Expedition Planning and Operations

Remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer.

In 2001, the Ocean Exploration Program was created within NOAA to lead ocean exploration, as defined by the President's Panel Report on Ocean Exploration as discovery through disciplined, diverse observations and recordings of findings.

At the forefront of our activities are research expeditions to explore previously unvisited areas of the ocean. We provide partnership coordination, funding, staff, tools, and expertise needed to develop mission plans that deliver rigorous, systematic observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean. Our work takes scientists and managers to high-priority, yet otherwise inaccessible, areas of the ocean, allowing them to make critical baseline observations and characterizations, deliver intelligence needed to better understand deep-water areas and more effectively target future research efforts, and transition ocean discoveries to research results that benefit society.

Within OER, we essentially operate under two paradigms for exploration: targeted exploration and telepresence-enabled systematic exploration.


Targeted Exploration

Targeted exploration involves filling the "holes in the sea," where specific ocean regions or problems are identified and tackled. We work in partnership with academia, other government agencies, and the private sector to explore areas ripe for discovery where there has been little exploration to date. For example, expeditions based on programmatic and geographic areas of study include marine biodiversity, the Arctic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, exploring the ocean through time, and marine archaeology. OER sponsors these "targeted" exploration expeditions through opportunistic efforts that are topical, spatially and geographically focused, or occur over a specific time scale.


Systematic Telepresence-enabled Exploration

Systematic telepresence-enabled exploration involves the use of technology to expand the reach of research activities by allowing shore-based explorers of all backgrounds and ages access to the excitement of real-time discovery on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer without ever leaving their own computers. Using high-speed satellite and Internet 2 connections, scientists can remain on shore at Exploration Command Centers and guide or contribute to exploration plans and observations, communicating real-time with the shipboard scientists and technicians. Through standard Internet connections, anyone with a computer and web access can watch and listen in on operations aboard ship, bringing real-time exploration into living rooms, schools, laboratories, and businesses across the globe.

A legacy of high-quality imagery, high-definition video, 3D maps, and sensor data provides an initial characterization or "sense of place" of previously unexplored regions. Real-time video streams and publicly available data and products catalyze follow-up research, new technologies and methods, and innovative education and outreach programs. Real-time collaboration across the globe fosters national and international collaborations to explore the deep ocean, increasing the pace and efficiency of exploring.

In May 2011, OER hosted a workshop at the Coastal Institute on the University of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay campus with members of the science community and federal and state partners to discuss potential targets for systematic telepresence-enabled exploration in the Atlantic Basin, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The Atlantic Basin Workshop Summary (pdf 0.86 MB) summarizes the background, workshop objectives, key discussions, recommended targets and other important topics identified by the participants. Appendices are also included for additional information about the workshop and related activities.