NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is the only federal vessel dedicated to exploring our largely unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge about the deep ocean. The ship is operated by the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and civilians as part of NOAA's fleet managed by NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. Mission equipment is operated by NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research in partnership with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration .
Missions of the 224-foot vessel include mapping, site characterization, reconnaissance, advancing technology, education, and outreach—all focused on understanding, managing, and protecting our ocean. Expeditions are planned collaboratively, with input from partners and stakeholders, and with the goal of providing data that will benefit NOAA, the scientific community, and the public.
During Okeanos Explorer expeditions, data are collected using a variety of advanced technologies to explore and characterize unknown or poorly known deepwater ocean areas, features, and phenomena at depths ranging from 250 to 6,000 meters (820 to 19,700 feet). The ship is equipped with four different types of mapping sonars that collect high-resolution data about the seafloor and the water column, a dual-body remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of diving to depths of 6,000 meters, and a suite of other instruments to help characterize the deep ocean. Expeditions typically consist of either 24-hour mapping operations or a combination of daytime ROV dives and overnight mapping operations.
Unlike many other ocean expeditions supported by NOAA, most of the scientists participating in Okeanos Explorer missions remain on shore, thanks to telepresence technology. The ship is equipped with a high-bandwidth satellite communications system capable of transmitting mapping and oceanographic data and real-time, high-definition video feeds from the ROV through network connections to scientists on shore. Using this technology, a theoretically unlimited number of scientists standing watches at a series of Exploration Command Centers ashore (or at the comfort of their own desks) are able to add their expertise to missions no matter where in the world the ship, or the scientists, are located.
Simultaneously, public viewers can tune in online to watch and listen to ongoing expeditions, bringing the excitement of ocean exploration and discoveries into classrooms, newsrooms, and homes—to anyone who has an Internet connection and a passion for learning about the ocean.
Since being commissioned in 2008, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer has traveled the globe, exploring everywhere from the Indonesian “Coral Triangle Region” and benthic environments in the Galápagos, to areas in the Gulf of Mexico, canyons and seamounts off the Northeast U.S. Atlantic coast, and marine protected areas within the Pacific. By collecting baseline information in never-before-explored areas, Okeanos expeditions further our knowledge while setting the stage for future in-depth exploration activities.
Prior to being obtained by NOAA in 2004 and commissioned in 2008, the Okeanos Explorer operated as the U.S. Naval Ship Capable, a T-AGOS class vessel. The ship was named by students from Illinois’ Woodstock High School in a nationwide ship-naming contest; in ancient Greek cosmology, Okeanos was the river/ocean that encircled the world.
The ship is homeported in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and conducts operations around the globe.