Graduate Students Conduct Research in Gulf of Mexico
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 24, 2012 – The Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences and two graduate students in biology at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College are on a two-week research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. David Hicks along with Liana Lerma, 27, of Brownsville and Jonathan Le, 24, of De Soto embarked from Corpus Christi on Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor embarked on Monday, Sept. 17. They will port at the Ortiz Center in Corpus Christi on Saturday, Sept. 29.
As of Monday, Sept. 24, now on the second week of their voyage, the crew of the Falkor have successfully mapped the northern group of reef banks which include the Baker, South Baker, Hospital, North Hospital, Aransas and Southern Bank, accomplished two full days of "ROV transects," and numerous other tests. Currently, they are headed toward the southern group of banks to begin the mapping process; the process should be completed within the next 26 hours. Aftward, the crew will assist in data processing so the marine technicians onboard can make maps. Per the latest update and predictions, all amps of the banks should be completed before returning to shore.
The first objective the crew finished was the initial mapping of the banks using the multibeam sonar tool. Sonar operations were conducted continously beginning the evening of Monday, Sept. 17, until early the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 19. Hicks' crew along with the science party consisting of the principal investigators and their students were put to work in a 24-hour shift schedule to "clean" the raw data they had gathered to ensure the most accurate mapping of the banks.
"I was not initially excited to be assigned the shifts from 10 p.m. to midnight and 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.," said Le. "But in the end, I came in early and stayed late for my shift out of excitement and interest. The crew has been very patiently teaching us about the software and protocol so that we can contribute, even through they could probably do the work themselves much faster."
Le assists Hicks with studying data.
“It’s definitely learning a brand new set of marketable skills,” said Le. “The R/V Falkor will be a world class research vessel. This trip is also about networking with the people I will meet, from the directors to professors and their respective students. I’m excited to learn about their research and future doctoral program opportunities.”
Lerma assists Hicks collecting information of reef biota.
“I will definitely gain experience in a field of marine biology that is completely new to me,” she said. “I am interested in gaining knowledge on this trip that will open doors of opportunity for when I continue my education and later am faced with career choices. It would be nice to also come up with some new research ideas.”
Hicks originally picked only one student to take the trip, but due to cancellations from other attendees, Hicks received the opportunity to pick a second student to travel with them. He looked at students’ interests in oceanography and marine biology and their progress toward master’s degree in biology at the university to make his choice.
“I see it as more of a stepping stone for these students getting into a doctoral program,” said Hicks. “They need to use the opportunity.”
The trip’s purpose is to produce three-dimensional high resolution images of reef banks throughout the Gulf of Mexico in order to study reef communities, sedimentary processes and geology. A Remotely Operational Vehicle will be used on at least three reef banks to shoot video and take samples. Work takes place in shifts each day.
“The video transect data and reef specimens that we are collecting provide enough information to serve ten theses,” said Hicks. “It’s going to be a goldmine of data to analyze.”
The R/V Falkor was previously a German fisheries management vessel in the North Sea. The Schmidt Ocean Institute purchased the ship from the German government in 2009 and retrofitted it with a lighted aluminum helideck, an equipment staging hangar, echosounders, a wet lab and flat screen televisions. The ship was renamed and dedicated earlier this year.
Hicks was invited on what is being called the “shakedown cruise” to test equipment by Dr. John “Wes” Tunnell, Associate Director and Research Scientist at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. Tunnell was Hicks’ advisor while he earned a master’s degree at the Corpus Christi institution.