GOMECC-4 cruise Update: Weeks 2 and 3

An earlier post on the CIMAS Recent News page from September 14, 2021, featured a news story on the fourth Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Carbon Cruise, GOMECC-4, heading to the Gulf of Mexico with 25 scientist and graduate students aboard the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown. An Update from Week 1 was posted on September 21, 2021. Presented here are the updates from Week 2 and 3 from GOMECC-4 chief scientists, Dr. Leticia Barbero and Dr. Andy Stefanick.

Week 2

 Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Week 2 seems to have flown by us. We have now completed the Panama City and Louisiana Lines, and even had time to add an intermediate line between them, which after some back and forth we have decided to call the Pensacola Line. Our station count so far is 48 stations and as of the reading of this update you will likely find us transiting from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary on to the Galveston Line. 

This week also marked the deployment of two of our 4 AOML BGC-Argo floats. The first float was successfully deployed on September 22nd at the tail end of the Panama City Line, the second one was deployed off the Louisiana Line and just sent its first profile data. 

GOMECC-4 Cruise Gulf of Mexico 2021 

Figure 1: Scientists Emily Osborne and Andy Stefanick prepare the BGC-Argo float for deploying in the early hours of September 22nd. Photo credit: Grace Owen (University of Miami) 

 GOMECC-4 Cruise Gulf of Mexico 2021: First profile sent by the BGC-Argo float deployed on September 22nd.

Figure 2.- First profile sent by the BGC-Argo float deployed on September 22nd. 

On Sunday, a week after two of our colleagues joined us in Clearwater, FL, we were able to remove our masks for the first time since the cruise started. We celebrated with a BBQ on the deck which was perfectly timed quite by chance with a transit between lines, which gave both science and crew a little bit of time to enjoy the good weather off the Louisiana coast. 

Saving the biggest piece of news for last, this week we received Mexico’s approval of our request to conduct Marine Scientific Research (MSR) in their territorial waters. This would not have happened were it not for intense advocating on behalf of our project from our collaborators, Dr. Sharon Herzka (CICESE) and Dr. Martin Hernández Ayón (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California). Thank you so much!! Big thanks as well to our colleague back at AOML, Ms. Emy Rodriguez, who made sure the consul in Brownsville, TX is ready to accommodate 17 scientists with no previous appointments. We have been working with the ship’s command to come up with a plan that will allow us to safely extend our COVID bubble for a quick visit to the consulate, and we are eagerly awaiting final approval from NOAA Health. 

Our systems continue to behave well, and we are making good time to our scheduled rendez-vous in Brownsville, TX. Now fingers crossed that we can continue with our mission as initially planned, into Mexican waters for a complete survey of ocean acidification conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. 


Leticia Barbero and Andy Stefanick, chief scientists GOMECC-4 .

Week 3

 Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico 

We are now in our third week and have passed the half-way mark of our cruise. Since our last update we have completed the Galveston and Brownsville lines. 

Week 3 has been filled with a little more excitement than we may have wished for. It all started as we were about to send our week 2 update, halfway through the Galveston Line, with a series of increasingly more troublesome issues with the CTD/rosette, which is the heart and soul of our operations in the cruise. This is the instrument that we deploy at every station to collect water samples along the water column as well as to get a profile of temperature, salinity and oxygen. After two (or was it three…hard to tell any more) days of non/stop work with barely a few hours of sleep in between, Andy Stefanick and Leah Chomiak managed to get us back on our feet with a fully operational CTD working off the aft winch, after finally discovering the issue was somewhere in the forward winch cable. We continue to try to fix the problem with our eyes set on making sure the ship has two fully operational winch systems for the next two cruises scheduled on the Brown, but in the meantime the aft winch is serving us well (everybody knock on wood!). 

Just before starting the Brownsville line we made a detour to do multiple small boat operations into shore. We had a crew exchange planned and picked up some eagerly awaiting members of the ship’s crew and science party that had been sheltering-in-place in Brownsville, TX. We also said goodbye to some ship’s and science crew that were disembarking. And after the exciting news of last week when we received our Mexican clearance, this week we had to implement our plan for getting our scientific crew visas through the Mexican consulate before continuing on and collecting data in Mexican waters, while remaining in our covid-free bubble. With lots of logistical planning (and lots of wet rides to shore) we were able to coordinate with the Mexican consulate and receive our visas in record time. A very big thank you to Captains Shoup and Gould, Emy Rodriguez, MOC-A, Marine Operations, NOAA health, the Brownsville Mexican consulate, and everyone involved in the effort to obtain our clearance. We will start our first Mexican line in a little over a day and will spend the next two weeks monitoring ocean acidification conditions in the southern Gulf of Mexico. 

This week we want to continue highlighting some of the science on board. Our plankton team is conducting a variety of net tows at select stations along each line, to capture the onshore-to offshore variability. The nets collect plankton organisms that are preserved in formalin, ethanol, or filtered seawater for posterior analyses. These include fish distribution and abundance, larval fish age, growth, condition, diet, and evidence of microplastic ingestion (all factors which affect survival and recruitment to adult populations) among other studies. In addition to this, the 

tows have allowed us the opportunity to see tiny pufferfish, baby eels and squids, juvenile lantern fish and other animals that put a smile on the faces of chemists and physical oceanographers on board. Yes, we know our water samples just can’t compete with that level of cuteness. 

GOMECC-4 cruise Gulf of Mexico 2021: Marine life

Figure 1.- Bongo nets are ready for deployment at a mid-depth station along the Galveston Line (Photo credit: Grace Owen, U. of Miami). Puffer fish, britslemouth fishes and baby lobster captured in different net tows (Photo credit: Miranda Irby, NCSU and Alexis Wilson, USM). 

We are now looking forward to a -hopefully- uneventful week of CTD casts and net tows and nothing to distract us from collecting the best possible samples. 


Leticia Barbero and Andy Stefanick, chief scientists GOMECC-4 .