Good Vibrations: Constructing a Vibracore for Extreme Sediment Coring

January 27, 2014 by

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

A lot of people make bucket lists, such as the “before I turn 30″ list or the classic “before I kick the bucket” list.  My personal bucket list, what I call the “self-sufficiency” list, comprises of learning various essential skills in order to be more reliant on myself in everyday life.  Last semester, those of us taking MS 202 Marine Instrumentation (deemed the “Fab Four” because there are four of us taking the class) with Dr. Kenneth Coale learned such essential skills for our futures in marine science that will allow us to think critically if we need to construct something or if faced with a mechanical problem.

Kristin Walowich practices oxyacetylene welding. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Kristin Walowich practices oxyacetylene welding. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Kenneth’s classic Coale-ism, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” is the theme of this class.  That means the Fab Four do a lot of planning, trying out the product, and making small tweaks for the best outcome possible, which teaches us to think critically about our designs.

Microspears made by the fabrication class for Dr. Scott Hamilton of the Ichthyology Lab. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Microspears made by the fabrication class for Dr. Scott Hamilton of the Ichthyology Lab. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Our latest fabrication project comes from Dr. Ivano Aiello and the Geological Oceanography lab.

The problem: Ivano and his team need a contraption that will allow them to core up to 15 feet deep into sediment.  They would like to better understand sedimentation that has occurred over time in locations such as Elkhorn Slough and Pescadero Point.

The solution: a Vibracore. This machine will create vibrations to decrease friction between sediments and the core and will force the core into the ground.  It is designed for the purpose of obtaining deep cores, so it is a perfect tool for Ivano’s current project.

The parts: 1) a Vibracore head with a modification to attach to the core, and 2) a tripod to hold the core in place as coring occurs and to remove the core once coring ceases.

Our major contribution to the project was the 3 meter tall tripod using scraps from previous projects and local scrap yards.  The tripod consisted of three 2-inch pipe legs, one of which had spokes welded onto it for climbing, and a top plate that would hold come-alongs to retrieve the core from the ground.

Stephen Loiacono uses a portable grinder to shape the top plate of the tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Stephen Loiacono uses a portable grinder to shape the top plate of the tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Paul Clerkin uses a MIG welder to attach pieces to the top of our tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake

Paul Clerkin uses a MIG welder to attach pieces to the top of our tripod. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Once the parts were completed, we took to the field for a trial!

Our first attempt at putting together the tripod after we fabricated each piece. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Dr. Kenneth Coale feeling triumphant after our first attempt at putting together the tripod once we fabricated each piece. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

We trekked out to Psecadero Point to obtain two cores for Christina Volpi, a graduate student in the Physical Oceanography lab, who needed to collect samples for her thesis work.  As the Vibracore head hummed, the core was shot into the ground and the sediment was contained.

A student and Dr. Ivano Aiello use the vibracore head to force the core into the ground. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

A student and Dr. Ivano Aiello use the Vibracore head to force the core into the ground. Photo by: Catherine Drake.

Christina Volpi and Mark Helfenberger use come alongs to pull the core from the muddy ground at Pescadero Point. Photo by: Vera Lawson.

Christina Volpi and Mark Helfenberger use come- alongs to pull the core from the muddy ground at Pescadero Point. Photo by: Vera Lawson.

The cores were retrieved and were taken back to the lab for sectioning.  Soon, they will be analyzed and the data will be incorporated into Christina’s Volpi’s thesis.

One of the cores from Pescadero Point after it has been sliced and sectioned for analysis. Photo by: Christina Volpi.

One of the cores from Pescadero Point after it has been sliced and sectioned for analysis. Photo by: Christina Volpi.

With the opportunity to take MS 202 Marine Instrumentation, combined with the ingenuity of Dr. Kenneth Coale, the Fab Four obtained skills necessary for being self sufficient in a marine setting (not to mention a resounding checkmark for my bucket list).  We sharpened knives, ground rust off of tools, assembled microspears, used both a lathe and a mill, welded metal objects together, and built a Vibracore for extreme coring capabilities.  It was a productive semester, and there was certainly a rewarding feeling in getting to watch the fruits of our labor work successfully when in the field.

May the Flow Be With You!

January 22, 2014 by

Scott GabaraBy Scott Gabara, Phycology “Seaweed” Lab

Circulating seawater systems are very important for marine laboratories as they need to keep organisms from the ocean alive and use the water to aid in conducting experiments.  We have recently had our Moss Landing Marine Laboratories offshore intake upgraded and we went on a dive to inspect its current status.  The large meshed cylinder sucks in water and supplies our lab with flowing seawater.  We routinely inspect and clean the surface of the grates and the structure. 

