2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas






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The shipboard mission team poses on the bow of the ship as Leg 3 comes to a close.

The shipboard mission team poses on the bow of the ship as Leg 3 comes to a close. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 10, 2016

Expedition Complete!

After a successful third leg, the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Expedition is complete! We've had a fantastic cruise with 22 dives with an abundance of discoveries that included new hydrothermal vents, the first-ever petite spot volcano in U.S. waters, a new mud volcano, several areas of high-density deep-sea corals and sponges, as well as dozens of new species and new records and yesterday's discovery of the World War II B-29. NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer has returned to Guam and our team will spend the next couple days wrapping up cruise products and prepping for the next mission. We will be back broadcasting again starting July 27, as our next expediton, Deepwater Wonders of Wake, gets underway. Until then, check our website for videos, images, and web logs sharing some of our favorite moments of the mission.


 


 

 

 

ROV Deep Discoverer discovers a B-29 Superfortress resting upsidedown on the seafloor. This is the first B-29 crash site found of over a dozen American B-29s lost in the area while flying missions during World War II.

ROV Deep Discoverer discovers a B-29 Superfortress aircraft resting upsidedown on the seafloor. This is the first B-29 crash site found of over a dozen American B-29s lost in the area while flying missions during World War II. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video from the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 9, 2016

Dive 22: Romeo and Juliet- B29 Bomber Discovered

Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) landed near the intact wing of a B-29 Superfortress resting on the seafloor upside down with landing gear and three of the four engines still attached. This was the first B-29 crash site discovered of over a dozen American B-29s lost in the area while flying missions during World War II. Upon discovery, D2 did a perimeter survey around the wing, collected valuable data to inventory the contents of the site, and documented apparent fire damage. Some distance from the wing, we encountered wreckage from the forward section of the B-29 that contained the lower part of the forward gun turret, a cylindrical tube with the gun barrels buried in the sediment, and the flight engineer's control panel with many gauges. While searching for possible multibeam sonar targets, D2 came across several areas of debris from the crash and we discovered the nearly intact horizontal stabilizer from the B-29's tail. All of the wreckage and debris seems to represent one aircraft, although portions of the forward and aft sections of the fuselage were not found. Today's discovery represents an important symbol of America’s final push to end the war, an historically significant time in U.S. history, and is of interest to multiple management groups as well as several universities and foundations working to identify crash sites for the families of lost servicemen.


 


 

 

 

This fish - potentially a Malacosarcus sp. - is a bit of a mystery for our science team as these prickelfish are usually found at shallower depths.

This fish - potentially a Malacosarcus sp. - is a bit of a mystery for our science team as these prickelfish are usually found at shallower depths. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of sea cucumbers seen on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 8, 2016

Dive 21: Hadal Wall

Today's dive involved investigation of the western wall of the Mariana Trench at a site dubbed "Hadal Wall" to explore the transition between the abyssal and hadal zones and to document and characterize fauna on a diversity of habitat types. Deep Discoverer (D2) settled on a sedimented surface that was strewn with a few cobbles with dark to white surfaces. The seafloor had some channels that appeared eroded by debris either being removed by slumping or located between tongues of slumped debris. Most of the dive covered what appeared to be a talus slope with intermittent shallower slopes that were completely sedimented. D2 encountered primarily soft bottom fauna and evidence of past fauna including numerous spiral and zigzag trails of benthic animals on the sediment, several species of sea cucumbers and acorn worms, and areas where the sediment had a fluffy - potentially biotic- surface texture. Other fauna documented included a few sea stars; long-legged isopods walking along the seafloor; arrow worms; cusk eels (Penopus sp.); a ctenophore; small white drifting fish (potentially Malacosarcus); polychaete worms; and just above the bottom, a narcomedusa jellyfish. The dive concluded with a collection of a sunburst-shaped carnivorous sponge.


 


 

 

 

This coral, observed at just over 4,300 meters, expanded the known depth range for bamboo corals by approximately 100 meters.

This coral, observed at just over 4,300 meters, expanded the known depth range for bamboo corals by approximately 100 meters. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the undescribed species of Pachycara (or "eelpout").

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 7, 2016

Dive 20: Subducting Guyot 2

18°27'29.28"N, 147°49'39.54"E, 4,429 meters

Dive 20 was conducted at Subducting Guyot 2, a seamount in the process of being subducted under the Marianas Plate. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) recorded unexpectedly large angular rocks covered with thin sediment. The rocks showed columnar joints (cracks in the rock), fractured so recently that manganese coating had not had time to build up. Many rocks were "massive" looking in terms of texture, but some were clearly breccias with pebble- and cobble-sized rock fragments embedded in an enclosing matrix. It is likely that this dive took place on the deeper eastern extension of an already subducted seamount, meaning the eastern igneous interior of the edifice was exposed on this wall and in the boulders derived from it. All of this suggests a relatively recent faulting event. Among observed fauna was an unidentified hexactinellid sponge, several glass sponges (at least five different species), brisingida, sea stars, crinoids, holothurians, and a hooded sea slug. Cnidarians were rare, but one very large bamboo coral for this depth and part of the ocean was seen and collected. Although not abundant, arthropod diversity was well represented: barnacles, mysids, isopods, shrimp, and squat lobsters. An exciting discovery was an undescribed species of Pachycara (or "eelpout"), an abyssal fish genus of the family Zoarcidae.


 


 

 

 

Vogt seamount could easily be called a coral wonderland. Biodiversity and coral abundance here was the highest observed during any other dive this cruise. Here ROV Deep Discoverer  documents several large corals, some as wide as the vehicle! In several instances, the corals and sponges so big it was difficult to fit into one shot.

Vogt seamount could easily be called a coral wonderland. Biodiversity and coral abundance here was the highest observed during any other dive this cruise. Here, ROV Deep Discoverer documents several large corals, some as wide as the vehicle! In several instances, the corals and sponges were so big, it was difficult to fit all of them into one shot. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video from the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 6, 2016

Dive 19: Vogt Guyot

19°48'15.84"N, 148°26'37.86"E, 1,910 meters

Today, remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) had a fantastic dive along a rift zone ridge extending west from Vogt Guyot, one of the presumed oldest seamounts on the Pacific Plate. This dive documented the highest biodiversity and general abundance of fauna of any of the other sites visited during this cruise. The seafloor was covered with thin sediment and large boulders covered with heavy manganese crusts. As D2 transited upslope, a few ledges projected out over the edge of the slope wall, and in a few places, fresh exposures of the sequences underneath the manganese coating were observed. These patches of outcrop were light in color, suggestive of reef material, as might be expected on the edge of the guyot summit. Throughout the dive, the majority of hard substrate was covered with corals, crinoids, sea cucumbers, anemones, and sponges. Corals observed included several different (and new) species of primnoids, isidids, chryosogorgiids, plexaurids, coralliids, black corals, cup corals, zoanthids, hydrozoans, and bamboo corals – some as big as one to two meters. Sponge populations were dominated by several species of hexactinellids. Closer to the slope edge, the density and composition of fauna increased even more, suggesting that the corals living on the edge of the ridge are better adapted to survive in stronger currents. Although not many fish were encountered, D2 recorded close-up imagery of a slick head (family Alepocephalidae) with parasitic isopods.


 


 

 

 

 This hydromedusa was documented during our midwater transects at 800 m over a newly discovered petite spot volcano - the first ever discovered in the US EEZ. The water column the largest biome on earth and one of the least explored. Almost every time scientists spend time documenting midwater fauna, they make new discoveries.

This hydromedusa was documented during our midwater transects at 800 meters over a newly discovered petite-spot volcano - the first ever discovered in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. The water column the largest biome on Earth and one of the least explored. Almost every time scientists spend time documenting midwater fauna, they make new discoveries. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a shrimp with very long antennae imaged in the water column.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 5, 2016

Dive 18: Petite-spot Volcano

20°37.174'N, 147°19.457'E, 5,692 meters

Dive 18 documented the first ever petit-spot volcano discovered outside of Japan. Scattered subangular to angular rocks were observed on the surface, suggesting they were recently (geologically speaking) deposited on the seafloor. Rocks showed thin to heavy manganese-oxide coating as the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) moved up the slope. Fauna at these depths were more abundant than was expected. Sessile animals encountered included carnivorous and hexactinellid sponges, anemones, tube-dwelling polychaetes, a long (10-centimeter) scaleworm, an equally long and translucent holothurian, and a brisingid seastar with parasites (gastropods and barnacles). Documented swimmers and crawlers included cusk eels, Abyssopelagic crustaceans (mysids, shrimp, and long-legged isopods), polynoid polychaetes, a chaetognath (arrow worm) and an acorn worm. During the midwater dive, D2 encountered chaetognaths, forams, radiolarians, hydromedusae, ctenophores, larvaceans, salps, and siphonophores.


 


 

 

 

Cusk eel in the family Ophidiidae. This is in the genus Eretmichthys and may be the species E. pinnatus.

