MEDWAVES cruise report almost there!

…after some months, with Xmas in between, we almost finished the MEDWAVES cruise report!

More than 400 pages wich include the work did on board and some preliminary results!

We are glad we will have the opprtunity to present some of those results during the 2nd General Assembly of ATLAS which will take place here, in Mallorca, from the 24th to the 28th of April!

Front cover cruise report

Back…and MEDWAVES keep going!

by Cova

After so many days at sea it is always a bit strange to be again at home. However, the 26th of October was definitely not the end of MEDWAVES. Indeed MEDWAVES is starting right now as we all have lot of samples, videos, and data to process in the coming weeks! Many days of work at sea always mean the collection of lots of new information which need to be processed later at home.

After the 36 days at sea time to sort things out!!!

Now, after couple of days adapting again to the life ashore many tasks need to be accomplished; revision of the station lists, organizing of samples in the institutes, shipping boxes to some of the partners, sorting stuff, making security copies of the video records, organizing the cruise report….

Very important task!: security copies of our ROV video transects!

These are the typical post cruise activities and the whole MEDWAVES team is involved. We will keep you posted about the preliminary results and development of MEDWAVES!

All the best from Palma de Mallorca!

Rolling home

by Cova

After 36 days at sea and more than 200 sampling stations across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, is time to go home. MEDWAVES was a fantastic experience on board Sarmiento de Gamboa, 38 scientists and technicians and 19 crew members have been working together making possible that MEDWAVES happen. But also many people at home: scientists from many different scientific institutions which work preparing the cruise, members of the UTM and SdG, our colleagues from the outreach and administration departments and also our families and friends which support our work and also our “be away” for long time periods.

One of the “non official group pictures” of the cruise. Participants of the first leg of MEDWAVES

Also Martha (producciones orgánicas) and Jose Luis (la ventana invisible) made possible the existence of other face of MEDWAVES with the artistic-outreach project “Ways of the Waves” and the many friends and people who collaborate on it. During MEDWAVES we explored many different submarine seascapes, we investigate the oceanography of the targeted areas and the biology, biodiversity and ecology of the benthic communities … lots of work and data wait for us in our home labs trying to find answers to our scientific questions, so MEDWAVES will keep going for several months…

And another “non official picture” of MEDWAVES: participants of the second leg in the bow of the SdG when we were about to cross the Gibraltar Strait

Thanks to all of you for following our journey during this 36 days!

Aquaria experiments -So far yet so close

by Nùria and Cris

During MEDWAVES the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Liropus has had a main role characterizing the deep benthic communities, reporting the presence of rich and dense assemblages such as cold-water coral frame work, coral gardens or sponge grounds thanks to the visualization and video recording of the seafloor. This non-invasive sampling method helps solving the main questions of “what” and “where” are these communities. The ROV allows a much targeted sampling thanks to the remotely controlled manipulators and other gadgets. Samples taken from the ROV are used for many different purposes like genetic, taxonomic or morphologic analysis and studies. One of the main advantages of using a ROV compared to other sampling methods is the collection of specimens in good conditions for the development of experimental ecological studies in aquaria conditions.

Experiments on board. Left: glass jars during the incubations, right: a specimen of the Cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa in one of the glass jars used for the incubations

During MEDWAVES we collected samples of Cold-Water Corals which have been maintained in aquaria to study its ecophysiological response (e.g. respiration, calcification and excretion) under different environmental conditions. As one of the main goals of MEDWAVES is the study of the influence of Mediterranean and Atlantic water on the occurrence and species composition of deep benthic ecosystems, we have been testing how the same species behave under the influence of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic water.

Cris and Nùria counducting  the experimental work on board

The coral species protagonists of our experiments were Madrepora oculata and Lophelia pertursa and trough the two experiments we conducted we would like to know if they behave in a different way (for instance breathing more or less) under the Mediterranean conditions (saltier, warmer) and the Atlantic conditions (colder, less salty). The experiments have been conducted during this second leg and we were lucky to have a thermoregulated lab which allowed the development of these incubations. Further the presence of the chemical oceanography team allows us to perform the alkalinity measures together with them on board Sarmiento de Gamboa.

