Monday, 25 July 2016

It’s all about Betty
We have now completed our first four night shifts of box coring within the Geikie Slide and the Hebridean Slope Nature Conservation MPA. We have affectionately named our box corer companion Betty. Betty is a piece of equipment that can be used in deep-sea muds to extract a sample of the seabed in an intact state, retaining the structure of the sediment, and giving us a ‘snapshot’ of the seabed hundreds of meters below sea level (you can see a picture of Betty being deployed on the previous blog entry).
We have been sampling at a range of depths from 600 to 950 meters - the deeper areas can sometimes take half an hour for Betty to reach the seabed. Once Betty returns to the surface we wait with baited breath to see whether she has managed to collect a valid sample. When this gets the thumbs up, the team can start processing. Processing can take up to three hours depending on the habitat type - some of the mud we are encountering is very thick and sticky! The top 15cm of sediment is extracted from Betty and goes through an automated siever called the Wilson Auto Siever (WAS). We also start to sieve by hand to speed up the process. This removes fine material (i.e. mud and clay), leaving us with the important critters that were living both on and in the seabed. These will be sent off to a lab for identification once we return to dry land.
You may think the night shift staff drew the short straw having to work from midnight to midday, but there are actually some positives to sieving on deck through the night
  1. being in the fresh sea air;
  2. seeing the sun both set and rise;
  3. enjoying your morning coffee accompanied by whales, seabirds and sunfish;
  4. finding cool deep-sea animals in the samples.
More on these in our next blog!                                                                                                  
The night shift staff doing what they do best: sieving!
© JNCC/MSS (2016)
Two sunfish surrounded by Fulmars on the surface.
© JNCC/MSS (2016)
A baleen whale sighted in the distance.
© JNCC/MSS (2016)