Cusk eel in the family Ophidiidae. This is in the genus Eretmichthys and may be the species E. pinnatus. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a brittle star and glass sponge imaged on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 4, 2016

Dive 17: Fryer Guyot

20°21'38.10"N, 148°20'2.52"E, 2,129 meters

Dive 17 was conducted on a rift zone ridge extending southeast from Fryer Guyot, a Cretaceous seamount to the east of the Mariana Trench, to explore for deep-sea corals and sponges and to characterize one of the presumed oldest seamounts on the Pacific Plate. At the beginning of the dive, boulders appeared to be cemented to the seafloor and to one another by thick manganese coating. This area transitioned to an entirely flat seafloor and then to large and flat rock surrounded by ripple-marked sediment. There were scattered clumps of boulder- to cobble-sized rocks set among sediment ponds along the track for most of the dive. Many short vertical stumps, as well as broken, long stalks, of dead hexactinellid sponges coated with manganese suggests that the separating of the northern half of the plateau affected the fauna on the slope. Observed fauna included halosaurs; cusk eels; bubblegum coral; and numerous species of black corals, chyrsogorgiids, primnoids, bamboo corals, and sea pens. Other observations included zoanthids and anemones with their octocoral and sponge hosts, a "giant" tunicate, brittlestars (mostly on octocorals), crinoids, a couple of sea cucumbers, and seastars – including a brisingid growing four new arms. One of the biological samples today was likely the first collection from the Marianas of an aplacophora, rare shell-less mollusk coral predator!


 


 

 

 

ROV Deep Discoverer collects a spiral, fossilized shell of some sort. At the conclusion of this field season, this sample- along with all of the others will go out - will head to archival. Once there, scientists can request to analyse a specific sample, like this fossil, which will hopefully help to further characterize this region. We might even be lucky enough to figure out what this is a fossil of!

ROV Deep Discoverer collects a spiral, fossilized shell of some sort. At the conclusion of this field season, this sample – along with all of the others will head to archival. Once there, scientists can request to analyse a specific sample, like this fossil, which will hopefully help to further characterize this region. We might even be lucky enough to figure out what this is a fossil of! Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of bivalve fossils seen on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 3, 2016

Dive 16: Subducting Guyot 1

20°27'11.16"N, 147°4'6.06"E, 4,997 meters

Dive 16 involved exploration of a guyot that is presumably a Cretaceous seamount in the process of being subducted within the Trench Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. One of the goals of this dive was to investigate millions of years of Cretaceous reef growth that would otherwise be impossible to see. Although there was very little in the way of living organisms (one fish, a few shrimp, a couple anemones, and a carnivorous sponge), there were fossils! The dive began at a depth of approximately 5,000 meters on a slope covered with talus consisting of sparse cobble- to boulder-sized rock fragments among soft sediment. As remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer (D2) neared the bottom of the steeper part of the wall, the seafloor became a smooth white surface with fewer loose rocks. The wall itself revealed a fascinating sequence of layered accumulations of varying texture and fossil types. Bivalve fossils dominated the darker layers. These layers were generally thinner than the more massive white layers between them. Some layers were a pale yellow and had a more granular appearance. These granular, yellow sequences were first seen at an outcrop as patches, then intermittently until they became visible as discrete layers higher up on the wall. As D2 moved upwards, the outcrops showed high-angle fractures. At the shallower elevations of the wall, distinct vertical ridges with chutes between them gave the wall a spectacular texture, easily viewed when the ROV was oriented in parallel to the strike of the wall.

After the benthic exploration, the dive continued with midwater transects at 4,000 meters, 3,000 meters, 2,000 meters, 1,200 meters, 1,000 meters, 800 meters, and through an observed scattering layer at 482 meters. To our knowledge, this is the first deepwater column exploration in the Mariana Trench. There was very little in the midwater at 4,000 meters, but as expected, the number and diversity of plankton and organic particles increased as we moved up the water column. Larvaceans (pelagic tunicates) were present throughout all depths. During the shallow transects, fauna encountered included jellyfish, siphonophores, salps, fish, and shrimp.


 


 

 

 

Two very small amphipods almost look like they are posing for ROV Deep Discoverer as D2 images them ontop of a sponge stalk.

Two very small amphipods almost look like they are posing for ROV Deep Discoverer as D2 images them on top of a sponge stalk. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a "coral garden" encountered on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 2, 2016

Dive 15: Explorer Ridge Shallow

20.77°N, 145.083°E, 1,908 meters

Dive 15 was conducted along the deeper terrace of "Explorer Ridge," to continue exploring the geomorphology and biology of the complex structural high east of the volcanoes in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument islands unit. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) rose along a fault-controlled wall with a dive track that covered about 300 meters of vertical relief on the wall, showing layered sedimentary rock. Throughout the dive, layers of ever-changing texture and degree of fracturing were observed. This was a coral-rich environment, with the most abundant taxa being chrysogorgiid octocorals and black corals. Metallogorgia sp. were also abundant, along with its typical commensal brittle star, Ophiocreas oedipus. Other cnidarians included a lyrate bamboo coral – likely a range extension, "rock pens," a small jellyfish, seapens, and large Iridigorgia corals. D2 also encountered an isopod – likely a Thylakogaster sp. – camouflaged with sediment that has never before been seen alive. Observed sponge fauna included several species of hexactinellids, thinly encrusting demosponges (white and blue), carnivorous sponges, and lobate species on a large piece of debris. Fish were sparse on this dive, but included a likely sorcerer eel, a halosaur, and a rattail.


 


 

 

 

One of the unusual black corals documented making circles in the sediment during Dive 14 at Explorer Ridge Deep.

One of the unusual black corals documented making circles in the sediment during Dive 14 at Explorer Ridge Deep. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the 'ghost fish' seen on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
July 1, 2016

Dive 14: Explorer Ridge Deep

20°46.008'N, 145°5.022'E, 2,598 meters

Dive 14 began over a smooth seafloor surface at 2,598 meters, with a pale-brown sediment and numerous tiny foraminiferal tests. Most of the beginning of the dive was on what appeared to be a talus slope, approximately 45° slope, covered by sediment. As remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) ascended the talus slope, it became steeper, eventually reaching as high as 55°. Higher up the slope, D2 documented several outcrops, sediment cutes, columnar jointing, and boulders. The dive wrapped up on a smooth, nearly vertical wall with a massive smooth surface. Without a doubt, the most exciting biological discovery today was the aphyonid fish, about 10 centimeters long, with transparent skin and highly reduced eyes. According to the experts, this is the first time that a fish in the family Aphyonidae has ever been seen alive! Other unusual findings during the dive included black corals (Schizopathes sp.) that were observed on their side as they made circles in the sediment; carnivorous and hexactinellid sponges; and a pattern of holes – known as Paleodictyon nodosum, whose origin is unknown.


 


 

 

 

Acorn worms were just one of the many types of strange fauna observed at Twin Peaks.

Acorn worms were just one of the many types of strange fauna observed at Twin Peaks. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of some of the fauna encountered on the seafloor while exploring Twin Peaks.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 30, 2016

Dive 13: Twin Peaks

21°25.2' N, 145°53.3'E, 4,829 meters

Dive 13 was conducted on a potential mud volcano site, dubbed Twin Peaks. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) landed on a nearly featureless sedimented bottom made of very small, pale-brown particles at a depth of 4,829 meters. At the start of the dive, we saw slabby exposures of rock a few centimeters to tens of centimeters above the sediment that were aligned in linear rows parallel to one another. The rocks were mantled with a black (likely manganese-oxide) coating, but at the base of some of the slabs there was an exposure of a pale-tan to yellow-orange surface with a rough, rubbly texture. The seafloor throughout most of the dive remained thickly sedimented. Based on the prevalence of the small outcroppings of sedimentary rocks throughout the dive, it is unlikely that this site is, as we had hoped, a serpentinite mud volcano. Rather, it appears to be a fault block of forearc sedimentary sequences. Fauna observed during the dive included swimming sea cucumbers, carnivorous sponges, acorn worms, several long-legged isopods, hermit crabs with commensal anemones, pregnant mysid shrimp, many stalked sponges, several deep-sea lizard fish (Bathysaurus cf molis), and a shrimp with unique adaptations that was unknown to our science team.


 


 

 

 

Cusk eel with unusual head shape: the large bulbous head features small eyes, large nostrils, and a mouth placed low on the head. This distinctive-looking animal could be a new species.

Cusk eel with unusual head shape: the large bulbous head features small eyes, large nostrils, and a mouth placed low on the head. This distinctive-looking animal could be a new species. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of an anemone with tentacles that stretched at least six feet in length.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 29, 2016

Dive 12: Unnamed Forearc Seamount

21.58°N, 145.53°E, 3,315 meters

Dive 12 was conducted on a serpentinite mud volcano to explore the site for active seeps – none were observed – and associated fauna. The seafloor showed uniformly light sediment with scattered pebbles and larger rocks, some with a light manganese coating, as well as a number of elongated depressions of unknown origin – potentially whale feeding tracks or sleeper shark marks. While the fauna was sparse at this site, remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) did encounter holothurians, urchins, brittle stars, shrimp, sea cucumbers, anemones, sponges, and eels. Noteworthy observations included a cusk eel with a large, bulb-like head featuring small eyes and enlarged nostrils and anemones (Relicanthus sp.) attached to stalks of a hexactinellid sponge. One of the anemones had tentacles up to two meters long!


 


 

 

 

The control room on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as ROV Deep Discoverer (D2) images a crinoid at Northern Forearc Ridge. In the bottom left of the image you can see the newly acquired multibeam bathymetry. Those data were collected, processed, reviewed, and prepped for ROV navigation to guide D2 within 12 hours.