Experiments in aquaria conditions cannot fully reflect the reality of the natural environment, but they are a great help to understand the physiological limits of the organisms and to get insight in the capability to adapt to different environmental conditions. The presence of these two coral species in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, offer us the possibility, thanks to these experiments, to test how these organisms cope with these two different environmental conditions.

There is still quite a lot of work to do at home analysing samples and data!

Many greetings from Seco de los Olivos!

Recovering the past, recording the present, and preparing the future of deep sea benthic surveys

by Manu

The deep sea environment is the largest ecosystem on earth however remains poorly understood. In an era of global change, we need to understand ecosystem functioning and population connectivity, and also transmit this knowledge to the stakeholders who are “decision makers” in the management of natural resources. To work towards this goal, the oldest of all sciences, taxonomy (the science which “put names” to the living organisms), is now more important than ever. However, there’s a huge gap between the knowledge acquired during Deep Sea Expeditions of more than one century ago compared to nowadays expeditions. In my opinion, the discovery of new species is quite far from reality… Lots of work has been done covering deep sea floor banks, trenches and abyssal areas.

Old and new research vessels: Challenger (left) and Sarmiento de Gamboa (right)

The quantity and quality of taxonomic descriptions done by old taxonomists it’s simply amazing! It is urgent to cross the information that already exists on old literature with the actual imagery and new taxonomic techniques. The creation of recognized morphotypes, into the lowest taxa level, would be a valuable contribution to reducing the burden of routine ROV annotation. During MEDWAVES we have seen several areas, especially in Ormonde, with sponge aggregations. Giving only three examples of past expeditions on the NE Atlantic, see: “Michael Sars” North Atlantic Deep Sea Expedition (Arnesen, 1932), “Voyage of Chalenger” (Sollas, 1888), or “Campagnes Scientifiques Prince Albert de Monaco”(Topsent), we can find many of the most abundant, dominant and highly distributed sponge grounds species observed on the Ormonde deep sea. Amazing plates, detailed descriptions and precious data about their distribution and biogeography are condensed in several volumes. This information should be digitalized and crossed with the actual “in-situ” and “in-lab” imagery. A database should be produced and an image bank is mandatory. It seems that we know less at the present moment than one century ago. Why and when started this huge gap? Deep sea organisms’ descriptions are locked in these old books and at museums as a big secret.

Old and new images of nest sponges: an old handmade drawing (left) of a Pheronema specimen, and a high definition image of a similar deep sea sponge (right) photographied by the ROV Liropus during MEDWAVES

Old and new images of nest sponges: a handmade drawing (left) of a Pheronema specimen and a high definition image of a similar deep sea sponge (right) captured by the ROV Liropus during MEDWAVES

There is an urgent need to create digital collections with all available information and images of live and dead material. Automating taxon identification, for faster species recognition, will be an important component of any future system and might change the actual view of species annotation and habitat characterization. At the present digital world, the creation of imagery (ROV transects and collected species), will increase the robustness of systems. Now it’s time to reduce the taxonomic impediment, looking back to the past, solve the present to prepare the future.

Greetings from our last study site: Seco de los Olivos!

Women at sea

by Cova and María

Luckily the presence of women at sea in scientific party and crew is not anymore something extraordinary. However the presence of women on board of research vessels is still far to be as frequent as of men. In MEDWAVES, considering first and second leg, which means a total of 38 scientists and technicians, 15 female scientists were on board, and 3 women are part of the 21 individuals composing the crew. On board of the two legs of MEDWAVES we have had 3 senior female scientist, 3 post-doctoral researchers, 2 technicians and 7 students which develop research in different fields: oceanography, biology, ecology, geology… in an environment where no differences exists among researchers and the collaborative work with the male colleagues is completely natural. This was a very different situation some decades ago (not that far away…) when the presence of women in the universities was still a rarity and thanks to our mothers and grandmothers, and of course also to many fathers, women today in some countries (in many the situation for women is still far away to be equalitarian) start to have the same chances as men an no one doubt about the capacity that females have to occupy the same positions as men.

