The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a world-class research and exploration vessel called the Okeanos Explorer. She’s a beautiful ship with some brand-new gear to send us high-def video and audio from the bottom of the ocean.
Since 2009, when the new realization of the Inner Space Center first stretched its techy little arms and opened its doors to the world of ocean exploration, we only knew two things for certain: the E/V Nautilus and the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. In order for us to send you high-res, live feeds from the bottom of the ocean, at any geographic location, at any point in time, we need research ships doing what they do best: research. These two long-standing research ships have different styles, different means of funding, and different ways of communicating to the public, but there is one congruent truth.
Combined, these two ships have undertaken the world’s largest effort to explore, map, and research the world’s oceans, while simultaneously broadcasting to the public and scientists. People can see and experience the work in real-time, via telepresence. This was incredibly difficult until the Inner Space Center opened its doors, one level down, directly below my feet.
As I write this, I’m filled with great pride, the same feeling I had when I first volunteered here at the ISC 5 years ago. Fortunately, this article is not about me, it’s about the Okeanos Explorer.
Tomorrow marks the start of her thirty-ninth expedition! The team at sea and on shore knows this as EX1404L3. Seems a bit random, but it’s a naming convention – what it denotes is the ship’s code EX (EX stands for Okeanos Explorer), the year 2014, the fourth cruise of that year, and the third leg of that cruise. All that from eight letters. My last name is eight letters too, and all it says about me is that I’m Italian.
The EX team is out there in the trenches, literally underwater trenches, with one of the most sophisticated remotely operated vehicles in the world, The Deep Discoverer (D2 for short). Bringing a flood of knowledge, both from experts on board, and from digital collaborators all over the world. You’re part of that too, remember! We put it out there for everybody to get involved, and watch right alongside these experts.
This third leg takes place off the East coast of the U.S, our backyard here at the ISC. There is a chain of seamounts and canyons, known as the New England Seamount Chain, which hosts some seriously diverse communities and very active geology. However, no matter how cool I make them seem, there is a pretty alarming fact: These areas are mostly unknown, and have never been seen by humans, ROVs, subs, aliens, scientists, Sasquatches, snoopy moms, famous film directors, YouTube celebrities, or anyone else.
That’s why collecting data here is CRITICAL. There are plenty of resources in these deep places, ranging from commercially valuable stocks of marine animals, to bubbling natural hydrocarbons, to methane hydrates, to brine pools, to underwater currents that act as filtration systems. All of this happens in the deep oceans all day, every day, and we are just beginning to take a peek. It’s a common saying during these live telecasts: “We just don’t know what we’re going to find!” Nothing better than that, exploration at its finest.