Gulf of Mexico 2012




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While it's nearly impossible to get a picture with all expedition participants, this image captures the mission personnel who were on board NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the third and final cruise leg of the 2012 Gulf of Mexico Expedition.

While it's nearly impossible to get a picture with all expedition participants, this image captures the mission personnel who were on board NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the third and final cruise leg of the 2012 Gulf of Mexico Expedition.


The 2012 Gulf of Mexico Expedition is brought to a close

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 29, 2012

Mapping data was acquired during the ship's transit to port today, until the ship reached 50 meter water depth at which time the sonar systems were secured. The ship pulled into Galveston, TX in the morning and was moored pier-side by 10am, officially bringing the cruise to a close. Crew and mission personnel are busy finalizing documents, wrapping up end of cruise items and preparing for departure home.

 


 

Image showing the bathymetry data acquired by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the third Gulf of Mexico Expedition cruise leg. In total, 15,106.9 square kilometers were mapped - an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Image showing the bathymetry data acquired by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the third Gulf of Mexico Expedition cruise leg. In total, 15,106.9 square kilometers were mapped - an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.


Mapping and Wrapping Up Cruise Items

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 28, 2012

A planned dive to the north of Keathley Canyon was cancelled today due to high winds and heavy seas. The ship spent the day mapping an area south of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Personnel spent much of the day wrapping up cruise items in preparation for coming into port tomorrow, and an end of cruise meeting was held for mission personnel on the bow, during which they were thanked for their hard work during the cruise.

 


 

The Seirios camera sled images NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer personnel and deck hands during recovery following the last dive of the cruise on April 28th at Keathley Canyon.

The Seirios camera sled images NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer personnel and deck hands during recovery following the last dive of the cruise on April 28th at Keathley Canyon.


Dive 13 at Keathley Canyon

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 27, 2012

Dive 13 was conducted today, climbing a portion of the lower western wall of the Keathley Canyon. Starting at a depth of roughly 2035 meters, a sedimented seafloor with no outcrops persisted. Only one small rocky hardground was encountered during the dive. Despite the relatively featureless seafloor, a number of interesting animals and fascinating interactions were observed, including: sea pens, a variety of deep-sea corals and associates, sea stars predating on corals, a variety of sea cucumbers and fish (including an ipnops fish with photoreceptors on the top of its head instead of eyes), and sponges with a pair of amphipods trapped in their spicules.

 


 

NOAA's Seirios Camera Platform, operating above the Little Hercules ROV, images the anchor and remnants of a copper-sheathed shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico. The wood has nearly all disintegrated after more than a century on the seafloor.

NOAA's Seirios Camera Platform, operating above the Little Hercules ROV, images the anchor and remnants of a copper-sheathed shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico. The wood has nearly all disintegrated after more than a century on the seafloor.


Dive 12 on Shipwreck 15577

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 26, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 26 ROV dive.

Dive 12 was conducted today on a recently mapped but never-before seen shipwreck located to the northeast of Keathley Canyon. After spending part of the day mapping with the expectation that the dive may have to be cancelled due to weather, the winds and seas settled down and the ship agreed to turn the ship around and conduct the dive at night. The ROV reached the seafloor shortly after 8 pm and revealed the remnants of a copper-sheathed ship, likely from the early 19th century. While most of the wood has long since disintegrated, the oxidized copper sheathing remained along with a variety of artifacts. These artifacts included plates, glass bottles (some with the contents still sealed inside), guns, cannons, the ship’s stove, navigational instruments, and anchors. This was a spectacular dive that represented a truly remarkable find.

 


 

A brittlestar wraps itself around a soft coral (Paramuricea).

A brittlestar wraps itself around a soft coral (Paramuricea).


