NOAA 2020 Okeanos Explorer Expeditions

[from Deep-Sea Life Issue 14]

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research announces 2020 Okeanos Explorer Expeditions

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In support of Federal guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19, NOAA has implemented a risk-based approach to NOAA ship deployment to keep our teams and those they work with as healthy and safe as we can. As such, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expeditions are currently on hold. NOAA will continue to evaluate our ability to conduct expeditions while respecting the health and safety guidance from federal, state, and local authorities.

Map showing the operating areas (gold polygons) and ports (red diamonds) for expeditions aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to be conducted in FY2020, including the just-completed 2019 U.S. Southeastern Deep-sea Exploration (EX1906 and EX1907). Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

From October 2019 to September 2020, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) will embark on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to conduct three regional expeditions starting with the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin in Fall 2019, and focusing on the Northern Caribbean and Mid-Atlantic Ridge in 2020. Multidisciplinary teams of scientists, technicians, and engineers will conduct undersea mapping and ROV explorations of the geological, biological, oceanographic, and archaeological resources of these ocean areas, the majority of which remain largely unexplored. These expeditions will contribute to the Atlantic Seafloor Partnership for Integrated Research and Exploration (ASPIRE) campaign, a major multi-year, multi-national collaborative field program focused on increasing our collective knowledge of the North Atlantic Ocean in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation.

The 2019 U.S. Southeastern Deep-Sea Exploration expedition concluded at the end of November, and the ship is now in a winter repair period until March 2020 when mission operations will resume with sea trials and shakedown operations off of southern Florida. In Spring of 2020, OER will explore and map deep waters in and around Puerto Rico and test emerging technologies. This involves collaboration with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and will help fulfill a request from the Meso American-Caribbean Sea Hydrographic Commission (MACHC) to acquire bathymetry in areas with substantial gaps in coverage.

During the summer of 2020, OER will use NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to conduct a 70-day Voyage to the Ridge expedition to characterize unexplored areas of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Azores Plateau. In addition to supporting science and management priorities of this region, this expedition will also address other ASPIRE priorities, such as leveraging international partnerships to conduct coordinated exploration across the North Atlantic Ocean in support of Galway. ROV and mapping operations conducted during this expedition will complement previous and upcoming work in the region. Mapping operations will target seafloor and water column areas with little or no high-quality sonar data and support follow-on ROV operations. ROV dives will characterize hydrothermal vents, deep-sea coral and sponge communities, fracture zones, and rift zones.

Following the Voyage to the Ridge expedition, OER will conduct a 15-day transit mapping mission on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to fill data gaps in multibeam bathymetry coverage in support of Seabed 2030, ASPIRE priorities, and critical marine mineral inventory initiatives. Transit mapping will be planned to match and expand existing track lines en route to home port in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Throughout the year, telepresence technology will allow you to follow discoveries via the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research website. NOAA is currently seeking scientists and managers interested in actively participating during 2020 expeditions. For details on opportunities to get involved, please visit this page. If you are interested in providing input into expedition planning or participating as a scientist or student, please contact the Expeditions Science Advisor, Dr. Scott France, at

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