The 12 women who integrate the second leg of MEDWAVES, crew and scientists from different countries and generations

For the Captain of Sarmiento de Gamboa, after 18 years seagoing experience this is the first time that two women take the leadership in the Sarmiento de Gamboa from two different points of view: Ship and Science, in this case María and Cova. For the Chief Scientist, after 24 years seagoing and 27 scientific cruises on board Spanish, Norwegian, German, British, and French vessels, this is also the first time with two women lead a research cruise. We both are happy to be part of this “new experience”. In spite of avoiding feminisms and trying to be honest, presence of women on board ships had opened a new particular aspect to be added to the professionalism: the sensitivity. Leadership on board by two women should be nothing especial, but it marks in our “at sea time” a difference and something that we both see as a “sign of the times”. In a world, as it is the seafaring, still very dominated by men, it is promising to see how women can make her way and occupy positions which were impossible to achieve for a women years ago.

María (right), Captain of Sarmiento de Gamboa and Cova, Chief scientist of MEDWAVES

Together with María, our Captain, there are two more women on the Bridge, Estefanía and Ilona, both are cadets which are currently conducting her training on board. Ilona and Estefanía are the new generation of future captains in research vessels. As Maria, Iris, Cris, Meri, Vero, Miriam, Anna, Joana, Nùria are the new generation of female scientist. We hope that this first time will not be the last and we hope that in a near future, the presence of women in any business will be a “common subject”. This is the authentic equality. Times are changing!

Best regards from Sarmiento de Gamboa heading to the Strait of Gibraltar!

Across winds and waves

by Cova

After three days of transit we are approaching our target site: Ormonde. We left Ponta Delgada the 14th of October. Our colleagues from the first leg leave the vessel to go back home, all admitted to be a bit sad…we got an intense, scientifically productive an great time together on board!

Left: Juan Carlos did today a guided visit to the bridge. Right: after the cyclon time to clean the windows in the bridge!

Now a new scientific party inhabits the Sarmiento de Gamboa, and even if it was impossible to work (with exception of the first night in Formigas where the night watch did a CTD yo-yo), the lack of activities on deck and in the lab –to be in front the computer was a nightmare….- bring also people together, scientists, crew and technicians, to chat and talk about their scientific interests, what MEDWAVES means for them, the kind of work they will develop, the tasks of the crew, the work of the technicians… The MEDWAVES people from this second leg come from four different countries, and cover all research fields included in MEDWAVES, some of them are the same as in the first leg, most are new and are about to start the MEDWAVES adventure, as tomorrow morning, at around 08:00 AM we will (FINALLY!!!) re-start the work on board.

All our teams are ready to go and excited about our first ROV dive tomorrow in Ormonde!

The transit days were really tough, strong winds reaching 40 knots and high waves up to 3 meters high….fantastic to observe but not easy to cope with! Now almost every one starts with some activities. Our molecular researchers, Joana and Anna are preparing the material for the samples we will collect tomorrow with the ROV. Alberto, Vero and Víctor are also preparing the instruments for the water analyses for tomorrow. Safo, Juan and Alan prepare the CTD grid for Ormonde. Jose and Marina revise the work did previously by Javi and Ángel. Nùria, Juancho and Cris revise together the experimental design for the ecophysiology experiments we plan to do during the coming days, and Manuela and Gerald already checked the previous work done with the OFOP in order to prepare the coming dives. The UTM and ACSM guys are always ready to go and they are already prepared for the coming working day. After so many days everyone wants to start the work, especially because Ormonde is one of the most important sites for the scientific questions and aims of MEDWAVES as the signal of the Mediterranean Outflow Water here is strong.

