Follow along as participants in the cruise provide updates and reflections on their experiences, the science, the technology, and other elements of the expedition.
The 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition was a 59-day, three leg telepresence-enabled expedition including remotely operated vehicle, CTD rosette, and mapping operations to explore unknown and poorly known areas in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer returned to Guam on July 10, 2016, after completing 22 remotely operated vehicle dives and over 270 hours of dedicated mapping operations to collect baseline information in unknown and poorly understood areas in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.
As this was my first experience with the deep sea, I learned many fascinating things about the ocean, the ecosystems we visited, and about the Marianas as a whole from the participating science team. Here are some of my favorite lessons learned.
On July 9, 2016, we had the opportunity to investigate two sonar anomalies that we thought might be a B-29 aircraft lost in World War II near Tinian Island.
Now that we have such great eyes in the deep sea, some people wonder why we need to collect specimens any more. A good example of the problems we face as biologists involves the bottom-dwelling octopods encountered during the Marianas expedition.
Whether we are exploring planet Earth and its oceans or our galaxy and beyond, our journeys stem from the same curiosity about the world around us. Whether we go further into space or dive deeper into the planet, we need to inspire that same kind of curiosity in future generations of explorers and innovators.
In the deep sea, we see many cutthroat eels, cusk eels, halosaurs, and codlings with long, tapering body shapes. There are distinct advantages that have led to the prevalence of the long body type that help us answer the question of why is this type of fish so common in the deep sea.
What made this expedition so interesting was the variety of geologic environments we were going to explore, from the familiar to the very mysterious. These included hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, seamounts, and even the Mariana Trench itself.
After conquering the hottest deserts, summiting the highest mountains, and even surpassing our own atmosphere, the interest for and awareness of the need for ocean exploration still remains relatively low on most people’s priority list.
Guyots are flat-topped mountains in the sea. When we see mountains either on land or below the surface of the ocean, we do not think of them as having both a life and a death, but they do.
I have been asked more than once by folks watching video of deep-sea octocorals, “Are octocorals plants or animals?” The answer to the question is “Octocorals are animals,” but let me suggest some reasons they grossly resemble plants.
All too often, deep-sea animals are known only from a single broken specimen or a few, collected many years ago. So it was very unusual to see this deep-sea shrimp alive during a Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle dive, as scientists explored the deep sea around the Mariana Trench.
Commissioned in August 2008, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer was brought online as the nation’s first and only federal vessel with a mandate to explore the unknown ocean, and to do it in a unique and innovative way: by conducting community-driven, telepresence-enabled systematic ocean exploration.
Dives 5, 8, and 9 of the third leg of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition were made at three active submarine volcanoes - Ahyi Seamount, Eifuku Seamount, and Daikoku Seamount. These three seamounts are part of the Mariana Volcanic Arc, which is a chain of over 60 active volcanoes stretching over 600 miles west of and parallel to the Mariana Trench.
Dr. Sherm Bloomer (Oregon State) and I named this volcano more than 30 years ago when we first surveyed and dredge-sampled it in 1985. Could we use remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer to find the hydrothermal activity on Chamorro?
It may surprise most people that as familiar as sea stars are, there are surprisingly large gaps in our knowledge regarding the basic biology and especially ecology of most described species, especially those in the deep sea.
As deep-sea biologists, we are constantly surprised by new animals and fascinating discoveries. Having been a science lead onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer for Leg 1 of the current expedition, I know firsthand that the Mariana region is no exception!
When most people think of sharks, they get images from the movie Jaws of a huge great white or they think of sleek, fast reef sharks, high fins cutting through the surface of the ocean. As with so many other animals, deeper living species have a different appearance and often a slower pace of life due to low light levels and temperatures.
As an expedition coordinator, my job is to plan and see to the overall success of a cruise. This means balancing the demands of multiple scientists with differing objectives, the interests of our partners, and operational constraints.
Leg 2 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition is the second of three cruises focused on acquiring baseline data in deepwater areas of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, in order to support NOAA and partner science and management needs and to understand the diversity and distribution of deepwater habitats in the area.
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer pulled into port in Saipan on May 11, bringing Leg 1 of the expedition to a close. The cruise was very successful, and the expedition team could not have asked for a better start to our work in this region of the Pacific!
Thanks to the expertise of the Okeanos Explorer team, we’ve had the opportunity to see an unbelievably beautiful, never seen before species of jellyfish, ghost sharks, brittle-star-encrusted corals, galatheid squat lobsters, one gigantic lobster, black smoker chimneys, lava pillows, carbonate platforms, and the list goes on.
In preparation for the current expedition, participating biologists tried to find species records and literature for the region to plan for observations, but could hardly find anything. Because the deep water of the Marianas is so poorly studied, biologists do not know which regions have similar fauna, necessary information to have for understanding deep-sea connectivity.
In shallow waters, fishes that live in the open and are active during the day are brightly colored with vivid patterns that are unique to each species. In contrast, the fishes more than a mile deep are almost uniformly brown or gray. In even deeper areas, many are white because pigment cells are absent from the skin.
The Mariana Trench is one of about 30 subduction zones that make up the hadal zone, depths 6,000 – 11,000 meters. Trenches offer a distinct deep-sea habitat for a number of cool critters.
All of our expeditions on the Okeanos Explorer are live-streamed through telepresence technology which allows scientists from all over the country and the world to communicate directly with the ship-based team to direct operations.
Dives 9, 10, and 11 on this expedition were all made on the Mariana back-arc, a deep rift valley where seafloor spreading is occurring and volcanic eruptions provide the heat to create hydrothermal vents and their unique biological communities.
May 1: Same Ship, Different Job: What It’s Like to be in Charge of ROV Dives Onboard the Okeanos Explorer for the Very First Time
I’m Jim Newman, the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Dive Supervisor for Leg 1 of the Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition. This is my fourth trip on the Okeanos Explorer as part of the ROV Engineering Team, but my first in the role of Dive Supervisor.
This is a fascinating region for geologists. The Mariana Trench marks the convergent plate boundary between the subducting Pacific plate and the overlying Mariana-Philippine Sea plate. The southern Mariana region is part of the over-riding plate and has high tectonic activity, such as faulting and earthquakes, as well as volcanism.
The 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition has a particular emphasis on engaging the local community in Guam and Saipan – through public presentations, ship tours, live interactions with museums and schools, and partnerships.
As you’ve been following our expedition, you may have noticed that we often come across animals living in tandem with other animals, which we sometimes refer to as associates. The relationship between associates and their hosts can be described as mutualistic, commensal, or parasitic.
You may think that working in the deep sea means that we only see pristine environments, but unfortunately that isn’t true. During our 5,000-meter dive in Sirena Canyon, along the Mariana Trench wall, we saw multiple pieces of marine debris.
After months of planning, community engagement, and pre-cruise preparations, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer pulled off of Navy Base Guam dock this morning to launch the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas Expedition!
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