Skip to content

Field trip to MBARI

Last Wednesday, 23 October 2019, my marine biology students and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing. We were led through the facilities by Kim Fulton-Bennett, the PR officer. MBARI isn't generally open to the public, so this was a rare opportunity to peek behind the scenes at what goes on at this work-class institution.

We got to see whatever equipment the engineers and technicians had lying around. Outside we saw the top part of an instrument that had been removed from its buoy for routine maintenance.

Scientific instrumentation at MBARI
Scientific equipment at MBARI
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong
MBARI buoy removed for maintenance
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

One of the few personal items we saw was a certain mooring buoy. It was covered with messages and signatures to a man named Roman Marin. I knew him when he was a graduate student, and had taken a marine plankton course for which I was the TA. I ran into him a few years ago on a previous field trip to MBARI, and we chatted for a few minutes. Anyway, Roman died suddenly about a month ago. I remember hearing of his death and thinking how nice a guy he had been.

Mooring buoy with signatures
Mooring buoy signed with messages to Roman Marin III
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

Here's Kim Fulton-Bennett showing us a sort of mini-rover called a MesoBot. Its job is to dive down to about 1500 meters, explore the mesopelagic, and relay information through a tethering cable back to the mother ship. It's a brand new robot, having been on a only one test dive so far.

Kim Fulton-Bennett points to the main HD camera on the MesoBot
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

And here are some top-down views of the MesoBot:

The MesoBot was being prepped for either additional test dives or the real thing. When it's time to go out to sea it will be loaded into a half-sized shipping container. The other half of the shipping container holds the control room, from which the MesoBot is driven, and a whole bunch of spare parts. When you're two-weeks out to sea and need to replace something, you can't just nip into the nearest Home Depot. Besides, many of the parts that make up these robots are special-built of materials like titanium and can be built only by MBARI engineers.

Control room
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

When it's time to head out to sea, both shipping containers are loaded by crane onto the deck of the research ship. Then off they go!

This is another robot. Nice to see that amidst all this high-tech stuff, they still use ordinary Kim-Wipes at MBARI. Now that's a technology I understand!

Unlike ROVs, which are tethered to a ship and operated remotely by technicians on the ship, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are programmed before they are deployed. At sea, they roam around according to their program. They may be collecting data for mapping the seafloor, measuring water parameters, or detecting and following a phytoplankton bloom. Kim tells a story of an AUV working off the coast of Oregon, I think. Its job was to map the sea floor. It got itself stuck inside an old lava tube. Since they can only move forward, it couldn't get out. So it sent up an SOS ping and had to be located and then pulled out of the lava tube by an ROV.

This is the lab where AUVs are built:

AUV lab at MBARI
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

Kim always takes us inside to see the big testing pool, and it always feels a little creepy to me. The pool is filled with filtered seawater, and engineers use it to test their devices before sending them out into the ocean.

Testing pool at MBARI
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

These grids at the bottom of the pool are used to test a robot's cameras:

Testing pool at MBARI
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

MBARI is located in Moss Landing, right in the middle of the backwards letter 'C' that is Monterey Bay. Its location is especially strategic because one arm of the Monterey Canyon begins about 100 yards off the jetty at the Moss Landing harbor. This means that the deep sea is relatively easy to get to from this location. One of MBARI's ships, the R/V Rachel Carson, makes day trips into Monterey Bay. Her ship operators, technicians, and scientists can explore the deep sea and come home every night to sleep in their own beds.

Here's Kim pointing out to where the Monterey Canyon begins:

Kim Fulton-Bennett shows students how close the Monterey Canyon is to shore
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

All in all, for anyone interested in marine science and technology, MBARI is the place to be. And even if you're not a marine scientist or a technophile, you certainly can't complain about the view!

Jetty and entrance to Moss Landing harbor
23 October 2019
© Allison J. Gong

1 thought on “Field trip to MBARI

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: