Okeanos Explorer Sampling FAQs

Q: Why are there limits on the number and type of samples collected during Okeanos Explorer expeditions?

A: The philosophy that guides sampling during exploration expeditions aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer purposely differs from sampling efforts that typically occur on conventional research expeditions. The underlying goal of exploration sampling is to enable a broad characterization of the physical, chemical, geological, and biological environments in the areas of interest.

Exploration sampling is intended to acquire a limited number of physical specimens that can 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 typically there will be fewer samples taken during any given remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive than during conventional research expeditions.

The type of samples collected are limited to those that can be safely and efficiently collected by the sampling tools available on the ROV. The number of samples collected will also vary depending on the expedition, onboard staffing, and space available on the ROV and ship. The Science Leads and the Expedition Coordinator determine the appropriate allocation of dive time devoted to sampling versus other dive priorities such as video site reconnaissance or close-up imaging.


Q: What happens to the biological specimens recovered during Okeanos Explorer expeditions? How are they processed and preserved onboard the ship?

A: Once a decision is made to collect a particular sample, the Science Leads will ensure that appropriate video documentation of the specimen is taken before it is collected and ensure that all relevant metadata (i.e., date, time, depth, latitude, longitude, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and salinity) are recorded at the time of collection.

Once a specimen is brought onboard, it will be inspected for associated organisms, photographed, labeled, and inventoried into a database containing all relevant metadata. All associated organisms will be separated from the specimen and processed separately.

In cases where biological samples are large enough to allow for subsampling without destroying the sample, small clippings will be taken and preserved separately for DNA analyses (95 percent ethanol), and in some cases, also for histological examination (10 percent buffered formalin).

After specimens are labeled and photographed, biological samples will be preserved in 95 percent ethanol, unless a formalin preservation (e.g., 10 percent buffered formalin) is preferred for a particular taxon.


Q: How can I obtain biological samples recovered during Okeanos Explorer expeditions for my research?

A: Biological samples collected during NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expeditions are archived in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution. The NMNH catalogues, curates, and makes the samples 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 .


Q: How can I obtain geological samples recovered during Okeanos Explorer expeditions for my research?

A: NOAA partners with Oregon State University through its Cooperative Institute of Marine Resources Studies in order to archive geological 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 about each geological specimen, and information on how to request access to these geological samples can be found here .


Q: How do I access digital data (e.g., images, metadata) associated with the samples collected during Okeanos Explorer expeditions?

A: The Sampling Operations Database Application (SODA) is a Microsoft Access database that is used during Okeanos Explorer expeditions to record the metadata of each sample collected during dive operations. Following the completion of an expedition and quality control of database entries by the science team, an export of all of the specimen records for that expedition is saved in a comma-separated values (.csv) file, and a formatted report of all of the specimen data is saved in a PDF format. Both of these digital files are then archived at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). These data products can be accessed through the OER Digital Atlas, which is also accessible from the Data page on this website. Through the Digital Atlas, users can follow the “ROV Data Access” tab to download metadata for the “Collected Specimens,” as well as follow links to the respective repositories where the physical samples are archived.

Users can also find information about sampling operations through the Okeanos Explorer Atlas, which is also accessible from the Data page on this website. 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.


Q: Does active participation in Okeanos Explorer expeditions provide privileged sample access?

A: Active participation in NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expeditions does not provide privileged access to collected samples. OER expeditions aboard the Okeanos Explorer were established to conduct systematic, telepresence-enabled exploration, which provides opportunities for anyone to participate. Consistent with the principles of open and equal data access, the results of the expeditions likewise are intended to be freely available to anyone. However, since expedition participants will inevitably be more familiar with expedition details, such as what samples were acquired, they will have an advantage; specifically, they will be able to make sample requests that can place them at the front of the request queue of the respective sample repository.