As yesterday’s mission log noted, our expedition is equipped with a science class remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of exploring the deep sea. Today’s ROV dive was spectacular due to favorable weather and oceanographic conditions, and especially due to the hard work of our mapping team and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster’s officers and crew.
Seafloor mapping is conducted on many scales and for multiple purposes. Deep-sea researchers have extensively surveyed regions of the West Florida slope between approximately 300-3,000 meters depth because it is more cost effective to collect high-resolution bathymetry data in deeper water than shallow water.
By combining past deep-sea coral observations with mapping efforts of NOAA’s fleet, our research team has a good idea of where to send the ROV Odysseus to look for coral and sponge habitat on the margin of the deep slope and shallow shelf. Exploring the unknown is one of the most exciting aspects of any mission. Images and video that we gather will help inform resource management as well as improve and calibrate NOAA’s predictive habitat models, which in turn guide future exploration.
Because the shallower seafloor directly adjacent to our study sites is only coarsely mapped, we are also collecting high-resolution bathymetry data at night when the ROV is not at work. This habitat information may aid fisheries managers when making future decisions.
So back to the day’s spectacular dive – we chose to explore the Long Mound region, one of five potential habitat areas of particular concern (HAPCs) proposed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. These areas are part of the West Florida carbonate ledge system, and are under consideration for protection from bottom-contact fishing gear. All the areas we will be visiting are connected by this steep ‘scarp’ – a ribbon of geological intensity 270 kilometers long that supports diverse deep-sea communities.
The ROV Odysseus, operated by Pelagic Research Services, captured a set of more than 1,000 stunning images today. A few are included here with more to come soon!
The expedition is supported by NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program through the Southeast Deep Coral Initiative (SEDCI), a multi-disciplinary effort that will study deep-sea coral ecosystems across the Southeast United States in 2016-2019.