Notes from the Nautilus Blog: Shipping Off

E/V Nautilus at sea in 2015. Image Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust

IEEE Earthzine’s Jenny Woodman is blogging from the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. Read more about her journey here.

On Aug. 5, I will join oceanographer Robert Ballard’s Corps of Exploration as a science communication fellow for the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET).  Founded by Ballard in 2008, OET is an organization dedicated to ocean exploration and marine science, with an emphasis on biology, geology and archaeology.

This leg of the 2017 expedition will explore newly mapped regions in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 57 miles northwest of San Francisco, California. We’ll be looking for and collecting samples from rocky habitats, which are known to be hotspots for marine life, including coral and sponge communities. Locating these hotspots will aid in management of the sanctuary – including areas designated by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Conservation Areas and Rockfish Conservation Areas.

Thanks to upwelling – a process generated by surface winds and currents, which helps bring cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep ocean up to the upper layers of the water column – the region is a magnet for marine mammals and seabirds; these creatures travel great distances for an all-you-can-eat buffet each August.

If we’re lucky, we might even find the USS Stewart, a World War II-era Clemson-class destroyer, built in 1919 in my hometown of Philadelphia by William Cramp & Sons. In 1943, the ship was captured and used as a patrol boat by the Japanese Navy until the U.S. Navy recaptured it in ‘45. In 1946, the Stewart was used as a target ship and sunk by F4U Corsair and F6F Hellcat fighters.

The work takes place on board the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, a 64-meter former East German “fishing vessel” that can host a 31-person science team and 17-member crew. The ship is outfitted with a wide range of equipment for scientific research and education.

A map of the distances traveled to reach Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary each summer. Image Credit: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

An EM302 multibeam sonar system for mapping the sea floor allows researchers to pinpoint ideal locations for deploying remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus, to collect video footage and samples. Telepresence technology makes it possible for school kids, curious humans, and scientists from all over the world to join the adventure, in real-time, from dry land.

Hercules is a neutrally botant ROV capable of traveling to depths of 4,000 meters; it is equipped with two manipulator arms and six thrusters for greater maneuverability. Hercules also carries a high definition camera, which delivers footage via a fiber-optic cable to the control van on Nautilus and, ultimately, to the world.

Argus is a stainless steel towsled-style ROV that provides additional lighting and “eye in the sky” camera footage while working in tandem with Hercules; Argus takes the roll of the ship so the larger workhorse ROV can remain steady down below. When working solo, Argus can travel to depths of 6,000 meters.

I’m hoping to capture photos, video interviews and stories to share with our IEEE Earthzine readers via our Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as here, in this blog. Whenever the ROVs are deployed, you can watch the dives live at nautiluslive.org.

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