I recently returned from a fantastic expedition on Leg 1 of the Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Honestly, it was one of the best cruises of my life! The imagery was stunning, every dive was exciting, there was lots of outreach, telepresence rocks, the team on board was so much fun and so professional, and it turns out the geology lead on board (Deb Glickson) is my science soulmate. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I was invited to take part as Biology Lead. If I could do that for the rest of my days, things would be perfect but alas, it’s back to hypothesis-driven science rather than exploration and hypothesis-generating science for me! Hey, that isn’t too bad anyway 😉
Some of our accomplishments during the expedition are listed below but check out the Mission Summary for more details.
The 24/7 operation conducted 19 daytime ROV dives and nighttime mapping operations to collect baseline information in unknown and poorly-known areas in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. ROV surveys were conducted from 240 m to 4,996 m and dive sites included precious-coral and bottomfish fishery habitats, seamounts and manganese-encrusted seafloor habitats, hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, and extinct and active volcanic calderas. As the primary goal of this ship is exploration, it meant that this was the first time that all of these sites were imaged by ROV.
Working in poorly-known regions means lots of new stuff and the Marianas were no exception! We saw hundreds of different species of animals. There were dozens of potential new species, as well as many new records for the region. New species included six sponges, a tilefish, a jellyfish, a seastar, two new species of crinoid, although there were probably many more. We collected 45 different species, each likely new to science, and 28 rock samples for use in age-dating and geochemical composition analysis.
The news and media coverage by more than 70 outlets (including CNN, NPR, LA Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, USA Today, BBC) was insane! We think this little jellyfish was the trigger but it meant we were kept busy doing interviews during and after the cruise. There were more than 2.5 million views of the live video feeds from the expedition, greatly breaking the previous record of 700,000! Yes people, the Okeanos Explorer and the great team on board know how to do science communication!
There are a few photos at the end of this post from the expedition, although you can see much more on the Okeanos Explorer Marianas expedition website where they have lots of cool photos and videos, as well as mission logs, background posts and daily updates.
Lastly, in case you forgot, the exploration in the Marianas region hasn’t finished yet! Leg 3 will be running from June 17th to July 10th 2016. There will be live ROV dives every day and if this is anything like the first, it will blow your mind! I’ll be participating via telepresence from the University of Hawaii Exploration Command Center as much as possible!
You can watch live here:
Read about the background of the expedition here (as well as read daily updates, catch up on missed highlights etc.):
And you can also follow my updates on Twitter: @DivaAmon
Or follow the hashtag on Twitter: #Okeanos