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The Arctic is a vast, ice-covered ocean that teems with life, including organisms living in the ice, fish and marine mammals, birds, land animals, and human societies. Changes in the Arctic are happening rapidly. Expeditions supported by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research are helping to provide data needed to assess rapid environmental change not only in the Arctic, but around the globe, so that we can prepare for future global impacts.
The images below includes highlights from some of our recent expeditions to the Arctic. To view videos from the Arctic, check out this playlist.
Marine archaeology involves the study of ancient human objects, such as shipwrecks, found beneath the water's surface, to learn more about how humans have interacted with the ocean. Studying underwater archeological sites can help us understand the past, connect us to our cultural heritage, and teach us lessons on how the environment and human error can damage each other. Over the years, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research has supported several expeditions to explore deepwater shipwrecks and other archaeological sites. This is a collection of some of our best archaeology images from these expeditions. For archaeology videos, check out this playlist.
With continuing scientific and technological advances, our ability to observe the ocean environment and the animals that live there is beginning to catch up with our imaginations, expanding our understanding and appreciation of the still largely unexplored deep-ocean realm. The images in this gallery highlight some of the technologies that make deepwater exploration possible, including high-resolution mapping systems and tools for sampling the water column and seafloor.
While much of the seafloor is flat abyssal plain, there are areas where submarine canyons cut deep into the ocean bottom and seamounts rise from the ocean floor. Varying in size, shape, and complexity, these canyons and underwater mountains are not only interesting geological features in the ocean, but they also create habitat for deep-sea animals, providing shelter and hard surfaces on which to attach and diverting ocean currents to bring food to the deep. The images in this gallery feature just some of the geology and biology of submarine canyons and seamounts visited during recent expeditions supported by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
For a collection of videos from expeditions to explore canyons and seamounts, visit the Canyon and Seamount Habitats playlist.
Hydrothermal vents are places where geologic activity has opened cracks on the ocean floor that produce superheated and chemical-rich water that spews upward, similar to geysers on land. Where cold, hydrocarbon-rich water escapes from the seafloor, we find "cold seeps." Despite being in areas with no light for sunlight-driven food production, both vent and seep sites support diverse communities of animals that have adapted to produce food using chemical energy, via a process known as chemosynthesis.
The images in this gallery include underwater volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, and cold seeps and the unique geology and biology found during expeditions to these sites. For videos from these sites, check out this playlist.
While the term "coral" may conjure up images of sunny tropical reefs in warm, shallow waters, over half of all known coral species actually live in deep, dark waters. Found all over the world, these deep-sea corals provide habitat complexity to the ocean floor, just as trees turn an otherwise flat, open plain into a varied environment. And, as in the branches of trees, many organisms live among the corals, such as shrimp, crabs, brittle stars, worms, fish, and more. Thus, in the deep ocean, coral communities can essentially serve as important ecosystems unto themselves. The images below highlight some of the diverse coral communities encountered during expeditions over the years. For videos of coral communities, visit this playlist.
In the deep ocean, the majority of vertebrates, or animals with backbones, that we encounter are fish, ranging from important commercial species such as snapper and grouper to sharks and rays, anglerfish, cusk eels, and many others. While these fish are often top predators in the deep and are important components of the deep-sea food web, information about how deep-sea fish live is limited, as it is difficult to make direct observations of these organisms. However, as we learn more about fish and fish communities at different depths, we are building insights into what constitutes a healthy ecosystem, in turn establishing knowledge needed to help managers make the right decisions to conserve resources for future generations. The images in this gallery offer a snapshot of some of the fish encountered during expeditions. For fish videos, check out this playlist.
From octopods to sea cucumbers, shrimp, sea stars, jellyfish, and many more, the numerous invertebrates, or animals without backbones, that we encounter during deep-ocean dives dazzle us with their grace, beauty, particularities, and often alien-like appearances. Beyond their "cool" factor, these animals are important parts of the deep-sea ecosystem, and the more we learn about them through direct observations of behaviors in their habitats, the more insights we gain into ecosystem functions and health, so that we can make better decisions about managing the resources of the deep. Check out some of our favorite invertebrates seen while exploring the deep in this image gallery or by visiting this video playlist.
The water column is the largest, yet one of the most underexplored, habitats on the planet. With the full volume of the water column available to move freely about in all dimensions, midwater animals may seem sparse, but in fact, the water column also holds a much greater biomass than the seafloor. While the majority of our dives focus on surveying the seafloor to understand the habitat and life there, we are beginning to apply tools and technologies to learn about the abundant life that lives between the sea surface and the seafloor. From gelatinous animals such as jellies and siphonophores to fish and squid, the organisms that live in the water column are an essential link in the marine ecosystem. The images below highlights water column exploration; water column exploration videos are available via this video playlist.
Multibeam sonar, which collects data over a fan-shaped “swath” of many points, allows us to map the seafloor to resolutions down to 100 meters (328 feet). Unlike altimeter data collected using satellites, which has a resolution of 1.5 kilometers (about one mile) and provides a general picture of the seafloor without much detail, multibeam sonar data may allow us to spot previously unseen features such as seamounts, deep-sea sandwaves, faults, ancient coral reefs, and even new types of features that are currently unknown to science. Even with new advances in bathymetric mapping, only a limited portion of the vast seafloor has actually been mapped in high resolution. Consequently, seafloor mapping is an important part of ocean exploration expeditions. This gallery includes bathymetric images generated via multibeam data to show the shape of the seafloor.