OECI Year Four Projects – July 2022 – June 2023

OECI – Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) – E/V Nautilus Expeditions


Allison Fundis (OET), Daniel Wagner (OET)

The objectives of this cruise are to complete engineering tests on several acoustic systems, remotely operated vehicles, satellite/telepresence systems, and autonomous vehicle DriX in preparation for the 2023 expedition season. Additionally, we anticipate that the UH Hadal Profiler test deployments will be conducted during this expedition. The 2023 E/V Nautilus shakedown cruise will be undertaken in the Hawaiian Islands, primarily south of O‘ahu and south and west of Moloka‘i and Lanai, respectively. The ship will also transit farther southwest off of  O‘ahu for multibeam accuracy and extinction tests.

Johnston Atoll – Exploration of Johnston Atoll (ROV, DriX)

Daniel Wagner (OET) and Larry Mayer (UNH)

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) encompasses seven islands and atolls in the Central Pacific, which are well known as hotspots of shallow-water biodiversity. In 2014, several Monument units were expanded, including the Johnston Unit, which was expanded from 50 nm centered on the atoll to the full 200 nm US EEZ. The Johnston Unit of PRIMNM lies within the Prime Crust Zone, an area of the Pacific with some of the highest predicted concentrations of deep-sea minerals, including economically-valuable metals and rare Earth elements.

This will be a 27-day expedition that will utilize the deep-water mapping capabilities of E/V Nautilus, benthic survey capabilities of the ROVs Hercules and Argus, and high-resolution mapping capabilities of UNH’s USV DriX.  The primary focus area for this expedition will be the priority areas identified by NOAA Ocean Exploration for multibeam mapping ROV explorations, and AUV operations that lie in the northern portion of the Johnston Unit of PRIMNM.

Kingman Reef – Exploration of Kingman Reef & Palmyra Atoll (ROV)

Daniel Wagner (OET)

This 27-day ROV expedition utilizing the deep-water mapping capabilities of E/V Nautilus and benthic survey and sampling capabilities of the ROVs Hercules and Argus will contribute to an ongoing effort to explore the deep-water resources in the US EEZ surrounding Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, including within the Kingman and Palmyra Unit of PRIMNM. While recent expeditions by HURL, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, R/V Falkor, and E/V Nautilus have increased our baseline knowledge of this region, large seafloor features remain completely unmapped and unexplored. Further exploration in these areas are needed to address management and science needs of the region, including a better understanding of the deep-water resources of PRIMNM, biogeographic patterns of species distributions, and the geological context of the region.

Multi-Vehicle Exploration – Advancing Exploration Technology into Operations

Larry Mayer (UNH), Rick Murray (WHOI), Robert Ballard (OET), Adam Soule (URI)

The OECI has been advancing vehicle systems that fit this profile – specialized, autonomous, and collaborative – such as the UNH ASV DriX and WHOI midwater AUV Mesobot through past Technology Demonstration and Challenge projects alongside tools and technology to enable remote operations and co-exploration. In this project we will begin to transition these systems from prototypes and demonstrations to operational tools for ocean exploration. Although we will continue to test and implement new behaviors and operational concepts for novel vehicle systems, we will do so in an unexplored region of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM), allowing vehicle systems to demonstrate their value for ocean exploration through data collection.

This technology transition will focus on three main objectives: a) using multiple autonomous and uncrewed systems simultaneously and collaboratively; b) increasing their range and independence from support vessels to enable the ‘force multiplier’ of autonomy; and c) the utilization of novel systems targeted to exploring specific regions of the full water column.  The vehicle systems to be used include the UNH ASV DriX, WHOI AUV Mesobot, and URI Deep Autonomous Profiler (DAP). Each of these vehicle systems, along with E/V Nautilus, offers unique and complementary specializations that together will be capable of collecting valuable ocean exploration data through the entire water column.

PNMN – Exploration of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM)

Daniel Wagner (OET) 

In 2016, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) was expanded to cover over 1,5 million km2, making it the largest marine protected area in the world at the time, and to this day still the largest in the US. While historic expeditions by HURL, R/V Falkor, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and E/V Nautilus have increased our baseline knowledge of PMNM, large seafloor features remain completely unmapped and unexplored, particularly throughout the expansion zone and towards the northwestern end of PMNM.

This 27-day expedition will utilize the deep-water mapping capabilities of E/V Nautilus, benthic survey capabilities of the ROVs Hercules and Argus, and survey capabilities of the Deep Autonomous Profiler (DAP) to fill in large knowledge gaps relevant to the management needs of the Monument.

