MES Graduate Student Friedrich Knuth Shares His Summer Research Experiences

Environmental Studies graduate student Friedrich Knuth returns to Charleston this fall after an eventful summer of impressive research trips to Honduras, Washington, and Florida.

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Deep sea diving with a submarine off of Roatan, Honduras
In May, I joined Matt Rittinghouse on a research trip to Roatan, Honduras. Matt and his advisor Peter Etnoyer (NOAA) had traded maps of the seafloor around Roatan for submarine dives with the Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration. Karl Stanley, the submarine pilot, took us on two dives down to 2000 feet to verify the habitat model Matt had created for predicting the presence of deep sea coral. In the process, we had the unique opportunity to see fascinating deep sea creatures such as bioluminescent fish, dumbo octopi, rough sharks and many others. It was an exhilarating feeling to descend into such depths, because there is no sun light and one can only see as far as the flood lights will shine. The only means of navigation become the compass and depth gauge. Luckily, the maps were accurate and we were able to traverse the island periphery without any major loss of orientation. 

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Surveying Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the South Atlantic Continental Shelf
In June, I spent the second summer in a row joining a research cruise funded by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to assess the presence and health of snapper and grouper populations between Florida and North Carolina. The chief scientist on board was Stacey Harter along with Andy David, both from NOAA’s Panama City lab. This work is directly related to my thesis. It is the second year that I am able to go out with this team and collect data on what the seafloor looks like and where the fish are hanging out. Much like Matt, I am trying to understand the biogeographical distributions of the target organisms, in this case fish, and create a predictive habitat model for the presence thereof. During the cruises I was part of the mapping team, which meant I worked from 8PM until 8AM. In the morning we would produce a finalized map of the seafloor. Based on this map the daytime Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) team would conduct their dives. Wherever our maps indicated that there are steeps slopes, that is where dives were planned, as fish like hard bottom and places to hide. Unfortunately, sometimes there were no fish, even though there were steep slopes indicated by the bathymetry. This is where my thesis aims to provide more insight into why some areas may have a lot of fish and others might not.

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At sea for the deployment of the Regional Scale Nodes (RSN) Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) project with the University of Washington
The RSN OOI is a massive NSF funded project to deploy long term telepresence monitoring sensors at various target sites around the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. The plate is located off the coast of Seattle and functions as a microcosm of tectonic activity with both spreading and subduction zones. The project has been 25 years in the making and is are getting closer and closer to its completion. In July I had the pleasure of joining chief scientist John Delaney and his team on the first of seven legs in 2014. We were able to deploy various sensors such as seismometers, mass specs, fluid samplers and high-definition cameras, as well as install more fiber optic cable and junction boxes. Once these sensors are all put in place and plugged into the network, scientists from around the US and world will have live 24/7 access to the data being collected at the bottom of the ocean. It is an unprecedented look into processes that are fundamental to the way our planet functions in a biological, physical and chemical way. You can read more at http://www.interactiveoceans.washington.edu.

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