Gulf of Mexico 2018

Background Essays

Download a fact sheet about the expedition.


Map of the general expedition operating area. The white polygon denotes the Gulf of Mexico 2017/2018 expeditions operating area for the Okeanos Explorer. The color-coded bathymetry shows cumulative multibeam sonar bathymetry collected previously by the Okeanos Explorer.

Mission Plan

From April 11 through May 3, 2018, a team of scientists and technicians, both at-sea and shore-based, will conduct exploratory investigations into the diversity and distribution of deep-sea habitats and associated marine communities in the Gulf of Mexico basin.

An aggregation of ice worms inhabiting methane hydrate. These worms eat chemoautotrophic bacteria using chemicals in the hydrate.

Chemosynthetic Communities in the Gulf of Mexico

Cold seeps are unique because they have a plentiful and readily available food source (bacteria), so animals living there can grow to large sizes rapidly and reproduce quickly, unlike in the rest of the deep sea which is very food limited.

Madrepora oculata colony and with several deep-sea red crab Chaceon quinquedens. The ‘X’ marker was placed by deep-sea researchers in 2010 so they could return to this spot.

Exploring Deep-Sea Coral Habitats in the Gulf of Mexico

Deep-sea corals have much in common with shallow tropical corals, but they are much less understood and relatively poorly mapped and explored. Shallow reef-building corals occur in the tropics around the world and are recognized as havens for biological diversity.

The bow of a ship discovered by Okeanos Explorer in 2012 believed to be a privateer.

Gulf of Mexico Shipwrecks

We estimate that over 4,000 shipwrecks rest on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico from its nearshore shallows to its deepest abyss. During this cruise, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer’s ROV cameras will explore, for the first time, a handful of these shipwrecks thousands of feet beneath the water’s surface.

A dense aggregation of the deep-sea coral <em>Lophelia pertusa</em> at 500 meters (1,640 feet) depth in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Deep-sea Habitat Protections in the Gulf of Mexico

Protecting productive yet vulnerable deep-sea resources like coral and sponge habitats in U.S. waters is an ongoing process. Deep-sea coral conservation efforts, in particular, go back more than 30 years in the Gulf of Mexico.

A dense community of black corals, octocorals, and crinoids at 122 meters (400 feet) depth on Elvers Bank in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The image was taken during a 2017 SEDCI-supported expedition aboard R/V Manta.

NOAA’s Southeast Deep Coral Initiative (SEDCI): Exploring Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems Off the Southeast United States

In 2016, NOAA launched a new four-year initiative to study deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems across the Southeast United States. This multidisciplinary effort is led by a NOAA team from multiple line offices in close collaboration with partners from federal and academic institutions.

Geologic Overview of the Gulf of Mexico

Geologic Overview of the Gulf of Mexico

Hundreds of millions of years ago, all land on Earth was part of single “supercontinent” known as Pangea, which was surrounded by a continuous global ocean. About 200 million years ago, a 6,000-kilometer-long fracture split Pangea into two separate and smaller supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana.

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