The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is the only federal organization dedicated to ocean exploration. By using unique capabilities in terms of personnel, technology, infrastructure, and exploration missions, OER is reducing unknowns in deep-ocean areas and providing high-value environmental intelligence needed by NOAA and the nation to address both current and emerging science and management needs.
Our expertise, work products, and services generally fall into the areas outlined below; however, none of these areas operate independently and it is only through leveraging resources internally and externally that we can truly achieve our mission.
In 2001, the Ocean Exploration Program was created within NOAA to lead ocean exploration, as defined by the President's Panel Report on Ocean Exploration as discovery through disciplined, diverse observations and recordings of findings.
At the forefront of our activities are research expeditions to explore previously unvisited areas of the ocean. We provide partnership coordination, funding, staff, tools, and expertise needed to develop mission plans that deliver rigorous, systematic observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean. Our work takes scientists and managers to high-priority, yet otherwise inaccessible, areas of the ocean, allowing them to make critical baseline observations and characterizations, deliver intelligence needed to better understand deep-water areas and more effectively target future research efforts, and transition ocean discoveries to research results that benefit society.
Within OER, we essentially operate under two paradigms for exploration: targeted exploration and telepresence-enabled systematic exploration.
Targeted exploration involves filling the "holes in the sea," where specific ocean regions or problems are identified and tackled. We work in partnership with academia, other government agencies, and the private sector to explore areas ripe for discovery where there has been little exploration to date. For example, expeditions based on programmatic and geographic areas of study include marine biodiversity, the Arctic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, exploring the ocean through time, and marine archaeology. OER sponsors these "targeted" exploration expeditions through opportunistic efforts that are topical, spatially and geographically focused, or occur over a specific time scale.
Systematic Telepresence-enabled Exploration
Systematic telepresence-enabled exploration involves the use of technology to expand the reach of research activities by allowing shore-based explorers of all backgrounds and ages access to the excitement of real-time discovery on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer without ever leaving their own computers. Using high-speed satellite and Internet 2 connections, scientists can remain on shore at Exploration Command Centers and guide or contribute to exploration plans and observations, communicating real-time with the shipboard scientists and technicians. Through standard Internet connections, anyone with a computer and web access can watch and listen in on operations aboard ship, bringing real-time exploration into living rooms, schools, laboratories, and businesses across the globe.
A legacy of high-quality imagery, high-definition video, 3D maps, and sensor data provides an initial characterization or "sense of place" of previously unexplored regions. Real-time video streams and publicly available data and products catalyze follow-up research, new technologies and methods, and innovative education and outreach programs. Real-time collaboration across the globe fosters national and international collaborations to explore the deep ocean, increasing the pace and efficiency of exploring.
In May 2011, OER hosted a workshop at the Coastal Institute on the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay campus with members of the science community and federal and state partners to discuss potential targets for systematic telepresence-enabled exploration in the Atlantic Basin, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The Atlantic Basin Workshop Summary (pdf 0.86 MB) summarizes the background, workshop objectives, key discussions, recommended targets and other important topics identified by the participants. Appendices are also included for additional information about the workshop and related activities.
Humans and the ocean have been intricately linked throughout history. By working with the science community to discover and characterize the vast and largely unknown repository of submerged cultural resources in U.S. waters and around the world, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is helping to fill the gaps in our knowledge and understanding of human history and culture.
We provide grants, develop partnerships, and work with the Okeanos Explorer program to support marine archaeology exploration. We place a strong emphasis on expanding the use of emerging undersea technologies and on supporting new methodologies.
OER follows the research standards and management practices of the Federal Archaeology Program and those enumerated in the Annex Rules of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Highlights of marine archaeology projects that we have been involved in include:
Even with technological advances, only a limited portion of the vast seafloor has actually been mapped. Consequently, seafloor mapping is an important part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research's (OER) expeditions, delivering high-resolution bathymetric maps and data for previously unexplored areas.