Dive 11 up the Sigsbee Escarpment

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 25, 2012

Dive 11 was conducted today on the Sigsbee Escarpment, exploring the steep, south facing slope from approximately 2090 to 1830 meters depth. Steep to vertical cliffs dominated slope areas deeper than 1900m. Occasional steps in the slope and rock fragments provided habitat for deep-water corals and associates. The slope above 1900m was more gentle, with predominantly sedimented seafloor. Outcrops provided homes to occasional corals, anemones, encrusting sponges and other organisms. Today's dive represented the first look at deep-water coral communities in this region.

 


 

Two red Anthomastus octocoral (a large one and small one), a squat lobster (Munidopsis sp.), an anemone, and several shrimp on a rocky outcrop.

Two red Anthomastus octocoral (a large one and small one), a squat lobster (Munidopsis sp.), an anemone, and several shrimp on a rocky outcrop. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 10 near Sigsbee Escarpment

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 24, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 24 ROV dive.

Dive 10 was conducted today at the Sigsbee Escarpment. The dive focused on climbing the northeastern flank of a large salt dome. Outcrops were encountered, including some with small exposures of asphalt. Other outcrops consisted of carbonate hardgrounds, inhabited by a variety of sessile animals: soft corals, isolate tubeworms, sponges and anemones. Three frogfish and a giant isopod were associated with one cluster of carbonate hardgrounds that was also colonized by sessile fauna.

 


 

Mission personnel spent much of the day catching up on work, and as the seas settled down in the evening, time on deck enjoying the sunset.

Mission personnel spent much of the day catching up on work, and as the seas settled down in the evening, time on deck enjoying the sunset. Click image for larger view and credit.


Mapping Mississippi Canyon

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 23, 2012

Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive operations were again cancelled due to heavy seas. The ship headed east and spent much of the day acquiring mapping data in the Mississippi Canyon, south of Terrebone Bay, Louisiana. Approximately 450 square kilometers were added to previous mapping coverage. By the end of the day, the seas were settling down, and personnel on board were getting anxious to put the ROV back in the water.

 


 

Mapping Team Lead, Adam Skarke, conducts an XBT cast. The XBT measures temperature through the water column. XBT software calculates sound velocity, which is applied to the Multibeam data for accurate measure of bathymetry.

Mapping Team Lead, Adam Skarke, conducts an XBT cast. The XBT measures temperature through the water column. XBT software calculates sound velocity, which is applied to the multibeam data for accurate measure of bathymetry. Click image for larger view and credit.


Mapping Along the Sigsbee Escarpment

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 22, 2012

Today's remotely operated vehicle dive was cancelled due to heavy seas. Mission personnel spent much of the day catching up on reports and paperwork, while the ship conducted mapping operations. We spent the day acquiring multibeam and single beam data along the Sigsbee Escarpment, approximately 100 nautical miles south of Terrebone Bay, Louisiana, and added approximately 350 square kilometers to previous seafloor coverage.

 


 

rainage channels filled with brine (the cloudy material) feed a small pool with a live eelpout in it at Green Canyon lease block 470.

Drainage channels filled with brine (the cloudy material) feed a small pool with a live eelpout in it at Green Canyon lease block 470. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 09 in Green Canyon Lease Block 470

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 21, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 21 ROV dive.

Dive 09 was conducted in Green Canyon lease block 470. Operations were concentrated around the top of a roughly round topographic high – perhaps the crest of a surfacing salt dome. A predominantly extinct brine pool and many small drainage channels were observed during the dive, presumably the remnants of old brine flow features. Small amounts of brine were also observed, including the small pool shown in the image, with a live eelpout in it. Note the drainage channels filled with brine (the cloudy material) feeding the small pool.

 


 

Small mounds/vents/volcanoes around the periphery of a brine pool rose small heights (cm) from the seafloor. Some of these volcanoes, like the one in the image, were emitting gas, probably also mixed with liquid hydrocarbons and brine.

Small mounds or volcanoes around the periphery of a brine pool rose small heights (centimeters) from the seafloor. Some of these volcanoes, like the one in the image, were emitting gas, probably also mixed with liquid hydrocarbons and brine. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 08 at Ewing Bank 915

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 20, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 20 ROV dive.