Jarvis – Mapping of Jarvis

Daniel Wagner (OET)

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) encompasses seven islands and atolls in the Central Pacific, which are well known as hotspots of shallow-water biodiversity. In 2014, several Monument units were expanded, including the Jarvis Unit, which was expanded from 50 nm centered on the atoll to the full 200 nm US EEZ. While recent expeditions by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and E/V Nautilus have increased our baseline knowledge of the Jarvis Unit of PRIMNM, large seafloor features remain unmapped. Mapping these areas is needed to allow follow on exploration in these areas. 

This 30-day expedition will utilize the deep-water mapping capabilities of E/V Nautilus to continue the acquisition of high-resolution bathymetry in areas where mapping data does not exist, while engaging a broad spectrum of the scientific community and public in telepresence-based exploration, and provide a foundation of publicly accessible data products to spur further exploration, research, and management activities.

Microbiology – Microbial exploration of hydrothermal features on oceanic core complexes of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Julie Huber (WHOI)

The overarching goal of this work is to carry out a systematic seafloor exploration program on oceanic core complexes (OCCs) along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to identify and characterize new sites of serpentinization and associated hydrothermal venting, and to link geologic setting to fluid chemistry, habitat conditions, and biological communities. Serpentinization is a common alteration process on Earth and likely throughout the solar system that can create habitable environments by providing a source of chemical energy for microbial life. On Earth, ultramafic rocks are the major component of the oceanic lithosphere, and the aqueous alteration of these rocks through serpentinization occurs from the depths of the ocean to the continental margins. The products of both serpentinization and carbon reduction are important energy sources for diverse microorganisms on Earth, and the process of serpentinization is thought to extend far into Earth’s history, potentially playing a role in the origins and early evolution of life.

The work leverages a Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) research cruise aboard the R/V Falkor(too) to be led by NOAA collaborators David Butterfield and Joseph Resing in February 2023. SOI will provide ship time, as well as the ROV SuBastian and a deep-diving mapping AUV. A nested exploration approach with a multidisciplinary team will be carried out, and multibeam bathymetry, CTD water column surveys, AUV high-resolution bathymetry and plume sensing, AUV-photography, and ROV surveys and sampling will be used to accomplish the mission.

Lander – Deep Autonomous Profiler (DAP): A lander for systematic ocean exploration

Christopher Roman (URI)

This project will integrate a passive acoustic recording system into the Deep Autonomous Profiler (DAP). The DAP is an 11km rated hadal lander and water column profiler built around a standard Seabird CTD rosette.  It is capable of measuring exploration variables (T,S,O2), recording video segments, and collecting water samples throughout the full water column or while resting on the bottom for days at a time.  Incorporating a passive acoustics system will add a valuable environmental parameter that is not possible to collect during traditional ROV and AUV missions due to self-noise.  The DAP is an ideal ship-independent means to collect these soundscape data in an operationally flexible manner that makes greater use of planned ship time and existing resources. This project is split into two parts.  The integration of the passive acoustics and some minor modifications to the DAP are contained under this project.  Testing of the system will be completed during the Technology Challenge and PMNM E/V Nautilus cruise legs.

Deepwater Drix

Larry Mayer (UNH), Val Schmidt (UNH)

In support of OER’s mandate to advance technology for ocean exploration as well as the National Ocean Mapping Exploration and Characterization strategy, OER, through the OECI, has invested in the development of an advanced autonomous surface vessel (DriX) that has significant speed and sea-keeping abilities as well as the ability to map the seafloor and the water column while serving as a critical communication link for collaborative vehicle activities. The DriX was delivered to the OECI in the summer of 2021, put through a series of pier-side sea trials and tests and was shipped and integrated onto the E/V Nautilus in early 2022 for initial integration and sea-trials.  In its initial delivery, the DriX was only capable of carrying an EM2040 multibeam sonar with maximum mapping depth limit of 500 m.  Understanding OER’s mandate to map in deeper water, UNH, Kongsberg Maritime and iXblue embarked on an effort to see if a deeper water mapping system could possibly be integrated into the OECI DriX.  Through the significant design efforts on the part of both Kongsberg and iXblue, a newly developed compact EM712 (40-100kHz) has been developed and, with a newly modified gondola for the DriX, should offer OECI’s DriX the ability to map to water depths beyond 3000m. The development of a “compact EM712” is an important advancement in multibeam sonar technology as it opens up the option for the deployment of deep-water mapping systems on much smaller platforms including other autonomous surface and underwater vehicles. This project, supporting the integration of the compact EM712 and gondola, advancements and integrations will be tested and demonstrated during the E/V Nautilus Shakedown and technology challenge expeditions.

