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NOAA mission highlights

NOAA Mission Highlights

Though our Nauticos team was disappointed that bad weather forced cancellation of our dives on the site of the Battle of Midway, we took heart in what was accomplished.  The expedition yielded a great wealth of baseline information about the largely unexplored Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. Eight ROV dives identified 249 different types of organisms, and 34 geological and biological specimens were collected including 13 species unknown to the region (or in some cases the planet). Dozens of scientists and students from around the world participated via telepresence, and many followers watched live feed through our Expedition Portal. A video of mission highlights can be seen here, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

After a short port visit in Kwajalein for resupply, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is conducting mapping operations to explore the largely unknown region surrounding the Wake Island Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Our Expedition Portal continues to connect to live feeds from the ship, so check in for updates and continue to follow and explore the deep sea with us!

Image from Deep Discoverer at 14,075 feet courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Blue Octopus

Image from Deep Discoverer at 14,075 feet courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

It was my first time watching live video from the deep seafloor via telepresence–from the comfort of my home computer. I was astonished to witness amazing imagery of a beautiful translucent pale blue octopus, and the mission scientists seemed just as excited and flummoxed. Turns out this strange finless cephalopod was the first of its kind seen by humans, and at 14,075 feet was the deepest ever seen of this type.

In this video, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, on-board scientist Daniel Wagner narrates the scene as shore-based scientists express their feelings of thrill and awe.

The discovery was made by the ROV D2 deployed from the Oceans Explorer on February 27th while exploring Necker Ridge, southwest of Kauai in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine Sanctuary. All of us following this groundbreaking expedition are privileged to witness this and other undersea discoveries as they happen. Live feed and replays of earlier dives can be seen though our Expedition Portal.


The Okeanos Explorer is currently operating near an undersea feature called Pioneer Tablemount, southeast of Midway Atoll, 1,000 miles from Honolulu. This largely unexplored pinnacle rises from the seafloor over 5,000 meters deep to nearly the surface. Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 4.44.53 PM (2)A spectacular ROV dive is currently taking place this afternoon of March 4th, revealing incredible sea life such as the transparent sea cucumber at left. These creatures are usually seen on the bottom, but this one was found free swimming, its undulating body moving it steadily by, at a depth of over 1,000 meters. Viscera can be seen inside its clear outer body.

Unfortunately, gusting winds and high seas have forced cancellation of several ROV dives over the last few days, and postponed our planned weekend operations on the Battle of Midway site. We are holding out hope that the weather will abate and dives can take place early next week, though the forecast is not promising.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.42.44 AMThe image at right, from Natural Earth, gives an idea what we’re up against. With the view centered roughly over our operations area, this snapshot from March 1 shows a couple of major storm systems passing through the region. History shows a 20% chance of seas exceeding twelve feet during the winter months in this part of the world, and we are definitely falling within that unlucky circumstance.

Regardless of the weather, the mapping team has been extremely productive during the last couple of days and filled in some important gaps around Pioneer Bank. These efforts included the mapping of a completely new seamount to the west of Pioneer Bank Ridge.

Please check out our Expedition Portal to see live imagery, replays of earlier dives, and other information about this important and exciting NOAA expedition.

Expedition Portal | Seaword | Nauticos

Expedition Portal Launched

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.34.06 AMThe NOAA Okeanos Explorer is currently at sea mapping and imaging sites from Necker Ridge to French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands chain. Spectacular images from the seafloor have been collected, as well as rock and biological samples. As of February 29, the vessel is dealing with very bad weather and has cancelled the day’s dive. However, one can see replays of earlier dives and follow developing events live though our new Expedition Portal. This site has been launched to support educational outreach and general public interest in undersea exploration as we plan dives on the site of the Battle of Midway on March 5 and 6. Besides the live feeds, one can explore the history of the battle, view images of prior expeditions, learn about the science and technology of deep sea research. Educational materials and mission updates will be added over the course of the expedition.

Click on the image to launch the Portal. Check out Camera 1 and 2 to see what is happening and replays of earlier ROV dives. Select “Where is the Okeanos” to see where the vessel is and has been. Dive into the Portal windows to learn more. Keep checking as we upload new content during the expedition. And share the link with anyone interested in exploration!

This Portal was made possible by the generous support of Collins Aerospace and the SeaWord Foundation.

ROV Technology

Oceaneering's SpiderBOT™
Oceaneering’s SpiderBOT™

ROVs – Remotely Operated Vehicles – allow us to look and touch at the bottom of the ocean where no human can survive. Most deep sea ROVs can dive to 6,000 m (20,000 feet), allowing them to reach 95% of the ocean floor. At that depth, water pressure approaches 9,000 psi! Tethered to a research vessel with a long cable that provides power and receives images and telemetry, the ROV uses thrusters to move and position itself to get the best view or grab the most valuable sample with its robot arms. ROVs come in many sizes, from the monster machines that service offshore oil installations or bury cables, to the suitcase-sized SpiderBOTs made famous in the movie Titanic.

