The Microbes of the Mississippi River – A Rowing Adventure for Science

For the past four months a crew of four rowers and four shore crew members with OAR Northwest, a not-for-profit adventure education organization, have been on a journey of a lifetime on the Mississippi River. After over 100 days of rowing, the crew has traveled from the headwaters of the River in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. They arrived in Baton Rouge on November 16, 2016 and spent a few days visiting LSU and talking to students about their journey.

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After months on the Mississippi River, OAR Northwest rowers Audra and Calli arrived in Baton Rouge. Researchers at LSU met the rowers near the new bridge to retrieve water samples the rowers had collected for analysis of microbe DNA. Photo by Dawn Jenkins.

Just as the state of Louisiana has a special connection with the “Mighty” Mississippi River, the OAR Northwest rowing crew has a special connection with LSU. This is the second OAR Northwest Mississippi River adventure during which rowers have collected water samples for Dr. Cameron Thrash, an assistant professor in the LSU Biological Sciences department. Cameron’s research focuses on relationships between microorganisms and biogeochemical cycles, particularly in marine systems. Thanks to a relationship with the OAR Northwest team that started when founder Jordan Hanssen met Cameron’s family in Washington, and which has developed into an ongoing citizen science project, the Thrash lab is now building a complete microbial “map” of the Mississippi river…

See more from Paige Jarreau and me about this amazing project at The Pursuit LSU College of Science Blog HERE.

Ending the first Diel sampling set


Enjoy some time pictures from time points 0200 and 0600 as we completed our 24 hour survey at the C transect site. The video I have uploaded is of the Platform and its fog horn that sounds every 20 seconds or so. Its a real joy to work and sleep to.

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The sunrise at 0600 this morning. To be cheesy #nofilter
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Sunrise on the Northern Gulf of Mexico after our last CTD cast
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The rain has come back on our way to the 2nd 24 hour survey site

Diel Sampling: Update

Well Day 1 has come and starting to end though my day will still go on for another 10-12 hours. When I woke up this AM, the ship was tossing and rolling quiet a bit for being in the Gulf. The first time point was at 0600 and between lack of sleep, an early morning, and some good waves, I wasn’t exactly feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed, nor was anyone else. Alas, the day went on and the time points began to come and go.

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Waiting for the first CTD cast…also a snap of Lauren Gillies thinking hard about what what their game plan is

The first and second time points were split up by a trip just past the site C6B where Dr. Nancy Rabalais (LUMCON) and Dr. Brian Roberts (LUMCON) took sediment cores for experiments they wanted to run back at LUMCON.

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Setting up the box corer for sampling on the RV Pelican

The second time point was quiet, it was just me sampling so I had the whole CTD to myself. But of course the day isn’t complete without some type of problem ! HA! I am three for three on cruises that have some sort of issue, but some say thats oceanography. Anyways, thanks to the awesome crew of the RV Pelican, and some patience, we got the hydraulics fixed and were able to once again deploy the CTD.

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The sampling set up…woo! Make sure you secure your Yeti things.

While on the water, you get to see a lot of things : dolphins, fish, jelly fish, etc. But today, between time point three and four, I got to see a Water Spout which I was really excited about. It was pretty far away and the only picture we got is thanks to Mary Kate.

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Look to the left of the oil rig and there is a line from the water to the clouds. That is the water spout! Thank again to Mary Kate Rogener for the photo. 

Overall, all is going well. I am waiting for time point 5 to come (2200) and then hopefully get a nap in before time point 6 (0200). Follow my twitter account (@Hensonmw_08) for more live updates. Enjoy some pictures!

