief scientist because the chief has to try his or her best to get all the sampling objectives accomplished, has to assign duties to people, schedule all the events, make decisions about what to do when things don't work as planned (almost always), keep an eye on the safety of everyone, choose sampling sites, write reports, make tons of logistical arrangements, and be there as much of the time over the 24-hour clock as possible to set an example, supervise, and help people. There is not much "down time." Of course, I get a lot of input on many things from others and help with these tasks. It takes a real team of people, all of whom contribute something unique, and all of whom work hard, to pull off an expedition like this. We are about 150 kilometers offshore (from Libya and Crete). Most experiments have been a success, thanks for asking. And I can tell you that the brine water smells so bad, I would not want to drink it!! Hi to everyone at Falmouth Academy.
See you soon!
Dr. E

Hello Allen,
Thank you for your question! There were quite a few scientific challenges we had to overcome. For me, the most important was the high pressure of the deep ocean. As you may read at the daily update of Dec. 5, the major issue Ginny Edgcomb and Craig Taylor had to confront with the deployment of SID-ISMS was the intense pressure at the depth of sampling. Another challenge was the low visibility at the brines. The Jason crew and Dr Bernhard had to take some risks when they were performing the sampling in these environments. Other challenges have to do with the living on a vessel, away from the facilities of one’s home. Moreover, you have to collaborate with people you probably didn’t know before and you probably won’t meet in the future. Since what really matters on the cruise is the science, you have to do your best to collaborate 24/7 with each other. For a successful mission crew and scientists have to act as a well working, synchronized team!

All the best,
Hera Karayanni
University of Ioannina, Greece

Nice question Alexandre. Thank you! We will probably find more and different protists in the halocline. The halocline is the zone of transition between seawater and the deep brine (see the DHABS infomod). In contrast to the deep brine, which represents a stable environment, in the halocline, physicochemical (abiotic) characteristics such as salinity, oxygen, pH, sulfide concentration and water content can change dramatically on the order of micrometers or millimeters. It is difficult for us to think in terms of this scale, but it seems that the halocline offers a variety of microenvironments that can harbor microorganisms with different metabolic specialization.

Hera Karayanni
University of Ioannina, Greece


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