Jeremy Potter, Expedition Coordinator - NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and associated biological communities on the Galápagos Rift in 1977 (Corliss et al., 1979) profoundly and permanently changed our view of the deep sea and revolutionized the oceanographic and earth sciences. Since 1977, there have been a number of follow-on expeditions to conduct exploration and research on vents and other habitats in the vicinity of the Galápagos Islands. This cruise will be the first of two major expeditions for the Okeanos Explorer Program in 2011. The expedition will focus on water column and deep unexplored diversity of benthic environments in the Galápagos region. We expect to explore newly-discovered – black smoker plume signals, the oldest known vent fields, off-axis sulfide mounds, deep fracture zones, and seamounts.
From June to July 2011, a team of scientists and technicians both at-sea and on shore will conduct exploratory investigations on the diversity and distribution of deep-sea habitats and marine life in the vicinity of the Galápagos Islands. We hope to have a live-internet connection to allow the world public to ‘join’ the Team in making real-time discoveries from hundreds to thousands of meters below the ocean surface. The 50-day expedition is divided into two ‘legs’ and includes work in Ecuador, Costa Rica, and international waters.
Starting around June 19, scientists and technicians began mapping the seafloor using the multibeam sonar and characterizing the water column with the CTD/rosette. Starting on July 13, we will also explore seafloor habitats using the Institute for Exploration’s Little Hercules (“Little Herc”) remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). As of July 12, the tentative schedule is:
The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is one of the newest additions to the NOAA fleet and was commissioned in 2008. It provides accommodations for up to 46 crew and technicians. Unique to this ship is that most of the scientists will remain ashore. Via telepresence, live images from the seafloor and other science data will flow over satellite and high-speed Internet pathways to scientists standing watches in Exploration Command Centers (ECCs). During this expedition, core scientists will work primarily from ECCs in Seattle and Newport-Oregon as well as a Remote Command Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These scientists, and others on call if a discovery is made at sea, will add their expertise in real-time to operations at sea.
One of the hallmarks of this expedition will be the high-definition video provided from the Little Hercules ROV. The Galápagos expedition also marks the debut of a new camera sled and lighting platform named Seirios. When deployed from the Okeanos Explorer, “Little Herc” and Seirios will provide scientists and the audiences onshore with the very first video footage from many of the deepwater areas around the Galápagos. All expedition participants are anxious to see the spectacular habitats and marine life we’ll discover.
NOAA's partners in this expedition include the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of South Carolina, Naval Oceanographic Institute-Ecuador (INOCAR), Indonesia Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, and University of Rhode Island.