We are active participants in the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) Program. This NOAA partnership with other federal and state agencies is aimed at providing an integrated approach to perform comprehensive ocean and coastal mapping by coordinating mapping expeditions and making the data and resulting products publicly available to the broadest user base in common standards.
OER is involved with the IOCM Program in several ways:
Exploration often leads to discoveries that highlight areas, features, resources, and/or processes that are new to ocean science and need further study. Our work results in the establishment of baseline observations and characterizations in poorly understood areas of the ocean. OER's science team focuses on transitioning exploration and research results to new applications that benefit the rest of NOAA and the nation. Collected data are made available to the science and management communities, delivering the environmental intelligence needed to better understand deep-water areas and more effectively target future research efforts.
OER investments provide the basic scientific intelligence about our planet that is critical to making the right decisions to manage and protect our ocean resources and prepare for future environmental change.
Below are a few examples of the science projects that we have been involved in.
Marine biodiversity is the variability among living organisms in the ocean and Great Lakes. This variability exists at all levels of complexity from the genetic level, within species, and across ecosystems or biomes. In acknowledgement of the likely link between biodiversity and ecosystem resilience and in support of recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, OER supports projects that produce baseline biodiversity inventories.
For example, OER:
Coral Reefs Habitats
OER supports coral reef habitat exploration that entails describing and identifying deep-sea and shallow coral species; characterizing coral reef habitats; understanding reef functioning, trends, and processes; developing new tools to study and understand corals; and understanding fisheries and other human impacts.
Highlights of our efforts include:
The term "marine microbes" covers a diversity of microorganisms, including microalgae, bacteria and archaea, protozoa, fungi, and viruses. These organisms are exceedingly small-only 1/8000th the volume of a human cell and spanning about 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. Up to a million of them live in just one milliliter of seawater, and they comprise 98 percent of the biomass of the world's ocean.
As we learn more about the diversity of microorganisms and their associated biogeochemical processes, our view of the world's ocean ecosystem functioning is being transformed and the relevance of microbes to the discussion of ocean resiliency and marine resource management is becoming inevitable. OER is working to increase understanding of how microbes and microbial processes should be integrated into our biogeochemical and ecosystem health forecasts.
Highlights of OER efforts include:
Submarine Volcanism and Hydrothermal Venting
Over 80 percent of the Earth's volcanism occurs in the deep ocean. Although deep submarine eruptions are the most common means whereby heat and mass are transported from the hot interior of the Earth to its crustal surface, understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological ocean environmental impacts of these volcanic events is in its infancy. At present, there are no means to detect and locate deep volcanic eruptions using either land-based or ocean surface observational systems and to date, only a handful of active deep eruptions have been observed.
Through new and/or innovative application of ocean surveying, mapping, and monitoring technologies, OER seeks to discover how this planetary-scale process, along with associated hydrothermal venting, is impacting the oceanic water column and how it manifests conditions that sustain both micro- and macro-biological ecosystems.
Highlights of recent discoveries include:
Today's technologies allow us to explore the ocean in increasingly systematic, scientific, and noninvasive ways. The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) promotes the innovative use of existing technologies while investing in new technologies and state-of-the-art platforms and vehicles. We work both internally and externally, supporting technology activities onboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, in partnership with government agencies, academia, and the private sector. Our work is helping to build the scope of NOAA’s observational infrastructure that is critical to sustaining the environmental intelligence our citizens and businesses rely upon.
OER's technology goals are to:
Since our establishment in 2001, we have been involved in a wide range of technology activities that have helped enhance our ability to explore the ocean and deliver the reliable and authoritative science that is foundational to providing foresight about future conditions, enhancing resiliency, and informing the decisions we confront every day on this dynamic planet.
Below are a few examples of technological advancements that we have been involved in.
Task Force for Ocean Exploration and Research Technology and Infrastructure
The Task Force for Ocean Exploration and Research Technology and Infrastructure, or "TFORT," is an interagency task force established by the Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology Interagency Working Group on Ocean Partnerships (IWG-OP) to advise, assist, and make recommendations to the IWG-OP on policies, procedures, plans, and activities related to ocean exploration and undersea research technology and infrastructure.
