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Ocean Exploration Trust and Partners Test New Technologies for Ocean Exploration

The Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) and its partners have embarked on a technological collaboration expedition in Hawai’i waters to test new and emerging tools for ocean exploration. The expedition, which started on October 1, 2023, aims to explore the seamounts and the water column around the Geologist Seamounts located south of the Main Hawaiian Islands.

OET and OECI: Advancing Ocean Exploration Through Technology

OET is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for his discovery of the Titanic shipwreck. OET operates the exploration vessel (E/V) Nautilus, which is equipped with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and other advanced technologies to explore the ocean. OET also engages the public and students through live streaming of its expeditions and educational programs.

OET is a partner of the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI), a consortium of academic and non-governmental institutions funded by NOAA Ocean Exploration. OECI supports NOAA’s mission to explore, discover, and understand the ocean by providing cutting-edge technologies, expertise, and innovation.

This is the third annual iteration of technology demonstrations that OET and OECI have conducted aboard E/V Nautilus. The previous two expeditions tested how different autonomous and remotely operated platforms could work together for science. This year, the expedition will focus on how these platforms can collaborate to explore the ocean from the seafloor to the surface in a way no single technology could do alone.

Ocean Exploration Trust and Partners Test New Technologies for Ocean Exploration

The Technologies: USV, DAP, Mesobot, and eDNA

The technologies included in this year’s collaboration expedition are:

  • The uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) DriX, developed by the University of New Hampshire. DriX is a self-propelled vessel that can operate autonomously or remotely for long durations. It can carry various sensors and instruments for mapping, surveying, and monitoring the ocean surface and subsurface.
  • The deep autonomous profiler (DAP) Lander, developed by the University of Rhode Island. DAP is a bottom-mounted platform that can launch and recover a free-falling profiler that measures physical, chemical, and biological parameters in the water column. It can also collect water samples for analysis.
  • The hybrid remotely operated vehicle (HROV) Mesobot, developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Mesobot is a submersible robot that can operate autonomously or remotely for up to 24 hours. It can track and image midwater organisms and phenomena with high-resolution cameras and lights.
  • The autonomous eDNA samplers with in situ filtration, developed by OET and its collaborators. These samplers can collect and filter water samples for environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis. eDNA is the genetic material shed by organisms in the water column. By processing eDNA samples, scientists can make new discoveries about marine life.

These technologies will be deployed simultaneously or sequentially from E/V Nautilus to explore different aspects of the ocean environment around the Geologist Seamounts. The expedition will also test new communication and coordination methods among the platforms and the ship.

The Geologist Seamounts: A Mysterious Marine Habitat

The Geologist Seamounts are a group of underwater mountains that rise from the seafloor south of the Main Hawaiian Islands. They are part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, which formed as a result of volcanic activity over millions of years. The Geologist Seamounts are largely unexplored and poorly understood, but they are believed to host diverse and unique marine life.

The expedition will investigate the geology, biology, chemistry, and physics of the seamounts and their surrounding waters. The expedition will also contribute to NOAA’s campaign to map 50% of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by 2030. Mapping the seafloor is essential for understanding and managing the ocean resources and ecosystems.

The expedition is expected to last until October 18, 2023. The public can follow the expedition live on Nautilus Live, where they can watch video feeds from the ROVs and USV, listen to commentary from scientists and engineers, and ask questions through a chat interface.

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