The control room on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer (D2) images a crinoid at Northern Forearc Ridge. In the bottom left of the image, you can see the newly acquired multibeam bathymetry. Those data were collected, processed, reviewed, and prepped for ROV navigation to guide D2 within 12 hours. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a polychaete swimming through the water column.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 28, 2016

Dive 11: Northern Forearc Ridge

22°30'N, 145°10'E, 4,422 meters

Dive 11 was conducted along an unnamed forearc ridge. This feature was initially believed to be a potential mud volcano, but overnight multibeam mapping revealed it was not. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) transited up a steep wall of highly pale-brown to pale-gray rock. The slope was punctuated with a series of ridges 10 to 20 meters wide, with narrower channels between them. The face of the wall was cut by numerous thin white veins snaking across the exposed surface at a variety of angles. As D2 traversed, a patch of pale-gray rock of clay-like consistency draped with talus was observed, as well as outcropping sequences of finely to coarsely layered dark-brown material. There were also sheets of variable thicknesses of blue-gray and yellow-tan sequences containing rocks of varying sizes. The ridge was intermittently covered with talus and/or finer unconsolidated sediment, and the top of the ridge showed thin sediment. Among the few fauna observed on this dive were squat lobsters, stalked and unstalked crinoids, and hexactinellid and demosponge sponges.


 


 

 

 

This juvenile bamboo coral is too young for the characteristic segmented “stalk” to be visible, but the image shows sclerites in the tissue of the four small polyps.

This juvenile bamboo coral is too young for the characteristic segmented "stalk" to be visible, but the image shows sclerites in the tissue of the four small polyps. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of brittle stars seen on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 27, 2016

Dive 10: Stegasaurus Ridge

21° 58.590'N, 145° 12.301'E, 3,215 meters

On Dive 10 of the third leg of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition, we explored Stegasaurus Ridge, a newly discovered feature mapped in high resolution for the first time during Leg 2 of this expedition. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) landed on along a steep ridge with foliated, layered rock and rough blocky surfaces. The seafloor at the top of the ridge was covered with sediment and pebble-sized rock fragments, with occasional cobbles or large boulders, some of which had a dark manganese coating. Eels, snails, squat lobsters, crinoids, stalked barnacles, and several different representatives of echinoderms (crinoids, sea stars, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers) were observed throughout the dive. An unusual echinoderm encountered was the "mudstar," whose tube feet had points instead of suckers to help it dig into the sediment. Several individuals of the hexactinellid sponge were also observed. At the top of the ridge, D2 came across a number of carnivorous demosponges, as well as a juvenile bamboo coral.


 


 

 

 

Tube worms with red gills and anemones observed at the crater rim.

Tube worms with red gills and anemones observed at the crater rim. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video from the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 26, 2016

Dive 9: Daikoku Seamount

21° 19.5'N, 144° 11.6'E, 410 meters

Dive 9 took place on Daikoku Seamount to investigate a possible 2014 eruption and assess its impacts on the local ecosystem. The seafloor and slope of the seamount were covered with volcanic ash and volcaniclastics and provided a sulfur-rich environment. Tube worms and anemones were observed, as well as a high density of flat fish specialized in living on the sulfur rich ground. Plumes of likely carbon dioxide gas and sulfur were emanating from cracks and orifices near the crater rim and along the lower wall of the crater. As remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) moved around the crater rim, barnacles, anemones, and tubeworms were documented. The bottom of the crater showed active venting, angular cobbles and boulders, and some irregular-shaped pieces of solid sulfur. Water column transects were conducted at the conclusion of the dive's benthic exploration. Fauna observed during these transects included larvaceans, siphonophores, amphipods, and shrimp. Throughout the dive, D2 encountered thick volcanic smoke and particulate material in the water column, supporting the hypothesis of recent activity in this area.


 


 

 

 

 This beautiful groppo (Grammatonotus sp) was observed during Dive 8 at Eifuku Seamount. At the top of the feature survey during this dive, small, colorful fish like this were very common among the rocks.

This beautiful groppo (Grammatonotus sp.) was observed during Dive 8 at Eifuku Seamount. At the top of the feature survey during this dive, small, colorful fish like this were very common among the rocks. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a very spiny urchin seen on the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 25, 2016

Dive 8: Eifuku Seamount

21.415°N, 144.145°E, 500 meters

Dive 8 was conducted on the crater on the southeast side of Eifuku Seamount. The observed fauna was unexpectedly diverse – Coronaster seastars, long-spined urchins, sponges, and a variety of octocorals, including bamboo coral which appeared to be different from any described genera, were documented throughout the dive. As the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer rose up a central lava dome consisting of jagged boulders with striated surfaces, much of the ridge showed diffuse low-level hydrothermal activity with temperatures reaching about 16°C. Two highlights of the dive were documenting several Randall's snappers, a commercially important species, as deep as 476 meters, constituting a new depth range extension, and an unusual mollusk that had yellow dots—a feature that has not been seen before in this genus.


 


 

 

 

ROV Deep Discoverer images a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field at Chammoro Seamount.

ROV Deep Discoverer images a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field at Chammoro Seamount. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the vent discovery.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 24, 2016

Dive 7: Chamorro Seamount

20.8°N, 144.683°E, 980 meters

Dive 7 was conducted at the outer southeast slope of the summit crater on Chamorro Seamount. Starting from a depth of 980 meters, remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) traversed a fragmented seafloor composed of volcanic ash, cobbles, and boulders. The first discovery of hydrothermal activity was a vent from a small chimney structure producing 10.5°C fluid. After a descent into the crater, D2 documented additional hydrothermal activity across a previously unknown vent field. The chimney mounds were small (one to two meters high), but a temperature measurement taken at one was as high as 31.14°C. The dominant fauna throughout the dive was stylasterid corals – a type of hydrocoral, and animals known to be found in common association with vents, like Alvinoconcha snails, alvinocaridid shrimp, and vent crabs. Other fauna documented included unusual amphipods, rare blind (polychelid) lobsters, two species of unidentified demosponges, cutthroat eels and rattails, and a variety of fish swimming near the vents. Overnight mapping operations were conducted at Daikoku and Eifuku Seamounts and revealed an exciting discovery of a strong acoustic signal in the water column over Daikoku Seamount, believed to be a hydrothermal plume.


 


 

 

 

One of the priority objectives for Dive 6 was to document and better understand fish habitat. While transiting up the ridge at Supply Reef, ROV Deep Discoverer encountered a small aggregation of groupers, a commercially important fish.

One of the priority objectives for Dive 6 was to document and better understand fish habitat. While transiting up the ridge at Supply Reef, ROV Deep Discoverer encountered a small aggregation of groupers, a commercially important fish. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a moray eel seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 23, 2016

Dive 6: Supply Reef

20.15°N, 145.1°E, 370 meters

During Dive 6, we explored a ridge on Supply Reef, an active submarine volcano within the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument with confirmed eruptions in 1969 and 1989. The main objective of the dive was to examine and sample young volcanic rocks in order to determine if they are pillow lavas, massive lava flows, or volcaniclastics and to characterize the fauna existing on the shallow flanks of an active volcano. Two types of rock were observed: dark gray, coarse-grained layered sections of volcaniclastics and a very fine-grained, brown ash. The dominant fauna in this area was large lithistid sponges. As remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) transited up slope along the ridge, the seafloor was generally covered with consolidated, layered brown that was sometimes broken into slabs. The shallowest part of the ridge the slope was covered with loose rubble, and increasingly large boulders. Biologic observations throughout the dive included several different species of smaller demosponges that were plentiful throughout, sea stars, sea cucumbers, anemones, urchins, barnacles, squat lobsters, a benthic ctenophore, crinoids, nudibranchs, and small coral colonies. Fish observed included silver tip sharks, onaga, at least two species of moray eels, flounder, a tuna, scorpion fish, and a small aggregation of grouper. D2 also encountered three sea stars (Rhipidaster sp.) that have never before been seen alive.


 


 

 

 

One of the unusual benthic platyctenid ctenophores documented during Dive 5 at Ahyi Seamount.

One of the unusual benthic platyctenid ctenophores documented during Dive 5 at Ahyi Seamount. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of some of the critters encountered during the dive that made scientists exclaim, "what is that?!"

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 22, 2016

Dive 5: Ahyi Seamount

20.432°N, 145.028°E, 358 meters

Today's dive at Ahyi Seamount, part of a string of active submarine volcanoes along the Mariana arc, was another one that offered a diversity of geology and biology. After a cloudy descent, remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) explored the upper portion of Ahyi, which erupted most recently in April and May of 2014. The goals of this dive were to explore and characterize any evidence of change since the last eruption, sample any new lava, and assess the impacts of the eruption on the local marine ecosystem. Our exploration started at 358 meters depth and we saw mostly fragmental material thrown out by the volcano; white sulfur mats and yellow iron mats; animals associated with hydrothermal vent environments, suggesting a vent may be nearby; and massive cliffs that form the seamounts. Because this was a volcanically active environment, there was very little sessile life. We observed two octopuses moving across the seafloor, a deepwater sand tiger shark, a snake mackerel (a new record of occurrence in the Marianas), a cusk eel, a duckbill, a flatfish, and a colony of shrimp. Sessile organisms we encountered included benthic ctenophores, a rare anemone (possibly in the genus Alicia), and a sea slug. A frequent topic among the science team during the dive was if these organisms had recently taken up residence here or if they had resided in this area prior to the 2014 eruption.


