NOAA’s ocean exploration mission was established in 2000 following the release of a report by a presidential panel calling for a national program of ocean exploration. According to the report, the new focus on ocean exploration would be “for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge.” For more than a decade, the mission of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), formerly the Office of Ocean Exploration, has been to explore, discover, and advance knowledge by obtaining and sharing ocean information of high value with a variety of audiences. This is critically important knowledge that becomes available in no way other than through ocean exploration.
To study microbes as part of Ocean Sampling Day on June 21, OER coordinated cross-NOAA efforts to obtain ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes water samples at 13 U.S. sites, simultaneously with and part of more than 185 international collections. The samples will support international and NOAA objectives to understand the diversity, functions, and even the potential economic benefits of microbes. Shown here is Tiani Naholowaa collecting water at the Ala Wai site on Oahu. Credit: NOAA.
In 2014, OER and partner organizations advanced ocean knowledge in numerous ways to a wide variety of stakeholder audiences. Examples include a focus on partnerships to leverage the delivery of ocean information; the expanded use of communication delivery systems such as social media; presentations posters and panel discussion participation during agency and inter-agency working groups and at regional, national, and international seminars and conventions; ever-improving data accessibility; news releases; media interviews; and publications and articles in professional journals. These and other communication avenues were part of OER’s science, outreach, and education efforts that contributed to OER’s 2014 record of advancing ocean knowledge.
Federal Funding Opportunities
A number of OER science-related projects helped communicate ocean knowledge during the year. OER resumed and expanded its Federal Funding Opportunity grants program. After mail and peer reviews, in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the office funded 11 new proposals for about $4.2 million, deferring funding of two proposals for $0.4 million to FY15. A new FY15 grants program will focus on the use of existing Extended Continental Shelf data to advance knowledge of the Arctic. This support of extramural exploration projects highlights collaborations with NOAA offices and supports OER partnership efforts with other government agencies and the academic community.
Submarine Canyon Symposium
OER sponsored, co-organized, and participated in the second International Network for Submarine Canyon Investigation and Scientific Exchange symposium in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, where NOAA presented papers and posters. The symposium featured a live telepresence interaction with NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Symposium participants were very interested in the OER exploration model and had numerous questions about dive locations, equipment, and data availability.
University of Texas Brownsville student and NOAA Educational Partnership Program intern Rebekah Rodriguez works on a computer terminal on board the Okeanos Explorer as part of her three-week summer internship. Rodriguez was part of the team that mapped and explored portions of the New England Seamounts, a chain of extinct submarine volcanoes that extend from east to west across the North Atlantic Ocean. Credit: UT Brownsville.
OER offers developmental training opportunities to students on a path to be the next generation of ocean explorers. Students work with OER, notably in mapping the seafloor and water column. In 2014, OER supported 15 mapping explorers-in-training positions on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Most participants come through the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which in 2014 provided 12 mapping trainee positions for operations in the Gulf of Mexico and in exploring undersea canyons and seamounts off the U.S. Atlantic coast.
Mapping trainees also came from NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program, which, in partnership with Minority Serving Institutions, seeks to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who are educated in fields that directly support NOAA’s mission.
Other explorers-in-training come through NOAA’s Sea Grant programs in Maryland and Virginia and the NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program.
Opportunities are open to enrolled undergraduate and graduate students and recent graduates from higher education programs. At-sea opportunities provide experience using Okeanos Explorer’s advanced multibeam sonar mapping system and the chance to contribute in a significant way to NOAA’s ocean exploration mission.
A typical experience includes one to three weeks at sea during the spring or summer. Trainees stand daily eight-hour mapping watches that include acquisition and processing of multibeam data and associated sound velocity profile data, as well as precise record keeping. Trainees complete an onboard project they choose, with support from the mapping team. Previous trainees now work for NOAA, USGS, private survey companies, the National Aquarium, and other organizations.
Outreach and Education
Ocean knowledge was advanced using traditional and new media. A news release invited the public in advance to view website pages that offered live streaming video from the seafloor during remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, especially during the investigation of three wood-hulled shipwrecks believed to be from the early 1800s. A second news release was issued when, in the course of investigating one of those shipwrecks, a NOAA marine archaeologist observed in the debris field what appeared to be a ship’s chronometer. This was an important discovery because ship chronometers were new and very expensive and thus not common at the time, but were critical to determining the position of ships at sea. Because of those considerations, some marine archaeologists surmised the ship went down quickly with no survivors, because the chronometer would certainly have been taken from the ship by survivors. Major media worldwide covered these and follow-on stories during the 2014 field season.
About 30 members of the D.C. Science Writers Association and other media toured NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the ship’s port visit in Baltimore. Based on a successful program undertaken by E/V Nautilus, OER created Exploration Alerts, or emails sent to media representatives, social media managers, and public affairs contacts at partner organizations. More than 100 participants have signed up for alert messages, which are issued several times over the course of Okeanos Explorer ROV expeditions, typically just prior to ROV dives that are anticipated to be of special interest and immediately after notable discoveries.
More than 2,000 members of the public and an additional 18 VIP tour groups visited NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and the embarked OER ocean exploration team during the ship’s port call in Baltimore for the Star-Spangled Spectacular celebration. Credit: Art Howard, ARTWORK.
In 2014, OER website and social media coverage expanded significantly. That story is mostly told on the “By the Numbers” page of this report, but what is not included there are the uncounted numbers of those exposed to OER stories in the website and social media extensions provided by our many partners, friends, and followers.
During FY14, traffic to the NOAA Ocean Explorer website was the highest ever, with 10.7 million visits. This was a 7.6 percent increase over FY13 and a nearly 50 percent increase over FY12 visits. Live video pages were visited about 680,000 times, and percentages of those receiving OER information via social media delivery systems were up significantly.
OER has always focused on advancing ocean education by reaching out to learners of all ages in both formal and informal educational programs, and 2014 was no exception. Educational materials were downloaded approximately two million times, more than doubling from FY13. It was also the year that OER passed the 6,000 mark of teachers who have participated in day-long ocean exploration workshops where lesson plan content aligns with expeditions by Okeanos Explorer. OER also worked with a team of educators to tie OER’s Okeanos Explorer Education Materials Collection Series to the recently released Next Generation Science Standards that have been endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association and the National Research Council.
Thanks to telepresence technology, anyone with Internet access can follow one of OER’s telepresence-enabled explorations. Here, Oliver and Edwin Tartt watch the mission over breakfast while their family is on vacation in South Carolina. Credit: NOAA OER.
In 2014, OER offered a five-week long online workshop titled “Deep-sea Discoveries in the Atlantic Onboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer: An Online Workshop to Advance Transatlantic Ocean Science Literacy,” as Okeanos Explorer investigated that area. A total of 640 national and international participants registered. The workshop extended conversations on transatlantic ocean literacy and supported a pre-conference workshop prior to the National Marine Educators Association conference. Course materials are archived here .
OER also co-led the Ocean Literacy theme and the Marine Microbial Ecology theme on the E.U.–U.S. Joint Consultative Group/Marine Working Group to increase scientific cooperation and advance transatlantic ocean literacy. Ocean Sampling Day was part of this international effort.