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

One of our MLML intakes rising from the sand.

It is interesting to see what invertebrates recruit or move onto the structure.  With sand surrounding us we create a small oasis of life concentrated on the hard substrate.  One of the issues we have to deal with is that seawater contains invertebrate larvae and some species will settle on the inside the pipes and eventually constrict and clog our flow, similar to plaque buildup in an artery.  We have to force a Pigging Inspection Gauge (PIG), a tool which is usually a piece of cylindrical foam, through the inside of the pipe to clean and clear the walls.  It’s great we can get routine cleanings so our seawater system continues flowing and our lab doesn’t have a “heart attack”!

Diana Steller inspects our intake line.

Diana Steller, Dive Safety Officer, inspects our intake line.

Beach Wrack: What is it and why is it here?

January 20, 2014 by

By Jarred Klosinski, Phycology Lab

If you’re like me and take long walks on the beach, you may have noticed more mounds of algae along the shore. These mounds are called beach wrack and can contain kelps as well as seagrasses. Other types of seaweeds including red and green algae are also found, but not as often.

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Kelp wrack composed of the giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and the feather boa kelp (Egregia menziesii) at an incoming tide near Monterey. Photo credit: Jarred Klosinski

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Ballast water and epifluorescence microscopy

January 13, 2014 by

by Liz Lam, Biological Oceanography Lab

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML's ballast treatment testing team

The Golden Bear Facility, home to MLML’s ballast treatment testing team

Ballast water treatment and testing is a big focus here in the Biological Oceanography lab, and this is no exception even when it comes to class projects.  Last semester, I started a project aiming to improve one of our counting techniques.  I’d previously written about IMO’s restriction to 10 organisms per 1,000 liters of discharged ballast water and counting zooplankton under a microscope in order to check for these results.  But when it comes to even smaller organisms, such as algae and other even tinier phytoplankton, different methods are called for.

We already have a pretty clever way of quantifying such microscopic organisms by using a few chemical and optical tricks.  The first key ingredient is fluorescein diacetate, or FDA.  One of the special features of this molecule is that it can only be cleaved by certain proteins in live cells.  Once FDA is split, what remains is fluorescein, a compound that glows bright green when excited under blue light. We can then use an epifluorescence microscope to both shine the right wavelength of light and magnify a sample in order to count any green organisms.  If it glows green, then it means it’s alive!  This allows us to quantify the number of live organisms that are extremely small and difficult to see.

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Fukushima – is the ocean safe?

January 10, 2014 by

Jackie Lindsey By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

If you are a marine scientist, you may have had the same experience that I did over the recent holiday break – all of my relatives want to know if I think our seafood is safe from Fukushima radiation.  If you aren’t a marine scientist, you and I may still have something in common – this topic is not my current focus of study and I will (probably) never be one of the “experts” on this matter.  However,  I have started to do some extra research.  I may not be an expert on food safety inspections or the dispersal of different types of radiation, but I do have some ideas about where to look when I don’t know all of the answers.  This is what I told my relatives:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

(Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

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The Great Risso Haul Out!

December 24, 2013 by

On Sunday 22nd of December, I had the opportunity to participate with the Marine Mammal Center and help move a Risso dolphin (Grampus griseus ) carcass at Breakwater Cove. Risso dolphins are distinguished by their bulbous head and white body which are heavily scarred from teeth raking between dolphins, as well as markings from their prey such as squid. They are a common species of dolphin found here in Monterey.

Close up of the Risso dolphin carcass.


This particular individual was found washed up near Monterey and took more than 12 people to move this animal onshore away from the waves. We had to set tarps to make it easier to move it. Risso dolphins weigh around 600 to 1,000 pounds and can reach a length of around 13 feet, making them one of the larger dolphins.

Measuring the Risso. Multiple scarring is common in this species

However, the area where we planned to move the dolphin was too steep and we lacked the manpower or the equipment to move the animal smoothly to the truck. So while we waited in the warm sunny weather on what to do next, we tethered the dolphin with rope to prevent the waves from dragging the dolphin back to sea.

The brave volunteers from the Marine Mammal Center, holding down the ropes.

So after waiting for an hour, we decided to have the harbor master tow the dolphin back into the water and transport to place to pick the dolphin up with a forklift. Took us two tries to push the dolphin back into the water. The first attempt the rope broke from the stress. Also timing of the waves were not in our favor most of the time, so we have to wait till the perfect wave came to push the carcass back into the water. Overall, I had fun! Never thought I would be able to see a Risso up close and personal! Necropsy will be conducted soon, so hopefully we’ll figure out what was the cause of death.