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1800 Time Point means everyone is out sampling
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Setting up on the station C6B. Thanks Ari for the photo! 
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Sunset on the Northern Gulf Of Mexico

Cheers,

Mike

Diel sampling: Cruise number two with the LUMCON team

Today, we board the RV Pelican for a second time in two weeks. The Thrash lab will be sampling with Mary Kate Rogener (@mkrogener) from Dr. Samantha Joye’s lab (UGA), Post Doc Ari Chelsky (Brian Roberts, LUMCON), Lauren Gillies and Erin (@GilliesLE) from Dr. Olivia Mason (FSU), and Wokil Bam from Dr. R. Eugene Turner‘s lab (LSU) under the lead of Dr. Nancy Rabalais (LUMCON).

The RV Pelican sitting in Port at LUMCON.
The RV Pelican sitting in Port at LUMCON.

Unlike the NGOM Shelfwide Hypxoia cruise, we will be focusing this cruise on two sampling sites within the Hypoxia transect over 24 hours.

the 2015 NGOM Shelfwide Hypoxia transect. We will be sampling two sites from two transects over 24 hours time periods. Figure credit to Dr. Nancy Rabalais and Dr. Leslie Smith
The 2015 NGOM Shelfwide Hypoxia transect. We will be sampling two sites from two transects over 24 hours time periods. Figure credit to Dr. Nancy Rabalais and Dr. Leslie Smith.

Sampling will once again include three depths, while collecting water for nutrient data and filters for microbial community data. The idea will be similar to our Fronts sampling.

Others on the cruise will be working on sediment cores (I am excited for this!) as well as work on biogeochemistry rates.

Follow along as we go on our five day journey! And don’t be afraid to ask some questions! And Make sure to follow me on Twitter for live updates (@Hensonmw_08) as well as Mary Kate (@mkrogener) and Lauren (@GilliesLE).

Back of the RV Pelican
Back of the RV Pelican
LUMCON at night
LUMCON at sunset
The LUMCON emblem on the RV Pelican
The LUMCON emblem on the RV Pelican

Cheers,

Mike

Northern Gulf of Mexico Shelfwide Hypoxia Cruise

Two weeks ago, I was able to take part in the 6 day Northern Gulf of Mexico research cruise. This is its 31st year that it is going on and our third year taking part in it (see 1, 2). This year I was the lucky one to go instead of Dr. Thrash. This was my first official collection cruise so I was pretty excited to finally get out on a boat and put into practice everything I had learned while at the CMORE summer course.

Once again, our lab was working with Dr. Olivia Mason from Florida State University and her graduate student Lauren Gillies (@GilliesLE), who recently published a paper with Dr. Thrash from the 2013 research cruise: Archaeal enrichment in the hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Congrats to them!

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Prepping the lab before the cruise starts

Though for the most part the set up and collection was the same as past years, this year I added a little twist to the game: Culturing.

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Our set up with the clean hood added for me to culture!

The cruise was a lot of fun and as usual I learned a ton about the Northern Gulf of Mexico and hypoxia. The main focus of the rest of the cruise was determining the size and nature of the 2015 “dead zone”. Dr. Rabalais (LUMCON) and her team worked countless hours to make sure all the data was collected and ready to be sent to NOAA, the EPA, and the public. This year we found that the dead zone was larger then scientists had predicted. This year’s dead zone extended over more than 6,400 square miles.

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A map depicting the stations sampled, as created by Leslie Smith and Dr. Nancy Rabalais (LUMCON) http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/Research/Shelfwide%20Cruises/2015/
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A map depicting the hypoxia measured in the nGOM, as created by Leslie Smith and Dr. Nancy Rabalais (LUMCON) http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/Research/Shelfwide%20Cruises/2015/

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2015/080415-gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-above-average.html

http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/

A few more pictures of me with some of the awesome graduate researchers (Mary Kate Rogener (@mkrogener) from Dr. Samantha Joye’s lab (UGA)) and Post Doc Ari Chelsky (Brian Roberts, LUMCON) also on board the RV Pelican.

