Accessing Samples Collected Via NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

Port-side biological sampling bin open to receive a coral sample.

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 about the deep ocean. 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 the 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 the Okeanos Explorer is publicly 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 research cruise sampling, the objective of exploration expedition sampling is solely to achieve a fair characterization of a dive site, including physical, chemical, and biological environments in the area of interest. Exploration sampling is intended to acquire the minimum number of specimens to provide a general representation of the biological and geological settings for a given dive or an area of interest, as well as other relevant information. This, combined with the limited on board processing and storage capabilities of the Okeanos Explorer, means that typically there will be approximately four to six samples, maximum, taken during any given dive.

Sampling, particularly for biological specimens, is done with the intent to minimize negative impacts on the local environment and other organisms. Ideally, only a sub-sample is taken of an in situ biological organism (e.g., only a piece of a sponge or a branch of a coral). When possible, acquiring rock samples with pristine surfaces (i.e., those without obvious adhered biology) are preferred.

In all instances, the types and sizes of physical samples collected are restricted to those that can be safely and efficiently acquired using the remotely operated vehicle’s manipulators.


Acquiring Collected Biologic Samples

Biologic samples collected during Okeanos Explorer expeditions are made available through the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History Research and Collections, to provide access to as many researchers as possible. Here, they are taxonomically identified, curated, and made accessible through the Invertebrate Zoology Collection. Online metadata information about the samples, a searchable database, and information on how to request the samples is available online: 

During at-sea sample processing, prior to additional preservation techniques such as ethanol or formalin, small tissue samples are preserved onboard for later genomic DNA and RNA extraction at the Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL) Center in Northeastern University. Available materials can be searched, browsed, and requested through the online catalog on the OGL website, . OGL can also be contacted directly at, 781-581-7370 x343.

During the Campaign to Address Pacific monument Science, Technology, and Ocean NEeds (CAPSTONE), cruises in 2015-2017, select deep-sea coral and sponge specimens were split and sub-samples made accessible through the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s marine invertebrate collection. The museum has a website about the Invertebrate Zoology collection including frequently asked questions, a description of holdings, a searchable database, loan request forms for specimens, and contact information: 


Aquiring Collected Geologic Samples

All rock samples are archived through Oregon State University’s Marine Geology Repository ( ). These samples are now available through the Repository’s sample library. The Repository provides online metadata information about the rocks and how to request samples.


Digital Sampling Data

Digital records of all Okeanos Explorer sampling operations can be accessed through the OER Digital Atlas. Through the Digital Atlas, users can find the “Collected Specimens” from the Data Access tab of cruises for which specimens were collected. Another source of information about the sampling operations and access to some selected images for each specimen can be found in the Okeanos Explorer Atlas. Through this GIS application, users can access a point layer of locations where specimens were collected for each applicable cruise with information about each specimen as well as in situ, close-up, and laboratory images of each specimen.


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