Integration of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Seafloor Mapping, Little Hercules ROV, and Sentry AUV Data into Ocean Exploration Operations and Public Data Holdings


Within NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the Okeanos Explorer Program’s main tools for preliminary ocean exploration include a Kongsberg EM 302 multibeam sonar (30 kHz), Kongsberg EK 60 singlebeam sonar (18 kHz), and Knudsen subbottom profiler (3.5 kHz chirp). The program devoted multiple expeditions in the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Atlantic Margin during its 2012 Field Season to confirm and further develop the EM 302 multibeam sonar’s water column backscatter data capability to detect gaseous seeps and vents. While mapping in the seafloor and water column in the vicinity of the salt domes of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, the EM 302 detected over two hundred distinct seeps in the water column. Several seeps have been explored in more detail using high definition cameras and lighting systems of the remotely operated vehicle Little Hercules and the camera platform Seirios. This included filming bubbles escaping from the seafloor at the locations determined by the EM 302 data to ground truth EM302 observations and deduce other properties of these gas seeps e.g. gas flux, and effect of these seeps on surrounding ecosystem. These seeps are now a major research focus area by scientists at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and other academic institutions around the U.S., and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. . While mapping the Blake Ridge and Cape Fear Diapirs, seven distinct seeps were detected, each rising approximately 900 meters from the seafloor in water depths ranging from 2200 to 2500 meters. Several of these seeps were further explored with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Sentry autonomous underwater vehicle, utilizing itsReson 7125 high resolution multibeam, photo imagery, sidescan, subbottom, and various in-situ sensors to characterize the local environment. It is to be noted that very few of these seeps were previously known. Following the Okeanos Explorer Program’s paradigm of “Always Exploring”, the mapping team collects data not only during focused mapping operations, but also during all transits. Okeanos Explorer data are collected with regard to the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Center’s concept to “map once use many times”, which aims to encourage and enable the multidisciplinary use of seafloor mapping data, including by the fields of marine archaeology, hydrographic mapping, extended continental shelf, biology, geology, geophysics, biopharmaceutical, ocean energy and resources, marine managed areas, fisheries, corals, oceanography, hazards modeling and assessments, education and outreach. To this end, all mapping, CTD and meteorology data sets collected by the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer are monitored and evaluated in the field for quality control purposes, and are made available through NOAA’s public archives within 60 to 90 days of data collection, in useable formats and with associated metadata records. Additionally, all data sets collected by vehicles onboard the ship, including ROVs and AUVs, are made available directly following each cruise via NOAA’s public archives.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Conference Date

Dec 3 - Dec 7, 2012


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type