Dive 08 was conducted in Green Canyon at lease block Ewing 915, an area of suspected carbonate hard grounds, seeps, and associated biological communities. We saw evidence for intermittent escape of gas, perhaps motivated by seafloor disturbance by fish. The most spectacular geologic features related to a brine pool the remotely operated vehicle observed and surveyed near the end of the dive. Around the periphery of that pool, small mounds or "volcanoes," perhaps composed of precipitated salts, rose small heights (centimeters) from the seafloor. Some of these volcanoes, one of which is shown in the image, were emitting gas, probably also mixed with liquid hydrocarbons (which we saw escaping the seafloor nearby) and brine. We hypothesize that the small brown crusts around the "volcano" are either chemically precipitated salts and/or related to bacterial constructions of some kind.

 


 

A giant snake eel pokes its head out of the scupper tube of an old shipwreck lying on the Gulf of Mexico's deep seafloor. Lollipop sponges and several different kinds of anemones inhabit the wooden planking of the wreck.

A giant snake eel pokes its head out of the scupper tube of an old shipwreck lying on the Gulf of Mexico's deep seafloor. Lollipop sponges and several different kinds of anemones inhabit the wooden planking of the wreck. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 07 Is Conducted at Site 359

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 19, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 19 ROV dive.

Dive number seven was conducted today at site 359 - a large, stoutly built and remarkably intact mid to late 19th or early 20th century wooden-hulled sailing ship covered with life. Although deteriorating, the wooden hull is thought to be the best-preserved wooden shipwreck yet discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists participated in the dive from all over the U.S., including the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; Silver Spring, Maryland; Houston, Texas; Louisiana State University; and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

 


 

NOAA's Seirios camera platform images the Little Hercules ROV during a seafloor encounter with a skate.

NOAA's Seirios camera platform images the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle during a seafloor encounter with a skate. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 06 South of the Biloxi Dome

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 18, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the April 18 ROV dive.

The sixth remotely operated vehicle dive of the cruise was conducted today at a site located south of the Biloxi Dome, where sonar data acquired by the ship in 2011 suggested relatively strong indicators of gas seeps in the water column. During the dive, we located and ground-truthed the source of the gas seeps seen in the sonar data and explored new seafloor habitats.

 


 

Gas bubbles from a natural seep rise up in front of a calibrated grid added to the front of the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle, enabling the collection of imagery data that will allow scientists to assess sizes and rates of bubble escape from a seep.

Gas bubbles from a natural seep rise up in front of a calibrated grid added to the front of the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle, enabling the collection of imagery data that will allow scientists to assess sizes and rates of bubble escape from a seep. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 05 at Pascagoula Salt Dome

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 17, 2012

The fifth remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive of the cruise was conducted today at the Pascagoula Salt Dome. A calibrated grid was added to the front of the ROV, enabling us to collect imagery data of seeps with our high-definition video cameras that will allow scientists to assess sizes and rates of bubble escape from a natural seafloor gas seep. Measurements were conducted at several natural seep sites where bubbles of gas rise up from the seafloor.

 


 

A 'methane bucket' capture device added to the front of the Little Hercules ROV with gas hydrate at the top of the cylinder. During ascent, the hydrate was seen to sublimate into gas and expand in volume, filling the gas cylinder.

A 'methane bucket' capture device added to the front of the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle with gas hydrate at the top of the cylinder. During ascent, the hydrate was seen to sublimate into gas and expand in volume, filling the gas cylinder. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 04 at the Pascagoula Salt Dome

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 16, 2012

The fourth remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive of the cruise was conducted today at the Pascagoula Salt Dome to quantitatively assess the flux of gas from a natural seafloor gas seep. The ROV descended to a known seep approximately 1,125 meters deep and captured rising gas bubbles in a 'methane bucket' over a known period of time, until the cylinder was 10-20 percent full. As the gas bubbles were captured, gas hydrate was observed forming at the top of the clear acrylic 'methane bucket.' The ROV then ascended through the water column with the gas hydrate, and during ascent, the hydrate was seen to sublimate into gas and expand in volume, filling the gas cylinder.