Kenji: Cruising with an ROV

December 16, 2013 by

h_WDcnUcNpuPhD9aRqYp4ku0vyNY4uVsyAib-P0FILw by Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

First year students at Moss Landing Marine Labs are encouraged to seize every opportunity to get involved in research.  That is just what Kenji Soto is doing (December 7th-23rd) as a volunteer on the Research Vessel Atlantis.  He is helping Sam Hulme (MLML) and Geoff Wheat (MBARI adjunct researcher) with a project titled: Collaborative Research: Discovery, sampling, and quantification of flows from cool yet massive ridge-flank hydrothermal springs on Dorado Outcrop, eastern Pacific Ocean.  And the really cool part? Kenji is blogging as he goes!  Follow (HERE!) his progress, his discoveries, his photos and videos, and the delicious food he is enjoying while a member of the research team on RV Atlantis.

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Nitrox and Boat Dives – Wrapping Up MLML’s Fall Science Diving Course

December 13, 2013 by

By Heather Fulton-Bennett, Phycology Lab

MLML’s fall AAUS Science Diving course is coming to an end, and what better way finish than with a pair of boat dives from our own R/V John Martin.

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The R/V John H. Martin from a diver’s view (Photo: Scott Gabara)

As part of the course, students get certified in Nitrox diving, a gas mix with a higher percentage of oxygen than normal air. This mix allows for longer bottom times and decreased surface intervals, which is a huge advantage for conducting research underwater.

Last week we were lucky enough to have our last dives of the semester in Carmel Bay, at Pescadero Wash Rock and outer Copper Roof House.

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Kathryn along the Wash Rock wall (Photo: Diana Steller)

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Marissa and Lindsay examine turf algae and benthic invertebrates (Photo: Scott Gabara)

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Thanks to all who made it an amazing semester!

Lights Out, Dives In

December 1, 2013 by

Recently the marine science diving class here at Moss Landing Marine Labs went down to Monterey’s Breakwater to conduct a sunset and night dive.  The first dive was to a rocky outcrop called the Metridium field.  The Metridium are white plumose anemones that look like fluffy cauliflowers and filter particulates out of the water.  It is a stunning sight with so many anemones.

Martin and Metridium

Martin and Metridium

The second dive was conducted by nightfall.  Every diver had a glow-stick to better locate their buddy and stay in visual contact in the dark.  Each diver has a waterproof light, it takes practice to communicate underwater let alone now using a flashlight.  We saw different species like red octopus which were out foraging and rockfish that seemed to hover almost half asleep in the water column.  It is interesting to see these changes that happen as the rocky reef changes from day to night.

Sunset Diving with Martin Guo, Paul Clerkin and Scott Miller (left to right)

Sunset Diving with Martin Guo, Paul Clerkin and Scott Miller (left to right)

Small Boats, Great Resource: Student Small Boats Course

November 13, 2013 by

By: Scott Miller, Ichthyology Lab

One of the perks of being an MLML student is that we get to utilize the lab’s fantastic diving and boating resources – provided we get proper training first.  While “training” sounds like a drag, it can actually be quite a lot of fun!  For example, the lab recently offered a course to get checked out on the small boats.  Getting checked out on the small boats allows us to take the boats out for thesis-related work and other lab-approved reasons, so a number of students met up at the harbor to get certified.  After confirming that we had previously taken our online boating safety course, we began learning about nautical navigation and the basics of an outboard motor.

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route.  We'll be navigating the high seas in no time!

Nautical charts and tools to plan a route. We’ll be navigating the high seas in no time!

After learning all about the boats and procedures in the morning, after lunch it was time to take to the sea.  We separated into two smaller groups and went out on our Boston whalers.  The helpful staff at Marine Ops guided us as we practiced maneuvering in the bay.  Although I have boating experience on lakes, driving in-and-out of ocean swells was quite different and I had a blast learning the techniques.  After braving the ocean, we headed back into the harbor to practice docking.  While there wasn’t too much boat traffic inside the harbor, we still had to drive carefully to avoid the otters and seals that are abundant in the area.  We each took turns docking into different spots and under different conditions, then we took the boats back to the dock and cleaned everything up.  Spending a beautiful afternoon on the water got at least one student excited about having the opportunity to use the boats more frequently to help with his future research!

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor.  While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.

Heading home to the Moss Landing harbor. While we technically could have asked for better weather, it really just would have been greedy.


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