The ocean is vast and has been greatly explored in the last decades. But there is still much to be discovered. With clear plans for 2015, NOAA’s research vessel – the Okeanos Explorer – has already begun its field season and is currently mapping in the Caribbean.

Last year saw two successful expeditions, one in the Gulf of Mexico, where biological diversity was the focus, and the other in the Atlantic, returning to the scene from the year before where they explored seamounts and submarine canyons in their own backyard.

This year the Okeanos is focusing its attention first on the Caribbean and later on the Pacific. Plans for the field season consist of two expeditions where high-resolution maps will be produced and new seafloor footage documented.

During the first expedition (February to April) the Okeanos will be mapping and exploring trenches and seamounts off the coast of Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands, paying special attention to the Puerto Rico Trench. This is located north of the island and reaches depths as great as 8,000 meters. Specific testing is planned for the Okeanos’ ROV (remotely operated vehicle) called Deep Discoverer (D2) where it will be tested down to 6,000 meters. Since its maiden voyage in 2013, D2 has been key to every voyage which the Okeanos has taken.

Video courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program. Kelvin Seamount.

During the second expedition (July to September), a special campaign will be initiated called CAPSTONE (Campaign to Address Pacific monument Science, Technology, and Ocean NEeds) by NOAA members and other external associates. The information collected will be centered on better informing us of the ocean needs in and around the U.S. Marine National Monuments, as well as other areas in the Pacific. In both expeditions, information gathered will further enhance that which has previously been collected by fellow researchers, e.g. E/V Nautilus’ expedition in the Gulf last year directed by Robert Ballard.

Already on the second leg of its 3-part expedition, the Okeanos’ Mapping Team hasn’t lost any time. While transiting from their home port in Rhode Island to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the ship’s multibeam sonar has logged constant data as they have travelled southeast of St. Croix and around Puerto Rico. It is during the third and last leg of the expedition that we will be able to see D2’s discoveries first hand as it is launched into the deep.

The undersea footage will stream live from the Okeanos using the incredible technology of Telepresence and be available for scientists, experienced and amateur alike, at NOAA’s site, Ocean Explorer. At one time referred to as “deep-sea live” by onboard scientists, it is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss!


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