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NOAA’s Hawaiian Expedition Results in Fantastic Images

The ocean is 95% unexplored, unknown, and unseen by human eyes. Resource managers cannot manage what they do not know. To help understand, manage, and protect the ocean and its resources, NOAA supports the Hohonu Moana: Exploring the Deep Waters off Hawai’i expedition.

The expedition marks the third field season using NOAA’s 6,000-m remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer and the Seirios camera sled and lighting platform on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, the only federal ship dedicated to ocean exploration. On board, the ship currently uses three types of sonars: the Kongsberg EM302 multibeam system, the Simrad EK60 single-beam system, and the Knudsun 3260 Chirp subbottom profiling system.

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Chief Bosun Jerrod Hozendorf watches as ROV Deep Discoverer (D2) is deployed from the aft deck of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. D2’s powerful lighting, high-definition camera, and newly installed sample collection equipment (drawers, boxes, an advanced manipulator, and positionable illumination system) are visible. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.


The total area to be mapped by the project amounts to 21,622 sq. mi of seafloor—an area larger than Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut combined. The Hohonu Moana Expedition marks the beginning of a major multi-year NOAA campaign to explore and understand the central and western Pacific marine national monuments and sanctuaries. In 2016, NOAA plans to investigate additional areas in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) and the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument (PMNM) as well as the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in the western Pacific.

During four separate cruise legs, NOAA and partners are investigating deep waters in and around the PMNM in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Johnston Atoll in the PRIMNM, the Geologists Seamounts group, and the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Legs 1, 2, and 3 of the Okeanos Explorer 2015 Hohonu Moana expedition have been completed, and Leg 4 takes place 7-30 September. Live feeds were made available for each leg. Amazing images and short videos of some of the bizarre, beautiful, and amazing creatures they came across over the course of exploring areas in the remote deep Pacific have been released. ECO is featuring some of them this month.

Leg 1 (10-24 July) provided essential baseline mapping and reconnaissance of the region around Johnston Atoll in the PRIMNM prior to the Leg 4 cruise that will return to the area this September. Mapping work on Leg 1 enabled scientists to choose dive locations for Leg 4.

During Leg 2 (31 July-22 August), the team focused on investigating deepwater areas in and around PMNM in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They conducted 18 ROV dives for a total of 95 hours of bottom time, some as deep as 4,829 m—which is almost 16,000 ft or 3 mi down! The team was excited by the high-density, diverse deep-sea coral and sponge communities they came across, which included many species they believe have never been seen before.

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A very large spectacular stalked sponge (Caulophacus sp.) encountered during the dive. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

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A squid, (Walvisteuthis youngorum), is imaged at 900 m during today’s mid-water transects off Northeast Gardner Pinnacles in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

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Large stalked sponge (Bolosoma sp.) providing a home for a myriad of brittlestars and crustacean associates. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.


During Leg 3 (28 August-3 September), ROV dives and mapping offshore the Main Hawaiian Islands (Oahu and Hawaii) and Geologists Seamounts were performed.

During Leg 4 (7-30 September), ROV dives and mapping are focused offshore Johnston Atoll in PRIMNM.

The ship was docked at U.S. Naval Base Pearl Harbor between each segment.

Why These Areas?
The Pacific Marine National Monuments and NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries encompass approximately 742,000 sq. mi of emergent land, coral reef, ocean habitat, and maritime heritage. They contain some of the last relatively pristine marine ecosystems on the planet and harbor numerous protected species as well as undiscovered shipwrecks and maritime landscapes sacred to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

Their designation was unprecedented in terms of geographic scope, ecological value, and national symbolism for ocean conservation. However, their remoteness creates substantial challenges. Previous NOAA work in the region helped justify their original establishment. Yet, most deepwater areas within their boundaries remain poorly known and are of high interest to federal and state agencies with research and management responsibilities.

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The project area to be explored: Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument and the Johnston Atoll Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, created from a synthesis of existing multibeam mapping data by Dr. John R. Smith of the University of Hawaii.


Why is This Work Important?
The expedition provides a foundation of publicly accessible baseline data and information to support science and management needs in and around these central Pacific marine national monuments. The effort also provides critical information about emerging regional issues like deep-sea mining and the potential U.S. Extended Continental Shelf.

Unlike many other ocean expeditions supported by NOAA, most of the scientists participating in Okeanos Explorer missions remain onshore. Via telepresence, live images from the seafloor and other science data flow over satellite and high-speed Internet pathways to scientists standing watch at a series of Exploration Command Centers ashore...or at the comfort of their own desks. These scientists, and others on call if a discovery is made, add their expertise to missions no matter where the ship is located.

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A squat lobster perching on a undescribed genus of bamboo coral (family Isididae). This new genus of coral was first discovered in 2007 off of Twin Banks in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands / Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

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Underside of a sea star feeding on a bamboo coral. Sea stars are predators of invertebrates and feed by inverting their guts on their prey. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

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Deep-sea fish in the family Macrouridae, possibly in the genus Malacocephalus or Trachonurus, with an isopod parasite. Imaged at 1,814 meters. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.