Raman -Deploying InVADER, a novel Raman spectrometer for in situ chemical analysis of Fe-Mn crusts and other geomaterials

Leonardo Macelloni (USM), Adam Soule (URI) Pablo Sobron (Impossible Sensing), Mark Leung (BOEM)

This project seeks to conduct the first at-sea tests of a novel subsea Raman spectrometer that will provide high-fidelity, quantitative chemical composition data on materials including rocks, sediments, fluids, and biological samples in situ. The instrument, named InVADER, was developed by Impossible Sensing with funding from NASA. We will continue working with Impossible Sensing, who are co-supporting the development of this instrument through the use of their facilities for testing. It was designed as a prototype for measuring the chemical composition of materials during space missions to explore solar system planets, but is equally (if not more) valuable as a tool for ocean exploration on our own planet [Sobron et al., 2021].

Additional efforts funded by BOEM will develop base prediction models for quantitative spectroscopy. In practice, we will scale up micro-scale mapping technologies and quantitative models that we currently use to determine sample homogeneity and micro-scale features to the kilometer-scale needed to explore the seafloor. This involves developing low-error-interpolation and up-sampling techniques as well as expanding database systems to store geolocated raw, processed, and analyzed spectra. Developing a georeferenced database is not only key to post processing but also to creating updated mineral maps and predictions in near real-time. We will do this by geolocating compositional information from Hercules. To do this, we will develop autoencoders based on machine learning that feature deep neural networks to up-sample low-resolution data.

eDNA – Exploration via eDNA

Annette Govindarajan (WHOI), Allan Adams (Oceanic Labs, WHOI), Dana Yoerger (WHOI)

The ocean’s vast mesopelagic zone is home to a rich and diverse ecosystem whose inhabitants and dynamics are simultaneously poorly understood and at risk from human exploitation. Environmental DNA (eDNA) provides a powerful and cost-effective tool with which to explore this challenging and vulnerable ecosystem. Environmental DNA refers to the trace genetic material that animals shed via fecal pellets, gametes, sloughed cells and scales, and other mechanisms, as they move through the water. With an eye toward efficiently detecting the dilute eDNA signal in the mesopelagic, we recently developed compact large-volume multisamplers which filter water in situ. In Year 4 we will build upon our technological and scientific results from Years 2 and 3 to use eDNA to explore mesopelagic animal biodiversity. Specifically, we aim to: 1) develop and deliver additional eDNA samplers with new capabilities to permit a wider range of use cases; and 2) conduct eDNA sampling and associated analyses to test these samplers and explore biodiversity on OECI cruises.

Hadal Profiler – UH Hadal Water Column Profiler Testing

Project Leads: Allison Fundis (OET), Daniel Wagner (OET)

Collaborators: Jeff Drazen (UH), Bruce Howe (UH), Glenn Carter (UH), Chris Measures (SOEST, UH)

The deep ocean trenches, or hadal zone, are amongst the most poorly explored regions on the planet. This is particularly true of the hadal water column, as most of the hadal research to date has focused on the geology, biology, and ecology of the seafloor. Practically nothing is known about the mixing, circulation, chemical properties, and biological communities in waters deeper than 6500m depth, where only a handful of moored and hydrographic measurements have been made. The existing observations suggest that rather than being quiescent and isolated from the ocean above, the hadal zone is ventilated on surprisingly short timescales, with some radionuclide studies suggesting that the residence times are less than five years. Further, genetic studies have identified the same species in neighboring, yet bathymetrically isolated, trenches.

This project will conduct tests of a new hadal water column profiler (HWCP), developed at University of Hawaii with funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation. This free-falling profiler measures vertical profiles of turbulent microstructure (mixing), temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen (including redundant sensors), horizontal velocity, and 200 kHz bioacoustics backscatter. It also records video and has a small 11 bottle water sampler. Importantly for investigating the questions above, even for 11 km depths, the HWCP is capable of several profiles a day and includes multiple redundant ballast releases. This profiler will be tested during the shakedown E/V Nautilus expedition.