 


 

 

 

View of our ROV Deep Discoverer exploring at the depth of 6000m in the Mariana Trench. Never before seen geological features reminiscent of the Alps and canyons in California stunned participating scientists on the ship and on shore.

View of ROV Deep Discoverer exploring at the depth of 6,000 meters in the Mariana Trench. Never-before-seen geological features reminiscent of the Alps and canyons in California stunned participating scientists on the ship and on shore. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video showing the stunning geology encountered during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 21, 2016

Dive 4: Hadal Ridge

20.48232484 N, 146.97835782 E

Dive 4 took remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) to a depth of 6,000 meters in the Mariana Trench, at a site dubbed "Hadal Ridge." This was the first deep dive of this leg of the expedition, with the goal of documenting the diversity of organisms and geology at this transition between abyssal and hadal zones. As D2 worked its way up the ridge, we got a glimpse of the complexity of the trench's inner wall. D2 set down on fine sediment covered with ripple marks and a few rocks – likely peridotite (mantle rock) and calcium carbonate. Above this, we observed tongues of talus consisting of a variety of pebble- to cobble-sized fragments of mixed composition that were dominated by carbonate. At a depth of 5,898 meters, D2 encountered a stratified outcrop of very light-colored material (possibly carbonate or serpentinite mudflow material). The outcrop was approximately 53 meters high and topped by darker "polymict" (multiple rock types) and loosely consolidated formation of what appeared to be serpentinite mud with numerous pebble-to cobbble-sized rock clasts imbedded in it. Toward the end of the dive, D2 traversed a series of knife-edge ridges and troughs exposing some stratified layers of light-colored material. The dive ended at 5,750 meters, concluding a fascinating dive where the observed seascape was unlike anything the participating scientists had ever seen under water. Although the fauna was sparse on this dive, we did observe brisingid seastars, carnivorous sponges, shrimp, amphipods, and at the very end of the dive, a sea cucumber and a fish–likely a cusk eel.


 


 

 

 

This high density coral community, with several large basket stars, was documented at the start of Dive 3. At least 50 coral colonies can be seen in this single image.

This high-density coral community, with several large basket stars, was documented at the start of Dive 3. At least 50 coral colonies can be seen in this single image. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of two crabs fighting.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 20, 2016

Dive 3: Maug

20.05345 N, 145.23010 E, 470 meters

Dive 3 was the first-ever exploration of the outer edge of the Maug cone. The dive was conducted on a small ridge feature northeast of the crater to survey precious coral, commercially important bottom fish habitats, and fauna in the water column surrounding this island. The dive started at a depth of 470 meters in a very productive area with an abundance of fish, crinoids, sea stars, a diversity of corals, and other organisms. As remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer surveyed the edge of the ridge, likely a side vent from the Maug volcano, volcaniclastics of varying sizes and graded bedding in the steep inner wall of the vent were documented. Biology highlights during today's dive included: several different species of bamboo corals; a sponge that has never been reported in the Pacific; an abundance and diversity of echinoderms - basket stars, crinoids, and sea stars; a deepwater sand tiger; slit shells; thousands of small knobby lithistid sponges; and the bright yellow, pseudocolonial coral (Eguchisammia serpentine) which was very common at the shallower depths. We also documented the "gold coral" Kulamanamana haumeaae (a precious coral species). As Kulamanamana can live for thousands of years, these could easily be hundreds of years old. The biggest challenge today was deciding which biological samples to collect: there were so many new and different organisms. At the conclusion of the benthic exploration, we completed a long midwater transect to target the deep scattering layer observed in our EK60 sonars. We observed salps, siphonophores, shrimp, chaetognaths, and ctenophores, as well as what appears to have been an interesting avoidance behavior of the scattering layer.


 


 

 

 

This Long-Tail Red Snapper was spotted during Dive 02 on Pagan. In the words of one of our science team members- we were exploring for bottom fish, and this one was the primo find!

This Long-Tail Red Snapper was spotted during Dive 2 on Pagan. In the words of one of our science team members – we were exploring for bottom fish, and this one was the "primo" find! Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a frog fish encountered during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 19, 2016

Dive 2: Pagan

18.18175901 N, 145.82054249 E, 411 meters

Dive 2 took place on a small ridge feature of off the northeast side of Pagan, one of the largest volcanoes in the Marianas Arc. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) descended onto the seafloor at around 370 meters in search for high-density communities of deep-sea and precious corals and bottom fish habitats. The ridge looked very smooth on bathymetric data, but our in situ exploration revealed a surprising amount of dramatic topography and biologic diversity was high. As D2 transited upslope, we observed several species of coral, anemone, sponges, sea stars, basket stars, and fish. Dive highlights were an encounter with a smalltooth sand tiger (Odontaspis ferox) and a Long-Tail Red Snapper. Surprisingly, not much precious coral was seen on this dive, potentially due to this area being too active and the rock surface being too new or unstable. D2's manipulator arm was able to successfully recover a sample of a pom pom anemone, a yellow stony coral, and two rock samples – scoria and a basalt/basaltic-andesite pillow fragment with plag phenocrysts.


 


 

 

 

This crinoid rests on a white, ribbon-like sponge which was one of the dominant species documented during Dive 01 of Leg 3. When the vehicles first arrived on the seafloor, nearly every local topographic high had this type of sponge growing on it.

This crinoid rests on a white, ribbon-like sponge which was one of the dominant species documented during Dive 1 of Leg 3. When the vehicles first arrived on the seafloor, nearly every local topographic high had this type of sponge growing on it. Click image for credit and larger view.<

video Watch video of bubblegum coral seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 18, 2016

Dive 1: Farallon de Medinilla 2

18.18175901 N, 148.5205249 E, 411 meters

Dive 1 was conducted today on Farallon de Medinilla (FDM) to explore the southern ridge for high-density communities of deep-sea corals, including precious corals. Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer (D2) descended onto a seafloor composed of volcanoclastics and consolidated ash with several sponges at a depth of 411 meters. As D2 transited upslope, we documented several species of corals including precious corals, octocorals, stony corals, and black corals. Throughout the dive, sponges were the most prevalent fauna encountered, with at least six different species seen. Green-eye fish and squat lobsters were also very common. Other organisms documented included an octopus, stalked barnacles, crinoids, urchins, brittle stars, siphonophores, sea stars, and a couple different species of fish. Our science team, both at sea and on land, was puzzled by a green filamentous organism found attached to anything fan-shaped or branching. We collected two rock samples and two sponge samples that were dominant organisms at this site for further analysis following the cruise.


 


 

 

 

Science team co-lead, Shirley Pomponi, discusses the upcoming mission during a ship tour of local stakeholders and resource managers.

Science team co-lead, Shirley Pomponi, discusses the upcoming mission during a ship tour for local stakeholders and resource managers. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
June 17, 2016

Leg 3 Commences in Santa Rita, Guam

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer departed Guam this morning at 1200 local time. The team spent the week prior to sailing with ship repairs (including the failed sheave from Leg 1), ship tours and other public outreach events, new personnel training, and general maintenance of the ship and vehicles to ensure readiness for departure. By Thursday night, the team was prepped and ready to begin the final leg of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition.

Once underway, we conducted mapping operations en route to the first dive site, collecting valuable data to fill in holidays. We also spent time reviewing and updating dive plans for the cruise and further training new personnel on Okeanos Explorer standard procedures and operations.


 


 

 

 

Getting a picture of everyone involved in an Okeanos Explorer telepresence-enabled cruise is nearly impossible. More than 50 scientists and students participated in Leg 1 of the Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Expedition from around the world! Many more crew, shore-side technicians, educators, outreach specialists, and others provide critical support to enable the expedition to happen. Here, the shipboard mission team poses for a picture on the bow of the ship before pulling into port in Saipan to bring Leg 1 of the expedition to a close.

Getting a picture of everyone involved in an Okeanos Explorer telepresence-enabled cruise is nearly impossible. More than 50 scientists and students from around the world participated in Leg 1 of the Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Expedition! Many more crew, shore-side technicians, educators, outreach specialists, and others provided critical support to enable the expedition to happen. Here, the shipboard mission team poses for a picture on the bow of the ship before pulling into port in Saipan to bring Leg 1 of the expedition to a close. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 11, 2016

Expedition Leg 1 is Complete!

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted mapping operations this morning to look for suspected downed World War II era B-29 planes offshore of Saipan before pulling into port at about 10:00 AM ChST (Chamorro Standard Time). Personnel spent the day wrapping up cruise data and products, preparing equipment for the upcoming mapping cruise, cleaning mission spaces, and preparing to host ship tours over the next few days. Leg 1 of the Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition was a remarkable success and is officially over! Our next cruise will be a mapping-only cruise from May 21 to June 11, followed by another remotely operated vehicle cruise with daily dives and live video feeds from June 17 to July 10. Tune back in to continue exploring the Marianas with us!


 


 

 

 

A small octopus made an appearance on the dive. You can see how small it is compared to the crinoid stalks it is next to.

