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Roughly 95 percent of the ocean is still unexplored—and the Okeanos Explorer, in partnership with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, is going to help change that. Known as “America’s ship for ocean exploration” the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is not a research vessel. Dedicated solely to exploration, the ship conducts operations around the globe, mapping the seafloor and characterizing largely unknown areas of the ocean. Interesting seafloor features can be discovered with the deep water multibeam sonar mapping system. Sites are further explored with a Conductivity Temperature and Depth sensor (CTD) and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Images and high-definition video from the underwater vehicles can then be sent from the vehicle to the ship to the shore all in real-time. This technology is referred to as “telepresence.” The ship’s V-SAT, or very small aperture terminal, (housed in the ship’s giant golf-ball dome) is able to send this information through Internet2, a high-speed internet connection commonly used by Universities.

The Okeanos Explorer is the only NOAA ship to have a dedicated ROV. Although ROV’s have been used on other NOAA ships, they are typically removed at the end of a cruise. Having a permanent ROV makes it easier to deploy at any time throughout the field season. On the Okeanos Explorer, there is an integrated control room for operating the multibeam, ROV and telepresence communication equipment. Having the screens and computers permanently wired to the ship makes it more efficient to sustain long-term exploration in remote areas of the world.

Not knowing what the ship will encounter, it is impossible to prepare a scientific compliment for every possible discovery. Instead, the ship sends video, voice and other oceanographic data to scientists ashore so that they may follow the cruise from an Exploration Command Center, or ECC. The ECCs are located around the U.S., with a communication’s hub located at the University Rhode Island, known as the Inner Space Center. Currently, other centers are located at the Pacific Marine Enviromental Laboratory at NOAA’s facility at the Western Regional Center in Seattle, WA; University of Washington in Seattle, WA; NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD; and the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping. An additional ECC was also set up in Jakarta, Indonesia for the INDEX-SATAL expedition in 2010.

Although the ship may be thousands of miles away, the scientists standing “watch” at the centers are able to guide the ship through its daily operations.  On occasion, during a mission, the ship will host webcasts and other media-related events in order to give the public an opportunity to participate in the journey.  It is NOAA’s hope that the ability to bring these products directly to people in near-real-time will help raise awareness about the ocean environment and get kids enthusiastic to learn about the ocean—not just in the United States, but all around the world.

The Okeanos Explorer was previously the USNS Capable, a T-AGOS class vessel. NOAA obtained the vessel on September 10, 2004 and began conversion in 2005. The vessel was named by a team of five students from Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Illinois. There are several cruises scheduled in 2008 for shakedown of the scientific systems before the ship will be fully operational.

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Okeanos Explorer's E-mail address is: Noaa.Ship.Okeanos.Explorer@noaa.gov

Okeanos Explorer's Mail address is:
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
2578 Davisville Road
North Kingstown, RI 02852

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•  Updated: 08-Sep-2014

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