 


 

Multibeam bathymetry data showing DeSoto Canyon (right) and Salt Domes (middle) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. EM302 bathymetry data acquired by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during five cruises in 2011 and 2012.

Multibeam bathymetry data showing DeSoto Canyon (right) and Salt Domes (middle) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. EM302 bathymetry data acquired by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during five cruises in 2011 and 2012. Click image for larger view and credit.


Mapping New Seafloor Areas...

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 15, 2012

Today's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive was cancelled due to a leaking seal on the gas capture cylinder affixed to the front of the ROV. While the ROV team spent the day redesigning the seal on the cylinder, the ship headed west and mapped new areas in the vicinity of Breton Spur, adding approximately 850 square kilometers to the previous days' bathymetric coverage.

 


 

The Little Hercules ROV, outfitted with a 'methane bucket' capture device, captures gas bubbles percolating up from a seafloor gas seep.

The Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle, outfitted with a 'methane bucket' capture device, captures gas bubbles percolating up from a seafloor gas seep. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 03 at the Biloxi Salt Dome, Site B

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 14, 2012

Following reconnaissance dives on Thursday and Friday at two sites on the Biloxi salt dome, today we returned to a seep at site "BiloxiB" to conduct our first flux measurement experiment. A 'methane bucket' capture device was added to the front of the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle, and an experiment conducted to attempt to estimate the amount of flux from a seep site.

 


 

Bubbles from a gas seep are imaged by the high definition cameras on the Little Hercules ROV.

Bubbles from a gas seep are imaged by the high definition cameras on the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 02 at the Biloxi Salt Dome, Site A

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 13, 2012

The second remotely operated vehicle dive of the cruise was conducted today at site "BiloxiA" on the Biloxi salt dome. Like yesterday, today's dive focused on exploring and ground-truthing a series of sonar observations believed to be methane seeps in order to identify locations to conduct follow-on seep flux measurement experiments. Complementary repeat sonar surveys are being conducted at night in order to characterize the temporal variability of the seep features observed in the water column.

 


 

An aggregation of methane ice worms inhabiting a white methane hydrate. Studies suggest that these worms eat chemoautotrophic bacteria that are living off of chemicals in the hydrate.

An aggregation of methane ice worms inhabiting a white methane hydrate. Studies suggest that these worms eat chemoautotrophic bacteria that are living off of chemicals in the hydrate. Click image for larger view and credit.


Dive 01 at the Biloxi Salt Dome

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 12, 2012

The first remotely operated vehicle dive of the cruise was conducted today at site "BiloxiB" on the Biloxi salt dome. Sonar data collected here with our ship's multibeam system revealed water column anomalies believed to be active seeps, or areas where gas is percolating up from beneath the seafloor. Today's dive focused on exploring and ground-truthing these anomalies to gain a better understanding of what we are seeing in the sonar data. A variety of interesting seafloor habitats were imaged along the way, including this image of "iceworms" living in association with frozen methane hydrate.

 


 

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer pierside in Pascagoula, MS.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer pierside in Pascagoula, MS. Click image for larger view and credit.


Underway!

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 11, 2012

After a few days in port following completion of the second cruise leg, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer departed Pascagoula, MS, and headed south towards the Biloxi Dome where the first remotely operated vehicle dive of the cruise is expected. The first day of the cruise was spent preparing to get underway, conducting safety drills, and familiarizing new personnel with policies and procedures.

 


 

View of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer from the Fast Rescue Boat.

View of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer from the Fast Rescue Boat. Click image for larger view and credit.


