2017 American Samoa Expedition: Suesuega o le Moana o Amerika Samoa

Expedition Summary

February 16 – March 2, 2017

Summary Accomplishments

Infographic summarizing accomplishments from part one of the 2017 American Samoa expedition.

Infographic summarizing accomplishments from part one of the 2017 American Samoa expedition. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (pdf, 953 KB).

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This expedition is part of the three-year Campaign to Address the Pacific monument Science, Technology, and Ocean NEeds (CAPSTONE), a foundational science initiative to support science and management decisions within and around U.S. marine protected areas in the central and western Pacific. In addition to collecting valuable data on the biology and geology of the region, throughout the expedition, scientists encountered a range of beautiful and unusual life, highlighting the uniqueness and importance of these national symbols of ocean conservation. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 99.4 MB).

Overview map showing seafloor bathymetry collected and ROV dives conducted during part one of the 2017 American Samoa expedition.

Overview map showing seafloor bathymetry collected and ROV dives conducted during part one of the 2017 American Samoa expedition. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download image (jpg, 65 KB).

The 2017 American Samoa Expedition Part 1: Suesuega o le Moana o Amerika Samoa, was a 14-day telepresence-enabled expedition to explore unknown and poorly understood areas in American Samoa and Samoa with a focus on Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Throughout the expedition, the team conducted daytime remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives; overnight mapping operations; and conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette operations. Expedition priorities included a combination of science, education, outreach, and open data objectives that will support management decisions at multiple levels. Major accomplishments from the expedition are summarized below. Download a PDF version of this summary. (3.8 MB).

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Ever wonder why so many of our dives take place on seamounts? Here’s a good explanation from Dr. Santiago Herrera, biology lead for the expedition, on how seamounts become oases of life within an otherwise flat abyssal plain. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 90.2 MB).

Conducted 11 ROV dives from 250 to 4,000 meters depth to survey for a diversity of benthic habitats and features, including high-density deep-sea coral and sponge communities, hydrothermal vents, bottomfish habitats, seamounts, and the water column.

  • Observed hundreds of different species of animals and significant coral and sponge communities. Identified distinct communities on seamounts that appear to be structured by environmental factors that vary with depth.
  • Collected 101 biological specimens (31 primary specimens and 80 associates), including corals, anemones, zoanthids, hydroids, sponges, sea stars, feather stars, brittle stars, urchins, squat lobsters, amphipods, shrimp, barnacles, snails, and polychaete worms. As many as 30 of these specimens could represent new species, and most of the specimens from known species will represent new range records.
  • Conducted five dives within National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, including three within Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, to collect a foundation of data and information to inform science and management needs.
  • Surveyed for precious coral and bottomfish/fishery habitats during three dives.
  • Conducted six dives on seamounts to survey deep-sea coral communities and manganese-encrusted seafloor habitats.
  • Conducted one dive focused on midwater surveys to better understand this largely unknown biome and one dive to survey an active hydrothermal vent site.

Mapped more than 12,000 square kilometers of seafloor—an area 60 times the land area of American Samoa!

  • Focused mapping surveys to support ROV dive site planning, update bathymetry along the pier at the port of Pago Pago, evaluate change in the crater of the Vailuluʻu submarine volcano, and chart unmapped areas offshore of Upolu, Samoa.
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On February 24, 2017, the ninth dive of the expedition, we explored Vailul‘u seamount, an active volcano lying in the eastern region of the Samoan hotspot. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 123.1 MB).

Investigated a variety of geological features, including seamounts, volcanoes, manganese- encrusted seafloor, and an active hydrothermal vent site.

  • Collected 30 rock samples for age dating and geochemical analysis that will help reveal the geologic history of American Samoa seamounts, atolls, and islands.
  • Conducted a mapping survey of Vailuluʻu seamount, revealing the volcanic cone in the crater of Vailuluʻu – called Nafanua – had grown extensively since it was last mapped in 2012.
  • Obtained samples from the youngest volcanic structures that formed in the Vailulu‘u volcanic crater since the previous mapping survey in 2012. A subset of the species from older areas on the volcanic cone was observed in the more newly formed areas, indicating a possible succession order after disturbance/creation of new habitat in this ecosystem.
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Analysis of samples collected during dives can help to give us a much better perspective on the evolution of life in the ocean. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 23.2 MB).

Collected 9.5 TB of data, including multibeam sonar, single beam echo sounder, subbottom profiler, Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), eXpendable Bathy Thermograph (XBT), CTD, surface oceanographic and meteorological sensors, video, imagery, and associated dive and video products. All the data will be made publicly available through national archives.

Engaged the local community in American Samoa and Samoa, as well as audiences around the world.

  • Shared live video feeds of the expedition with the public worldwide via the Internet, with the live video receiving more than 6.2 million views via YouTube and Facebook.
  • At least 48 scientists and students from 12 U.S. states, Japan, Russia, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago participated in the expedition as members of the science team.
  • Conducted ship tours for local students, teachers, local officials, VIPs, and media. A total of 118 participants visited the ship in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and about 115 participants visited the ship in Apia, Samoa.
  • Conducted two live interactions with the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center in American Samoa to engage and share the expedition with ~170 local students, the Office of Samoan affairs, and other agency representatives and officials.
  • Presented on Polynesian celestial navigation and ocean exploration in Apia, Samoa. The presentation was co-hosted by the U.S. Embassy Apia, NOAA, the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, the Samoan Voyaging Society, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.
  • Received news and media coverage by more than 45 outlets, ranging from CNN, CBS, Huffington Post, Scientific American, and Gizmodo to local media outlets in American Samoa and Samoa.
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Dr. Matthew Jackson, geology lead for the expedition, discusses the formation of the shape of Ta‘u Island, and the effect that volcanic activity has had on the island’s past and could have on the region’s future. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 122.4 MB).

What’s Next?

Part 2 of the 2017 American Samoa Expedition is planned for April 4-21 and will involve 24/7 seafloor mapping operations in American Samoa and Samoa. Mapping surveys are planned to acquire modern and new bathymetry data in Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa; to further reveal past landslides offshore of Ta‘u, Ofu-Olosega and Vailulu‘u; to acquire data of unmapped seamounts within the American Samoa Exclusive Economic Zone; to map an area where a Samoan Clipper plane crashed in 1938; and to map areas of interest to local managers. An additional ROV dive was conducted in the Swains unit of the sanctuary during the Discovering the Deep: Exploring Remote Pacific MPAs expedition, and another dive is planned in the Aunu‘u unit of the sanctuary later this Spring.