A Vessel for Student Research

By Laura Paisley Photo by Marc Campos

Biology Professor Shana Goffredi and two Oxy seniors explore the ecosystem off the Southern California coast

Professor of Biology Shana Goffredi has used submersibles for almost 25 years as part of her work in marine biology. “There is really no substitute for seeing the ecosystems with your own eyes, making observations, conducting seafloor experiments, and selecting samples,” she says.

In July, Goffredi had the opportunity to harness this technology alongside two Oxy Science Scholars as participants in a two-week oceanic expedition aboard the R/V Atlantis. Owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the ocean research ship is specifically outfitted for launching the deep-sea, human-occupied submersible Alvin, which allows two scientists at a time to explore the ocean at depths reaching 6,000 meters.

The San Diego-based expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation, was led by an all-female team of scientists, including Goffredi. Its research explored the role of large and small deep-sea organisms in determining levels and impacts of methane on Pacific continental margins.

Workdays on the vessel were long, often running up to 18 hours. “Working in the same spaces as graduate students and postdocs [from Caltech, UCLA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography] allowed me to observe how they conduct research, which inspired me to emulate their work styles and learn from their independence as I continue with my own research,” says Ruby Siehl ’24, a biology major from Seattle.

Bianca Dal Bó ’24, a biology major from Berkeley, studies deep-sea invertebrates—namely, sponges, sea spiders, worms, and snails—that inhabit the diverse ecosystem of the Del Mar methane seep off the Southern California coast. Throughout the expedition, “I learned about deep sea oceanography, microbiology, geology, and chemistry from experts in the field,” she says. “This voyage gave me unparalleled access and opportunity to scientifically further my project.”

The expedition’s research ultimately will improve scientific understanding of methane’s contribution to deep-sea diversity and ecosystem function, which has implications for management and conservation actions in United States waters. “I continue to be amazed by how much of the seafloor remains unexplored,” Goffredi says. “To be physically immersed in that world, seeing it with my own eyes, is an incredible opportunity, but it also comes with great responsibility to convey how much these diverse seafloor habitats are worth caring for and protecting.”

Go aboard the R/V Atlantis in our latest video, “A Deep Dive Into Student Research at Occidental College.”

Above photo: From left, Ruby Siehl ’24, Professor Shana Goffredi, and Bianca Dal Bó '24 aboard the R/V Atlantis, which was built with six science labs.