Welcome to Pascagoula

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 7, 2012

Soon after Little Herc and Seirios were back on deck last night, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer started heading for port. We arrived in Pascagoula, Mississippi, at approximately 1200 today. While all Mission and Ship personnel will get a bit of a break, there is still much to do to wrap up Leg II and prepare for Leg III. A number of key Team members will swap out over the next few days before the ship heads back to sea on April 11.

 


 

A zoarcid fish peeks out from a bed of chemosynthetic mussels. A few tubeworms are visible in the background.

A zoarcid fish peeks out from a bed of chemosynthetic mussels. A few tubeworms are visible in the background. Click image for larger view and credit.


Another Big Milestone!

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 6, 2012

At approximately 0830, ship and mission crew launched Little Herc and Seirios for the sixteenth and final dive of the cruise (EX-12-02 Leg II). The launch location was the source of a gaseous plume imaged by the multibeam system during Leg I. This was our first attempt to groundtruth a water column plume signature with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV).  After approximately two hours on bottom, the Team successfully located an active seep in the midst of an expansive bed of chemosynthetic mussels. The ROV and Camera Platform were safely recovered by 1800.

 


 

The Institute for Exploration's Little Hercules ROV is deployed from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

The Institute for Exploration's Little Hercules ROV is deployed from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Click image for larger view and credit.


Back in the Water

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 5, 2012

After losing yesterday's dive to the weather, everyone was anxious to get back in the water.  At approximately 0700, it looked like we may lose another day to thunderstorms and high waves. Fortunately, there was a break in storms moving through the area and the seas stayed relatively flat. We launched Little Herc at 1015, about two hours later than normal. Today's dive at Mississippi Canyon lease block 036 marked our fifth and final dive of the expedition focused on deep coral communities in the vicinity of Deepwater Horizon.

 


 

Weather is often one of the biggest obstacles to getting our work done.

Weather is often one of the biggest obstacles to getting our work done. Click image for larger view and credit.


The Waiting Game

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 4, 2012

Today was a good reminder that we are at the mercy of the weather. At 0700, the seas were calm and all indications were that the dive would proceed as planned. Just over an hour later, thunder and lightning forced the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Commanding Officer and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Team Lead to delay launch. The weather forecast indicated it would just be a passing storm. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Heavy rains and wind picked up quickly. The seas deteriorated. Thunder and lightning continued for several hours. By 1200, we scrubbed the entire dive and switching into mapping operations. Let's hope things improve overnight.

 


 

swimming deep sea-spider

Mission Personnel flocked to the ROV Control Room when the ROV happened upon a swimming deep-sea spider. You can see the long closely packed setae on the rear legs. Click image for larger view and credit.


A Typical Day on a Not-so-typical Ship

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 3, 2012

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted overnight mapping operations to complement the ship's previous mapping efforts in 2011. At approximately 0915, ship and mission crew launched Little Herc and Seirios for the fourteenth dive of the 2012 field season. This was the fourth remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive in the vicinity of Deepwater Horizon. The ROV and camera platform were safely recovered by 1700. Mapping operations continued following recovery.

 


 

Geologists highlighted the channel branch in the white circle. It may be the newest development in this ancient seafloor feature (Fledermaus screenshot; bathymetry data gridded at 50m cell size).

Geologists highlighted the channel branch in the white circle. It may be the newest development in this ancient seafloor feature (Fledermaus screenshot; bathymetry data gridded at 50-meter cell size). Click image for larger view and credit.


An Underwater River?

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 2, 2012

We mapped a fascinating feature on the seafloor this leg. Though it looks much like an underwater river, on-shore geologists told us that it is a perched leveed channel. The sinuous channel is likely carved by sediments traveling in currents along the seafloor. Levees are created as sediment deposits on both sides of the channel. The data may provide new insights into sediment transport from the Mississippi River far into the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists suggested that it may also lead to new information on localized benthic community distribution and hydrocarbon reserves.

 


 

A brittlestar living on a paramuricid coral adjacent to a large white anemone.