In 1999, Nauticos used an ROV operated by the Naval Oceanographic Office to discover wreckage from the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, sunk at the Battle of Midway in 1942. You can read about this project and the history of the battle in The Search for the Japanese Fleet. Nauticos and the SeaWord Foundation plan to work with NOAA’s Deep Discoverer ROV in early March to return to the site and capture hi-def video of the wreckage, far superior to what was possible nearly 20 years ago.

This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet using ROV technology.
This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet depth using ROV technology.

Nauticos also used the ROV Remora in 1999 to identify the wreck of the Israeli submarine Dakar, and returned to the site the following year to recover a 4-ton artifact from the seafloor at 10,000 feet. Operators on the ship high above watched through remote cameras to operate mechanical arms and manipulators to attach a lifting line to the structure of the artifact so that a winch could slowly lift it to the surface. After nine hours, the conning tower of Dakar emerged from the sea after resting there for 31 years. The tower is now on display at the Naval Museum in Haifa, a memorial to the 69 sailors who lost their lives on the ill-fated warship. This story is chronicled in Never Forgotten: The Search and Recovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar. This 3-minute video, produced for the Maryland Science Center Titanic exhibition, includes scenes from that spectacularly successful Dakar recovery mission.

NOAA’s Undersea Robot Deep Discoverer

D2 discovers the remnants of asphalt volcanoes, or “tar lilies.” Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.
D2 discovers the remnants of asphalt volcanoes, or “tar lilies.” Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.

At a depth of nearly four miles, with four tons of crushing pressure on every square inch, in the pitch black of the deep ocean, the Remotely Operating Vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer lurks. Known as D2, the robot is operated by a team on the NOAA mother ship Okeanos, and via miles of cable sends back exquisite high-definition imagery from the unexplored seafloor. D2 is tethered to its sister vehicle, Seirios, which lights D2 from above and with its own cameras allows operators an expanded view of the ROV and its surroundings. Seirios in turn is dangled from Okeanos at the end of miles of steel-armored cable with a fiber-optic core. The cable provides power to the duo and is a conduit for communications and telemetry.

D2 illuminates its surroundings with brilliant LED lights, allowing its nine video cameras to capture an unparalleled view of the seafloor and close-up glimpses of the remarkable creatures that lurk there. And via telepresence, anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection can follow the excitement of discovery with scientists, watching it unfold as it happens. D2 can also grab samples of marine life and geology for further study topside.

The Nauticos-SeaWord team will be looking with great anticipation to seeing what D2 reveals when it dives on the Battle of Midway site near the end of its current mission to explore the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in early March.


NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

The NOAA Midway dives have been planned for March 5-7, subject to weather and other unforeseen circumstances that are a part of life at sea. Stay tuned for further details about how to follow this expedition. The vessel is currently in Hawaiian waters testing equipment in preparation for its main mission which will begin around February 23rd: Map

The Okeanos Explorer program is one of exploration and discovery, designed to achieve a first-look at the unknown seafloor that will inspire further research. It is a highly collaborative process that involves the entire science community, so that new discoveries are available to everyone. All data is shared in real-time during the cruise through telepresence. Educational outreach is a major component, and public access is encouraged, including through the SeaWord Foundation. The current mission is to explore the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, encompassing the waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is the single largest fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the preserve includes deep and shallow coral reefs, sea mounts harboring thousands of marine species, hundreds of islets home to 14 million seabirds, and cultural resources of importance to native Hawaiians as well as historians of World War II.


Join us at the Bottom of the Sea

The Search for the Japanese Fleet Continues

Seventeen years ago, a small group of explorers set out to locate the wreckage of the Japanese Fleet sunk at the Battle of Midway. Their purpose was to use advanced technology to solve mysteries of the deep sea, to commemorate fallen heroes, to show to students the rewards of the pursuit of scientific and technical education, and to share with the public the thrill of discovery. On two expeditions, forty-one scientists and engineers sailed with forty-four ship’s crew (plus one owl), and together scoured the ocean floor over three miles down. In time, they were rewarded with sonar and visual evidence of one of the great ships they sought: the 800-foot long, 40,000 ton aircraft carrier Kaga. Fewer than two dozen people have had the opportunity to see imagery of this wreckage in real time, in person, and I can assure you it is an experience one can never forget.

But there is so much more to locate and learn; the wreckage we found, though definitive, is a small fraction of the vast historical treasure awaiting us. Join us as we return to the site of our 1999 discovery and be among the first to see this unknown landscape and further explore the echoes of history as we continue our Search for the Japanese Fleet.

