Every two years people around the world suddenly obsessively watch odd niche sports like ice dancing, biathalon, and rhythmic gymnastics. So I wish similar enthusiasm could be summoned for the exploration dives of the Deep Discoverer, NOAA's ROV aboard the research vessel Okeanos Explorer and vehicles like it, which are streamed live on the internet. Perhaps it would help if they got some catchy theme music by John Williams that played every time they fired up their feed, video interludes featuring the touching back stories of the scientists and engineers on board, or set pieces about the shenanigans that go on in the "scientists' village" aboard the ship? Are you listening, NBC?
In any case, the Okeanos Explorer and Deep Discoverer begin their next series of 20 dives starting TODAY, April 10. As I write this, the ROV is already descending toward the bottom and has just passed 3500 meters on its way to a target depth of 4000 meters, which they expect to reach in about 15 minutes. They plan to explore the area until about 4pm EDT. As always, the dives are being streamed live on the internet and all of you can follow along at home, just as you would if you were watching a shuttle launch or moon landing in days of yore.
Thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, we can all now watch along at home every exciting minute of these voyages, and see and discover new creatures and exciting geology at virtually the same moment as mission scientists, who, as a bonus, give you a running play by play commentary. Plus, it's all free, or rather, supported by the generosity of American taxpayers. Why not reap the benefits of our collective investment in science by joining them for the ride in high-definition video?
Here's an example of what you might see if you are lucky. This video, which I've posted here before, was captured last fall in Norfolk Canyon off the east coast of the United States. It shows two attempted squid-nappings: one failed attempt by a red crab, and one squid sashimi served up for a monkfish near the end of the video (watch the upper left corner).
To get a better feel for what you might see over the course of any given day, check out several of the 5-minute daily highlight videos from the mission last fall. Here's one I can recommend in particular, featuring cameos by Echinoblogger Chris Mah at the Smithsonian! If you can't spend 8 hours a day watching along at home, these five-minute daily highlight reels are a great way to still feel part of the magic, and I imagine similar videos will soon be posted for this mission here.
On the docket for this voyage are the seamounts, trenches, and troughs around Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Trench runs for 500 miles along the north side of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and plunges 5.4 miles below the surface -- the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean. The expedition will also visit the Muertos Trough to the south of the island, the Mona Channel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands Trough to the east.
What might they see? Of course, no one knows for sure what's down there. They are hopeful they will see deepwater snapper, corals, seamounts and mud volcanoes. It is also likely, based on past experience, that the expedition will find new species, see living versions of animals known only from pallid preserved specimens, and see old species displaying unknown behaviors.
On the docket for today is the Arecibo amphitheater, a little-explored escarpment northwest of San Juan. They'll be looking for landslides and exposed rocks on the slope, along with any critters living there. The area is close to the epicenter of a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rumbled through San Juan just after midnight on January 13, 2014. Puerto Rico has a history of earthquakes and tsunamis; an October 1918 magnitude 7.3 earthquake produced a tsunami that killed 116 people.
Tomorrow, April 11, the team plans to visit Mona Seamount northwest of Puerto Rico, an area they expect to be richly biodiverse as many seamounts are.
There will also be a Reddit Ask Me Anything on April 16 from 1-3 pm EDT featuring NOAA ocean explorer and officer Brian Kennedy; Andrea Quattrini, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist; and Mike Cheadle, a geologist from the University of Wyoming.
This expedition runs through April 30, but if you miss it, the next one will take place July through September in an even more enticing target: the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, if you would like to see the many amazing photos and video collected by America's Own Ocean Exploration Team, they are all freely available here.