A brittlestar living on a paramuricid coral adjacent to a large white anemone. This community is on the edge of a carbonate rock in Mississippi Canyon lease block 297. Click image for larger view and credit.


Signs of Change?

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 1, 2012

Today was the second day dedicated to exploring and characterizing deep coral ecosystems in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon site. The Mission Team carefully re-imaged corals initially photographed in October 2011. The purpose of revisiting this critical location in Mississippi Canyon lease block 297 was to determine change over time. Over the coming weeks and months, scientists will compare today's imagery with photographs from six months ago. Will they identify differences in the corals and the animals living on and among them?

 


 

View from the crane as Little Herc is lowered into the water.

View from the crane as Little Herc is lowered into the water. Click image for larger view and credit.


National and NOAA Priority

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 31, 2012

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, determining the types and extents of damage to the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico has been – and continues to be - a high priority. This has been especially difficult with regard to deep-water habitats. Our expedition provides an opportunity to assist with that NOAA and national priority. Today we dove on a location in Mississippi Canyon lease blocks 294 and 338. An Oct/Nov 2010 expedition identified a deep-coral community here that showed signs of significant and recent impact. The area has been a major focus of study ever since. The purpose of revisiting this critical location was to determine change over time.

 


 

Tim Shank and Dave Lovalvo ensure science and operational objectives are met while exploring a shipwreck.

Tim Shank and Dave Lovalvo ensure science and operational objectives are met while exploring a shipwreck. Click image for larger view and credit.


National and NOAA Priority

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 30, 2012

During a dive, I've heard the coordination within the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Control Room referred to as a 'dance.' And I’ve heard the Ship and Mission personnel both on board and on shore called an 'orchestra.' Whatever analogy you prefer, marine archaeology dives require tweaking the model. First and foremost is the need to protect the site from disturbance. Federal law prohibits us from providing exact position information. Also, Dave Lovalvo, ROV Team Lead, and Tim Shank, Science Team Lead, are practically inseparable during these dives. They sit side-by-side in the back of the Control Room the entire time, transfixed by the images on the monitors, yet incessantly scribbling notes about the site layout. Definitely a great 'site' and a great 'sight.'

 


 

Image of gridded bathymetry shown as a wireframe and draped over gridded backscatter data.

Anchor resting on the top of the Site 15429 wreck. Lophelia coral is also visible. Click image for larger view and credit.


Second Marine Archaeology Dive

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 29, 2012

After a great first marine archaeology dive on March 27, everyone was excited about exploring a second target. Site 15429 was initially located in 2009 with the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology's (NIUST) Eagle Ray autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The data showed a potential vessel resting on the seafloor. The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive confirmed what several members of the Science Team expected. The wreck appears to be a hotspot for Lophelia coral. Today turned out to be an all around great day for both the marine archaeologists and the biologists.

 


 

Image of gridded bathymetry shown as a wireframe and draped over gridded backscatter data.

Image of gridded bathymetry shown as a wireframe and draped over gridded backscatter data. Click image for larger view and credit.


What Is It?

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 28, 2012

An asteroid? Alien ship? Huge rock? Ever since the Team on Leg I of the Gulf of Mexico expedition mapped the DeSoto Canyon area in early March, there have been a lot of guesses thrown around about one specific seafloor feature in approximately 400 meters of water. OK, so no one really thought it was an asteroid or an alien. But, we really did enjoy the speculation. Not only did the feature seem to be the one spot of significant relief in an otherwise fairly flat area, but it also showed up in the backscatter data as a very 'hard' target. The great news is that we'll find out today. That is where we are exploring with the ROV.

 


 

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducts operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducts operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Click image for larger view and credit.


