Completed on July 10th, leg three of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer‘s EX1605 expedition was chock-full of discoveries. The Okeanos‘s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) conducted 22 dives, exploring many recently-mapped sites in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM). They ventured where no ROVs have dove before.
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.
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.
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