Rules Regarding Underwater Noise
Part of the permit application process to work in the PMNM included describing the sonar systems to be used. Information about each sonar was provided to the Monument team, and the explorers were given a set of operating parameters to work under:

• If cetaceans or other protected species (sea turtle, scalloped hammerhead, monk seal) are present within 400 m of the ship, the ship should stop until the animals depart the area, but the sonar should continue transmitting.

• Minimize turning the multibeam system on and off to reduce the possibility of startle responses by marine mammals that could be in the vicinity of the ship, particularly at night. Leaving the sonars on also provides marine mammals advance warning that the ship is in the vicinity, further reducing the possibility of a collision.

• When the systems have been shut down for any reason, the multibeam soft-start mode should be used to minimize any impact on cetaceans. Only after the multibeam has been brought from soft-start to full power should the subbottom profiler and other sonars be turned back on.

Ensuring Mapping Accuracy
The team is careful to ensure the accuracy of mapping data. They conduct an annual patch test to determine that the position of the sonar transducers is correctly measured and offset from the GPS antennas and vessel motion/attitude sensor. They also conduct periodic crosslines to compare overlapping swaths of data over the same area of seafloor to make sure they get the same values in each swath. They correct data in real-time for variations in sound speed in the water column. They examine data daily for erroneous data points. All of these efforts ensure that the data are vertically accurate to within 1% to 2% of water depth and horizontally accurate to within a few feet to a few tens of meters, depending on water depth. The International Hydrographic Organization sets internationally recognized standards for seafloor mapping around the world, and the data meets their standards for water depths >200 m.

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Hoplostethus crassispinus - in the same genus as, and related to the Orange Roughy. Unlike the Orange Roughy, this fish lives a somewhat solitary existence, whereas the Orange Roughy schools – which has contributed to the species’ being overfished in some places. There is a general sense that these fish have a level of curiosity because they often retreat into holes when imaged, but then turn around to investigate the investigator. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.


The team creates daily grids of their data while at sea. These grids are shared with scientists and others onshore who are participating in the mission. All of the data in raw and processed formats, including topography maps, are publicly accessible through NOAA’s national data centers (National Centers for Environmental Information) within 60 to 90 days of the end of every cruise.

Science Leads Vital to the Mission
Naming every expedition participant in a telepresence-enabled mission is next to impossible. Many from dozens of institutions across the country provided input into the expedition plan and participated. However, here is some background on the co-science leads who were physically on board the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

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Composite image showing the original Sandwell & Smith satellite-derived bathymetry data at the bottom, with the Okeanos Explorer EM302 multibeam bathymetry transit data further revealing this unnamed seamount overlain on top. The middle image is a top-down view of the bathymetry data showing the seamount, and the graph in the upper left corner shows the vertical profile of the seamount’s height relative to the seafloor. The map on the upper right shows the bathymetry of the Hawaiian Archipelago with the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument boundary in white, and the location of the seamount circled in red. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.


Dr. Christopher Kelley
Co-Science Lead/Program Biologist, Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, University of Hawaii. Dr. Christopher Kelley is serving as the science lead for the 3-year CAPSTONE project in the Pacific. He has been the program biologist for the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) at the University of Hawaii for the last 15 years. His core responsibilities have included the identification of deepwater fish and invertebrates recorded during submersible and ROV operations and the extraction of video annotations for inclusion in HURL’s deepwater animal database and online photo guide. He is also a graduate faculty member of the Oceanography Department as well as affiliate faculty at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and serves on both Masters and Ph.D. graduate student committees.

Dr. Frank Parrish
Co-Science Lead/Director, Protected Species Division, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. As Director of the Protected Species Division at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Dr. Frank Parrish is responsible for overseeing programs that conduct population assessments, ecological studies, and health and disease monitoring for monk seals, cetaceans, and sea turtles in the U.S. Pacific Islands. Historically, his research emphasis has been habitat ecology, and he has published on coral reef fish, subphotic fish, sharks, lobster, monk seals, and mesphotic and deep-sea corals. Dr. Parrish has extensive field experience at sea and in remote camps working with scuba, remotely-operated cameras, manned submersibles, and animal-borne instrumentation. He currently serves as the center’s representative for development of advanced sampling technology. Dr. Parrish has been in Hawaii since high school, and he obtained his Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Hawaii. He joined the team as the Co-Science Lead for Leg 3 of the 2015 Hohonu Moana expedition.

Eighteen other people made up the on-board expedition team, ranging from the expedition manager, oceanographers, and other scientists to mechanical, electrical, and robotics engineers needed to accomplish the mission. Also, none of this would have been captured without the video, audio, and photography experts on board.

And, of course, no part of this exploration would be possible without the work of the dedicated NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and civilians who operate the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as part of NOAA's fleet managed by NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation.

For more information, including mission logs, educational materials, team bios, and much more on the equipment used for this and other expeditions, visit oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1504/welcome.html.

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