How little is known about our ocean is a fact many agree on, however scientists are actively working to bridge the gap between the unknown and discovery. Right now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Exploration and Research (NOAA OER) began the third cruise of their current research expedition. Aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Deep Discoverer and Seirios, scientists are well on their way to meeting their goals for this trip. The area undergoing daily exploration is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the Marianas Trench National Monument (MTMNM) in the western Pacific. The latter area is under NOAA’s protection, based on inferences that there may be unique features within its depths. Gathering baseline data and learning more about what these areas contain will enable effective conservation initiatives.
In its second season of Pacific exploration, the E/V Nautilus has been busy mapping and exploring along the western coasts of Canada and the U.S., from Vancouver Island to southern California. The third leg of the 2016 season is currently underway, and will continue from June 27 to July 2, 2016.
The current (third) leg of the Nautilus’ expedition season is focused on the central California region, an area rich in both geological and biological components. Exploration goals include remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives to investigate deep sea canyons, seamounts, and rocky banks. Some highlights of this expedition will include looking at the deep sea communities from Bodega Canyon to Point Dume as well as exploring the oxygen minimum zones around the Santa Barbara Basin and Channel Islands. Oxygen minimum zones are regions of the ocean in which dissolved oxygen in seawater is at its lowest, usually occurring from 200-1,000m. Organisms found in these regions will be of high interest to researchers due to their ability to adapt to low oxygen conditions in addition to a lack of sunlight and other extreme factors associated with the deep sea environment. The E/V Nautilus will also revisit a site with a large methane seep that was first discovered during the vessel’s 2015 expedition. This site is home to several different bacterial mats and clam beds and is being revisited to complete a geochemical map of the seep.
Later this season, the E/V Nautilus will be travelling to several other locations along the U.S. Pacific coast, including the Southern California Margin as well as the Channel Islands and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. Watch the ROV camera feeds and hear scentist dialogues in real time at http://innerspacecenter.org/live-video/nautilus-live/.
Scientists on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer were thrilled to see a species of sea star alive for the first time in history. The six-rayed sea star, Rhipidaster (confirmed over phone by Chris Mah from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), was found at Supply Reef, an active submarine volcano within the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. The sea star was last catalogued by scientists over 150 years ago in 1860, when a dead specimen was found. Now, not one, but three of these remarkable sea stars were seen during a June 23, 2016, ROV dive, implying that the species has been living all this time. The fact that this species was seen in an unexpectedly biodiverse region speaks volumes of what else may be awaiting discovery beneath our oceans’ depths. The ship’s mission is far from over. Participating scientists are excited to see what other unexpected discoveries remain to be revealed!
The EX1605L1 leg of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer‘s trip to the Marianas was captivating, to say the least! From new species of jellyfish, to hydrothermal vent chimneys, this exploration leg was jam-packed with discoveries.
Okeanos started this cruise leg near Guam, then moved towards the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Marianas Trench is known as the deepest part of the ocean, at almost 11,000 meters deep! The intention behind this cruise leg was to gather baseline knowledge of the biodiversity and geology of the area. The NOAA team onboard used their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer, “D2” to explore the area.
As always, the Inner Space Center at URI published those streams in real-time to YouTube and scientists worldwide. Some dives attracted as many as 2,500 simultaneous viewers.
The biology encountered in the Marianas was phenomenal! The cruise leg started off with a six-gill shark sighting at Santa Rosa Reef.
We discovered a wide variety of creatures inhabiting the area:
One of the most enthralling discoveries was a new species of jellyfish! This hydromedusa was found at Enigma Seamount at roughly 3,700 meters:
The Okeanos Explorer also made some great geological discoveries. They explored a newly-discovered hydrothermal vent site boasting one of the highest temperatures recorded in the Marianas region: 339 degrees Celsius. (Most of the deep sea is a chilly 2 degrees Celsius.) The 30-meter chimney base was releasing black “smoke” made up of iron and anhydrite precipitate.
There were also young lava flows that had created glassy pillow mounds. The area was so new that no animals had yet colonized the area.
That’s a wrap for Leg 1! Come back for more deepwater exploration on June 17th!
For more details about individual dives visit the NOAA Okeanos Explorer website.
Videos and images courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.
Welcome explorers! The 2016 Nautilus Expedition begins tomorrow, so make sure you tune in! The feeds will be live tomorrow at NautilusLive.org. You’ll also be able to watch the Hercules and Argus cameras here, once we’ve made sure the streams are working perfectly over at the Nautilus Live website. Continue reading 2016 E/V Nautilus Expedition Begins!
The Inner Space Center (ISC) has been working in conjunction with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the sinking of the El Faro cargo ship. The 790-foot cargo ship sank off the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015. Continue reading Inner Space Center helps locate black box from El Faro shipwreck
The Inner Space Center (ISC) works with a lot of different technologies to get the job done. This week we are going to take a deeper look into multibeam sonar! Continue reading Technology Spotlight: Multibeam Sonar
Starting February 24, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will be leaving port in Hawaii to start their field season exploring waters of the Hawaiian Islands. The NOAA team will start their expedition in Pearl Harbor and will end the cruise leg at Kwajalein Atoll. Continue reading 2016 Okeanos Explorer Field Season – Hohonu Moana
From September 2nd, to September 6th, several members of our URI GSO Inner Space Center team sailed aboard the R/V Endeavor. We were joined by scientists (from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography), high school teachers, and members of the United States Coast Guard Academy. Everyone onboard came out to sea for our Rhode Island Shipwrecks project.
Recently, I joined up with local up-and-coming researcher, Brennan Phillips, on an expedition to the remote waters of the Solomon Islands. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find great article on the work. A huge thank you goes to local legend Todd McLeish for writing the piece.
All images in this article are © Alex DeCiccio. Continue reading Investigating an Underwater Volcano