A small octopus made an appearance on the dive. You can see how small it is compared to the crinoid stalks it is next to. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 10, 2016

Dive 19: Esmeralda Bank Crater

Dive 19 took place on Esmeralda Crater, an active submerged volcano that is part of the Vents Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. In 2006, a team of NOAA scientists tried to investigate the crater, but the water was so murky from iron particles associated with venting that they were only able to view the crater walls. We returned to this site for our final dive of Leg 1 to see if the volcano is still active and to look for signs of recent hydrothermal venting. We began the dive in the center of the crater at about 330 meters, intending to make our way to a small ridge within the crater. While there were definitely particulates in the water, shore-based scientists from the 2006 expedition noted that it was more clear than a decade before. The heavily sedimented, orange-hued seafloor was composed of iron precipitate. The water column near the seafloor was teeming with small, transparent fish that we believe to be the hatchetfish Araiophos eastropas. We also saw many crinoids, tube anemones (cerianthids), a pagurid hermit crab with a piece of wood instead of a shell, and a nudibranch. As we moved toward the small ridge, we encountered an extinct hydrothermal chimney that was likely composed of iron oxides, which had several codlings (Physiculus or Gadella) swimming around it. Soon after we found the chimney, the currents picked up and visibility degraded to the point that we needed to move to another site. We transited through the water column, moving to our back-up site surveying the eastern crater flank for another possible area of hydrothermal activity. While we did not see any signs of venting, we did see anemones, sea pens, squat lobsters, black corals (antipatharians), many brilliant bluetilefish (Hoplolatilus) that are possibly a new species, a pufferfish (likely Lagocephalus) that appeared to be hunting the tilefish, two batfish (HalieuteaI), and a tiny yellow octopus.


 


 

 

 

A cluster of sea urchins (and a single crinoid), living on an elevated rocky feature. It is typical for suspension feeders, such as the crinoid, to live on elevated features such as this to get access to food from the currents in the water column, however it is not clear why these urchins were so densely clustered here. Until this dive, we have not encountered such a high density of urchins in any one location. It may have been a spawning aggregation.

A cluster of sea urchins (and a single crinoid), living on an elevated rocky feature. It is typical for suspension feeders, such as the crinoid, to live on elevated features such as this to get access to food from the currents in the water column; however, it is not clear why these urchins were so densely clustered here. Until this dive, we have not encountered such a high density of urchins in any one location. It may have been a spawning aggregation. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 9, 2016

Dive 18: Esmeralda Bank

Dive 18 took place on the outer slope of the Esmeralda Seamount, a submarine volcanic complex to the west of Saipan. The location we dove on, an extinct part of the volcano, is of interest to NOAA Fisheries because there is significant bottom fishing occurring in this area. We began our dive at 520 meters and transited up the slope of the bank. Between 450-500 meters, we saw some of the highest density communities of corals and sponges of the expedition. There were also high numbers of urchins in this area. We saw a significant shift in the geology during the course of the dive, from volcanics at the beginning to karstic carbonate rocks that may have been old coral reefs toward the end. We saw a number of animals on this dive that we hadn't yet seen on the expedition, including a very abundant tubular sponge (Psilocalyx wilsoni), a slit shell gastropod (Pleurotomariidae; part of an ancient lineage referred to as a "living fossil"), onaga (Etelis coruscans) – the most important fishery species in the region, and a nudibranch. The jelly-nose eel (Guentherus katoi) and the guyot butterflyfish (Prognathodes guyotensis) may both be new records for the area. We also encountered many deepwater cardinalfish (Epigonis); roughies (Hoplostethus); boarfishes (Antigonia); a bright orange batfish (Halieutaea stellate); an Ornate Jobfish (Pristipomoides argyrogrammicus); many of the small, colorful Odontanthias; and a tonguefish. We collected a demosponge that had a high number of commensals living on it, and a chrysogorgid coral with lots of comb jellies (ctenophores) attached to the polyps and zoanthids lining the stalk. Just before leaving the bottom, small schools of pelagic dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor) and jacks swam by.


 


 

 

 

An oblique-banded snapper (Pristipomoides zonatus) and moray eel (Gymnothorax berndti).

An oblique-banded snapper (Pristipomoides zonatus) and moray eel (Gymnothorax berndti). Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a dandelion siphonophore seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 8, 2016

Dive 17: Farallon de Medinilla

On Dive 17, we explored the slope of Farallon de Medinilla, a small, uninhabited island north of Saipan, to search for precious coral and bottomfish fishery species of interest to managers. This dive began at a depth of 500 meters and moved upslope to end at 250 meters. In the depth range of 400-500 meters, the seafloor was characterized by areas of fragments of calcified red and green algae, urchin spines and tests, and other unidentified hard organic material, as well as carbonate rock cobbles. These features suggest the area had once been a reef, perhaps of Pleistocene age. Around 350 meters, we started seeing larger rocks that looked more in place (possibly cemented to the seafloor), with hydrozoans and stylasterid and plexaurid corals. We collected a plexaurid coral. As we moved into depths of 250-300 meters, the character of the seafloor changed, with areas of limestone (possibly karstic with dissolution pits) and cemented carbonate crusts, with some shell hash between them. We collected a carbonate rock towards the end of the dive. We did not encounter any precious corals, but did see many fish, including an armoured sea robin (Scalicus engyceros), a moray eel (Gymnothorax berndti), a duckbill fish (Chrionema chryseres), a dragonet (Callionymidae), and the first squid of this expedition. We spent a lot of time transiting along the 250-meter contour, where we encountered a number of the commercially targeted bottomfish, such as the snappers Pristipomoides zonatus (oblique-banded), P. argyrogrammicus, P. auricilla, and the golden grouper (Saloptia powelli). This was one of the shallowest dives ever conducted by the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer and a number of colorful shallow-water fish were also seen: squirrelfish (Holocentridae), the snapper Randallichthys filamentosus, Odontanthias sp., and a batfish (Ogcocephalidae).


 


 

 

 

An anemone, with tentacles getting blown over by the strong current, living on a manganese-encrusted rock. Note the light sediment layer on the rock.

An anemone, with tentacles getting blown over by the strong current, living on a manganese-encrusted rock. Note the light sediment layer on the rock. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7, 2016

Dive 16: Del Cano Guyot

Dive 16 was our third dive on a guyot, a flat-topped seamount. We began our dive at ~1,925 meters, and like at each of our other two guyot dives, we were surprised by what we saw. The seafloor at this site was composed of poorly sorted rock clasts in a cemented crust. As we continued to move upslope along the ridge, we encountered larger manganese-encrusted talus pieces, with intermittent sediment pockets. At the ridge axis, we saw more intact manganese-encrusted pillow lavas. The fauna was not very dense on this dive; the site was dominated by sponges, including many massive Poliopogon (family Pheronematidae) sponges. We also saw sponges from the families Farreidae, Euplectellidae, Ucinateridae, and Cladorhizidae. There were relatively few corals, which included chrysogorgiids, isidiids and Anthomastus sp.. We saw anemones, a scaleworm, squat lobsters, a lithodid crab that appeared to be feeding on a sponge, and a dead sponge with a brisingid sea star and crinoids living on it. We also saw several cutthroat eels (Synaphobranchus sp.), and cusk eels (Spectrunculus sp.). Due to a problem with the remotely operated vehicle hydraulics, we were unable to make any collections at this site.


 


 

 

 

An unknown sponge species. We don’t know what the white spots are that are embedded within the tissue, but speculate that it could be embryos.

An unknown sponge species. We don't know what the white spots are that are embedded within the tissue, but speculate that they could be embryos. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 6, 2016

Dive 15: Enrique Guyot

Dive 15, the second in our series to characterize communities living on ancient manganese-encrusted seamounts, took place at Enrique Seamount located just east of the Mariana Trench. We descended to a depth of 2,268 meters along a ridge and landed in an area of lightly sedimented manganese-encrusted rocks, one of which we collected early in the dive. We were surprised to find pillow lavas at this site and speculated that more recent partial melting, due to subduction processes, may have formed them. Because the terrain was much steeper and more fractured than expected, we moved slowly to avoid obstacles. Toward the end of the dive, we ascended a pillow ridge that was over 25 meters high. We saw a high abundance of both sponges and corals living in fissures within the ridges early in the dive and high densities of sponges on the lower and middle portion of steep walls. We saw numerous black corals (antipatharians), and also saw the octocorals Hemicorallium sp. and Pleurogorgia miltaris. We saw many sponges, included Poliopogon sp., Tretopleura sp., and others from the family Euretidae. We collected an unusual colony of small sponges with unidentified white spots on their surfaces. Fishes encountered included a cusk eel (Bassozetus sp.) and a rattail (Kumba sp.).


 


 

 

 

A high-density field of corals, including the spiraling Iridogorgia magnispiralis (center), which can grow as long as five meters.

A high-density field of corals, including the spiraling Iridogorgia magnispiralis (center), which can grow as long as five meters. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 5, 2016

Dive 14: Pigafetta Seamount

Dive 14 occurred on the Pigafetta Seamount. This was the first of three dives to explore a series of guyots, which are flat-topped seamounts. This guyot is quite old, with an estimated age that dates to the Cretaceous Period (65.5-145.5 million years ago). Because of its age, seamounts like these have amassed thick ferromanganese crusts that are of commercial interest due to their composition of metals. Seafloor areas to the east that contain similar ferromanganese crusts are currently being leased for deep-sea mining, and we were interested in exploring some of these seamounts to provide a baseline characterization of their biota and habitat in advance of any future mining activities. After descending to the bottom at 2,004 meters, we landed in an area of heavy sediment, with ripple marks. We found some loose manganese-encrusted rocks and collected one. As we moved up the slope, we found spectacular coral and sponge communities on a seafloor of smoothly rounded, low-relief mounds with heavy manganese encrustation and moderate sediment cover. We saw a wide variety of chrysogorgid, primnoid, and isidid corals, many of which had commensal organisms living on them, such as squat lobsters, barnacles, and anemones. We also saw sea urchins, cladorizhid sponges living commensally on a dead sponge stalk, an acorn worm (enteropneust), a tunicate (Culeolus sp.), and a polynoid scale worm. We saw numerous cutthroat eels (Synaphobranchus sp.) and a sea toad (Chaunacidae, related to anglerfish). We collected a Bolosominae sponge and an isidid coral with unusual veining on the branches, likely to both be new species.


