Gulf of Mexico 2018

Background Information

The essays below will help you to understand the goals and objectives of the mission and provide additional context and information about the places being explored and the science, tools, and technologies being used.

  • Mission Plan

    April 11 - May 3, 2018  |  By LT Nick Pawlenko, Daniel Wagner, and Adam Skarke

    Map of the general expedition operating area. The white polygon denotes the Gulf of Mexico 2017/2018 expeditions operating area for the Okeanos Explorer.

    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. The 23-day expedition will focus on acquiring data on priority exploration areas identified by ocean management and scientific communities. This is our final expedition planned in the Gulf this year before transiting back to the East Coast.

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  • Chemosynthetic Communities in the Gulf of Mexico

    By Diva Amon and Erik Cordes

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

    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. As a result, cold seeps are oases of life in the deep sea: patchy areas of huge abundance and biomass of unique endemic animals.

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  • Exploring Deep-Sea Coral Habitats in the Gulf of Mexico

    By Peter Etnoyer

    Orange fly-trap anemone on Lophelia pertusa coral reef at Viosca Knoll near 500 meters (1,640 feet) depth.
    A field of sea fans (Callogorgia sp.) with brittle stars (Asteroschema sp.).

    Throughout this expedition, you can expect to see many colorful and interesting living animals on the seafloor. They represent the benthos. Benthos refers to all the organisms which live on, in, or near the sea bottom. Among the most fascinating and important within this group are the deep-sea corals in the Phylum Cnidaria. Corals, sea anemones, sea fans and sea whips are all cnidarians in the Class Anthozoa, which means ‘flower-animal’ in Greek.

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  • Gulf of Mexico Shipwrecks

    By Jack Irion

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

    One means of protecting the future is by understanding the past. Clues to understanding the rich maritime heritage of the Gulf lie entombed in thousands of shipwrecks resting on the ocean floor throughout the Gulf. Shipwrecks are like time capsules preserving a single moment in time. From them, we can learn what life was like for people making their living from the sea hundreds of years ago.

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  • Deep-sea Habitat Protections in the Gulf of Mexico

    By Kelly Drinnen, Morgan Kilgour, and Heather Coleman

    A dense aggregation of the deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa at 500 meters (1,640 feet) depth in the northern 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. Protection of these resources here and in other regions of the U.S. stems from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. In 2007, the Magnuson-Stevens Act authorized NOAA to create the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program to coordinate information gathering and analysis in support of resource management. Read on to learn more about how these components enable deep-sea research and subsequent resource conservation.

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

    By Daniel Wagner

    A dense community of black corals, octocorals, and crinoids at 122 meters (400 feet) depth on Elvers Bank in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

    In 2016, NOAA launched a new four-year initiative to study deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems across the Southeast United States, a region that includes the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic Bight, and Caribbean Sea. This multidisciplinary effort, known as the Southeast Deep Coral Initiative (SEDCI), is led by a NOAA team from multiple line offices that work in close collaboration with partners from federal and academic institutions. Funding for SEDCI activities is provided primarily by NOAA through the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program.

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  • Geologic Overview of the Gulf of Mexico

    By Adam Skarke

    Bathymetric map of the northern Gulf of Mexico with the location of the Sigsbee Escarpment, West Florida Escarpment, Mississippi Canyon, and salt domes indicated.

    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 (which would later become North America, Europe, and Asia) and Gondwana (which would later become South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia).

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