Off Alaska coast, research crew peers down, down, down to map deep and remote ocean

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) — For the group aboard the Okeanos Explorer off the coast of Alaska, exploring the mounds and craters of the ocean ground alongside the Aleutian Islands is an opportunity to floor new data about life in a number of the world’s deepest and most distant waters.

The Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysis vessel is on a five-month mission aboard a reconfigured former Navy vessel run by civilians and members of the NOAA Corps. The ship, with a 48-member crew, is outfitted with expertise and instruments to look deep into the ocean to assemble knowledge to share with onshore researchers in actual time. The hope is that this knowledge will then be used to drive future analysis.

“It’s so thrilling to go down there and see that it’s truly teeming with life,” mentioned expedition coordinator Shannon Hoy. “You would never know that unless we were able to go down there and explore.”

Utilizing a wide range of sonars and two remotely operated automobiles — Deep Discoverer and Serios — researchers aboard the ship are mapping and gathering samples from areas alongside the Aleutian Trench and Gulf of Alaska. Excessive-resolution cameras that may function at depths of as much as 6,000 meters (19,685 toes) permit researchers to doc and instantly share their findings. The ship can even livestream dives to the general public.

Many elements, akin to depth, velocity and sonar functionality, affect how a lot sea ground will be mapped. In 2 to 4 weeks, the Okeanos Explorer can map as a lot as 50,000 sq. kilometers (31,069 sq. miles), Hoy mentioned.

Throughout these dives, Hoy mentioned the group plans to analyze a number of the space’s chilly seep communities — locations the place gases from underneath the ocean ground rise by means of cracks and the place crops do not depend on photosynthesis for meals manufacturing.

“We’re also going to be looking through the water column to see what interesting animals and fauna that we can see there,” she mentioned.

Kasey Cantwell, the ship’s operations chief, mentioned the information will assist researchers and the general public higher perceive these distant stretches of ocean, together with marine life and habitats within the space. That would inform administration choices in fisheries. Information may additionally assist detect hazards and enhance nautical charts.

“It’s really hard to care for things you don’t understand, to love things you don’t understand,” Cantwell mentioned.

The deep ocean off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands is likely one of the least mapped locations within the U.S., partly resulting from its remoteness. Fashionable mapping requirements have coated simply 34% of the ocean ground round Alaska, which has one of many nation’s largest coastal ecosystems, and solely a fraction of that has been seen, in accordance with the expedition’s website.

Closing these gaps is a mission precedence, and can assist meet a objective of mapping the entire United States’ deep waters by 2030 and near-shore waters by 2040, in accordance with Emily Crum, a communications specialist with the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However the knowledge assortment course of is laborious.

Thomas Morrow, a bodily scientist on the ship, likened the hassle to “walking the length of several city blocks in complete darkness with a tiny flashlight.”

Nonetheless, all these small appears to be like add as much as a greater understanding of what lies within the deepest components of the ocean.

Within the expedition’s first two months, researchers recorded methane seeps and noticed a Brisingid sea star at a depth of two,803 meters (9,200 toes) that had not been documented within the Aleutians earlier than. At the very least two potential new species have additionally been found.

Earlier this yr whereas on an expedition off the coast of Washington state, researchers aboard the ship documented a jellyfish floating within the deep, and shortly had a name from an excited scientist who advised them the jellyfish was behaving in methods not seen earlier than.

“The feeling of wonder that sometimes happens in that control room is so palpable,” he mentioned.


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