Maritime Archaeology Milestone for Okeanos Explorer Program

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 27, 2012

It was a big day for the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program. Today was the first ever marine archaeology-focused remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive from Okeanos Explorer. NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research's (OER) marine archaeology program activities support the initial phases of exploration, discovery, and site characterization of underwater cultural heritage (UCH). UCH refers to traces of human existence historically and prehistorically that are totally or partially underwater. OER and our partners accomplish this by systematically surveying, locating, and evaluating sites for archaeological or historical significance, and properly documenting any information. Traditionally, these are non-disturbance activities that do not include site excavation and extensive artifact conservation. Like all federal programs, we have responsibility under Federal law to preserve and protect historically significant, or potentially significant, cultural resources. Over the next few days, we expect to explore two more potential wrecks. Stay tuned to the oceanexplorer.noaa.gov for updates.

 


 

In 2010, the Jason ROV imaged a site about seven miles downstream from the plume flowing from the Macondo well. Scientists found deep-sea corals showing signs of recent and severe impact.

In 2010, the Jason ROV imaged a site about seven miles downstream from the plume flowing from the Macondo well. Scientists found deep-sea corals showing signs of recent and severe impact. Click image for larger view and credit.


Deepwater Horizon and Deep-water Coral Community

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 26, 2012

Most people on board the ship don't have much down time to surf the internet. However, it's hard to miss the dozens of articles that started popping up last night about the new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study presents evidence about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary site discussed in the article was first discovered during the Lophelia II 2010 Expedition - a multiyear project jointly funded by NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). That discovery spurred a number of follow-up research cruises funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). Six of the paper's authors are associated with the ongoing Okeanos Explorer expedition. The full article is available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/03/23/1118029109.full.pdf.

 


 

Seirios captured this image of Little Herc examining deep corals along the West Florida Escarpment.

Seirios captured this image of Little Herc examining deep corals along the West Florida Escarpment. Click image for larger view and credit.


Need to Get Back Here...

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 25, 2012

There are many different measures of success during a particular dive, let alone an entire expedition. Today's dive at the base of the West Florida Escarpment in DeSoto Canyon Lease Block 673 proved to be a great one for all involved. As the ROV ascended a nearly vertical section of Escarpment, the lights on Little Herc and Seirios illuminated a 'forest' of deep corals. Several of the corals were new to scientists both on the ship and on shore. All too soon, it was time to return to the surface. As Little Herc and Seirios left the bottom, everyone agreed, "We have to come back here!" That summed up one of our major measures of success – identifying priority targets for future exploration and research.

 


 

The Mapping Team creates a number of daily products to facilitate ROV dive planning. This is an image of backscatter data from the West Florida Escarpment draped over the multibeam bathymetry.

The Mapping Team creates a number of daily products to facilitate ROV dive planning. This is an image of backscatter data from the West Florida Escarpment draped over the multibeam bathymetry. Click image for larger view and credit.


Target Selection

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 24, 2012

Gulf of Mexico 2012 exploration targets have been recommended by scientists from around the country. The area for today's dive was recommended by scientists at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) because of anomalies in deepwater seismic data. We selected the specific ROV dive target in DeSoto Canyon Lease Block 493 after examining bathymetry and backscatter data collected with the ship's multibeam system. From what we saw on the seafloor today, it seems like the process worked.

 


 

VSAT and both rescue boats are visible in this image taken while facing aft.

VSAT and both rescue boats are visible in this image taken while facing aft. Click image for larger view and credit.


Working Out the Kinks

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 23, 2012

Operations rarely run perfectly smooth the first few days of an expedition. Equipment that has been sitting idle needs checked and debugged. New personnel are learning the ropes. Things run a bit slower as everyone gets a refresher on Standard Operating Procedures and safety protocols. For Okeanos Explorer expeditions, this goes for both ship and shore-side personnel. Though we'll keep our fingers and toes crossed, today seemed to be the day we started to hit our stride. We appear to have worked through most of the major issues. Let's hope the momentum continues.

 


 

Close-up of a deep sea crab imaged with the Little Hercules ROV.

Close-up of a deep sea crab imaged with the Little Hercules ROV. Click image for larger view and credit.