OER co-chairs the Task Force with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences. Federal government members include NOAA, NASA, NSF, the Office of Naval Research, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
TFORT's five-year goals and priorities plan (pdf 2.5 MB) calls on the Task Force to:
For more information, download the TFORT presentation from the Marine Technology Society/IEEE Oceans 2013 Conference (pdf 6.7 MB).
Telepresence involves the use of satellite and high-speed Internet pathways to deliver data and information in real time to explorers who remain on shore, but can actively participate in expedition operations. Through many years of collaborative efforts, OER, the Institute for Exploration, and the University of Rhode Island (URI) have worked to determine the most effective and efficient application of this rapidly evolving technology for ocean science, exploration, education, and outreach. Over the years, we have developed and refined complex ship- and shore-based operating protocols; brought new ship- and shore-based telepresence systems online; and built the hub for this technology at URI, called the Inner Space Center.
Okeanos Explorer Multibeam Applications
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is outfitted with one of the very few deep-water multibeam sonars capable of collecting water column backscatter data. In 2009, using this sonar, the ship unexpectedly imaged a large plume of methane gas seeping into the water column at Mendocino Ridge off the coast of California. Partnering with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Joint Hydrography Center, a 2011 expedition in the Gulf of Mexico was conducted to follow up on this capability and test the feasibility of using sonar to map gases in the water column. With its increased swath width, the multibeam sonar offers the possibility of greatly increasing seep survey efficiency. In addition to detection and localization, the sonars on the Okeanos Explorer were assessed for their ability to provide information regarding the seep morphologies, general makeup, and relative densities.
Since initial testing, multibeam sonar on the ship has been used to also identify gas plumes along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. We continue to work with partner scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and BOEM to fully understand the implications of these discoveries for the scientific and resource management communities.
The National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, with contributions from OER, funded the development of the power system for the hybrid remotely operated vehicle, Nereus. An unmanned vehicle, Nereus was able to swim freely as an autonomous underwater vehicle to survey large areas of the depths, map the seafloor, and give scientists a broad overview. When Nereus located something interesting, the vehicle's support team was able to bring the vehicle back on board the ship and transform it into a remotely operated vehicle tethered to the ship via a micro-thin, fiber-optic cable. Through this tether, Nereus could transmit high-quality, real-time video images and receive commands from skilled pilots on the ship to collect samples or conduct experiments with a manipulator arm. Sadly, Nereus was lost during a 2014 expedition to study deep-sea trenches near New Zealand.
OER supported the development and application of the deep-sea observatory, Eye-in-the-Sea. This autonomous, battery-powered data logging, video capture, and illumination system can be placed on the seafloor and left for 24 to 48 hours to observe animal life in the dark depths with as little disturbance as possible. The system uses bioluminescence to its advantage. It can detect animals nearby when they give off bioluminescent light, trigger a video camera to record the light being produced, and then turn on a red light out of the animals' normal vision range. The result is the collection of illuminated footage without alerting the subject or scaring it away. The system can also be programmed to film surrounding areas at scheduled intervals. In the past, camera systems used on the seafloor have relied on bright lights, which frighten those creatures accustomed to the darkness of the deep.
In 2005, OER sponsored the Operation Deep Scope expedition to look into the deep ocean with new eyes and reveal new organisms, behaviors, visual adaptations, and fluorescent compounds using the Eye-in-the-Sea technology. Expedition results further our understanding of the organisms and habitats of the deep ocean, providing information needed to properly manage and protect important deep-sea environments.
Tethys In-site Mass Spectrometer
OER contributed to the development of the Tethys in situ mass spectrometer. Tethys is a small, self-contained mass spectrometer capable of operation to 5,000 meters depth. The Tethys instrument can quantitatively identify a wide range of hydrocarbons at trace concentrations (minimum limits of detection typically 500 parts per trillion) in the subsurface environment. Tethys has been successfully deployed on autonomous underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, towfish, manned submersibles, and with divers for a variety of purposes, including deep ocean scientific exploration and mapping missions as well as commercial offshore oil and gas leak detection and cleanup.
