Expedition Overview

Between May 26 - June 14, 2022, a team of scientists will explore Escanaba Trough, about 200 miles off the coast of northern California, in order to characterize the hydrothermal sulfide system within the trough. They are also seeking to learn more about the hydrothermal minerals, fluids, and organisms that live near active and inactive hydrothermal settings and explore interactions between marine life, the metal sulfide minerals, and the hydrothermal and oceanic environments enveloping both.

Escanaba Trough is the only oceanic spreading center within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Hundreds of meters of continental sediment have accumulated in the trough, and the combination of sediments and hydrothermal fluids has resulted in a unique hydrothermal system and potentially extensive sulfide mineral precipitation. While the sulfide deposits within the trough are known to contain critical minerals, only very small areas of the Escanaba Trough have been explored and fewer still have been sampled. During this expedition, scientists on Research Vessel Thomas G. Thompson will use the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)’s remotely operated vehicle Jason combined with WHOI’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry to perform an interdisciplinary exploration of the extent and activity of the Escanaba sulfide deposits, marine life, and surrounding environmental system.

In addition to expanding our understanding of the only oceanic spreading center located within the EEZ of the continental United States, this expedition will result in expanded baseline data regarding the location, size, and composition of sulfide mineral deposition within Escanaba Trough; an understanding of the surrounding water column including oxygen, particles, and chemistry; knowledge of the organisms inhabiting hydrothermally active and inactive regions of the hydrothermal system, including deep-sea corals; and expanded data and technique development regarding the extent to which magnetic and AUV-based surveys can be used to locate sulfide deposits buried under sediments.

Operations

Map showing the location of the Escanaba Trough off the coast of California, the area targeted for exploration during the Escanaba Trough: Exploring the Seafloor and Oceanic Footprints expedition.
Map showing the location of the Escanaba Trough off the coast of California, the area targeted for exploration during the Escanaba Trough: Exploring the Seafloor and Oceanic Footprints expedition. Image courtesy of Escanaba Trough: Exploring the Seafloor and Oceanic Footprints Download largest version (jpg, 979 KB).

Education Themes

Education theme pages provide the best of what the NOAA Ocean Exploration website has to offer to support your classroom during this expedition. On each theme page, you will find links to expedition features, lessons, multimedia, career information, and associated past expeditions.

Partners

This interagency project involving NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will be a significant contribution to the National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (pdf) (national strategy). Under the national strategy, the recently released draft Strategic Priorities for Ocean Exploration and Characterization of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (pdf) highlights science needs in five thematic areas: benthic ecology, cultural heritage, marine resources, seafloor hazards, and the water column. Understanding critical minerals is also a priority articulated in the Energy Act of 2020.


Media Contacts

Emily Crum

Communication Specialist, NOAA Ocean Exploration
ocean-explore-comms@noaa.gov

John Romero

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Public Affairs
john.romero@boem.gov

Peter Pearsall

U.S. Geological Survey Public Affairs
ppearsall@usgs.gov

Paul Laustsen

U.S. Geological Survey Public Affairs
plaustsen@usgs.gov

Funding for this expedition was provided by NOAA Ocean Exploration via its Ocean Exploration Fiscal Year 2019 Funding Opportunity and through the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). NOPP was established by Congress to advance economic development, protect quality of life, strengthen science education and communication, and assure national security by improving knowledge of the ocean through partnerships among federal agencies, academia, industry, and non-governmental organizations.

This expedition is being conducted as part of EXPRESS: Expanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems, a multi-year, multi-institution cooperative research campaign in deep sea areas of California, Oregon, and Washington, including the continental shelf and slope.