2016 – A Year in Review

It’s been another eventful year here at the Inner Space Center (ISC)! We outfitted two research vessels and a merchant vessel with telepresence technologies, and supported over 100 days of telepresence on the E/V Nautilus, and on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Our services facilitated the investigation the El Faro shipwreck, supported a 5-year study of submerged tribal cultural sites in Rhode Island Sound, and enabled the first ever telepresence broadcast from a manned submarine! During the summer, we hosted the next generation of deep-sea scientists at ISC Mission Control as they participated in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) dive-planning boot-camp. Meanwhile, the Nautilus and Okeanos Explorer continued their ground-breaking deep sea explorations of offshore California, and the Marianas region.

The Search for El Faro

The ISC team was credited with providing “invaluable assistance” in the search for the El Faro, a 790-foot cargo ship that was lost in transit from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, during Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015. The ISC team collaborated with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and WHOI to locate the ship’s “black box” (voyage data recorder). Required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), voyage data recorders are tamper-safe devices that record and save data relating to the position, command and condition of a ship over the period and following an incident. Dr. Dwight Coleman, Director of the ISC, assisted in installing telepresence technologies on WHOI’s ship, the R/V Atlantis, and at NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. These technologies allowed images of the wreck to be transferred in real-time from the ocean floor, to the investigation team based in NTSB headquarters. The new systems also allowed for efficient two-way communication between the Atlantis and on-shore investigators. The black box was successfully recovered on April 26, 2016. NTSB released the voyage data recorder’s transcripts to the public on December 13th, 2016.

The team created high resolution maps of the seafloor, and ultimately the voyage data recorder was located in a search zone designated as “high probability” during NTSB’s first mission last fall. Image courtesy of NTSB and WHOI.

Outfitting Telepresence on the R/V Endeavor

In early June, the ISC team outfitted URI/GSO’s R/V Endeavor with a mobile telepresence unit (MTU) to support a four-day expedition to identify submerged Native American cultural sites in Rhode Island Sound. This expedition is part of a five-year project by University of Rhode Island/Graduate School of Oceanography (URI/GSO) professor of marine geology, Dr. John W. King, to identify and preserve submerged tribal cultural sites. For more information about his project, visit the URI/GSO website.

The team of scientists, students, and agency officials studying submerged native american sites on board the R/V Endeavor. Image courtesy of All Nations Global Solutions.

First Real-Time Underwater Broadcasts from a Manned Submersible

In August 2016, Dr. Dwight Coleman and the ISC’s Media Editor, Alex DeCiccio, installed telepresence technologies on the merchant vessel (M/V) Alucia and it’s Triton submersible, Nedir, allowing for the first ever real-time underwater broadcasts from a manned submersible! Once the telepresence systems were installed, Dr. Coleman tested them by conducting a live interaction between the Alucia, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA. The Alucia broadcasts were available for live streaming on YouTube, and on the Alucia, and ISC websites.

ISC director Dr. Dwight Coleman and ISC’s Media Editor, Alex DeCiccio enable teleprescence on the  M/V Alucia’s Triton Submersible, Nedir. Image by Alex DeCiccio, Panama, August 2016.

Training the Next Generation of Scientists

In early August, the ISC hosted 24 early-career scientists who were part of a two-week, WHOI, deep water training experience. During this program, early career scientists were trained in the planning and leadership of deep water exploration expeditions, using submersibles. At any time during the expedition half of the scientists were on the R/V Atlantis off the coast of Cape Cod and Nantucket, Massachusetts, and half were at ISC Mission Control in Rhode Island. On board the Atlantis, scientists planned ROV dives to collect samples and observations from methane seeps and deep water coral communities off the coast of New England. The early-career scientists also learned how to use human operated vehicle (HOV) Alvin, and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry. Two at a time, the young scientists and a pilot boarded Alvin and dove to the bottom of the sea-floor. Telepresence connections enabled ship to shore communication, supporting everyone’s safety and diverse interests. The ISC team broadcasted the Atlantis dives live on the ISC website and YouTube channel.

Early career scientists plan a dive together from the R/V Atlantis and ISC Mission Control, using telepresence technologies to connect with scientists at WHOI in Massachusetts. Image courtesy of the Inner Space Center.

Deepwater Exploration with the R/V Nautilus

The ISC team continued to support video and data streams from the E/V Nautilus throughout the 2016 field season. The video below shows some highlights from the season, including underwater footage of a playful sea lion!

