Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, NOAA and partners will conduct a telepresence-enabled ocean exploration expedition from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical baseline information about unknown and poorly understood deep-water areas off the Southeastern U.S. continental margin (primarily off Florida).
FAU Harbor Branch deep coral researcher Stephanie Farrington member of the Cooperative Institute of Ocean Research, Exploration and Technology (CIOERT) will be serving as the shipboard Biology Science Lead for the duration of the 3-week remotely operated vehicle (ROV) cruise leg. Farrington will be responsible for providing scientific guidance of exploration followed by characterizing, biological, and ecosystem discoveries that are expected to result from the expedition.
The 2019 Southeastern U.S. Deep-sea Exploration expedition includes two parts. The first part took place from October 5 to October 26, with 24-hour mapping operations using the ship's deep-water mapping systems to collect baseline seafloor and water column data at depths ranging between 200 - 3,000 meters.
The second part of the expedition will build on mapping data collected during the first part to further explore this region. From October 31 to November 21, the researchers will use NOAA's dual-body ROV to depths ranging between 250 - 3,000 meters, overnight mapping operations at depths ranging between 250 - 3,000 meters, and continuous shore-side participation via telepresence technology.
Operations will include unexplored areas of the Blake Plateau, Blake Ridge, Blake Escarpment, and carbonate terraces around Florida. The ROV dives will enable scientists and managers to build a better understanding of the diversity and distribution of deep-water habitats in this region, allowing for informed resource management decisions.
"Two major components of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) EX mission to the Western Central Atlantic are to prepare for and execute a multidisciplinary scientific expedition that integrates exploration, education, and outreach objectives, and to ensure that deliverables from this expedition are generated and distributed," added John Reed, M.Sc., research professor, principal investigator for Deep-water and Mesophotic Coral Reef Program, and member of CIOERT at FAU Harbor Branch.
One of the vessel's key capabilities is utilizing telepresence to engage scientists ashore. Through telepresence, scientists will participate remotely from their home institutions using the internet and telephone access, or at Exploration Command Centers onshore located in Hawaii, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, and Florida.
FAU Harbor Branch Exploration Command Center (ECC) will be providing the live feed video of the ROV dives during the entire cruise. Anyone is welcome to stop by and watch.
ROV operations will focus on high-priority dive sites put forward by the science and management community and are expected to include deep-sea coral and sponge habitats, midwater habitats, biogenic mounds, unique geological features, and other poorly known deep-water habitats. Mapping operations will concentrate on seafloor and water column areas with little or no high-quality sonar data, and support ROV operations. Operations will focus mainly on the Blake Plateau as well as areas east and south of Florida. Scientists who would like to participate in the expedition need to complete the form at this link.