Tara Hicks Johnson (UNH), Holly Morin (URI)

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students (middle/high-school) with the resources they need to build an ROV in an in-school or out-of-school setting.  Students build an ROV from low-cost, easily accessible materials, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.  At the national level, SeaPerch is run by Robonation, an independent non-profit; locally, chapters manage their own programs.  Each spring, Robonation hosts an international competition, with teams coming from a host of regional competitions in the US, and around the world.  Each competition has a theme; this project will sponsor the 2022-23 competition, and theme the tasks around OECI research activities, providing OECI-relevant research background and technology “needs” to the thousands of competitors around the globe. This sponsorship would also include two higher Robonation level competitions, RoboBoat and RoboSub, whose participants include students from the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels.

ISC Education Professional Development (PD) Programming and Online Engagement

Holly Morin and Alex DeCiccio (URI/ISC)

This project continues collaborative video production and other program development activities between the Inner Space Center (ISC) Media and Production and Education Teams and NOAA Ocean Exploration Education/Communications. Key efforts include the continued production of engaging, content-reach Deep Sea Dialogues videos and associated virtual professional development/learning opportunities for K-12 formal and informal educators from across the U.S. and associated territories.

Carbon Sequestration: Sinking carbon flux in the Gulf of Mexico

Christopher Hayes (USM)

In this project, we will observe the biological pump in the poorly explored abyssal Gulf of Mexico using newly acquired in-situ pumps (McLane Large Volume Water Samplers). The measurements necessary to estimate carbon flux (the isotope thorium-230 and particulate inorganic and organic carbon) require analyzing the particulate material from about 140 liters of seawater. This can be acquired by the pump (with pump rate of 8L/min) in 1 hydro-cast of a station occupation. Filter samples from the pump can be retrieved and stored for analysis in the shore-based lab with relatively little sample handling requirements on board.

Eagle Ray and Mola Mola on NOAA Okeanos Explorer (EX)

Leonardo Macelloni (USM)

In this project the USM AUVs Eagle Ray (ER) and Mola Mola (MM) will be deployed from the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer (EX) during a research cruise targeting unexplored areas of the US Pacific continental shelf. The area of interest is located in the proposed designation of Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary offshore of central California. This area remains largely unexplored and is in need of further exploration, especially high resolution products, to support emerging management needs. Ocean floor topography, geological features, and seabed habitats have been generally mapped with hull-mounted sonars, hence higher-resolution bathymetry and visual investigation (e.g. photomosaics) will greatly improve our knowledge of the region’s biodiversity and geological features in a region that may be subjected to submarine geo-hazards.

 Inner Space Center – Telepresence Support of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer 2023 Field Season

Dwight Coleman (URI)

The URI Inner Space Center (ISC) will continue the partnership with NOAA Ocean Exploration to provide support to the seagoing operations of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer (EX) during FY23.  This project, which aligns with OECI goals and priorities, is a continuation of the partnership between ISC and NOAA Ocean Exploration to ensure a successful program in systematic ocean exploration, facilitated by telepresence technologies.  The ISC will work closely with NOAA-OE to support the EX schedule as it evolves for 2023.

CloudMap II

Brian Calder (CCOM/JHC-UNH)

Driven by pressures on berthing on ships of exploration, particularly with more vehicles on board to expand the exploration potential of a single platform, along with the desire for better visibility, discovery, and usability of data, there has been significantly increased interest in the last few years on the potential for tele-processing of data.  That is, providing access to the data store on the ship from shore, avoiding the requirement to have data processors on ship; or, providing transport of the data to shore into a cloud processing environment so that multiple processors can access it and turn around products at the operational tempo of the assets at sea.

This project will first investigate how to build a “best in breed” conventional processing system for cloud deployment and allow for field testing of these ideas to examine the potential efficiency gains and concept of operations for shore-side processing of data. Second, we will investigate development of an experimental cloud-native bathymetry processing scheme which can scale as required in order to maintain a given processing rate, allowing the code to maintain a real-time “best estimate of depth” surface for the data being collected.  At the same time, we will investigate how to maintain a consistent estimation state where data is added (e.g., as more data is collected) or removed (e.g., by editing) from multiple users in real time. 