 


 

 

 

The anemone living on this parapagurid hermit crab (likely Strobopagurus gracilipes) actually secretes a “shell” for the crab, which it inhabits instead of a gastropod shell (e.g., snail) that most hermit crabs call home.

The anemone living on this parapagurid hermit crab (likely Parapagurus sp.) actually secretes a "shell" for the crab, which it inhabits instead of a gastropod shell (e.g., snail) that most hermit crabs call home. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the hermit crab.

video Watch video of a jelly encountered during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 4, 2016

Dive 13: Kunanaf Hulo Mud Volcano

Dive 13 took place on a unique geological feature called a serpentinite mud volcano. Mud volcanoes in this region form along faults associated with the subduction of the Pacific Plate at the Mariana Trench, where serpentine mud rises to the surface from depths as great as 18 kilometers. Fluid is released from the downwelling plate, which can create active springs at the summit. This particular mud volcano had not been explored before, so we went searching for signs of active venting and associated benthic fauna. We began our transect at a depth of 3,662 meters and spent the dive transiting along a sedimented ridge that ran between two peaks of the mud volcano. While we did not find any of the expected active seeps or carbonate chimneys, we still saw a lot of novel biology and interesting geology. At the start of the dive, the surface was covered in sediment and manganese-encrusted rocks. This encrustation indicates that the seabed is relatively old, and we collected one of the rocks for age-dating. As we moved, we saw more cemented, platy-looking sediment and some more outcrops. We also saw small manganese nodules in some areas. The fauna of this dive was typical of sedimented abyssal plains elsewhere in the Pacific. There was evidence (e.g., lebensspuren: burrows and tracks) that there were sediment-dwelling fauna present, although few were actually seen. Organisms that we saw included stalked sponges (Caulophacus sp.), some of which had commensal Relicanthus (a relative of anemones) living on the stalks. The tentacles of these commensals can trail out for up to eight feet. Other interesting fauna observed included acorn worms (enteropneusts), primnoid corals, benthic ctenophores, and a parapagurid hermit crab (likely Parapagurus sp.) with a commensal anemone (actinarian). We collected a sponge (Caulophacus sp.) that had an unusual root structure that acted as an anchor in the sediment, rather than the more conventional attachment base to hard substrate. We also saw cusk eels (Ophidiidae), a lizardfish (Bathysaurus mollis), and the unusual fish Ipnops meadi – a relative of the tripodfish.


 


 

 

 

Close up of a basket star, with commensal ophiuroids. We saw an extremely high density of these on this dive, and believe this may have been a new species.

Close up of a basket star, with commensal ophiuroids. We saw an extremely high density of these on this dive, and believe this may have been a new species. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the "basket star city."

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 3, 2016

Dive 12: Zealandia

Dive 12 was on Zealandia Bank to explore for deep-sea coral communities and survey shallower depths for bottomfish fishery habitat. When we first got to the bottom at 650 meters, we saw many rounded cobbles that were cemented within a carbonate matrix, which we interpreted as having possibly been formed on a high-energy beach. Later in the dive we entered an area of flat, thick rocks that we interpreted as either igneous flows or a carbonate platform, and then a very low-relief crust in the later part of the dive. We collected an unidentified black coral early on in the dive. As we continued on, we started to see occasional basket stars, which are elaborately branched relatives of the brittle stars. The density of these continued to increase until we encountered a field of basket stars, something none of us had ever seen before. The basket stars were large, but we succeeded at collecting one. We transited through an area with fewer fauna and then into a field of Parisis corals. We collected an astrophorid demosponge, also known as a lithistid or "rock sponge" because it has interlocking silica spicules that form a rigid skeleton. Some lithistids contain chemicals with therapeutic pharmaceutical properties, and we believe this occurrence may be a new record. Throughout the div,e we also saw precious corals, sponges covered in benthic ctenophores, crinoids, crabs, urchins, and cookie stars. We saw a high diversity of fishes on this dive, including boarfish (Antigonia), deepwater squirrelfish (Plectranthias), two sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus), a lestidiid fish (“deep-sea naked barracudina”) --  the only fish known to have bioluminescent tissue in its liver, a Lophiodes (anglerfish relative), and the commercially valuable deepwater red snapper (Etelis coruscans). The very last organism that we saw before heading back to the surface at 286 meters was another fisheries target, the Oblique banded snapper (Pristipomoides zonatus).


 


 

 

 

Hydrothermal-vent chimney. In the center of the photo, you can see the vent fluid which appears like dark smoke due to the high levels of minerals and sulfides contained in the fluid. Look closely, and you will also see the chimney is crawling with Chorocaris shrimp and Austinograea wiliamsi crabs.

Hydrothermal-vent chimney. In the center of the photo, you can see the vent fluid which appears like dark smoke due to the high levels of minerals and sulfides contained in the fluid. Look closely, and you will also see the chimney is crawling with Chorocaris shrimp and Austinograea wiliamsi crabs. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the hydrothermal vent discovery.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 2, 2016

Dive 11: Hydrothermal Vent

Dive 11 was the first remotely operated vehicle (ROV) exploration on a site for which there was prior evidence of active hydrothermal venting. After descending to 3,293 meters, we were very excited to quickly encounter a 30-meter chimney emitting black hydrothermal fluid. The base of the chimney was extinct sulfide, but the top was active with several black smoker orifices, beehives structures, skinny little chimney spires, and both iron and anhydrite precipitate. We measured a temperature of 339 degrees C, one of the highest temperatures ever recorded at a hydrothermal vent in the Marianas region. This “black smoker” was colonized by numerous organisms that exhibited strong zonation over very small spatial scales - there was a high density of Chorocaris shrimp and Paralvinella tubeworms directly at the vent effluent sites, then inches to feet away were Austinograea wiliamsi crabs and limpets (maybe Shinkailepis). In the more peripheral areas, the dominant fauna were Marianactis bythios anemones. As we moved away from the chimney, we realized there was a second, smaller chimney structure attached to the first. It was hard to turn the ROV away from all of the activity, but we continued on onto our next waypoint. Our track took us through an area of small vents - a series of small, thin chimneys venting hydrothermal fluids - and across an area of sedimented pillow lavas, where we saw a pair of cusk eels, scattered squat lobsters (Munidopsis galatheids), and some tiny anemones. Halfway through our dive, we made our way to a small, unusual crater that had been previously mapped by the Sentry autonomous underwater vehicle. The edge of this crater was composed of extinct sulfides. As we ascended to the top of the crater, we could see that the opposite interior wall was covered in white spots. These turned out to be squat lobsters, and at the base of the wall was a pile of dead snails (Alvinoconcha hessleri). We also encountered live snails, crabs, and shrimp associated with a small patch of diffuse flow, where we collected a rock. As we moved away from the crater, we came across a field of jumbled, ropy pillow basalts, and fauna that are not typically associated with vents, such as bamboo (isidid) coral, which we collected; several types of anemones; and an urchin that none of us had seen before. We also saw many “pregnant” cusk eels, with bellies distended with young. Finally, we entered another area of actively venting hydrothermal chimneys, but did not have enough time left to really explore the area. Aside from the chimneys and the crater rim, we had little elevation change, and left the bottom at 3,288 meters, all extremely excited by this great find!


 


 

 

 

A deep-sea anglerfish living within the pillow basalts. You can see its round lure in between its two eyes. This fish is an ambush predator that waits for prey to be attracted by the lure before rapidly capturing them in one gulp with their large mouths.

A deep-sea anglerfish living within the pillow basalts. You can see its round lure in between its two eyes. This fish is an ambush predator that waits for prey to be attracted by the lure before rapidly capturing them in one gulp with their large mouths. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 1, 2016

Dive 10: Potential New Vent Field 1

On Dive 10, we explored an area where hydrothermal indicators (chemical and particulate anomalies) had been detected on a recent expedition on the Schmidt Ocean Institute R/V Falkor. While hydrothermal vents are known on other parts of the Marianas back-arc spreading center, this area has had only minimal exploration. Although we were all aware that chasing hydrothermal indicators does not always lead to finding something, we were optimistic that we might be successful in our search. The remotely operated vehicle reached the bottom at 3,916 meters within a field of pillow lavas. Based on the sediment cover, these flows were significantly older than the fresh, glassy pillow lavas seen on Dive 9. We transited upslope to the top of a pillow mound, where we found a "haystack," a steep-sided eruptive vent with very long, stringy pillow lavas emerging out of the vent. However, we did not see indications of hydrothermal venting, such as iron staining, microbial mats, or vent-endemic animals. We traversed the valley, noting a transition in pillow morphology from the western to eastern mounds – the western flows had many little pillow toes and protuberances, while the eastern pillows were smoother and lacked extrusions. Towards the end of our transit through the valley, we came across a mysterious area of small, ropy, stick-like talus. We then moved up another pillow mound and found another haystack eruptive vent. Again, we found no signs of hydrothermal venting. We left the bottom to transit to our final waypoint, where we climbed a slope of pillow talus and ascended another sheer wall of broken pillows. At and near this eruptive vent we found pillows that were very thin and stringy. We collected two geological samples near the top of this last slope. There were very few organisms encountered throughout the dive, and we made no biological collections. We saw anemones (actiniarians), shrimps, brisingid and porcellanaster sea stars (asteroids), and many different species of sea cucumbers (holothurians). Fish encountered included cusk eels (Ophidiidae) and a deep-sea anglerfish (Chaunacops). While we were unable to confirm the water column evidence of hydrothermal venting, we still had a very interesting dive in terms of geology.


