At Pier 27 in San Francisco on Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum announced a five-year educational partnership that will use cutting-edge technology aboard the Okeanos Explorer to bring the excitement of deep sea discovery to a wider audience.
The vehicle will explore largely unexplored ocean areas.
The satellite dome mounted atop the main mast contains a 12-foot diameter satellite dish that lets the ship send real-time, high-definition video and other data. Scientists at command centers around the United States can communicate with the crew assessing information and directly participating in the mission's explorations.
The Okeanos Explorer uses telepresence technology to display live images and real-time data transmitted directly from the ocean floor to scientists at research labs across the United States, and via the Internet to millions of home viewers.
"Imagine being there as discoveries are made," said Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator for NOAA. "That's what we'll be able to do with this partnership."
Because of the technology incorporated into the ship, the crew can be relatively small, but the real-time data transmission will allow thousands of scientists to participate virtually in the expedition.
The ship's missions will include data collection applicable to dozens of projects. NOAA says up to 95 percent of the world's oceans are unexplored, and searching unknown areas of the deep seafloor, the ship will explore and map some of this undiscovered terrain.
The tethered, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system is capable of operating at depths up to 19,000 feet and is equipped with high-definition cameras and lights, sensors, and manipulators for collecting data and samples.
The ROVs are perfect for searching under-explored parts of the ocean, such as a shipwreck the Okeanos Explorer scientists are looking forward to investigating further in the Black Sea.
A smaller, 60-pound xBot is tucked inside the primary ROV, and is deployed to explore more confined areas.
Artwork aboard the ship depicts NOAA's mission--understanding and predicting changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun. The Okeanos Explorer, a vessel formerly called Capable and transferred to NOAA from the U.S. Navy in 2004, was named by a team of five students from Woodstock, Ill., in a naming contest. Okeanos is the ancient Greek term for ocean.
A hull-mounted 3D mapping system is a first-of-its kind multibeam technology that will produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor. Those maps will identify noteworthy sites, which will then be further explored using ROVs.
The Okeanos Explorer, seen here docked at Pier 27 in San Francisco, was commissioned in August 2008. It should be fully operational by next summer, when it will embark on its maiden voyage to Indonesia to study geology, sea volcanoes, and biological hotspots.
NOAA will also use the tools aboard the ship to explore the oceans in the context of climate change. In the Western Pacific a few years ago, scientists found a volcano pumping carbon dioxide into the oceans, and NOAA's mission will be to explore and understand these kinds of undersea events within the context of climate change.