Remote Operations

Andy Bowen (WHOI) PI

Participants: Stefano Suman (WHOI), Alisa Dalpe (WHOI) and Mike Jakuba (WHOI)

The push towards multi-vehicle coordinated and long-duration operations necessitates a paradigm shift from the current Concept of Operations (CONOPs). Current CONOPs require large teams (5-10 personnel) for a single vehicle; multi-vehicle operations multiply those numbers. Most ships, including the upcoming RCRV class vessels, will be unable to sustain teams of this size. Additionally, teams are often specific to each vehicle and cannot provide cross-support to other vehicles on the ship. Implementing an accessible teleoperation framework will expand the pool of potential operators by enabling participants from demographics otherwise limited in access to shipboard opportunities and encourage active engagement in ocean exploration.

To address these needs, we plan to develop tools enabling efficient tele-operation of underwater vehicles for ocean exploration purposes from a reduced team on shore. In developing those tools and CONOPs, a priority will be to account for future capabilities that LEO satellites will provide. Cloud-based interfaces make the systems operable globally and not only from a centralized command and control center, thus increasing efficiency by leveraging time zone differences for 24/7 operations. Additionally, we propose to develop devices and processes that enable distributed team collaboration and management of different connectivity environments. In Year 4, a system will be demonstrated on the E/V Nautilus during the NOAA OECI E/V Nautilus, ROV Hercules, ASV Drix, AUV Mesobot technology demonstration. The system developed will be platform agnostic, enabling broad adoption across the ocean science community. Before the tech demo on E/V Nautilus with large vehicles, we propose to prototype and test via modeling and simulation tools.

Machine Learning Co-Exploration

Leonardo Macelloni (USM) and Mike Jakuba (WHOI)

Presently, deep ocean exploration and mapping using AUVs is efficient and convenient in terms of logistics and costs, however this approach suffers from the major technological impediment that the bulk of the data collected, both in form of multibeam survey and or seafloor images cannot be analyzed in real time. There is little “conversation” between operators and subsea platforms via the narrow bandwidth of acoustic communication so that redirecting or changing AUV mission plans to interrogate “promising” targets, narrow the area of research to increase the resolution, or even change the mapping tools can be done only after the data are downloaded, analyzed and interpreted a posteriori.

This project addresses a key challenge in bringing advanced autonomy to the deep sea.  Opportunities for experimentation are few and expensive. CoEx enables developer access to vehicle processes in the same way that it facilitates operator and scientist access to vehicle data, allowing developers to monitor and alter algorithm performance in real time, and to gradually grant subsea autonomy greater control over the vehicle (e.g. by initially requiring topside validation of proposed mission alterations). This project is a joint effort between USM, in partnership with the University of Louisiana Lafayette, Center for Computational Geosciences, and two groups at WHOI, the Girdhar group and the Jakuba group. The project will be organized in three complementary components. Two components will be devoted to the development of ML algorithms for in-situ seabed exploration and a third component consisting of CoEx hardware and software development to facilitate the implementation, testing and operational transition of the algorithms during a field program.

Islands Under Sea: Shipwreck microbiomes of Keathley Canyon

Leila Hamdan (USM) Christopher Horrell (BOEM)

Our work will first attempt to discover up to five new historic shipwrecks on the seabed in the Keathley Canyon lease area found in close proximity. That discovery will enable the first possible process-based study of co-located shipwreck and permit validation and training of a machine learning based exploration support tool, which harnesses microbiomes as sensors of built habitats. Our approach will produce significant and new discoveries about the history and ecology of historic shipwrecks and lead to paradigm shifting findings regarding human-built environments in the deep ocean. 

OECI Year 4 NRDA Projects

Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDA) – Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities (MDBC) Restoration Projects

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) mobile drilling unit exploded, approximately 3.19 million barrels (134 million gallons) of oil were released into the ocean (U.S. v. BP et al. 2015). Along with the oil, 218 billion liters of natural gas and seven million liters of chemical dispersants. The chemicals spread from the deep ocean to the surface and nearshore environment mainly in front of Louisiana but cover an area from Texas to Florida, damaging nearby ecosystems, killing wild fauna, and massively damaging natural resources (Montagna et al. 2013, NOAA 2014). The abundance and distribution of Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities (MDBC) across the Gulf of Mexico are not completely known. This presents a challenge to decision-making for restoration, management, and protection and to evaluations of DWH injuries and recovery. The following projects are part of this larger ongoing study to inform these decisions and restoration projects.