 


 

 

 

A mount of pillow lava. These pillow basalts form when basaltic lava erupts underwater. Cold seawater chills the erupting lava, creating a rounded tube of basalt crust that looks like a pillow. As the newly erupting lava pushes through the chilled basalt crust, it can form scratches on the pillow surface, called striations.

A mound of pillow lava. These pillow basalts form when basaltic lava erupts underwater. Cold seawater chills the erupting lava, creating a rounded tube of basalt crust that looks like a pillow. As the newly erupting lava pushes through the chilled basalt crust, it can form scratches on the pillow surface, called striations. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of glassy lava.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 30, 2016

Dive 9: Young Lava Flows

For Dive 9, we explored part of the Mariana back arc spreading center where there was a recent volcanic eruption. Comparison of seafloor bathymetry collected in 2013 and 2015 showed over 100 meters of new lava flows. We were interested in documenting the young lavas and exploring for diffuse hydrothermal flow. When we first reached the bottom at 4,064 meters, we encountered fresh, glassy pillow basalts, confirming that these were formed recently. Some had a yellow iron precipitate that was likely formed by microbes in the recent past. We made our first rock collection in this area, and then began our transit south to observe a series of pillow mounds. There was an incredible diversity of lava morphologies throughout this dive, which may have been reflective of different temperatures and/or gas contents of the original magmas. We came across a pile of what we first thought were exploded pillow lavas covered in white mineral deposits, and collected one of these fragments. As we continued on, we found a 60-meter-high sheer cliff of pillow basalts, and realized that the fragments below had actually broken off of this mound. We then jumped to the southernmost of the three pillow mounds, where we saw pillows with very glassy textures and some strange morphology (sticking out at 90 degrees into the air). We collected a particularly glassy and curly pillow extrusion. Because the seafloor is so new in this area, it has not yet been colonized by many animals. We saw only a few species: a Synallactidae holothurian (sea cucumber), a Munidopsis squat lobster, and many swimming polychaete worms. One surprise of the dive was finding an area of diffuse hydrothermal flow, where several vent-endemic Chorocaris shrimp were living.


 


 

 

 

A beautiful stalked crinoid, likely Proisocrinus ruberrimus.

A beautiful stalked crinoid, likely Proisocrinus ruberrimus. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a Chimaera or ghost shark encountered during the dive.

video Watch video of a deep-sea lobster seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 29, 2016

Dive 8: Northwest Guam Seamount

Dive 8 occurred on the upper slope of the Northwest Guam Seamount. This seamount sits within the last major unexplored seamount arc in the southern Marianas, and we were particularly interested in this site because it seemed likely to host mature animal communities, including fish, corals, and sponges. The dive began at 1,319 meters, in a sedimented area with heavily manganese-encrusted outcrops and talus. About two hours into the dive, we encountered a dike outcrop with columnar jointing and fractures and collected a rock sample. After reaching the summit (~1,160 meters), we transited down the saddle between two local highs and headed upslope again to the west. In this area, the sediment showed ripple marks and was later stratified into dark and light sediments with sinuous, low-relief mounds. The few outcrops encountered on the second slope were heavily weathered and covered in manganese crust. We were correct in our hunch that we would see many fish at this site—we saw a hagfish; a ghost shark (Chimaera, Hydrolagus sp.); a deep-sea anglerfish (Sladenia remiger); a cutthroat eel (Synaphobranchidae); and a bathygagid, which is a fish closely related to rattails. We also saw a Polychelidae lobster – a very primitive species, a crab (possibly Paralomis sp.), chirostylid squat lobsters, black and bamboo octocorals, multiple sponge species, brightly-colored crinoids (including possibly a new species), and an egg-bearing squat lobster. We collected a bamboo coral (Lepidisis sp.) and a cladorhizid sponge that we believe may be a new species. Towards the end of the dive, we encountered numerous large burrows in the sediment. The origin of these initially stumped us, until we spotted a huge blind lobster (possibly Thaumastocheles sp.) popping its head out of one of these holes. We finished the dive soon after at ~1,200 meters.


 


 

 

 

The ROV Deep Discoverer surveying the 14-m hydrothermal chimney.

The ROV Deep Discoverer surveying the 14-meter hydrothermal chimney. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the chimney.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 28, 2016

Dive 7: Fina Nagu A

Dive 7 was very exciting. We anticipated that the age of the Fina Nagu craters would decline as we progressed northward through the chain, and this is exactly what we found as we moved from south to north over the last few days. On Dive 7, the remotely operated vehicle touched down at ~2,370 meters and we explored two resurgent domes within the center of the caldera. The slope of the first dome was composed of volcaniclastic sediment, with isolated blocks of manganese-coated basalt. At the top of the first dome, we encountered a spectacular 14-meter tall extinct hydrothermal vent chimney and collected our first geological sample, a sulfide that had fallen off the chimney. The extinct chimney harbored mostly suspension feeders such as brisingid seastars and corals, but there was also one species of gastropods (Desbruyeresia) that was seen at the very top. As with the last two Fina Nagu sites, the fauna was few and far between. We saw snails, a cusk eel (Ophidiidae, Acanthonus), a ctenophore, and several predatory sea squirts (tunicates). We were surprised to see a deep-sea lizardfish (Bathysaurus cf. mollis) swimming in the water column, as they typically dwell on seafloor sediments. As we traversed the slope of the second dome, we saw more volcaniclastics, with outcrops covered in a manganese crust so thick that it was hard to determine their composition. We collected a manganese-crusted basalt sample in this area. At the top of the second dome, we found hydrothermal vent sulfides with several small patches of weak, diffuse hydrothermal flow (3 - 5.5 °C), upon which were dense clusters of small tubeworms.


 


 

 

 

An isolated pillow outcrop surrounded by sediment. Scientist refer to the funny looking protrusion towards the top of the outcrop as a mushroom pillow.

An isolated pillow outcrop surrounded by sediment. Scientists refer to the funny looking protrusion towards the top of the outcrop as a "mushroom pillow." Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video to learn more about pillow basalts seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 27, 2016

Dive 6: Fina Nagu C

Dive 6 was the second of our three dives in the Fina Nagu Volcanic Chain. We expected that the age of this caldera would be between the ages of the older Fina Nagu D (visited on Dive 5), and younger Fina Nagu A (which will be visited on Dive 7). The remotely operated vehicle touched down at 2,575 meters, in a patch of lightly sedimented pillow basalts. The volcanic sample we collected in this area had well-defined ropy flow structure. We encountered several different types of lava morphologies as we moved upslope, including pillows, sheet flows, ropy flows, and columnar jointing related to a dike. We transited through an area covered in volcaniclastic sediment (produced by explosive eruption), and collected a second geological sample at an isolated pillow outcrop. While fauna was again scarce on this dive, we saw a rattail fish (Macrouridae, Kumba sp.), two halosaurs (Aldrovandia sp.), bamboo corals (Isididae), many transparent predatory sea squirts (ascidians), a benthic ctenophore living on a sponge (learn more about inter-species interactions), a few sea cucumbers (holothurians), sponges, and sea lilies (crinoids).


 


 

 

 

The predatory tunicate Megalodicopia sp.

The predatory tunicate Megalodicopia sp. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a sea cucumber seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 26, 2016

Dive 5: Fina Nagu D

Dive 5 took place at Fina Nagu Caldera D. The Fina Nagu (translates to "children of" in Chamoru, the language of Guam) Volcanic Chain is a series of calderas, none of which had been examined by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or manned submersible for signs of hydrothermal activity or biological communities. Fina Nagu D is the southernmost of the three calderas that we are surveying on this expedition. Based on mapping data, we expect this to be the oldest caldera, and that features will be progressively younger as we move north. The ROV touched down in fresh-looking volcanics at ~3,030 meters, with light manganese-crust coatings and little sediment. We saw many lava morphologies on this dive, including pillow basalts, ropy lava, pieces of blocky talus, and sheet flows. In one area, we saw what looked like dikes. As we moved up the slope, we encountered scree slopes with moderate to heavy sediment and talus. Isolated small rock outcrops eventually transitioned almost entirely to outcrops (about 2,700 meteres), with fewer talus pieces and less sediment. Toward the end of the dive, we reached an enormous pile of blocky talus that looked fresh and mostly unsedimented. We collected geological samples at the start of the dive, at the dike feature, and in the outcrops. We expected this site to have mature biological communities and were surprised by the dearth of animals here. Despite a low density of organisms, we saw a number of different animals, many of which are suspension feeders, including crinoids, sponges, and isidid and stylasterid corals. We encountered three potentially undescribed species of sponge, likely all Hyalonema spp., and we collected two of these. We also encountered a benthic siphonophore (dandelion), two swimming sea cucumbers (likely Paeleopatides sp.), a mating pair of amphipods, a benthic ctenophore, and a predatory tunicate (Megalodicopia sp). We transited a total of 750 meters upslope, ending at a depth of 2,692 meters.


