Deepwater Canyons 2013: Pathways to the Abyss

Background Information

Steve Ross, Research Professor - University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Center for Marine Science
Sandra Brooke, Associate Research Scholar - Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory
April 30 - May 27, 2013

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason II on the deck of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown.

The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason II on the deck of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown showing the two manipulator arms and various collecting containers. The ROV is equipped with a variety of cameras, a water monitoring instrument, water collectors, and bioboxes for bringing samples to the surface in good condition. Image courtesy of Art Howard, ArtWork, Inc. Download image (2.5 MB).

The Deepwater Canyons 2013: Pathways to the Abyss expedition will depart from Charleston, South Carolina, on 30 April on the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown and will return to Charleston on 28 May. The cruise will be divided into two legs, with an at-sea transfer of personnel between legs on 20 May just offshore of Norfolk, Virginia.


We will conduct 24-hour operations to maximize use of the expensive ship time. During the day, we will use the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason II (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) for 12-16 hour ROV dives, during which we will take digital images and high-definition video of the seafloor and collect of water, sediment and many different types of fauna for research objectives. At night, we will conduct non-ROV sampling, including box coring, bottom trawling, recovery of benthic landers, multibeam mapping, collection of water column environmental data, and water sampling (using a CTD instrument with niskin bottle rosette).

Education and outreach activities will be incorporated into the cruise using several websites including the NOAA Ocean Explorer website, the Deepwater Canyons Blog  from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the U.S. Geological Survey Deep-water Mid-Atlantic Canyons Project website, and other institutional websites.

Work during Leg I will emphasize biological objectives in Norfolk Canyon, with some sampling in Baltimore Canyon. Leg II will focus on archaeological targets in and around the Norfolk Canyon area, with some emphasis on biological objectives. This cruise will take advantage of and expand upon data collected during last year’s cruise (August-September 2012).

Leg I

At the start of Leg I, we will transit directly from Charleston to Norfolk Canyon, arriving about two days later during the early hours of the morning.  We will begin the ROV dive as soon as possible after arrival. For the next 17 days, we will conduct daily ROV dives and night time trawling, box coring, and CTD work in and around Norfolk Canyon.  Most of these dives will be on the rugged canyon walls, but we will also explore a potential new methane seep near the mouth of Norfolk Canyon.

We will also visit Baltimore Canyon (where we focused most of our effort in 2012) to recover, service, and redeploy two benthic landers and conduct ROV dives at a methane seep and an important coral site.

Leg II

At the end of Leg I, we will move to an area about 20 nautical miles off Norfolk, where we will exchange personnel using a shuttle vessel.

For the next eight days, scientists on Leg II will conduct their work in and around Norfolk Canyon, focusing on daily ROV dives to document and sample shipwrecks and other sites of historical interest.  Night activities will consist of multibeam sonar mapping and CTD casts.

The essays below will help you to understand the goals and objectives of the mission and provide additional context and information about the places being explored and the science, tools, and technologies being used.

  • Science Objectives

    April 30 - May 27, 2013  |  By Steve Ross and Sandra Brooke

    Science Objectives

    This four-year project has a wide variety of scientific objectives to investigate the biology, ecology, geology, and oceanography of two mid-Atlantic canyons off Virginia and Maryland. In addition, archeological sites within and adjacent to Norfolk Canyon are being explored and described.

    Read more
  • Archaeology of the Atlantic Canyons

    By Rod Mather

    Archaeology of the Atlantic Canyons

    The mid-Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS) intersects with some of the most historically significant waters in the United States and the historical and archaeological importance of the region is substantial. The area has a long and rich history connected to exploration, warfare, commerce, fishing, and recreation.

    Read more
  • The Hunt for Benthic Landers

    By Steve Ross and Sandra Brooke

    The Hunt for Benthic Landers

    It is always traumatic to deploy very expensive science gear into the marine environment.  Fishermen, members of the military, or anyone who uses the ocean can sometimes lose gear. For us, this risk is perhaps even more troublesome because in addition to perhaps loosing equipment worth many thousands of dollars, we also lose invaluable data and experiments.

    Read more
  • Deepwater Mid-Atlantic Canyons: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives

    By Steve Ross and Sandra Brooke

    Deepwater Mid-Atlantic Canyons: Past, Present, and Future Perspectives

    In the early 1980s, Dr. Barbara Hecker was the lead scientist on explorations of the canyons and slopes of the mid-Atlantic region, using towed camera sleds and the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible.ley Ridge is the deepest known photosynthetic coral reef off the continental U.S. Located in the Gulf of Mexico; it lies approximately 66 km west of the Dry Tortugas at the far end of the Florida Keys. Originally discovered in 1950, Pulley Ridge is approximately 300 km in length and 15 km wide.

    Read more