Data from these projects will be incorporated into the larger NOAA datasets and can be found HERE


Mapping, Ground-truthing, and Predictive Habitat Modeling in the Gulf of Mexico

URI, USM, WHOI | Jason Fahy (URI), Greg Packard (WHOI), Leo Macelloni (USM), Larry Mayer (UNH)

This project will conduct surveys using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to explore and map the distribution and abundance of mesophotic and deep benthic communities in the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting survey data will form baseline observations in support of restoration and management of the Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities (MDBC) following damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  This exploratory habitat mapping project will require the integration, testing, and operation of novel sensors onboard multiple AUV platforms.

Coral Science

Gulf of Mexico Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Community Restoration: Coral reproduction, assisted recruitment and colony propagation

URI | Carlos Prada (URI)

This project will conduct activities to restore affected benthic mesophotic habitats by establishing the baseline information necessary to design restoration activities in deep ocean coral communities. Recovery of the octocoral populations in mesophotic areas in the GoM can be divided into three modalities: naturally occurring recruitment, assisted recruitment, and colony propagation. The natural modes of reproduction in corals include broadcast spawning, brooding, or fragmentation; and each of these may require a different propagation strategy.


Gulf of Mexico Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Community Restoration: Habitat Assessment and Evaluation

USM & URI | Andrew Davies (URI), Brennan Philips (URI), Leonardo Macelloni (USM), and Leila Hamdan (USM)

In this project, through the development of an integrative and innovative technological and targeted observation program, we will couple short-term (spatially abundant) and long-term (temporally abundant) benthic observations in Gulf of Mexico mesophotic and deep benthic communities (MDBC) to determine baseline conditions and to characterize key environmental and community conditions at both injured and reference sites. Our short-term observations will act as a “network of nimble sensors”, deployed over 5-25 day periods to capture spatially coherent data on water mass composition, temperature stress, benthic currents, and some elements of suspended particulate matter supply across multiple target habitats. Our long-term observations, over full calendar years, will address significant knowledge gaps in MDBCs and will provide the much-needed data that extends across multi-seasonal cycles to capture the physical oceanographic conditions and biological activity within injured and reference Gulf of Mexico MDBCs.

Soft Sediment

Gulf of Mexico Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Community Restoration: Soft Sediment Community Assessment and Habit Trajectories

USM | Dr. Leila Hamdan

Work performed during this project will provide sediment samples from areas across the northern Gulf of Mexico to support understanding of the current environmental condition of areas impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Spill and identify areas with potential for mesophotic and deep benthic community (MDBC) restoration efforts. The work will be carried out during field campaigns to collect material samples for later use during laboratory analysis for biological and geochemical parameters. Key milestones will be field work to collect samples, sample storage and preparation, laboratory analysis, computational analysis, report and manuscript preparation and final reporting.

OECI Year Three Projects – July 2021 – June 2022

MISO – TowCam

Richard Murray (WHOI) and Daniel Fornari (WHOI)

The Multidisciplinary Instrumentation in Support of Oceanography (MISO) Facility at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in collaboration with NOAA Ocean Exploration propose to conduct at-sea deployments of versatile, relatively low-cost deep-sea camera systems developed by WHOI-MISO, and provided to NOAA Ocean Exploration for the purpose of assessing the possibility of their inclusion in NOAA Ocean Exploration’s standard operations aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.


USM | Henry Jones

USM proposes to collaborate with NOAA NCEI to pilot a Data Assembly Hub (DAH) for NOAA’s UxS operations (UxSDAH).

Inner Space Center Telepresence 2.0 and Nautilus Support

URI | Dwight Coleman

The University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center proposes to continue the partnership with the Ocean Exploration Trust to support for the 2022 seagoing season on the E/V Nautilus.

Inner Space Center Education and Communications Support

URI | Dwight Coleman

The University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center proposes to support the Okeanos Explorer during the 2022 seagoing season.

SailDrone: Aleutians

UNH | Larry Mayer

The University of New Hampshire (UNH), Saildrone, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute (MBARI) have been collaborating since 2019 through the support of the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) and NOAA Ocean Exploration on the technical development of the Saildrone SURVEYOR, a 22m platform that offers the potential to carry out deep ocean mapping, exploration and characterization missions in a very efficient manner.


WHOI | Timothy Shank

We propose a new exploration paradigm to advance the pace of exploration and discovery through the multi-vehicle use of the new Orpheus class AUVs to explore the hadal regions of our ocean.

Data Management

URI | Adam Soule

URI proposes to hire a Data Compliance Officer to support and enforce the OECI data management plan.

