NOAA-supported ocean explorations: A foundation for education and for understanding oil spill-related changes in the Gulf of Mexico

April 28, 2011

coral and tubeworm.

Mississippi Canyon 751 site, where coral and cold seep habitats intersect. On the left, the gorgonian coral Callogorgia americana. On the right is the seep tubeworm.

High resolution (Credit: Image courtesy of Lophelia II Team 2009, NOAA-OER.)

NOAA and partners conducted 11 ocean explorations in the Gulf of Mexico during the past ten years, providing a foundation of information against which to measure change to the region’s ecosystems — changes that may relate to the Deepwater Horizon event that took place a year ago.  With this foundation, as well as emerging information about the oil spill and the response to the spill, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research created The Gulf of Mexico Deep-Sea Ecosystem Education Materials Collection, which includes an educator’s guide and 16 associated lesson plans.

With titles such as, “Entering the Twilight Zone,” “What’s in that Cake?,” and “Through Robot Eyes,” lesson plans are hands-on, inquiry-based offerings that align with NOAA ocean expeditions, National Science Standards, and Ocean Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts.

“We believe our record of exploration in the Gulf may be important to understanding deep-sea ecosystems prior to and after the event,” said Paula Keener, director of education for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. “The data we have collected over the last ten years may advance not only science, but education and ocean literacy. That’s why we developed these inquiry-based education materials.”

Between 2001 and 2009, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research sponsored the expeditions — many in partnership with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — to explore deep-sea ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these sites are within a few miles of the Deepwater Horizon spill site. Each expedition was documented with an extensive webpage on that includes lesson plans for educators at grade levels five through 12.

The Education Materials Collection includes a selection of these lesson plans together with new lessons and additional background information about the Deepwater Horizon event. The collection provides a foundation for student inquiries into deep-sea ecosystems and builds capabilities for comparing data from NOAA ocean exploration expeditions with post-event information as the latter information becomes available.


A close-up of the scleractinian coral Lophelia pertusa from the Mississippi Canyon 751 site at approximately 450 m depth. This image was taken with the SeaEye Falcon DR ROV during the first cruise of this program in September 2008.

High resolution (Credit: Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2009: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks.)

Additional lessons and activity guides will be added to the collection as more information is produced from ongoing exploration and research activities in the Gulf of Mexico. Lessons included in this collection touch on a wide variety of topics related to physical science, life science, Earth science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as offer opportunities for cross-curriculum activities involving social studies, language arts, and fine arts.

In addition to the collection, most of the Gulf of Mexico expeditions on include formal lesson plans and a variety of background essays in addition to photo and video collections. These materials may be used beyond the collection in a variety of ways to enhance class discussions and student research.

Commemorating 10 years of ocean exploration, NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research uses state-of-the-art technologies to explore the Earth's largely unknown ocean in all its dimensions for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge.

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. Find us on Facebook.