 


 

 

 

Following safe recovery of the ROV, Biology Science Team Lead Diva Amon prepares to retrieve the samples from ROV D2 while the deck team starts to assess the sheave located at the forward end of the aft deck.

Following safe recovery of the ROV, Biology Science Team Lead Diva Amon prepares to retrieve the samples from ROV D2 while the deck team starts to assess the sheave located at the forward end of the aft deck. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 25, 2016

ROV Recovery and Repair

During the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) ascent from Dive 4 at "Enigma Seamount" yesterday, a mechanical problem occurred with the ship's sheave at the forward end of the aft deck. For safety reasons, the ROV cable was reeled in very slowly – at about 15 percent its normal speed – and was not recovered until early this morning. The vehicles were brought safely aboard without incident and the ship remained on site and in Dynamic Positioning mode until ~1600 to provide a steady back deck so the team could safely and effectively evaluate and repair the sheave. The deck and engineering team disassembled the sheave, discovered the problem, and put the sheave back together with new bearings. Mission personnel spent the day catching up on reports, training new personnel, updating standard operating procedures, developing website content, and conducting equipment maintenance. ADCP data was collected all day during repairs, and once repairs were completed, we commenced transit mapping en route to the Fina Nagu volcanic chain where CTD and ROV operations are planned for the next few days.


 


 

 

 

A field of small, sedimented balls that we have tentatively identified as the amoeba Gromia sphaerica or a close relative. We saw huge number of these throughout the dive.

A field of small, sedimented balls that we have tentatively identified as the amoeba Gromia sphaerica or a close relative. We saw huge number of these throughout the dive. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of a jellyfish seen during the dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 24, 2016

Dive 4: "Enigma Seamount"

Dive 4 took place on "Enigma Seamount," which was given its informal name because we don't know much about it. Its morphology is quite different from other seamounts in the region, which generally have a flat top with steep, smooth sides radiating out into narrow ridges. By contrast, this one is more circular in form and the sides are much less smooth. We were interested in sampling here because we believe that this seamount, and others that lie along a northwest-southeast trend, may have formed on the boundary between the ancient Pacific Plate to the northeast and a much younger plate to the southwest. We began the dive at 3,778 meters in a sedimented area with loose volcanic rocks, where we collected a rock sample. As we transited upslope, we encountered a small outcrop of what were likely pillow basalts and collected a second rock there. We continued to move up the center of a small valley, encountering scree slopes, small to medium-sized talus that appeared volcanic, and sediment cover that ranged from fine to pebbly. We speculate that in the more pebbly areas, the fine sediments have been swept away by currents. Toward the end of the dive, we encountered several pillow mounds that were at least 10 meters high; we collected a third rock there. Throughout the dive, we saw high concentrations of small, rounded balls that looked like they had been constructed from sediment. These have been tentatively identified as a large species of single-celled amoeba, but biologists are still unsure. There is also a possibility that these balls might be sponges. Fauna was scarce throughout much of the dive, perhaps due to a lack of current in the low-relief areas. However, we still observed stalked crinoids and primnoid corals, swimming polychaete worms, a cusk eel, Caulophacus sponges, cladhorizid sponges, a Munidopsis squat lobster, a beautiful hydrozoan jellyfish, and at least two Nematocarcinus shrimp. We collected two primnoid corals and began our ascent at 3,615 meters after transiting ~900 meters.


 


 

 

 

An enteropneust (aka acorn worm) leaving a characteristic fecal coil on the seafloor in Sirena Canyon.

An enteropneust (or acorn worm) leaving a characteristic fecal coil on the seafloor in Sirena Canyon. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 23, 2016

Dive 3: "Sirena Canyon"

During Dive 3, we explored a canyon along the trench wall in the vicinity of Sirena Deep, one of the deepest spots in the Mariana Trench. Beginning at a depth of 4,983 meters, this was one of the deepest dives planned during this leg of this expedition. At the start of the dive, the seafloor was composed of fractured rock, which appeared to be volcanic in origin. The rocks were covered in a thick layer of sediment, supporting a theory that canyons act as funnels to accumulate high concentrations of sinking organic material. We collected a rock from this area for further analysis. As we moved upslope, there was a transition to layered sedimentary rocks. We collected a second rock from this area to compare the geological features of these two sections of the Sirena Canyon. Although the density of animals was fairly low throughout the dive, we saw a large variety of different kinds of animals living at these depths, including multiple species of sea cucumbers, benthic ctenophores, several species of crinoids, three types of sponges, Munidopsis squat lobsters, an acorn worm, and two types of isopods. We also saw polychaete worms and at least four different types of fish swimming in the water column and through our field of view. We collected one crinoid, one holothurian, and a cladhorizid sponge that we believe may be a new species. We look forward to finding out!


 


 

 

 

A Lepidisis coral imaged shortly before collecting it for further analysis.

A Lepidisis coral imaged shortly before being collected for further analysis. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of some of the beautiful fish imaged during this dive.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 22, 2016

Dive 2: Santa Rosa South

Dive 2 was conducted at Santa Rosa South to search for precious coral and bottomfish habitats. We began the dive at 578 meters and transited upslope along a ridge for ~900 meters. The beginning of the dive took place in an area of fractured volcanic rocks, possibly small, broken pillow or lobate flows. We saw numerous organisms in this area, including octocorals, scleractinian corals, squat lobsters, crabs, echinoderms, and many interesting fish. Around 350 meters, we entered a flat area that was covered with individuals of a small, white branched organism – we originally identified this as a type of sponge, but on closer investigation believe that it is a coral (likely Stylasteridae). Unfortunately, the animal was too fragile to collect, but we were able to get some great imagery of it. We also came across a couple of dead Primnoid corals that were colonized by anemones, barnacles, and many crinoids; one had a massive basket star wrapped up in it. We collected two carbonate rocks, one of which appears to be encrusted with manganese. We also collected a stalked crinoid, a deep-sea bamboo coral (Lepidisis), and a Madrepora scleractinian coral upon which a cup coral and squat lobster were living, The dive ended around 250 meters on a carbonate platform. Another fantastic dive under our belts!


 


 

 

 

A sixgill shark paid us a visit, and even stuck around for a minute. Note the high diversity of coral species in the foreground. Look closely, and you can see brittle starfish hiding in in the corals.

A sixgill shark paid us a visit, and even stuck around for a minute. Note the high diversity of coral species in the foreground. Look closely, and you can see brittle starfish hiding in in the corals. Click image for credit and larger view.

video Watch video of the shark.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 21, 2016

Dive 1: Santa Rosa North

Dive 1 was conducted today on a pinnacle located on Santa Rosa Reef, about 30 nautical miles southwest of Guam. We targeted this particular feature because its depth and structure are similar to known habitat for commercially important species of precious corals (typically found between 300-600 meters) and bottomfish (<400 meters), which are both managed by NOAA Fisheries. We began the remotely operated vehicle dive at ~650 meters depth and slowly ascended along the pinnacle slope to survey for both geological and biological features. At the start of the dive, the seafloor had relatively low relief and resembled a field of rocky rubble. As we ascended, there was much more vertical structure, with large boulders mixed in with the smaller broken up rocks. The dominant geologic features transitioned from basaltic to carbonate-rich composition. We made collections of both types of rocks for further analyses following the cruise. We were very surprised to come across a large fossilized shallow-water coral reef. Throughout the dive, we encountered several species of precious corals, confirming their presence in the region. Precious corals imaged included the stunning gold coral Kulamanamana in the family Parazoanthidae, the red precious coral Hemicorallium in the family Corallidae, and several black corals. As we transited shallower, the density of organisms increased, and we encountered relatively abundant assemblages of corals, squat lobsters, echinoderms, and fish. Although we did not encounter any snappers or groupers, we encountered three species of fish that are of commercial value: Monchong (deep-sea pomfret), Alphonsin (genus Beryx), and a roughy (Hoplostethus). A highlight of the dive was a visit by a sixgill shark! We finished the dive at ~350 meters, with all ship and shore-based participants extremely happy with the great success of this first dive of the expedition.


 


 

 

 

Leg 1 Biology Science Team Lead, Dr. Diva Amon, enjoying the view as NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer heads to sea to start Leg 1 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Expedition. You can see the island of Guam in the background.

Leg 1 Biology Science Team Lead, Dr. Diva Amon, enjoying the view as NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer heads to sea to start Leg 1 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition. You can see the island of Guam in the background. Click image for credit and larger view.

 


NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
April 20, 2016

The 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Commences

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer departed Guam at approximately 10:00 am this morning to commence the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition. Mapping operations were started once the ship was out of the harbor and continued en route to Fina Nagu Caldera A. At Fina Nagu, CTD rosette operations were conducted to collect water chemistry data to look for signs of active hydrothermal venting. Unfortunately, an electrical failure occurred during CTD operations so these were aborted, and mapping operations continued overnight. Onboard personnel spent the day getting familiar with ship systems and operations and preparing for the first remotely operated vehicle dive. Tomorrow, the ship will transition to operating on Fiji time (GMT +12) instead of ChST (GMT +10) to enable the participation of scientists and students across the U.S. mainland, and ensure as much participation as possible.


 


 

 

 

 

 

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