This summer, Dr. Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel E/V Nautilus and its Corps of Exploration will embark on a major expedition from June through October in its second year of exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea region, and the Corps is taking the public along with them.
Continuing the Corps’ mission to explore the oceans and seek out the unknown in regions the scientific community has deemed a high priority for exploration, scientists on board Nautilus and on shore participating via telepresence will conduct research on everything from the ongoing impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 to the investigation of shipwrecks that sank in the Gulf of Mexico to the study of geological hazards in the Caribbean Sea.
As members of the expanded Corps of Exploration, the public, educators, and students will watch the real-time action in high-definition streaming video and participate in live interactions with shore-based audiences via nautiluslive.org, a 24-hour portal bringing expeditions from the field to future explorers on shore via telepresence technology. The public can also follow the expedition on social media, at partner museums, and on a free mobile app.
“Lewis and Clark traveled for more than two years and had to wait to return home to share what they’d seen. Now the moment a discovery is made, scientists can virtually step aboard the ship and share findings in real time as well as help direct the minute-by-minute operations. This is a voyage of discovery everyone can make,” said Dr. Ballard, a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence.
This year begins a new focus of exploration for the Nautilus team, documenting and researching what Ballard has termed “The New America,” the vast expanse of virtually unexplored U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific and their myriad of natural and cultural resources. This summer will take the ship to the waters of Navassa Island — a U.S. holding that has never been explored — to document new deep coral communities and other ancient coastline features. In 2015 and beyond, the team hopes to broaden its exploration of these territories worldwide.
More than 200 explorers rotating throughout various cruise legs of a 120-day expedition will first explore the geology of the Straits of Florida and The Bahamas for evidence of tsunami-generating landslide events as well as rare cold-water ecosystems. After a stop in Dry Tortugas to assist the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries with understanding the ecology of reserves there, Nautilus will spend several weeks in the Gulf of Mexico examining the biological impact of the 2010 oil spill as well as studying the fundamental behavior of fluids as they disperse in to better predict the impact of any future oil spills. Investigation of several shipwrecks (including a German U-boat for the National Geographic Society and PBS’ NOVA program) in the area will be followed by a transit to Belize and Honduras to study the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
During the Windward Passage cruise, the ship will focus its attention on the major conduit between Cuba and Haiti where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea connect. Several dives here will also include geologic surveys of the fault zones responsible for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to better understand the seismic and tectonic hazards in this geologically active region.
The 2014 season will end with dives on the Kick’em Jenny submarine volcano off the coast of Grenada, and mud volcanoes off the coast of Trinidad & Tobago, holding exotic forms of life that are living off chemicals being squeezed out of the seafloor. Kick’em Jenny is the most active and dangerous submarine volcano in the Caribbean Sea. Specific hazards include explosive eruptions that can breach the sea surface and the potential for tsunami generation from shallow water explosions.
This season’s locations were selected after review of white papers submitted by scientists from around the world at the Workshop for Telepresence-Enabled Exploration of the Caribbean Region held in November 2012 by OET and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration.
2014 E/V Nautilus Expedition Locations. Click to expand.
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Hercules