Studying the OTZ with NASA


Quick Facts

From May 3-21, 2021, members of the OTZ team sailed aboard the Spanish research vessel R/V Sarmiento de Gamboa as part of the NASA-funded EXPORTS (EXport Processes in the Ocean from Remote Sensing) mission. On this voyage, the team rendezvoused in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean with two other research vessels to study the ocean twilight zone. The voyage let the team field-test new scientific technology. including MINIONS, TZEx, and new acoustic packages, and to gathered previously unobtainable data from the twilight zone.

The three-ship expedition—a highly unusual arrangement for oceanographic research—involved careful collaboration between the Sarmiento and the British ships RRS Discovery and RRS James Cook. Each ship deployed its unique suite of instruments and tow nets within close quarters of the others, letting the international team of scientists study how carbon from the ocean's surface moves through the twilight zone on its way to the deep ocean.

This work will help to answer some tantalizing questions about the zone itself. Biological processes in the twilight zone are responsible for sequestering 2 to 6 billion metric tons of carbon annually—roughly six times the amount of carbon emitted by all the cars on Earth each year—but exactly how the zone extracts that carbon remains unclear. Studying those processes will help scientists improve climate models, create more accurate estimates of sea level rise, and inform new policies for coastal communities worldwide.

DatesMay 3 - 21, 2019
LocationEastern Atlantic
ShipR/V Sarmiento de Gamboa
Chief ScientistsKen Buesseler and Heidi Sosik
Science QuestionsHow does carbon from the upper ocean move through the twilight zone?
How do animals living in the twilight zone affect the global carbon cycle?
TechnologyMOCNESS nets
Twilight Zone Explorer (TZEx)
Acoustic packages


Day 7: Turning science into stories

May 11, 2021

Standing on the aft deck of the Sarmiento de Gamboa, Michelle Cusolito chats with Laetitia Drago about how they packed…

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Day 8: Weird and wonderful creatures of the MOCNESS

May 12, 2021

Members of the science team and the ship’s crew huddle around buckets and trays in the wet lab. They’ve gathered…

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Day 9: Hitting the wall

May 13, 2021

With bad weather approaching, we are suspending science operations and hunkering down.

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Day 10: Meet researcher John San Soucie

May 14, 2021

John San Soucie is a PhD student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program…

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Day 11: Three ships are better than one

May 17, 2021

Imagine you’re planning an oceanographic expedition. You need to pinpoint the right place in the ocean at the ideal time…

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Day 12: Small but mighty MINIONs

May 18, 2021

On a bright, breezy morning, six of us stand on the aft deck holding Pyrex tubes full of 3D-printed materials,…

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