Spotlight: Okeanos Explores the Deep Pacific … & You Can Too

This is really cool stuff, folks!

The NOAA research vessel Okeanos is exploring the deep sea in the remote Pacific Ocean this month, and they’re livestreaming it nearly every day. You, too, can explore the deep sea; just click here to livestream at your desk any day through March 29!

AA-Okeanos-flower star_RBrittin
screengrab by R Brittin

In this expedition, NOAA researchers are collecting “critical baseline information about unknown and poorly known deepwater areas in the Howland and Baker Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.”

The ROV dives are planned, weather permitting, most days through March 27, typically from about 8 am to 5 pm WST (March 7 – March 26, from 2 pm to 11 pm EDT).

Here are some snaps from dives earlier this week. The first three are courtesy Rachel Brittin; the rest were screen-grabbed by us.

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Check out what they’ve found on past expeditions – but a warning – this can be addictive!

NOAA Okeanos past explorations photos, videos, information.

Spotlight: Exploring the oceans – “there’s still 97 percent”

“Only the ocean remains as the last great unexplored portion of our globe; so it is to the sea that man must turn to meet the last great challenge of exploration this side of outer space.”
–Deep Challenge (1966) by H. B. Stewart

Marine biologist David Gallo brings the mind-bending world of ocean exploration alive in his latest talk about the fascinating and largely unexplored undersea world. As he notes, “Today we’ve only explored about 3 percent of what’s out there in the ocean. Already we’ve found the world’s highest mountains, the world’s deepest valleys, underwater lakes, underwater waterfalls … . There’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.”

Watch this – it’s entrancing:

Gallo and his team, NOAA’s Ocean Explorer teams, Dr. Edith Widder, and so many more, are among those who’ve been exploring the oceans’ depths for years. This year is a pivotal time in deep sea exploration – with James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge, Richard Branson’s Virgin Oceanic and Dr. Sylvia Earle’s DOER marine all aiming to explore at the ocean’s deepest point – the fabled Mariana Trench. Before James Cameron reached the bottom of the Trench last month, there had been a 52 year drought — only Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh had done it before — in 1960.

With this ocean-oriented race to the bottom, we’re surely on the brink of  vast and astonishing discoveries of life in the least-hospitable, oxygen-starved depths of our planet.

Follow ocean explorers’ Twitter feeds on our ocean explorations list.

Pic o’ the week – dusky dolphin ballet

A dusky dolphin goes perpendicular to a New Zealand sea.

These dolphins,Lagenorhynchus obscurus, are found in coastal waters of the southern
hemisphere, and are known for their masterful acrobatics.

Lovely photo by Dr. Mridula Srinivasan, courtesy NOAA/NMFS

Pic o’ the week – unidentified deep sea fish

This curious creature, seen in Indonesian waters in the Sangihe Talaud Region, has not yet
been definitively identified by scientists.

The Little Hercules ROV captured this image of what scientists think is an anglerfish during dives from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in Indonesia. Scientists are working to further identify this creature and many others they encountered this summer during the INDEX 2010 Exploration – a joint expedition between American and Indonesian researchers.

As expedition coordinator Jeremy Potter wrote,

“We expect to make discoveries that will advance our understanding of undersea ecosystems, particularly those associated with submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. The geographical area of operation is located entirely within the ‘Coral Triangle Region’, the global heart of shallow-water marine biodiversity. This will also be the first time scientists use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to get even a glimpse of deepwater biodiversity in the waters of the Sangihe Talaud Region.”

The folks at NOAA also sent us this close-up photo, which shows this expedition’s remarkable photography capabilities:

Images courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

The Gulf’s deepwater corals

The New York Times has an excellent article today discussing state of science and research about deepwater corals in the Gulf of Mexico.

As we’ve blogged, the site of the BP oil disaster has been explored and mapped to some degree by NOAA – some of it funded by the Minerals Management Service.

During last fall’s deepwater expedition in the area, researchers were energized by the forests of deepwater Lophelia they found – it’s a type of coral that can be a vital foundation species to the health of the oceans. But much remains (remained?) to be discovered at depth there.

“We know 1 percent of what’s out there in deep waters — perhaps 1 percent,” said Dr. Billy Causey of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries.

Lophelia pertusa, black coral (right), anemones, and squat lobster, Gulf of Mexico.
Image courtesy of Ian MacDonald, Lophelia II 2009 expedition.

life in the Gulf’s Mississippi Canyon

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon’s well is spewing 5,000 gallons of oil a day into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon. Engineers try to build a dome over the gusher, while others work on digging a “relief” well nearby in a bid to stop the flow.

Today we revisit some of the sealife that NOAA and the US Minerals Management Service have documented so far in the their four-year series of deep sea explorations in the Gulf.


Above, an example of the Mississippi Canyon 751 site (near Deepwater Horizon well) where coral and cold seep habitats intersect. On the left is the gorgonian coral Callogorgia americana. On the right is the seep tubeworm. From Lophelia II expedition, 2009.



Lophelia pertusa coral from the Mississippi Canyon 751 site at approximately 450 m depth. From Lophelia II expedition, 2009.



Tubeworms living on the same piece of carbonate rock as large colonies of the gorgonian Callogorgia Americana americana. Note the brittle stars and a galatheid crab crawling on the gorgonians. Photo by Derk Bergquist.


Iceworms (Hesiocaeca methanicola) infest a solid piece of orange methane ice at 540 m depth in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Ian MacDonald. Both above photos from Expedition to the Deep Slope, 2006.


 

Photos courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Research and Exploration


Pic o’ the week – bioluminescent jellyfish

Our ocean pic of the week — a planktonic jellyfish with bright green fluorescent tentacles. The red fluorescence in the middle of the jellyfish is from chlorophyll in a recent meal of algae.

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Islands in the Stream 2002

This pic is from NOAA’s Operation Deep Scope 2005 Expedition – a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters off Florida.

Some scientists on the expedition set out to study light in the ocean – color, fluorescence, polarization, vision and bioluminescence.

Dr. Edith Widder, a senior scientist on the trip, said her first sight of luminescence in the ocean’s depths changed her life:

“Seeing lights in the ocean – the living lights of bioluminescence observed from a submersible – is the event that set me on my uncommon career path … I was also convinced that bioluminescence had to be one of the most beautiful and important phenomena in the ocean. It seemed like it was everywhere and there was so much of it.”

Image courtesy Dr. Mikhail Matz and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration & Research