NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Maps Kawio Barat
June 24 marked the start of the first expedition where all of the sensors on Okeanos Explorer will work in unison to explore unknown depths in Indonesian waters. The hull mounted multibeam sonar (Kongsberg EM302, 30 kHz) will be used to collect data to produce baseline bathymetric maps, which ocean scientists including marine geologists, biologists, oceanographers and ecologists will use as a backdrop to study the seafloor. Kawio Barat was one of the first under-water seamounts mapped during this cruise. The impressive volcano rises some 3800 meters, or 11,800 feet, above the surrounding seafloor. Images from mapping results over Kawio Barat were shared with scientists based in Jakarta and Seattle in real time, from which CTD casts sites and ROV dive sites will be selected.
The Okeanos Explorer’s multibeam mapping system was the first major sensor to be tested after Okeanos Explorer was commissioned on August 13, 2008. During 2009, the ship continued mapping operations off of the US West Coast and Islands of Hawaii, mapping a total of 40,104 linear kilometers, which is equivalent to travelling one time around the earth. A total of 169,108 sq km (65,292 square miles) of the ocean floor was mapped during the 2008-2009 field season, which is roughly the size of the state of Wisconsin.
The sonar is capable of probing depths down to 7 kilometers and provides up to 8 kilometers of swath coverage. This means that with each ping of the sonar, up to 8 kilometers of the seafloor is mapped to a very high resolution. The multibeam data collected served a multitude of purposes and will continue to do so in coming years for disciplines varying from Marine Sanctuaries management to marine law implications and plate tectonics to marine archaeology.
Figure 3. Data acquisition screen: There is a lot of information to keep track of when standing watch at the multibeam acquisition station. Each piece of information provides unique and valuable details about the seafloor, which are used in the exploration decision making process. Click image for larger view and image credit.
ROV dive sites and geological targets are first selected from the high resolution maps generated with the multibeam data. The ROV then dives on these targets and provides high definition images and video of the mysterious seafloor. The quality of the video coming from the Little Hercules cameras is equivalent to the technology used to film the NFL Superbowl! With tele-presence capabilities onboard the ship, we can then share the results of exploration in real time with scientists on shore.
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