Geospatial data are considered a national capital asset. National policy and international standards guide data management best practices to ensure timely and broad public accessibility to these data.
Since the inception of NOAA's exploration program in 2001, OER data management has been guided by the 2000 President's Panel Report (pdf 16.8 MB) recommendations which prioritized rapid and unrestricted data sharing as one of five critical exploration program components. More recently, Public law 111-11 [Section XII Ocean Exploration] (pdf 1.26 MB) reinforced and expanded OER data management objectives, continuing to stress the importance of sharing unique exploration data and information to improve public understanding of the oceans, and for research and management purposes.
Data management practices are also informed by NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 212-15 Management of Environmental Data and Information, and by the Procedural Directives developed by the NOAA Environmental Data Management Committee to coordinate policy implementation.
The volume, diversity and uniqueness of scientific data and information collected during ocean exploration activities is extensive, and presents a unique data management challenge. An interdisciplinary data management partnership between OER, NOAA Data Centers, the NOAA Library and extramural partners formed a data management task force to ensure that the scientific data and information resulting from NOAA's exploration program are documented and widely accessible. This group began with an assessment and documented a systematic workflow, resulting in an overarching, "End-to End" (E2E) approach toward managing exploration information throughout the data lifecycle.
Since that time, data management tools and techniques have been developed to implement this E2E approach. These methods are available for review and are exchanged with the broader community, including the NOAA Environmental Data Management Committee (EDMC), the NSF Rolling Deck to Repository (R2R) Program, the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) Program and the related the NOAA R2R initiative.
The Cruise Information Management System (CIMS) is a workflow based data entry system that aggregates cruise planning information and produces Data Management Plans, ISO metadata records, and data management metrics. CIMS also integrates with to specialized systems including geospatial databases and systems for large-scale metadata record production for both bathymetry and video data collected on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.
The NOAA Central Library curates the OER document, video and image data collection, providing both online and onsite access to these important data assets. The Library also maintains an OER bibliography and provides a measure of the value of exploration to research through analysis of the citations of peer-reviewed publications resulting from ocean exploration.
The OER Digital Atlas presents a holistic view of OER expeditions in an online map. The Atlas map interface is a simple-to-operate Esri ArcGIS application that indexes the complex array of distributed information links that are uniquely associated with each cruise. Information is added to the Atlas interface over time as data quality control measures are completed, data are released, and publications, lesson plans and related materials are published. A data request form enables the public to submit specific requests for assistance in locating or accessing data that are not found online.
OER data are also directly available from the NOAA National Data Centers and from the data.gov geospatial data portal.
Operational data management aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer presents an optimal example of end-to-end data management, as defined by national and NOAA policies and international standards and as implemented by the OER data management task force. This exemplar is the result of the unique relationship aboard the ship, which relies on the close alliance between the exploration mission objectives and the ship's unique capabilities.
On the Okeanos Explorer, data management marries with telepresence technology to ensure rapid, standardized management of exploration data assets. For more information, read A Hybrid Approach to Data Acquistion and Management (pdf, 1.5 MB).
The shipboard repository server (SBRS) gathers data from shipboard acquisition systems into a standard data file structure, using standard file naming conventions. "Warehousing" the data in this way enables optimization of data quality assurance and documentation processes and supports rapid data throughput to data centers for preservation and stewardship.
A subset of data and information products created on the ship are moved from ship to shore via the ship's satellite connection to a shore-side repository server (SRS), which mirrors the SBRS. The SRS supports near real-time access to data for shore-side science participants, as well as public access to a subset of data and products through online maps and the NOAA Ocean Explorer website.
Multidisciplinary scientific data sets have been fully managed since the ship’s commissioning in 2008. Quality controlled data from Okeanos Explorer cruises, including bathymetry, water column and sea floor backscatter, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive locations and video, meteorological and oceanographic data from shipboard sensors, and summary reports are publically accessible from the Digital Atlas after a QA/QC and processing period of 60-90 days.