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Sunset behind the RV Pelican
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Heading back to port at LUMCON in Cocodrie, LA
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Mary Kate working in her temporary anaerobic space
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Sometimes when you filter three depths in the Hypoxic waters you get three colors.
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Past years have been flat, this year we got some storms which was fun!
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Getting our sampling in before a squall moved through! It was blowing like stink out there but Lauren didn’t care
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Working in the hood to culture some microorganisms…Thanks for the picture Mary Kate
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Obligatory selfie
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The infamous C6C platform

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Keep an eye out for more publications from the Mason and Thrash groups on this exciting research area!
Cheers,

MWH

Failed dive attempt at C6C

Last week we sailed on the R/V Acadiana to C6C to de-winterize the SONDE attachments only to be stymied by a jack-up rig and increasingly bad sea state. We sailed for three hours, and when we arrived, the water was calm enough to dive, so we suited up. With the first team of divers literally standing on the transom to jump in, a jack-up rig radioed for us to wait so they could post up near our dive site. We waited for two hours on station (incidentally, we could have completed everything we needed to do in that time), with 10-15 kt wind on the water for the duration, and when the first team finally splashed, the sea state was trash. Dive Safety Officer Lora Pride called it all off. These things happen. But there were some good photos, and a video of the scene out there at C6C before we got stopped, so I thought I’d post them. We’ll be out again soon.

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The R/V Acadiana poised for action at dawn
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The LUMCON docks at 0 dark 30.
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Heading out, with an old friend coming in – the R/V Pelican returning to LUMCON
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Breakfast on the ship- a major perk of the Acadiana!

Here you’ll see some video of one of the many service helicopters that land on the rig and some of us getting ready on the back of the Acadiana. The sea state is relatively calm at this point, so it would have been perfect timing to dive.

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Back at the dock, our dive flags still flying. We’ll get ’em next time

 

Shelfwide cruise roundup, for now

Nancy Rabalais’s team has been able to process some of the data and issued a press release on this year’s bottom water hypoxia. As I mentioned in the last post, the zone of hypoxia was actually two zones, which you can see below. The total estimated square mileage of bottom water at or below 2 mg/L dissolved oxygen was 5,052 square miles/14,785 square kilometers, which is almost three times larger than the goal proposed by the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force in 2001 and 2008.

Bottom water dissolved oxygen measured on the 2014 shelfwide cruise. Source: Nancy N. Rabalais, LUMCON, and R. Eugene Turner, LSU
Bottom water dissolved oxygen measured on the 2014 shelfwide cruise. Source: Nancy N. Rabalais, LUMCON, and R. Eugene Turner, LSU
Surface water chlorophyll a measured on the 2014 shelfwide cruise. Source: Nancy N. Rabalais, LUMCON and R. Eugene Turner, LSU
Surface water chlorophyll a measured on the 2014 shelfwide cruise. Source: Nancy N. Rabalais, LUMCON and R. Eugene Turner, LSU

I can provide some additional thoughts with pretty HD video to boot. The eastern stations, as seen in the chlorophyll map, were predominantly green water, with considerable phyotoplankton mass present in the water column. We could observe significant green-colored biomass both on the GF/D pre-filters and the 0.22 µm Sterivex filters. This is also what you see if you are actually in the water, and the video from the green-water CTD cast at station B6 confirms what was seen with the CTD instrumentation and the filters. Convenient, eh? There is dense, murky greenness at the surface. Deeper, the visibility improves as we get below the highest biomass concentration, but towards the bottom, where hypoxia was observed, we again see increased turbidity, but of a different sort. It’s much whiter than that at the surface. On the return trip, considerable marine snow can be seen (along with a jelly or two and other marine invertebrates).

 

The western stations, as you might imagine by looking at the surface chlorophyll data, were blue water, with very little phyotplankton mass compared to the eastern stations. The cast at station K3 shows beautiful blue water with high visibility (diver’s paradise), but as you descend, you again pick up the whitish turbidity at the bottom layer where hypoxia was observed.

Sterivex filters from this section were light pink, a phenomenon we observed last year as well. The 16S rRNA and metagenomic data will, among other things, help us uncover a bit more about the variant prokaryotic taxa seen in these contrasting zones of hypoxia.

-jct