Today the weather started to be nicer to us, the sun shine and everyone is around, in the morning there was a visit to the bridge and Juan Carlos, which is the second officer showed the scientist the secrets of this vital point on board. For sure we will have another guided visit by Mario, the chief, to the engine, as the one planed for yesterday was not possible due to the bad weather.

In two days we hope to have more news about Ormonde and MEDWAVES!

Greetings from the sunny Atlantic!

Behind the scenes: The video annotation crew

by Maria, Javi and Ángel

Simply describing their job as “watching television”, our video annotation crew is one of the first on duty early in the morning. Once the first images from the deep reach our screens, they start noting down everything they see, creating a solid basis of knowledge of what is living beneath our boat. Everybody’s knowledge is needed as the footage is live and annotation has to be quick and effective. Species guide books and identification keys fly around, as do the suggestions about species names.

Lea-Anne, Meri and Iris from the annotation team holding their breath while our ROV attempetz to sample a black coral colony

Although the task is one, the objectives behind it are multiple. Lea-Anne, from the University of Edinburgh, is ultimately looking for species that create Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), and for indications of the existence of Ecologically and Biologically Significant areas (EBSAs), both important tools for the conservation of marine biodiversity. When thinking about what motivates our group most, she admits it’s the excitement of discovery: “We are seeing images and areas that nobody has seen before”. Iris, a PhD student at the University of the Azores studying cold water coral taxonomy agrees: “The best part is being able to see these creatures alive on real time”.  Iris aims at identifying gorgonian species, contribute to our taxonomical knowledge and compare findings among different areas. Sophie, from the IFREMER institute in France, has a similar task but from a different point of view: “I am trying to understand how population of species encountered both in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic are connected, not only in terms of ecological time but also in terms of evolutionary time. Something like trying to reconstruct their history.” Sophie’s work also requires sampling of species and a lot of patience, as she will only be able to interpret results after genetically analyzing all the collected samples. It is this part that makes it more interesting: “Interpreting patterns we cannot actually see in real time, until all our data come together and make a story”.

Our ROV annotation team surrounded by curious observers and paparazzi’s

Thanks to Meri, our annotation software specialist, part of this procedure is automated: after some days of work, she managed to configure the software that links the annotations with the navigation data of the boat and ROV, allowing us to make maps of all the species we saw instantly and compare the fauna in different sites, depths and seamounts. An easy way to have a quick general idea of what we saw, immediately after a dive.  “My goal, ideally, is to keep it running until the end of the cruise”.

An artistic perpective of our  first dive, created by our chief scientist Cova

While we cross our fingers and hope she does, another version of our video annotation results, created by our chief Cova, is waiting until we process our data and in the meantime is giving an artistic touch to the walls of our main lab. And what would be better than leaving you with this image, until our live footage and more complete stories make it to your screens?

Greetings from our last day in Formigas, good by first leg of MEDWAVES!

First leg of MEDWAVES, scientists, technicians, ROV team and some of our crew members


Young and senior benthic biologist on board MEDWAVES

by Meri, Ángel and Javi

A phone call disrupted an easy summer afternoon.

Javier and Angel were reminiscing all funny moments from one barbecue a few months ago; the celebration of Angels PhD defense.  Javier answered while Angel was still laughing in the chair on the veranda… “Yes?” – answered Javier. As the phone call continued, Javier`s face turned more serious, while his answers were just plane “Yes”, reveling not much information to Angel.

With the final yes, these two young Spanish scientists accepted the invitation to come on board Sarmiento de Gamboa to join the MEDWAVES expedition. As for many of the young scientists onboard, this expedition is a very exciting one. MEDWAVES is an international expedition combining some of the best scientists in Europe with the main goal to follow the Mediterranean water mass from the Alboran Sea to the Azores. On this route the detective work is divided between oceanographers and benthic ecologists that use the ROV or faunistic samples.