The Nautilus‘s first expedition of the season began in May, 2016.  In partnership with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), the Nautilus team helped to install and recover fiber-optic cables in support of NEPTUNE ocean observatories. These cables will provide power and data flow for advanced cabled ocean observatories off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, and in the Arctic. During this cruise the Nautilus team also conducted the first ever dive on the wreck of the SS Coast Trader, a merchant vessel sunk by the Japanese Imperial Navy at the beginning of World War II (WWII).

Hercules view of a NEPTUNE observatory node. Image courtesy of the Ocean Exploration Trust and Ocean Networks Canada.

Nautilus continued its field season off the Pacific Northwest coast, in the Cascadia Margin. For this expedition, the team partnered with the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) to study active methane seeps, and the unique communities they support. In the study region, from southern British Columbia to northern California, the team identified over 500 methane seeps through multibeam sonar! ROVs later dove on many of the newly-mapped seeps.

ROV Hercules uses a gas-tight sampler to collect methane bubbles to help scientists determine the methane’s source. Image courtesy of the Ocean Exploration Trust.

The Nautilus team spent late June through early July, 2016 mapping and imaging a series of deep underwater submarine (underwater) canyons off the coast of central California. Scientists are interested in the geology of this region because the lesser disturbed seafloor sediment may hint at the historical climate of our planet. Likewise, the organisms of this region (like the adorable flapjack octopus featured below) were of interest due to their ability to live in a low-oxygen, acidic environment. 

In July, the Nautilus team mapped and explored deep water coral gardens in the vicinity of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS). The team also imaged Arguello Canyon, located off the coast of Point Conception, CA. A region recognized for its maritime history by the indigenous  Chumash people, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council is considering Arguello Canyon for designation as a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Data collected by the Nautilus will help the council finalize their decision to designate the canyon as a marine sanctuary. 

A mysterious purple orb found in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Image courtesy of the Ocean Exploration Trust.

Off the coast of Los Angeles, CA, is one of the most tectonically active areas offshore of California, where the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate slide against each other forming the San Andreas fault system. From late July through early August, the Nautilus team explored the biodiversity and geology of the San Andreas region.

A Stubby Squid looks a ROV Hercules with its big googly eyes. Image courtesy of the Ocean Exploration Trust.

The Nautilus wrapped up its 2016 field season in late August by exploring the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS), and mapping the California Borderland from San Diego to San Francisco, CA. Recently expanded, the Greater Farallones region contains over 400 shipwrecks, and incredible animal biodiversity. During the final stretch of the 2016 field season, the Nautilus team explored three shipwrecks: the historic steam yacht Ituna, the freighter Dorothy Windermote, and the World War Two aircraft carrier Independence!

Exploring the Deep with the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer started its field season in February 2016, continuing its 2015 exploration of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), just west of the Hawaiian archipelago. Despite challenging weather, the Okeanos team was the first ever to explore three unnamed seamounts within the monument, and recorded the deepest remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive in the area!

“Casper” the octopus. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research, 2016 Hohonu Moana: Exploring Deep Waters.

In April, the Okeanos Explorer team began their second expedition of the 2016 field season: 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas. Using telepresence technologies, the team collected baseline data on the biodiversity and geology of in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM). Knowledge gained from this expedition can be used to make important management decisions regarding deep-sea mining and fishing. Dozens of potential new species were discovered, and many species were seen alive for the first time, such as the Aphyonid fish pictured below. Geological discoveries included a newly-mapped mud volcano in the Marianas region, and the first petit-spot volcano found in U.S. waters. In addition, the Okeanos team led an effort to locate lost B-29 bombers from WWII.

Aphyonid fish seen alive for the first time during 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research.

The 2016 Deepwater Exploration of Wake was Okeanos Explorer‘s third and final expedition of the 2016 field season. Representing true exploration, the Okeanos team conducted the first ever ROV dives in this region. Forty-one potentially new species were collected, and 20 geological samples were taken. Imaging and samples collected will help develop baseline knowledge of the geology and biology of the region. The team also explored the newly discovered shipwreck of the WWII Japanese water-tanker, the Amakasu Maru No. 1.

Remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Deep Discoverer, comes upon the bow of the Amakasu Maru No.1. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Wonders of Wake.

Be sure to stay tuned for updates on another exciting season of ocean exploration!

For more 2016 field season highlights, visit the ISC, NOAA Ocean Explorer, and Nautilus Live YouTube channels.

-The ISC Team

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