Check this space in the coming weeks to learn how to connect via telepresence and experience the expedition first hand. Meanwhile, be sure to visit and like our Facebook pages Nauticos and SeaWord Foundation.


Return to Midway

NOAAS Okeanos Explorer
NOAAS Okeanos Explorer

In early March, Nauticos and the SeaWord Foundation will plan to participate in a NOAA expedition to survey the Northwest Hawaiian Islands marine preserve that will include a return to the site of the Battle of Midway.  This will advance the prospects of making a historic discovery of the aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese fleet that were lost there on June 4, 1942, and in partnership with IMMF will serve to commemorate the brave sailors and airmen who fought there.  This cooperative venture will use the latest tools and techniques to map the area and investigate underwater contacts, and our participation is made possible by a concept called telepresence.  The NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer will be working in the Pacific area early in 2016; using instant global communication links, data will be relayed to exploration command centers (ECC) located in Rhode Island and Maryland.  We will interact with the ship from these locations to manage the survey and see the images relayed from the ocean floor in near real time.

SeaWord’s Education team will man the Silver Spring, Maryland ECC and is working on a plan to share this expedition with educators and the general public both through real-time web links and post-mission content. Check this space for more information in the coming weeks.

Hemispherical Swim

As told by Amelia expedition First Mate Joe Litchfield, currently at sea (as usual) on a research vessel tending tsunami buoys in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean…

I had an interesting day yesterday and I thought I’d share it with you guys as you’ve known me since Moby Dick was a guppy. Well, like most plans at sea (and I suspect on land as well – but I can’t really remember), our idea for the customary, mortifying and abusing ceremony of crossing the Equator (for the Pollywogs on board) and the transiting of the International Dateline (for the wannabe Dragons) did not work out.

Here’s what happened: Instead of the humiliating aforementioned ritual – which definitely puts most sailors off their feed for a day or so – we decided to go for a swim. Not just any swim but a swim for the record books! At least for our recorded ship’s log book. The “plan” was to station our research vessel exactly at the 180 degree line and the Equator; thus, a lap around the vessel would allow a swimmer to travel from the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western and from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern. This would also take us from one day to the next (crossing the Dateline) and from winter to summer. We all thought this a capital idea and the timing was perfect as we were to be at this point at about 1200UTC to further add to the allure. This can only be done at two places on earth and we figured that not many sailors have ever done it.

The crew and clients were all mustered at the Baltic door (an opening in the hull to allow access to the sea for pilot boats) on the main deck located just abaft of the beam to starboard. We set up a shark watch – an important thing in these waters. Everyone had a swimsuit on, except me – I had only some cut off dungarees – and we were just awaiting 2nd Mate Steve at the helm to get the vessel into final position for the swim.

When Steve called over the radio saying we were “Here,” I, being senior man on deck, stood back a couple of fathoms from the opened Baltic door and paced briskly athwart ships and did (from what I was told later) an admirable dive for an ole sea dog into the Pacific Ocean. I was followed closely by R.W. (Rough Water) Watkins, one of our clients. He’s from Louisiana and he’s a good guy for a back deck bayou buoy boy; but I digress.

We surfaced from the dive and were immediately swept forward. The current was brutal. It looked like we were steaming at about 5 knots with an old Evinrude outboard with a bad carburetor attached to our backsides. We weren’t prepared for this. I was treading water, which I’ve been accused of before but it took on new meaning.

I hailed the gang at the Baltic door telling them not to go in the water. Thank goodness they didn’t but they did not react to a potential rescue situation either – it being after all a historic swim. The ship’s bo’s’n, Paulie, finally determined that R.W. and I were indeed somewhat in distress and fastened a line around himself, jumped in and swam after us. He looked like a large Mark Spitz in the water with his long hair streaming astern and we were some happy that he had taken action. Old Paulie got to R.W. and me just as the line he was towing came to the bitter end. I managed to tie a bowline and made it fast to my left wrist.  R.W. was ahead of me and he managed to hold on as the deck crew was now mobilized to haul us back to the Jacobs ladder.

All the while this scene was unfolding, deckhand Mikey was prattling on about life lines, buoys, radios, life jackets, etc. We call him Alligator Man – because he’s all mouth and no ears. I darn near let go of the line and set back adrift rather than listen to his drivel. It took a while and some hard work on the crew’s part, but we finally made it aboard, unceremoniously, I can assure you. The crew, except for Alligator Man, knew better than to say anything except “You O.K., Joe?”  “Finest-kind,” I would reply.

I proceeded to the wheelhouse and relieved Steve so he could go swimming after we turned the vessel side-to the current.  R.W. brought me a cup of coffee with a knowing smile, and I said “Good day to be at at sea, by golly!”

Cap'n Joe Litchfield at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, AK
Cap’n Joe Litchfield at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, AK