Public Invited to Virtually Join NOAA Exploration of the Gulf, Live From the Seafloor

Exploration visits unexplored areas and gas seeps in northern Gulf of Mexico

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 19, 2012

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducts operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducts operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico. High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

From today through April 28, the public can watch live undersea video and listen in as ocean explorers at sea and ashore comment in real-time as they observe marine species, visit gas seeps and map poorly known areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Through telepresence technology, satellite and high-speed Internet pathways between ship and shore, scientists ashore will view information from sensors and high-definition cameras as it is collected at sea, so they may help guide how the expedition unfolds. Using a computer or mobile device, the public can join the expedition as virtual explorers live online.

“Advances in technology help NOAA and our partners bring the excitement of exploring right into living rooms and classrooms across the globe — live!,” said Tim Arcano, director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. “It’s a great way for the public to be involved as virtual ocean explorers, especially as we explore our ocean planet during Earth Day, April 22.”

Brittle star.

A close-up image of a brittle star with arms wrapped around a paramuricid coral. The feeding side of the central disc is clearly visible in this still frame from the high-definition camera on Little Hercules. The coral polyps, yellow buds distributed along the branches, are retracted. High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Though live streams will be sent from the ship 24 hours a day from now through April 28 , each day, weather permitting, the streams between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EDT will include video from high-definition cameras on the expedition’s undersea robots, called ROVs for remotely-operated vehicles. The ROVs send video images and sensor data to the ship to be relayed ashore by satellite.

The expedition is using NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which is equipped with a state-of-the-art multibeam mapping sonar; the Institute for Exploration’s Little Hercules ROV; and telepresence capability. Areas to be explored were first identified during a workshop in 2011 and were further refined during a series of mapping missions.

The expedition’s main objective is to explore poorly known regions of the Gulf of Mexico and to map and image unknown features and species. Another objective is to test a method using equipment mounted on the ROV to measure the rate that gas rises from seeps on the seafloor. During a cruise last year, NOAA and partners demonstrated the Okeanos Explorer’s multibeam sonar was capable of mapping gas seeps in the water column over broad areas and at high resolution. Testing new methods and technologies is a priority of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Gas bubbles (likely methane) rise in the water column near a community of mussels.

Gas bubbles (likely methane) rise in the water column near a community of mussels that thrive on chemicals seeping from the deep ocean floor. An expedition last year confirmed the ship’s multibeam sonar could detect gas in the water column and this year’s expedition is testing how the imaging capability of the ROVs may help scientists better understand the characteristics and affects of gas flow in the deep ocean. High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The expedition has been underway since early April and areas exhibiting rich biodiversity have been discovered, including at the base of the West Florida Escarpment, an undersea cliff-like ridge, where explorers found a ‘forest’ of deep corals, several of which were new to scientists on the ship and ashore.

Background information, web logs from scientists at sea and ashore, video clips, images, and education lesson plans describing the expedition are available online. Visit Facebook for more on NOAA’s ocean exploration.

NOAA’s partners in the 2012 Gulf of Mexico expedition include the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, College of Charleston, C&C Technologies, Florida Atlantic University, Geoscience Earth & Marine Services, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, Naval Historical Society, the NOAA Northern Gulf Institute , Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, Tesla Offshore LLC, the Institute for Exploration, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Joint Office for Science Support, University of New Hampshire, University of Rhode Island, University of Texas at Austin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and multiple other NOAA partners. 

The Okeanos Explorer Program is the only federal program dedicated to systematic exploration of the planet’s largely unknown ocean. NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is operated, managed and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps and civilian wage mariners. NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, operates, manages and maintains the cutting-edge ocean exploration systems on the vessel and ashore including, the Institute for Exploration’s Little Hercules ROV, OER’s Camera Sled Seirios, a sonar mapping system, telepresence capability, exploration command centers ashore, and terrestrial high-speed communication networks.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on FacebookTwitter and our other social media channels.

Additional Photos

Ship timbers covered in anemone.

Ship timbers covered in anemone rising from the sediment at a shipwreck site investigated during the expedition. Three copper alloy fasteners sticking out of the wood secured a wooden hull plank that has been consumed by marine organisms.  

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Colonies of Lophelia coral

Colonies of Lophelia coral with outstretched feeding polyps were discovered at 1260 feet deep in the DeSoto Canyon. Galatheid crabs seen here are strongly associated with reefs of Lophelia.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Pen-Yuan Hsing.

Pen-Yuan Hsing, a graduate student from Pennsylvania State University, works in the ship’s control room to maximize the scientific benefits of the ROV dives.  

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Spiraling Iridogorgid type coral.

A spiraling Iridogorgid type coral living near 6,500 feet deep on the margin of a steep wall south of the DeSoto Canyon. A chirostylid crab, with chelae (pincer like claws) that are elongated and  directed straight forward, makes a home among the exquisite branches of this coral colony.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) Little Hercules.

The remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) Little Hercules is launched. The vehicle has lights and high-definition video cameras, as does Seirios, a camera sled that operates just above Little Hercules.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)