Welcome to the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2017 expedition! The team will be exploring the Gulf of Mexico from November 29 – December 21, 2017, using multibeam sonar and the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Deep Discoverer, to explore the seafloor. The 23-day expedition will focus on acquiring data on priority exploration areas identified by ocean management and scientific communities. Tune in to the live streams and explore with us!
From August 18, 2017, to September 3, 2017, the E/V Nautilus will be exploring the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), located along the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The sanctuary encompasses 3,189 square miles (8,260 km2), an area equivalent to the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It extends 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 km) from the shore, including most of the continental shelf, as well as three important submarine canyons: the Nitinat Canyon, the Quinault Canyon and the Juan de Fuca Canyon. The main objectives of this expedition are to explore and characterize seafloor resources and features associated with these submarine canyons. Quinault and Quileute Canyons have never been explored by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or autonomous underwater vehicle ( AUV).
During their 2015 Hohonu Moana expedition, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer discovered and mapped an unnamed seamount in the Central Pacific Ocean Basin (shown in the image above). The ship and scientists are now returning to this region, “Musician Seamounts”, to conduct additional mapping and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations over two consecutive cruises. These efforts will be focused north of the Hawaiian Islands, close to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM).
If the ocean is so unfathomably wide and deep, how can scientists possibly hope to do any more than dip our noses beneath the waves to explore? Luckily, engineers have adapted machines to reach areas of the ocean that would never be possible with a human alone. This is where remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, become essential tools of discovery.
To use an ROV, three pieces of technology are crucial. The first is the ship. This is where the scientists are conducting their research, and where the ROV pilot maneuvers the vehicle. The second piece is the tow sled. This piece of technology is used to absorb all of the movement associated with waves and currents, allowing the ROV to be stable. Lastly, is the ROV itself. The ROV and sled are tethered to their research vessel via fiber optic cabling. Through this system, the pilot can maneuver the ROV safely from the ship.
ROVs are designed to withstand the extreme cold and pressure of the deep ocean without malfunction. They are typically either colored yellow or white to stand out against the blues of the ocean, and are built out of materials that are resistant to many atmospheres of compression. ROVs are also balanced with the dense components on the underside, and the flotation portion on top, to offer more stability as it traverses the deep ocean. ROVs can also be equipped with a variety of tools to help them explore efficiently. Since the ocean continually gets darker the deeper one goes, all ROVs are equipped with extremely bright lights. Each ROV has a few high definition cameras that allows us to watch the ROV. They also have two lasers that are used for scale, generally they are 10 cm apart. Most vehicles have biofeedback manipulator arms that are used to gather samples. Some vehicles have a sample box to take bring samples up to the surface for more research.
These incredible machines are vital for scientists to explore parts of the ocean that would not otherwise be seen by human eyes. Tune into the live video feeds below to see ROVs in action, along with more exciting content!
From November 28 to December 5, 2016, the Inner Space Center (ISC) supported a science verification cruise for the R/V Sally Ride, one of two, new vessels in the U.S. Academic Research Fleet. These short cruises are intended to test the ship, crew, and science systems to make sure that all are in proper working order before the ship departs for its first research expedition. The Sally Ride was named after the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who was part of the space shuttle Challenger crew in 1983.
The ISC team tested the ship’s capabilities to support the Jason remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system as well as ship-to-shore telepresence technologies and protocols that will enable shore-based participation during ROV dives. Director of the ISC, Dr. Dwight Coleman, installed a mobile telepresence unit (MTU) on board. This unit allows for any ship to have telepresence capabilities.
During the cruise, ROV Jason was used for a variety of exploration activities. Geophysicist, Dr. Mark Zumberge, and his group from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, used Jason to attach geophysical sensors to the sea floor. Dr. Lisa Levin, also from Scripps, used the ROV system to continue biological survey of the seafloor around the Del Mar methane seep near San Diego, CA.
Along with ROV operations, the R/V Sally Ride was able to connect to the Birch Aquarium. Amanda Netburn, Bruce Applegate, and Dwight Coleman hosted live broadcasts to the aquarium’s new Sally Ride exhibit.
In the Marianas, the west-moving Pacific plate is forced beneath the Philippine plate as they collide, a process known as subduction. As a result, the region is characterized by many geological features including fault lines, earthquakes, volcanoes, cold seeps, hydrothermal vents, and mud volcanoes. Continue reading Okeanos Update: Team Dives Mud Volcanoes→
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!
Before the TREET project brought the Inner Space Center and its telepresence enabled scientific research to new highs and lows, before better practices brought new evaluated methodology, before the culture of at-sea science began to craft a new image for itself, Chris German, PhD, and his team were already getting after it. What’s “it?” Read on. Continue reading The Final Piece – Looking Forward to the Future→
So far in this organically growing series of exposés on the TREET project, I have covered two different perspectives, the early career scientist and the undergraduate researcher in training. I have now convinced two more invested souls to sit down with me and discuss their most fascinating theories and ideas. An expert scientist and an expert observer, who is also a scientist of the social kind. This piece is an observation on the observer. Continue reading Another Side of Science→
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