ROV Exploration: Kingman Reef & Palmyra Atoll

OET | Allison Fundis

This expedition will continue to advance our understanding of the regional ocean exploring areas in the US Exclusive Economic Zone but inside and outside the protection of PRIMNM which have never been surveyed with ROVs or submersibles. This project will directly support the National Strategy for Ocean Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone by conducting high-resolution, in situ exploration and characterization in areas that meet the goals of the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.

Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu – Ancient Seamounts of Liliʻuokalani Ridge (NWHI/PMNM)

OET | Allison Fundis

This expedition will have E/V Nautilus returning to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) to build on the accomplishments of the 2021 Luʻuaeaahikiikalipolipo expedition, which mapped the previously unmapped Liliʻuokalani Ridge Seamounts. It also involves many of the same partners as the 2021 E/V Nautilus expedition to the Southern Wentworth seamount chain (NA134), including Dr. Chris Kelley and Dr. Beth Orcutt. This project has a very important basic science objective which is to determine the origin and age of these seamounts, none of which have been mapped or explored, and only one of which has been dredged.

The expedition name Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu (Luʻu-a-ea-a-hiki-i-ke-kumu) represents the journey to and the work in the foundation, or the foundation of the ocean/islands. The mappings of the Liliʻuokalani Seamounts in October 2021 allowed us to look at the source and foundation of our oceans and islands with ROV dives. Ke kumu refers to the foundation, the source or origin.

TechChallenge: Multi-vehicle Technology Integration

URI | Jason Fahy

This expedition will bring together our OECI partners from the University of New Hampshire and their uncrewed surface vessel DriX, as well as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutionʻs and autonomous underwater vehicle Mesobot and hybrid vehicle NUI. Over the course of the 16-day expedition, the team will test and demonstrate operational capabilities including vehicles (1) communicating with each other while they are simultaneously deployed; (2) being re-tasked based on information gained from a partner vehicle; and (3) demonstrating further advances in teleoperations with operators back on shore.

ROV Exploration: Deep Sea Biodiversity & Ancient Volcanoes near Johnston Atoll

OET | Allison Fundis

Johnston Atoll, one of the most isolated atolls in the world, is located in the central Pacific Ocean, between the Hawaiian Islands, the Line Islands, and the nation of Kiribati. Around this atoll, the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) was expanded in 2014 to protect the full 200 nautical mile perimeter of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) encompassing many unexplored seafloor features.

The ROV dives will largely occur along ridge features that are common within the Johnston Atoll Unit of PRIMNM where high densities of corals are expected to reside. The primary objectives of this expedition include (1) conducting surveys of the density and diversity of benthic habitats of Johnston Atoll including deep-water corals, sponges, and fish habitats; (2) acquiring physical and chemical data in support of PRIMNM’s conservation and exploration goals, including dissolved oxygen and eDNA samples; and (3) collect rock samples to identify mineral crusts and age date the geological features of the region.

Targeted ROV Exploration: NWHI/PMNM

OET | Allison Fundis

Luʻuaeaahikiikawawāapalaoa: Dual-Technology Seafloor Mapping

This expedition focuses on high-resolution mapping areas of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) currently lacking data using ship-based mapping surveys in deep waters as well as deploying the uncrewed surface vessel DriX for nearshore mapping. Acquiring this data will equip resource managers with a better understanding of the formation of deep-water and shallow-water terrain of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands contribute new data to nautical charts and improve safe navigation in these areas and the national and international priority to build high-resolution maps of the seafloor, especially in areas needing protection. This expedition will focus on the southern end of PMNM, between the islands of Nihoa – Kuhikuhipuʻuone (Nihoa Island) and ʻŌnūnui, ʻŌnūiki / Pūhāhona (Gardner Pinnacles).

Luʻuaeaahikiikapāpahākuʻiwawā: Seafloor Mapping

OET | Allison Fundis

This expedition focuses on high-resolution mapping areas of deep waters in the northern extent of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) using ship-based mapping surveys. Acquiring this data will equip resource managers with a better understanding of the formation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, map habitats protected within the monument and assist in the national and international priority to build high-resolution maps of the seafloor, especially in areas needing protection.

Expanded Tuskegee University Internships

USM | Jessie Kasler

Because the ocean sciences community continues to lack workforce diversity, the utilization of OE data in Minority Serving Institutions for research and education purposes will continue to suffer. The USM Marine Education Center (MEC) and Tuskegee University (TU) will continue to engage undergraduates TU students, recruiting them into eight- to 10-week internships during which they will contribute to the OECI mission and experience a broad exposure to OE and associated careers.