Always Have a Back-up Plan

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 22, 2012

The ship arrived at our planned dive location west of the West Florida Escarpment at about 0330. Anyone trying to sleep for the previous few hours knew that sea conditions had deteriorated overnight. Sure enough, at 0350, the ship's Commanding Officer Robert Kamphaus and ROV Team Lead Dave Lovalvo determined that it was unsafe for personnel and equipment to dive. Science Team Lead Tim Shank and Mapping Watchstander Chris Pinero quickly identified an alternative dive location several hours north and presumably away from the strong Loop Current. The ship was underway again by 0400. At approximately 0700, we arrived at the new target. Fortunately, conditions were much better and the dive proceeded.

 


 

A combination of wind, waves, and current forced us to cancel today's ROV dive.

A combination of wind, waves, and current forced us to cancel today's ROV dive. Click image for larger view and credit.


Today, Mother Nature Isn't On Our Side

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 21, 2012

Unfortunately, we had to cancel plans for today's dive along the Florida Escarpment. A combination of a two-knot surface current from the northwest and opposing wind and waves from the southeast, put too much strain on the ship's dynamic positioning (DP) system. DP is required to hold the ship in a particular position during remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations. Though the ROV dive was cancelled, we quickly developed a plan to expand our mapping survey on the shelf. By early afternoon, the wind and seas calmed down.

 


 

ROV Control Room - After seven months away from the ship, Video Engineer Gregg Diffendale and Science Team Lead Tim Shank picked up right where they left off.

ROV control room: After seven months away from the ship, Video Engineer Gregg Diffendale and Science Team Lead Tim Shank picked up right where they left off. Click image for larger view and credit.


First ROV Dive of the 2012 Field Season

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 20, 2012

camera icon Highlights from the March 20 ROV dive.

Following a brief early morning multibeam survey, ship and mission personnel launched Little Herc and Seirios for their first dive of the 2012 field season. Today's target was a relatively shallow rocky scarp at a depth of approximately 450 meters. Since it had been about seven months since our last ROV dive, we did not rush anything today. We re-reviewed safety protocols and built in extra time for launch and descent. Fortunately, all ship and underwater equipment worked quite well. However, a few outstanding issues remain with our standard internet video feeds. We hope to have them fixed and operational in the next few days.

 


 

Black and white image of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in Tampa, Florida. Art Howard created this composite using 36 images taken with his iPhone. Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

Black and white image of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in Tampa, Florida. Art Howard created this composite using 36 images taken with his iPhone. Click image for larger view and credit.


Leg II of the Gulf of Mexico Expedition Gets Underway...

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 19, 2012

At 1000 local, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer departed Tampa, Florida, to start Leg II of the Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition. The 2012 field season officially began when the ship left Davisville, Rhode Island, just over a month ago on February 14. After successful shakedown and mapping operations in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, the ship transited into the Gulf of Mexico and mapped a large portion of the DeSoto Canyon during Leg I. That data and information will be essential for upcoming remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations during Legs II and III. Everyone on board spent the last several days making final preparations for the first expedition of the year to combine ROV, mapping, and telepresence operations.

 


 

Bathymetic map of DeSoto Canyon generated at 50 meter grid cell size resolution based on preliminary data processing onboard during the expedition.

Bathymetic map of DeSoto Canyon generated at 50 meter grid cell size resolution based on preliminary data processing onboard during the expedition. Click image for larger view.


Gulf of Mexico 2012 Leg 1 Summary...

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 19, 2012

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer began her second voyage of the year from Charleston, SC on February 27, 2012. The ship arrived in vicinity of DeSoto canyon, the primary exploration area of this expedition, on March 4 and commenced mapping of the canyon using the Kongsberg EM 302 multibeam echosounder (EM302 MBES), Kongsberg EK 60 singlebeam fisheries echosounder (EK60), and Knudsen sub-bottom profiler (SBP). High-resolution bathymetry and water column data collected during the expedition are expected to provide scientists with new insights into distribution of the gaseous seeps and benthic habitats.