The western North Atlantic Ocean is a unique ocean habitat. Known as the Sargasso Sea, it is named for the free-floating brown algae, Sargassum - also called “gulf weed” - and their associated community of plankton, invertebrates, and fish, many of which are found only there.  Over a period of two years, Scientist Ken Smith and his team will conduct four research cruises in the area in order to observe how this community has been altered by warmer surface waters and increased acidity.  They will also study how the effects of climate variation on the surface life ultimately affect the food supply of the area's deep-sea ecosystems.

On their first cruise in February 2011, Smith and his team spent three weeks in the Sargasso Sea on board the Schmidt Ocean Institute research ship Lone Ranger.  During that cruise, the research team collected samples from within the Sargassum and the surrounding surface waters, and deployed a deep-sea observatory to photograph the seafloor and collect particles of debris that drift down from the surface. The data collected by this observatory will contribute to the global effort to monitor the effects of warming ocean waters on both surface and deep-sea ecosystems.

During their second cruise from July 27 to August 10, 2011, Smith’s research team collected additional samples from the surface waters, and recovered and redeployed the deep-sea observatory they left on the seafloor in February 2011.

During this third cruise of the time series, the researchers will again sample the surface waters of the Sargasso Sea, collect data from the deep-sea observatory, and perform a final deployment of the observatory, which will be retrieved later this year.  One additional resource the team will have at their disposal on this cruise is the Kite Assist System.  Just as it sounds, this system consists of kites of varying sizes to suit varying weather conditions, sea states, and wind speeds.  The kites will be fitted with cameras and launched from the ship, providing an aerial platform from which video, stills, and a live feed can be captured to assist in locating Sargassum for local collections from the ship and ground-truthing for remote satellite (MERIS) data.

Credit to: MBARI