'Virtual explorers' invited to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico on NOAA expedition

Live webcasting from the ocean floor begins Saturday through the end of the month

April 10, 2014

On wreck A, one cannon rests on another in this image from a 2013 expedition. Wreck A was first investigated by NOAA in 2012 and it and two nearby wrecks (B and C) were investigated in a 2013 expedition funded by The Meadow Center.  NOAA’s current expedition will investigate all three sites and one additional potential wrecksite.

On wreck A, one cannon rests on another in this image from a 2013 expedition. Wreck A was first investigated by NOAA in 2012 and it and two nearby wrecks (B and C) were investigated in a 2013 expedition funded by The Meadow Center.  NOAA’s current expedition will investigate all three sites and one additional potential wrecksite. (Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University)

From April 12-30, members of the public are invited to join NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as it explores deep-sea habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. “Virtual ocean explorers” will have the chance to see canyons, deep-sea coral communities, and shipwrecks dating to the early 1800s via live video transmitted from the deep seafloor.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the public to join us as we explore the Earth’s ocean to obtain and share scientific information that describes largely unknown ocean areas. This information can then be used by ocean resource managers, coastal communities, offshore industries and others to inform decisions about how best to manage, use and protect the ocean and its resources,” said John McDonough, the acting director of NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research.

“America's Gulf is our backyard, yet there is a great deal we still need to learn about its sea floor, sea life and maritime heritage," he added.

Anyone with Internet access can follow the expedition on NOAA’s website, which will chronicle the expedition through live and archived videos, background science essays, still images, logs from the science team, curricula and educational modules. Last year’s Okeanos expedition to the North Atlantic Ocean drew more than 900,000 visits to the web pages as the public watched dynamic underwater sea creatures, visited rarely seen underwater landscapes and heard scientists describe the underwater world. To view video this year, go to: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/media/exstream/exstream_04.html.

The smaller ROV Seirios operates as a camera platform above the larger ROV Deep Discoverer which explores close to the seafloor. Deep Discoverer has a range of capabilities and both vehicles have high-definition video cameras and bright lights.

The smaller ROV Seirios operates as a camera platform above the larger ROV Deep Discoverer which explores close to the seafloor. Deep Discoverer has a range of capabilities and both vehicles have high-definition video cameras and bright lights. (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

Technicians aboard the ship will launch Remotely-Operated Vehicles (ROVs), allowing scientists on shore to explore features such as salt domes, gas seeps, and canyons, while also investigating shipwrecks and marine life, including deep-sea coral habitats. NOAA’s ROV Deep Discoverer, accompanied by the ROV camera-sled Seirios, are equipped with high-definition video cameras and advanced lighting systems to obtain and send live video. The ROVs may operate as deep as 3,000 meters.

The live video timeframe will include Earth Day, April 22, when the team will explore a deep-sea canyon, characterizing the features, habitats and species they encounter. On April 15, 16 and 24, expedition scientists expect to investigate shipwrecks to determine if they may be significant national maritime heritage sites. Such sites require not only study, but protection in partnership with industry and other federal partners.

On wreck C, explorers imaged this large anchor and the circular remains of a capstan, a machine attached to the deck and rising about waist high, allowing sailors to insert wood or metal bars to turn the capstan so that rope or a cable would wind around it and move or lift heavy weights, such as a ship's anchor.

On wreck C, explorers imaged this large anchor and the circular remains of a capstan, a machine attached to the deck and rising about waist high, allowing sailors to insert wood or metal bars to turn the capstan so that rope or a cable would wind around it and move or lift heavy weights, such as a ship's anchor. (Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University)

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) developed the expedition plan with input from more than 40 scientists and managers from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA’s National Ocean Service, as well as from interagency partners, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and multiple academic institutions. Scientists from these organizations, including those from more than a dozen academic institutions, will supervise the expedition as they participate from shore-based locations using telepresence technology — satellite and high-speed Internet pathways between ship and shore.        

OER and NOAA Research are also working with NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service to provide open-access data, including near-real time sharing of large data sets such as high-definition video and mapping data, and to ensure that data are publicly accessible in sixty to ninety days via the NOAA data archives.

OER’s Okeanos Explorer Program systematically explores 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. OER provides and manages the cutting-edge ocean exploration systems on the vessel and ashore, including ROVs, sonar mapping systems, 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 Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

Additional Photos

Much of the remaining cargo on wreck B consists of hides. This image from the 2013 expedition shows a roll of hides atop layers of hides.

Much of the remaining cargo on wreck B consists of hides. This image from the 2013 expedition shows a roll of hides atop layers of hides. (Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University)

White blocks of tallow were part of the cargo on wreck B. Tallow was rendered from the fat of animals, probably cows, and was used to make candles, soap and other products. Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University

White blocks of tallow were part of the cargo on wreck B. Tallow was rendered from the fat of animals, probably cows, and was used to make candles, soap and other products. (Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University)

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

On wrecksite A, scientists imaged this medicine bottle filled with yellow pickled ginger, used to treat sea sickness. (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

On wrecksite A, scientists imaged this medicine bottle filled with yellow pickled ginger, used to treat sea sickness. (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will explore an area adjacent to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Using the Deep Discoverer ROV, the team plans to visit a variety of habitats, gathering data that will help scientists investigate how species and features may be connected across the Gulf, and help NOAA and other ocean managers make better-informed decisions.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will explore an area adjacent to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Using the Deep Discoverer ROV, the team plans to visit a variety of habitats, gathering data that will help scientists investigate how species and features may be connected across the Gulf, and help NOAA and other ocean managers make better-informed decisions. (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)