Oh man I'm so excited I can't contain myself!
No I haven't slipped forward in time to the holiday season, and posted this from the future (Obviously what you were thinking). It's still the start of summer where I am and I'm loving it. Not only has the sun started staying up late again, but it's the middle of the field research season here in the northern hemisphere!
See ocean conditions can be tricky; just ask anyone who's been out in a small boat on a really windy day. In order to take ships out, and actually accomplish anything, it's nice to avoid the season where the waves can average ten feet high. The cables that attach submersibles to ships generally don't like being whipped around that much. Plus even ocean researchers get seasick sometimes. About this time every year research vessels from across the States, and around the world gear up for their big research trips that will run throughout the summer.
Alright that's nice for everyone who works in those fields, but why should everyone else care? Because this is the time when all the cool footage and crazy stories from the deep start to come out, that's why. Thanks to this newfangled "internet" that seems to be sticking around, we have the opportunity to watch many of these events live as they happen. Remotely operated vehicles (ROV's) around the world are shooting footage from hundreds, even thousands, of meters below the ocean. And already incredible events are unfolding before the eyes of anyone with access to the web.
That video shows the largest of the toothed whales, the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), casually inspecting a highly advanced underwater robot. If the embedded video didn't work click here to see it on youtube. This incredible event happened during one of the ship E/V Nautilus' research dives into the Gulf of Mexico. The crew of the Nautilus broadcasts their entire expedition season live from their website while they're at sea. t any moment you can be watching, not only the crazy cool creatures you almost always find in the deep, but also one in a billion chances like this.
In addition to streaming the entire expedition, and allowing you to listen to scientists being the adorably huge dorks they sometimes are, the Nautilus also allows you to ask questions of the crew in real time. It's an amazing chance to learn right from the researchers while they're doing the research. And the research they're doing is incredible.
So far this season the expedition has been focused on the Gulf of Mexico where oil and gas naturally seep out of the sea bed. This petroleum rich region was the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill which is in the midst of its five year anniversary. The Nautilus even visited the well head, and posted a sobering, silent, ten minute video of their survey of the area. The video is a stark juxtaposition to the live footage of crude billowing out of the well from 2010. This catastrophe has been the catalyst for a big scientific push to find out exactly how spills, and the methods used to clean them up, affect deep sea environments. Oil is a normal part of the Gulf ecosystem, but the blowout blasted more material than would have been released over decades, in a matter of months.
It's like the Old Country Buffet for oil consuming bacteria.
There's way too much food and most of it ends up on the floor.
Courtesy: Lumis via Flickr
I think we'll be revisiting the spill in more detail here in a future post, so we can stay up-to-date on our understanding of those events. For now though, let's turn back to giving you cool research programs happening right now.
Aside from the E/V Nautilus the other crown jewel in the ocean exploration outreach world is the R/V Okeanos Explorer. While Nautilus is part of a non-profit organization founded by Robert Ballard (the guy who found the titanic, and helped discover hydrothermal vent ecosystems) Okeanos Explorer is owned entirely by the citizens of the United States. In fact, it's the only ship in the US fleet devoted solely to "explore our largely unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and advancement of knowledge." (Okeanos Explorer webpage).
"Yeah I own a boat, it's not a big deal or anything."
Courtesy: National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Both ships are devoted to opening up ocean research to the public and increasing the visibility of the world's greatest frontier. It's become an old cliche to say that we know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean, but it's still true. In 2000 former president Clinton brought together a panel on ocean exploration that challenged researchers to dedicate energy to exploring parts of the ocean not usually covered by other research vessels. The Okeanos Explorer and the Nautilus are the answers to that challenge. In the 15 years since the panel's report both ships have sailed all over the world. They've found new species in unique ecosystems, peered into the chemistry of the deep ocean, and discovered historic and modern archaeological treasures. All the while their satellite link-ups and devotion to education have provided everyone with a chance to find wonder right alongside the scientists at sea.
So what are you waiting for? Get your infinitely curious, ocean loving self over to nautiluslive.org, or oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/ and see what's happening for yourself. Okeanos also has a great Flickr feed all free for you to peruse and use whenever you like. If you see something cool share it on social media, tell your friends, use it in your classes, and always keep exploring!
"About NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer", January 5th 2015, NOAA Ocean Explorer Website, http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/
The Ocean Exploration Trust, http://www.oceanexplorationtrust.org/
"New Frontiers in Ocean Exploration: The E/V Nautilus and NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer 2011 Field Season", Oceanography, Vol. 25, No. 1, Supplement, March 2012, Accessed via: http://www.tos.org/oceanography/archive/25-1_supplement.pdf
Nautilus Live, http://nautiluslive.org/