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Blue depths and endless expanses – oceanography exposes the unknown

Marine researchers at the University of Hawaii use a JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® camera to document their discovery of a new type of deep-sea bamboo coral – insights into the application of an ALTAIR camera from Jenoptik for oceanography.

, Stefan Seidlein
bamboo coral

© Les Watling, Schmidt Ocean Institute

It is important to understand the phenomena of our oceans; they have far-reaching effects on our climate, our health and the economy. Our oceans are probably the least understood and yet one of the most important components of our planet.

Especially for deep-sea research objects, which can only be explored by research vessels, data collection and ocean exploration have been difficult and expensive in the past. For this reason, the oceans are still largely unknown to us. However, new technologies and innovative observation and measurement systems, as well as increasing knowledge about the importance of the oceans for our climate and biodiversity, have led to a much greater emphasis on oceanography.

Robotic systems and sensor technology are helping marine scientists to collect deep-sea data at unprecedented speed and resolution. Oceanographers map the characteristics of the ocean floor and encounter previously unknown geological formations or discover new species and document marine life with digital tools.

Oceanographers working alongside the ocean scientist Les Watling are using numerous technological tools, for example, a Jenoptik camera, to explore the deep sea.

We had the pleasure of welcoming the scientist Les Watling, whose passion is oceanography, to the JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® community. He is a Professor of Biology at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Professor Emeritus of Oceanography at the Darling Marine Center of the University of Maine. To explore and better understand the deep sea, he sets out on regular expeditions with a team of colleagues and young oceanography students to study the ecology of marine sediment communities, the global biogeography of bathyal and abyssal areas of the ocean, and the taxonomy of small crustaceans and large deep-sea octocorals.

We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions and find out a little more about his exciting work and the use of a JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® camera for ocean science activities.

Prof. Watling, which of the world’s oceans do you visit and how much time do you spend on research vessels as an oceanographer?

I enjoy being at sea or preferably deep under the ocean. In the last 40 years I’ve taken part in 28 research expeditions in the Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans. I have been involved in countless days of diving with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) down to depths of 4,000 m. Most of my samples are taken from seamounts in the North Atlantic, but my research also extends to seamounts and island slopes in Hawaii and adjacent areas. As an oceanographer, I don’t spend as much time on the ship as you might think. Our team spends a few months every few years collecting data. Last year we had a cruise on the R/V FALKOR to the Emperor Seamounts. I then spend time at my desk, in front of the computer, analyzing the data and identifying the specimens collected on the expeditions. Image analysis, measuring and classifying the samples – for example with the JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® microscope camera’s measuring tool – and data interpretation are all essential activities for an ocean scientist that take place on land.

bamboo coral 16x

© Les Watling, Dept. of Biology/University of Hawaii at Manoa

You’ve discovered a new type of deep-sea bamboo coral and used a JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® camera for its documentation and analysis. Could you perhaps tell us a little more about it?

At the Nintoku seamount on the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain we have discovered a new species of bamboo coral at a depth of 1,490 m. It belongs to the genus Lepidisis, a deep-sea bamboo coral of the family Isididae. The following image taken with the JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® microscope camera shows a 5 mm polyp of the new species. The calcareous sclerites embedded in the tissue are visible; their size and orientation can be perfectly documented thanks to the camera’s depth of field.

Which aspects are of particular interest from the perspective of an oceanographer?

My colleagues and I are particularly interested in the dispersal modes of deep-sea octocorals, their long-term evolutionary history and their relationships to the deep-sea water masses. Since these animals live at depths that can only be reached by submersible or remotely operated vehicles, much of what is known in oceanography must be derived from inference. So the smallest image details that can yield insightful results are of particular interest to us.

What kind of inferences can be derived in oceanography?

Earlier, the bathyal fauna such as octocorals were sampled along the Aleutian Islands off northern Japan and on parts of the Hawaiian Ridge. Using currents, mapping and radioisotopes to track water masses – and study the corals – we determined the driving force behind the coral distributions. There were significant differences in the organisms living on the northern and southern parts of the seamount chain and we suspect that currents play a role in their distribution. These findings suggest the North Pacific Intermediate Water could play a very important role in coral distribution.

Which microscopy technique did you use for imaging the new species of bamboo coral?

We connected the JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® microscope camera to an Olympus stereoscope and operated the camera on a Windows 10 laptop with the JENOPTIK GRYPHAX® software that came with the camera. The image was taken at 16x magnification using the cross-polarization method. Multiple images were taken and combined using the image stack function in the software.

With this exciting insight you’ve not only inspired us, but certainly the next generation of oceanography students too. Thank you very much, Prof. Les Watling.

Les Watling is currently working on the description of the new species and on the compilation of global databases for GIS analysis of the distribution of deep-sea octocorals (GIS – geographic information system). He has already published two books on the natural history of crustaceans and also collaborates with NGOs. Based on the conviction that scientists can play an important role in marine conservation by providing NGOs with the best and latest scientific information, he does just that, providing NGOs with valuable data for their campaigns.

image1 - © Les Watling, Schmidt Ocean Institute
A new species of bamboo coral; image was taken on Les Watling’s cruise on the R/V Falkor using the ROV SuBastian
image 2 - © Les Watling, Dept. of Biology/University of Hawaii at Manoa
Single polyp of a new species of bamboo coral; the calcareous sclerites embedded in the tissue are visible, their size of 5 mm in length and orientation can be documented

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Stefan Seidlein

About Stefan Seidlein

Stefan Seidlein has been working for Jenoptik since 2000 in various positions in the field of Digital Imaging. As product manager, he currently focuses on the light microscope camera product portfolio and brings his entire digital imaging competence and experience to projects. As a graduated technician with a focus on energy technology and process automation, he is fascinated by digitalization and the many opportunities it offers both individuals and Jenoptik.

Do not hesitate to contact us when you like to learn more about Jenoptik´s microscope cameras.

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