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PUBLISHED: 
01 Nov 2018

Exploring Deep-sea Habitats off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

From October 30 through November 20, 2018, NOAA and partners will conduct a telepresence-enabled ocean exploration expedition on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical baseline information about unknown and poorly understood deepwater areas surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The deep waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands contain a wide diversity of habitats and geological features, including seamounts, submarine canyons, valleys, troughs, and trenches, the vast majority of which have never been explored in detail.

As with previous NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expeditions, NOAA will work closely with the science and resource management community to explore priority deepwater areas. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations will use NOAA's dual-body ROV capable of diving to 6,000-meter depths to explore a diversity of poorly known deep seafloor and midwater habitats, as well as unique geological features. Mapping operations will use the Okeanos Explorer’s state-of-the-art sonar systems (Kongsberg EM302 multibeam, Simrad EK60 split-beam, Knudsen 3260 chirp sub-bottom profiler, and Teledyne Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) and concentrate on seafloor and water column areas with little or no high-quality sonar data. Additionally, the expedition will use the ship’s high-bandwidth satellite connection to engage a broad spectrum of scientists, resource managers, and the public in telepresence-based exploration.

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NOAA uses telepresence technology to transmit data in real time to a shore-based science team who actively participate in expeditions. These shore-based scientists interact with the ship through a teleconference line and a series of Internet-based collaboration tools. Using these communication tools, shore-based scientists help guide at-sea operations in real time, extending the reach of ocean exploration to a much larger group than could possibly be accommodated onboard a single research vessel.

During the Océano Profundo 2018 expedition, scientists will also work together and stand watches at several Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) around the country. When Okeanos Explorer expeditions first started over 10 years ago, ECCs were the only way that scientists could engage with the ship. With advancing technologies, scientists can now participate in expeditions from any place with an Internet connection. However, EECs still provide highly effective science collaboration centers, as they allow many scientists to come together and focus in a single location to share their expertise. Close to a dozen ECCs will be active throughout the country during this expedition, providing invaluable mission support from shore.

There is expected to be diving daily October 31 - November 19, deploying the remotely operated vehicle at approximately 8:00 am and recovering the vehicle at 4:30 pm ET. On these occasions a livestream will be available here.