By Paula Keener, Marine Biologist - Director, Education Programs, NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research
September 9, 2012
A total of 35 scientists and 21 crew from 15 organizations representing the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Germany departed Suva, Fiji today and are making the R/V Roger Revelle their home for approximately the next three weeks as they launch the first broad scale exploration for hydrothermal vents at seamounts and spreading centers in the Northeast Lau Basin in the Western Pacific. Using the Quest 4000 remotely operated vehicle (ROV) from the University of Bremen in Germany, scientists will take a closer look at exploration targets identified during the last mission to the area in 2010. It was during this mission two years ago that exploration activities were conducted over seven submarine volcanoes known as the North Mata volcanoes and other hydrothermally active sites in the Northeast Lau Basin. Hydrothermal activity was detected over six of the North Matas, and now scientists are returning with more sophisticated equipment and more diverse expertise to continue explorations in the most volcanically-active area of the planet.
During the past two days, scientists carrying their supplies and equipment have boarded the 273-foot ship, operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and owned by the U.S. Navy. Using screw drivers, wrenches, duct tape, rope and twine; the main lab, computer lab, ROV, ROV van, CTD, telepresence system, biology lab, and wet lab have been set up and secured for departure. It will take approximately 30 hours steaming at about 12 knots before reaching our first exploration target, Vai Lili in the southernmost portion of the study area.
Approximately 50 university students, journalists, television media, staff of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Ambassador Frankie Reed were given tours of the ship as they learned about the unique deepwater geology and associated ecosystems in the Lau Basin and the unique technologies used by the science team to explore them. All had the opportunity to see the Quest 4000 ROV, sit inside the small ROV control van and view very impressive high definition underwater video from previous dives in other parts of the world ocean.