UNH | Brian Calder

Collection of data by autonomous systems will add significantly to the already burdensome data processing task. Efficiency in processing is therefore even more important than usual, and with modern data management trending towards cloud-based systems, it is imperative, from a cost and efficiency perspective, that data processing follows the data trends of autonomy. Hence, the development of cloud-native, scalable algorithms will be key to supporting these requirements.

Machine Learning Video

URI | Adam Soule, Matt Wei, Yang Shen

Develop machine learning (ML) algorithms, that will automatically break video into accessible clips based on the video content. This will make the clips more useful to the users and also will aid in how video data is stored so that the most valuable clips are the most readily accessible.

Bridge to Ocean Exploration

URI | Adam Soule, Holly Morin

The Bridge to Ocean Exploration (BOE) pilot program is proposed to engage diverse and lower SES student populations in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career paths at the New England Institute of Technology (NEIT).

Stochastic Bathymetry

URI | Chris Roman, Kristopher Krasnosky

The overall goal of this project will be to improve and evaluate an existing Graphics Processing Unit – Gaussian Process Regression (GPU-GPR) acoustic bathymetry software package developed by Kris Krasnosky during his recent URI PhD.

Deepwater Mapping Capability for ASV

URI | Larry Mayer

This project will integrate an EM712 into the DriX autonomous surface vessel.

OECI Year Two Projects – Underway or completed

URI Inner Space Center

URI | Dr. Dwight Coleman

The URI Inner Space Center provided support to NOAA and OECI projects related to telepresence, teleoperations and content production.

UNH DriX Procurement

UNH | Larry Mayer

UNH led the procurement of an uncrewed surface vessel built by iXBlue called DriX.

OET Nautilus Multibeam Survey 80 Days

National Marine Sanctuary Exploration, 5 days OECI, 10 days ONMS

OET Nautilus ROV Exploration 79 Days

OET | Allison Fundis

OET will use E/V Nautilus and ROVs Hercules and Argus to explore areas off the west coast of the United States between July 1 2020 and June 30 2021. The expeditions will involve scientists funded through NOAA Ocean Exploration FFOs, technology development and testing with OECI partners, and seafloor mapping of data gaps in data within the US EEZ.

USM AUV Upgrades

USM | Leo Macelloni

USM proposes to upgrade the Mola Mola, a SeaBED class Imaging AUV, with a laser line scanning and high-resolution camera system. This improved AUV will be used for characterization missions in conjunction with the Eagle Ray surveying AUV.

USM AUV Demonstration

USM | Leo Macelloni

USM will lead a testing and validation and validation cruise for two AUVs in the Gulf of Mexico aboard R/V Pt. Sur.

USM Intern Program

USM | Jessie Kasler

Because the ocean sciences community continues to lack workforce diversity, the utilization of OE data in Minority Serving Institutions for research and education purposes will continue to suffer. The USM Marine Education Center (MEC) and Tuskegee University (TU) will continue to engage undergraduates TU students, recruiting them into eight- to 10-week internships during which they will contribute to the OECI mission and experience a broad exposure to OE and associated careers.


USM | Henry Jones

USM proposes to collaborate with NOAA NCEI to pilot a Data Assembly Hub (DAH) for NOAA’s UxS operations (UxSDAH).

WHOI Advancing Novel AUV (Orpheus)

WHOI | Tim Shank

We propose a new exploration paradigm to advance the pace of exploration and discovery through the multi-vehicle use of the new Orpheus class AUVs to explore the hadal regions of our ocean.

Ring of Fire

WHOI | Julie Huber

This project will use the R/V Falkor, AUV Sentry and ROV SuBastian to expand our understanding of the distribution and biodiversity of deep-ocean hydrothermal vent sites, characterize biological and mineral resources of the Mariana backarc, and to support the stewardship and management of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

WHOI Exploring mesopelagic biodiversity

WHOI | Dana Yoerger, Annette Govindarajan, Allan Adams

Our WHOI/MIT team will advance efforts to characterize mesopelagic animal biodiversity and the physical environment through the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) and complementary oceanographic measurements.

WHOI Expand seafloor characterization technologies – shifting operations ashore

WHOI | Andy Bowen, Mike Jakuba

In year 2, WHOI will lead the CI to conceive and determine the steps needed to demonstrate a viable, reduced footprint ROV capability utilizing the Nereid Hybrid Tethered (NHT) vehicle from a suitable platform.