Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MBARI Open House

Salinas River Near Moss Landing

California's Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) is home to some of the most unusual deep sea life forms on Earth. Life calls out to life: the submarine canyon's wild biodiversity has attracted an equally diverse gathering of marine biologists and scientific institutions including Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, University of California's Long Marine Lab, Cal State's Moss Landing Marine Labs and more recently the Packard-Foundation-funded Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) located in Moss Landing.

Last weekend MBARI held an open house to familiarize the public with its scientific activities and to show off some of the beautiful sea creatures that live just offshore of Moss Landing--forms of life so bizarre that one can easily imagine that they developed on some other planet.

To study these creatures in their natural environment MBARI has pioneered the development of a variety of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that carry video cameras, manipulators and chemical laboratories into the depths where no man has gone before. MBARI's stable of specialized deep-sea probes is analogous to NASA's deep space probes except MBARI's inquisitive robots are designed to explore the depths of the Earth's oceans rather than the airless spaces between the stars.

MBARI's Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts
Among MBARI's many deep-sea robots is one named after Ed Ricketts, an early Monterey marine biologist immortalized by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row. In one memorable voyage, Steinbeck and Ricketts studied the marine life of the Gulf of California together--their adventures chronicled by Steinbeck in Log From the Sea of Cortez. 

While studying physics at Stanford in the 60s, I took a sidetrack thru Don Kennedy's biology lab to check out a possible career in neurophysiology. (I quickly returned to physics; biology is much too complicated and resistant to mathematization.)

The nervous systems Kennedy and his students investigated were mostly those of sea animals which we gathered at a beach near Half Moon Bay. At that time two books were our biology bibles--Ed Ricketts's Between Pacific Tides and a thick tome bearing the title Animals Without Backbones (not a history of America's Democratic Party but a catalog of marine invertebrates). I was surprised and happy to see that MBARI had honored the notorious dude that had taught me marine biology (through his book) by giving the name Doc Ricketts to one of their remotely controlled Yellow Submarines.

Besides videos of weird sea creature, submarine canyon geology demonstrations and close-up introductions to actual deep-sea robots. MBARI hosted a large interactive children's program which included making colored squid prints, constructing and operating small underwater robots in tanks and the immensely popular Giant Inflatable Squid which immediately captured the attention of the Quantum Tantra Ashram's senior scientist.

Waving goodbye to the crowds at MBARI my companion and I lunched at Phil's Snack Shop, then conducted our own informal exploration of the wild life currently making its home along the marshy shores of the Salinas River.

More Open House pictures at the MBARI site. Thanks, Kim.
Kids entangling with the Giant Inflatable Squid

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