Exploration and Discovery of Hydrocarbon Seeps, Coral Ecosystems, and Shipwrecks in the Deep Gulf of Mexico


Between March 20 and April 6, 2012, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer served as a platform for ship-board and shore-side scientists to explore the deep Gulf of Mexico, targeting the northern West Florida Escarpment, DeSoto Canyon, the vicinity (within 11km) of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) well, and deepwater shipwrecks. We systematically explored and discovered natural hydrocarbon seeps, diverse coral ecosystems, wooden and iron-hulled shipwrecks more than 100 years old colonized by coral communities, and sperm whale habitat between 600 and 1200m. A total of sixteen dives took advantage of new and recent maps to explore and groundtruth both hard and soft-bottom habitats, from cretaceous carbonates to mounds of coral rubble. The final ROV dive successfully groundtruthed expected methane-release areas imaged by the ship’s mapping systems up to 1150m above the seafloor. The source of the mapping imagery was a stream of bubbles issuing from beneath thriving seep mussel communities. We visited five sites in the Mississippi Canyon (MC) area (lease blocks MC294, MC297, MC388, MC255, and MC036; the DWH incident took place in MC252). These sites were 11.3 km SW, 6.8 km SW, 7.6 km SW, 25.7 km E, and 27.4 km to the NE of the DWH, respectively. We used high-definition imaging systems on the Little Hercules ROV and Seirios camera platform to document more than 130 coral colonies and over 400 associated individual animals to continue to assessing the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All of these efforts were conducted to provide fundamental knowledge of unknown and poorly known regions, ecosystems, and items of historical significance in the deep Gulf of Mexico.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)

Conference Date

Dec 3 - Dec 7, 2012


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type