Project Main Details
Early mariners told stories of mysterious beasts lurking within the ocean depths … sea monsters with writhing tentacles and gnashing jaws…enormous serpents slithering beneath the waves, waiting to rise up and shatter unsuspecting ships.
This mysterious ocean, that has intrigued, and sometimes frightened, humans for thousands of years, covers more than 70% of the Earth. It is a feature that defines our planet, yet, only a fraction of it has been seen with human eyes. Advances in technology are now allowing modern explorers to slowly unravel the mystery of this inner space that wraps our blue planet.
But, exploring the deep ocean is extremely challenging.
In the beginning, we used diving gear...heavy helmets, bulky hoses, and cast iron belts- to explore shallow waters and test human depth limits…
Built to withstand the crushing pressure of the deep ocean, human-occupied submersibles could dive even deeper and provide scientists a front row seat to directly observe ocean life.
Ships, such as the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer and the Exploration Vessel, Nautilus, carry crew, scientists, tools, and technologies across the global ocean.
With each technological advancement, our understanding of the ocean deepens…and more questions are sparked. How are people affecting the ocean and the life within it? How do we manage and protect the resources we discover, and those still yet to be found?
Today’s ocean pioneers are collecting data that will help answer these questions. They are using technologies such as multibeam sonar, an important tool used to map the seafloor with an unprecedented level of detail.
Multibeam sonar works like this. Acoustic transmitters, mounted on the hull of the ship, send out a fan of underwater sounds called “pings”. These pings travel through the water column, bounce off the seafloor, or features on the seafloor, and return to the ship. The time it takes for the pings to travel, round trip, is translated into water depth, and detailed, color-coded, 3-D maps of the seafloor are generated. The depth and shapes of the underwater terrain is referred as “bathymetry”. Just as topographic maps depict three-dimensional features on land, bathymetric maps illustrate the seafloor in 3D.
Even though only a fraction of the global ocean has been mapped in great detail, the features that have been revealed are amazing…an underwater terrain more varied and dramatic than that on land. Tens of thousands of seamounts rise up from the ocean floor. Huge canyons and trenches, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, carve a jagged path into the ocean bottom. Sonar pings bounce off bubbles escaping from cracks in the seafloor. These bubble detections have led to major discoveries of deep-sea vents and seeps. Through the lens of multibeam sonar we have even had our first-look at previously undiscovered shipwrecks.
Like any good map, multibeam bathymetric imagery allows scientists to pinpoint areas of interest. Remotely operated vehicles (or ROVs for short) are powerful tools that can be deployed to further explore deep ocean targets.
ROVs are highly maneuverable, underwater robots that provide a new set of technological eyes for ocean exploration. They are connected to the ship by a flexible, stainless steel tether, and are driven by pilots onboard the vessel. Unlike manned submersibles, there is no limit to how long an ROV can remain at depth. …this ability to provide around the clock underwater observation, at a resolution previously not available, has transformed ocean exploration.
The ROV’s powerful lights and high definition video cameras capture breathtaking footage of underwater landscapes and fascinating creatures…hotspots of biodiversity that can be protected as national monuments and marine sanctuaries.
What really makes ocean exploration work is the people…designing and maintaining the equipment, piloting the ROVs, decoding and interpreting bathymetric maps, reviewing the video and data feeds, and more.
Constant innovations expand ocean exploration, making discoveries available to all of us. The latest ocean exploration advances allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to jump into an expedition, at any time. This is called Telepresence.
Telepresence increases the pace, scope, and capacity of ocean exploration. It provides a critical, real-time link between shore and ship-based activities. Data and video feeds from ROVs at depth are transmitted to a satellite and then streamed in real time through the Internet. Scientists and managers on land can log into an expedition and immediately become part of the exploration team. Even though they are not onboard the ship, they are very much active expedition participants, providing species identification, geological histories, and other key insights, all important pieces to the story each ROV dive tells.
Amazing discoveries are not just limited to scientists… because of telepresence, even YOU can be part of ocean exploration as it happens…
How deep will we go? Will you be there, when the next discovery happens?
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