Accessing Samples Collected by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

Collecting a coral sample with the ROV

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is the only federal vessel dedicated to exploring our largely unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. In close collaboration with government agencies, academic institutions, and other partners, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) conducts deep-ocean exploration expeditions using advanced technologies on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. From mapping and characterizing previously unseen seafloor to collecting and disseminating information about ocean depths, this work helps to establish baseline information and fill data gaps. A part of this work includes the collection of a limited number of physical samples.


Okeanos Sampling Operations

OER adheres to the Federal Government’s equal and open data policy concerning access to samples. Data collection methods and processing steps are fully documented and published for easy data discovery and access and to ensure long-term data stewardship. Information collected aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is typically made publically available within 60-90 days after the end of a mission. Access to samples is provided by the designated sample repositories defined below as quickly as possible and is not subject to proprietary holds, with limited exceptions (e.g., samples collected in foreign waters, samples associated with sensitive marine cultural sites, specific sample collections funded by OER’s partners that may be temporarily withheld from public access for a specified period of time).

In a deliberate contrast with sampling that typically occurs on conventional research expeditions, the objective of exploration sampling that occurs on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expeditions is solely to achieve a broad characterization of a dive site, including the physical, chemical, geological, and biological environments in the area of interest. Exploration sampling is intended to acquire a limited number of physical specimens to provide a general representation of the biological and geological settings for a given dive site or area of interest. This, combined with the limited on-board processing and storage capabilities on the Okeanos Explorer, means that there will be fewer samples taken taken during any given remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive than during conventional research expeditions.

Sampling will be done with an intent to minimize negative impacts on the local environment and other organisms. Ideally, only a sub-sample will be taken of a biological organism (e.g., only a piece of a sponge or a branch of a coral). In all instances, the types and sizes of physical samples collected will be restricted to those that can be safely and efficiently acquired with the ROV manipulator arms.


Acquiring Collected Biologic Samples

Biologic samples collected during Okeanos Explorer expeditions are archived in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Here, they are catalogued, curated, and made publically available. Biological samples of invertebrate organisms are archived in the Invertebrate Zoology Collections  and information on how to request access to these samples can be found here . Biological samples of fishes are archived in the Division of Fishes of the Vertebrate Zoology Collections , and information on how to request access to these samples can be found here .

During at-sea sample processing, prior to other preservation methods such as ethanol or formalin, small tissue samples are preserved in 95 percent ethanol for later genomic analyses. These tissue samples are all archived and made publically available via the Biorepository  at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. The DNA samples in the Biorepository are linked to the catalogue records in either the collections of Invertebrate Zoology  or Division of Fishes of Vertebrate Zoology  and can be requested using the links provided above. DNA samples of specimens collected in 2015-2018 were also archived at the at the Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL) Center  at Northeastern University, and information on how to request access to those DNA samples can be found here .


Acquiring Collected Geologic Samples

All geological samples collected during Okeanos Explorer expeditions are archived through the Marine and Geology Repository at Oregon State University . The repository provides online metadata information about each geological specimen. Information on how to request access to these geological samples can be found here .


Digital Sampling Data

Digital records of data collected during during Okeanos Explorer expeditions can be accessed through the OER Digital Atlas. Through the Digital Atlas, users can access data collected during each expedition, including video and environmental data collected on every ROV dive, mapping data and oceanographic and meteorological data. For expeditions with ROV sampling operations, users can follow the “ROV Data Access” tab to download metadata for the “Collected Specimens,” as well as follow links to the respective sample repositories.

Users can also find information about sampling operations through the Digital Atlas. Through this GIS application, users can access a point layer of “Specimen Collections” for expeditions with ROV sampling operations, which provides the locations where physical specimens were collected, along with other metadata and in situ, close-up, and laboratory images of collected specimens.

For additional information, view these frequently asked questions and answers regarding Okeanos Explorer sampling.