Javier and Ángel enjoying their work on board

Our two protagonists are part of the benthic ecologists team that are trying to find clues of the Mediterranean water in the sediment samples collected with the box core and the Van Veen grab. In this small part of the ocean floor, after removing the sand and the mud, they are left with small benthic animals and remains of pelagic invertebrates that fall to the ocean floor after living in the water kilometers away. Most of these organisms are mollusks, crustaceans and polychaetes, and their identification requires stereomicroscope and specialized books. They sit with each sample under the stereomicroscope and try to identify all the different animals and shells. For this you have to train your eyes to detect details and be very patient. Sometimes the smallest detail means another geographic distribution, another type of feeding behavior and of course, another animal. One gathers all this information to build the story about how and where they live.


Another phone call rang. This time in France, brining to the group Sophie, the population geneticist and polyglot. In this international cruise, she broke all the prejudice about French “only speaking French”.

Breaking prejudice seems to be a part of her job, for she is looking for organisms that are there or were there, but we can´t see them. The key words are environmental DNA. By sequencing the entire DNA found in sediment and water samples, we can reconstruct the communities that live in a particular environment. It is also possible to detect the organisms that passed or died there.

Juancho and Maria helping Sophie (middle) with the Multicorer sampling


The sediment samples are collected with the Multicore. Six tubes of one meter length collect the water just above the ocean floor and 50 cm of sediment core. While bringing the Multicore from the ocean floor to the deck, Sophie is preparing all the bags, containers, alcohol and bleach. As if she has microscope vision, she sterilizes everything that will have contact with the samples. Otherwise, how could one then explain DNA of an apple on 1550 meters depth in the middle of the Atlantic?  Properly stored samples await laboratories in France, where Sophie with her group, will try to find the communities present in the sediments and water. Apart from the sediments Sophie is collecting different corals that the ROV brings to the surface. With this they will see how genetically similar are coral colonies living on the seabed beneath the surface that carries Sarmiento de Gamboa.

The detective work of scientists in MEDWAVES has many clues, parts of a bigger picture that are painted with cooperation and love for science.

This is the story of MEDWAVES. The search continues…

La curiosidad perdió al gato

por Jose Luis López-Jurado

De siempre el Atlántico se nos ha antojado inmenso a las gentes del Mediterráneo, sus dimensiones, sus mareas, la altura y el seno de sus olas, sus grandes corrientes, sus múltiples masas de agua, la dorsal atlántica y un largo etc., aunque también algo menos prosaico para los oceanógrafos como las escalas de sus fenómenos oceánicos de un orden de magnitud superior a los nuestros (ej: la mesoscala). Todo ello nos inquieta y aumenta nuestra curiosidad.

Imagen 3 D de las profundidades de Formigas con la imagen de las masas de agua superpuesta

En el mundo de la oceanografía llevamos grabado por defecto el concepto de las 3D, con esa “profundidad” siempre presente. En este caso, MEDWAVES nos permite imaginar ese 3D a través del seguimiento del agua Mediterránea (MW), de forma virtual, por dorsales y montañas marinas cada vez más alejadas del Golfo de Cádiz que condicionan su circulación, distribución y en donde se van difuminando sus características y observando otras masas de agua intermedias y profundas de orígenes lejanos. Pero mira por donde, disponemos de un ROV con un gran equipo de profesionales, en el “turno de día” que nos muestran esos fondos, sus quebradas, cantiles y crestas materializando ese 3D en tiempo real y además en colores. Identificar esponjas, corales y peces alimenta su curiosidad y la nuestra.

Una imagen de la realidad en 3D de las profundidades de Formigas


El color y la vida de las profundidades que José Luis ha descubierto en MEDWAVES

Pero satisfacerla tiene un precio o la exigencia de un esfuerzo, en este caso dedicarle las noches a caracterizar esos lugares, escrudiñando sus características mediantes los CTDs, ADCPs, la toma de muestras y determinaciones de parámetros etc. Con lo que los integrantes del “turno de noche” aparecen a la mañana siguiente como “perdidos”, soñolientos, con cansancios acumulados y algo desorientados, pero con la curiosidad renovada, vamos casi intacta.

¡saludos del lugar donde reside el anticiclón!