When the ship is underway, the Okeanos Explorer Atlas offers a near-real time view of Okeanos Explorer operations when the ship is at-sea. The ship position, ambient conditions, and data products generated aboard ship are periodically updated on the map. Post cruise, data are integrated into a geospatial database and provide a retrospective view of all cruises aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.
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The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is constantly reaching out in new ways to stakeholders to improve the literacy of learners of all ages with respect to ocean issues.
We strive to engage educators and students in learning more about ocean exploration and how they can use science, modern technology, and engineering practices associated with exploring the ocean in their classrooms. This requires high-quality, effective collaborations between ocean explorers and America's teachers to provide a variety of learning and teaching tools focused on the science of ocean exploration and discovery.
OER has developed a range of standards-based education materials to bring entire classrooms "on board" for deep-ocean exploration and discovery. Using new technological "eyes" to see, sense, measure, image, and describe the little-known ocean world, scientists and educators are bringing the excitement of late-breaking ocean discoveries into classrooms through lesson plans and curricula, Expedition Education Modules, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Education Materials Collection, and more.
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer offers unparalleled opportunities to the scientific and education communities for reaching out in new ways to improve ocean literacy in all ages and for enhancing awareness of Ocean Literacy Principle #7 ("The ocean is little explored").
As a first step to capitalizing on these opportunities and in celebration of the 2008 ship commissioning, a two-day Okeanos Explorer Education Forum was held at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Western Regional Center Campus in Seattle, Washington, with the goal of developing the building blocks for a five-year education program. For more information, download the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Education Forum Report (pdf, 808 kb).
OER serves to enhance education internally within NOAA through serving on the NOAA Education Council, working closely with the NOAA Office of Education and other NOAA Line Offices. Agency-wide collaborations are also developed to leverage funding and efforts to enhance ocean science literacy both within and outside of the agency.
OER has developed Alliance Partnerships with aquariums and science centers to offer ocean science and exploration professional development opportunities to educators nationwide. These day-long professional development offerings help build regional cadres of ocean exploration teacher leaders. Online professional development has also been offered in partnership with the College of Exploration.
In addition to the Education Alliance Partners, we have formed national partnerships with the Smithsonian Institution's Smithsonian Sant Ocean Hall National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Ocean Science Education Initiative, the Marine Technology Society, and Mystic Aquarium/South Carolina Aquarium/University of Rhode Island, among others.
In addition, OER staff serve on the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) Board of Directors, NMEA Editorial Committee, the NMEA Publications Committee, NSF Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence National Council, and various other committees and working groups at the national level.
We are committed to continued assessment of education program effectiveness and direction and to staying the course on future directions of NOAA and efforts in ocean science literacy at the national level. As such, our offerings are formatively and summatively evaluated.
In fall of 2003, OER began conducting Professional Development Institutes (PDIs) as part of our objective to increase ocean literacy across a range of audiences. The PDIs were conducted with a network of partnering institutions or Alliances Partners. Surveys containing quantitative and qualitative affective and demographic items were administered before and after to participants in the Learning Ocean Science through Ocean Exploration PDIs. This evaluation report (pdf, 425 kb) provides an analysis of the surveys for 2003 - 2007 and synthesis of the results.
NOAA's Designing Education Projects Professional Development Trainings are conducted for NOAA employees and partners through an online course and in-person workshop format. As part of the trainings, a variety NOAA programs were selected as examples for the training participants to follow. These examples were described in the form of a case study (pdf, 249 KB). OER's education program was chosen by NOAA as a case study to showcase how a NOAA program can align with the Targeting Outcomes of Programs (TOP) Model adopted by NOAA's Education Council. This case study highlights OER's education program's Professional Development Opportunities' goals and objectives and how the TOP Model (a Logic Model) (pdf, 40 KB), Evaluation Plan (pdf, 140 KB), and performance measures fit together and program outcomes are assessed using specific items targeting the program objectives.
Revised July 08, 2014 by the Ocean Explorer Webmaster
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