Exploring Beneath Steinbeck's Wake

Mission Specs:
When: March 11 - 31, 2003
Where: Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California)
Who: Dr. Edie Widder - HARBOR BRANCH Oceanographic - Bioluminescence Dept.
What: Midwater Bioluminescence Survey

Back in 1940, famed author John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts completed the first major scientific research cruise around Mexico's Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. Sixty three years later, arriving just a few days before the date Steinbeck and Ricketts did, and climbing aboard a boat by the same name, Western Flyer, a group of American and Mexican scientists are completing another scientific first. The team is using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's (MBARI) advanced Tiburon Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to view for the first time ever the depths about which Steinbeck and Rickets could only imagine based on a few samples from nets during their trip.

Dr. Edith Widder, a marine biologist from HARBOR BRANCH Oceanographic Institution, is one of the fortunate participants on this historic scientific adventure. For the next three weeks on @Sea, Edie will be sending back first-hand descriptions of her research and discoveries on the Sea of Cortez during the third leg of a seven-leg mission organized by MBARI and dubbed the "Gulf of California Expedition." The team is aboard the Western Flyer, a SWATH (Small Water-Plane Area Twin Hull) oceanographic research vessel 117 feet long (36 meters) and 53 feet wide (16 meters).

Edie will be using specially designed equipment attached to Tiburon to record and study the bioluminescence, or chemically-produced light, of the myriad deep-sea animals that produce it. One instrument, called SPLAT (Spatial Plankton Analysis Technique), was originally developed for use on HARBOR BRANCH's deep-diving submersibles the Johnson-Sea-Links. SPLAT stimulates bioluminescent organisms so that they glow with their own unique light signature that can be captured on film and later analyzed to learn what animals are found in the region. In the lab, Edie will be using two high-resolution digital cameras and an intensified video camera to record collected animals in the lab to study their behavior.

Besides all manner of marvelous deep-sea oddities, Edie and her colleagues are virtually guaranteed to discover and study never-before-seen animal species, given that they will be operating in a region never explored using an ROV or submersible. So, be sure to check @Sea regularly during the expedition to be one of the first to hear the details when they do.

For in-depth coverage of the entire seven-leg expedition from February 19th through May 30, 2003, go to:

© 2005, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution