Research Highlight: First KAUST-JAMSTEC research cruise in the Red Sea

03 April, 2022

Led by research scientist Alex Petrovic, a multidisciplinary team of seven scientists from different KAUST research centers (ANPERC, RSRC) and divisions (PSE, BESE) kicked off the first research cruise as part of the signed MOU between KAUST and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) this February. The objective of the six day long trip aboard the R/V Thuwal was to investigate a submerged shallow-water coral reef complex south of the Al Wajh area from a sedimentological, biological, and oceanographic perspective. Particular focus was on the upper 200 m below sea level (also known as the mesophotic zone), which generally has received little attention in the Red Sea. After mapping the seafloor with a multibeam echosounder, benthic communities were investigated with KAUST’s remote-operated vehicle (ROV) “Falcon”. JAMSTEC scientists provided a 4K stereo camera addition for the ROV, as part of the midwater and benthic community investigations. The team also collected sediment samples as well as water and plankton samples from depths up to 700 m to study the benthic larval community and their gelatinous predators, and physical and chemical variables of the water column in the research area. Due to ongoing travel restrictions, JAMSTEC scientists were unable to join the cruise, and therefore the KAUST team covered the sampling program on their behalf.

“This cruise lays important groundwork from scientific but also collaborative perspectives with our Japanese colleagues. The experiences and results emerging from it will be looked at as important stepping-stones that provide momentum to continue in our joint efforts, that could include to bring vessels like the R/V Kaimei to the Red Sea.” Said Prof. Thomas Finkbeiner, one of the initiators of the research collaboration.

The collected material will be analyzed at KAUST and JAMSTEC and integrated in collaborative research and publication efforts. Specifically, the water samples will be analyzed by Dr. Masahide Wakita at JAMSTEC’s Mutsu Institute for Oceanography (MIO) and Dr. Hiroshi Uchida at JAMSTEC’s Global Ocean Observation Research Center while the video footage will be co-analyzed by Red Sea Research Center scientists Silvia Vimercati (Habitat and Benthic Biodiversity Lab) and Eloise Richardson (The Reef Ecology Lab), Dr. Dhugal Lindsay, Dr. Javier Montenegro and Dr. Mehul Naresh Sangekar from JAMSTEC’s Institute for Extra-cutting-edge Science and Technology Avant-garde Research (X-star). Dr. Dhugal Lindsay and his team will also analyze the plankton samples in order to characterize the benthic larval community and their gelatinous predators. Prof. Hildegard Westphal (Carbonate Ecology Group) and her student Marlena Joppien will investigate the sediment samples to learn more about the ecology, while Research Scientists Fabio Marchese (Habitat and Benthic Biodiversity Lab) and Alex Petrovic (Carbonate Geology Group) will analyze the geomorphology.

The cruise was greatly supported by Ute Langner and Vincent Sardene (both RSRC), Coastal & Marine Resources Core Lab Services (Cmor) technicians, captain Yuriy Brocka and his crew of R/V Thuwal. We would also like to thank the Japanese Government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for a grant supporting this cruise.

Image1: Scientific team on board of KAUST vessel RV THUWAL. From left to right: Dr. Ute Langner (marine biologist), Prof. Hildegard Westphal (carbonate sedimentologist), Silvia Vimercati (coral specialist), Eloise Richardson (fish specialist), Marlena Joppien and Dominik Nommensen (carbonate sedimentologists), and Dr. Alexander Petrovic (chief scientist). Image by Ute Langner.

Image 2: Preparation for water sampling and to measure temperature-salinity in the Red Sea. Image by Ute Langner.


Image 3: Scientific team from JAMSTEC involved in the cruise. From left to right: Dr. Sean Toczko, Adam Wspanialy (Project PIs, Expedition Management Group, MarE3), Dr. Dhugal Lindsay (gelatinous zooplankton specialist), Dr. Mehul Naresh Sangekar (underwater robotics, seafloor observation specialist), Dr. Hiroshi Uchida (left,  physical oceanography specialist), and Dr. Masahide Wakita (right, carbon cycle and chemical oceanography specialist).