Deepwater exploration will be accomplished using the Navy's nuclear powered research submarine, the NR-1. This vessel carries video cameras, sample-collection equipment and tools to map the sea floor. A crew of eleven operates the submarine while two onboard researchers take turns watching video images or observing the sea floor firsthand through viewing portals on the underside of the sub.
|The U.S. Navy's research submarine NR-1 dockside in Groton, CT. (Photo: US Navy)
The SSV Carolyn Chouest will support the submarine operations and also tow a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) provided by the Institute for Exploration. Argus, the ROV, will provide researchers with additional images and information about the sanctuary's habitats and marine life.
Another part of the expedition will include a charter dive vessel, the M/V Fling. The Fling will host a variety of sanctuary-sponsored researchers for the annual winter research cruise. These scientists will focus on the shallower coral reef cap within the sanctuary, making species specific observations and retrieving data from acoustic receivers located there.
In an innovative approach to ocean research, additional national marine sanctuaries scientists will stand watch at remote consoles located at NOAA facilities in Silver Spring, MD and Seattle, WA. They will see everything the onboard scientists see and provide additional documentation of species, geologic formations and evidence of connectivity.
The Sanctuary Expedition Team
As previously mentioned, Dr. Robert Ballard is the lead scientist on this expedition, but he's gathered quite a crew of researchers from a variety of disciplines to support him. Among these are three staff from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary:
G.P. Schmahl, Sanctuary Superintendent, will be on board the NR-1 and/or the Carolyn Chouest.
Doug Weaver, GIS Specialist and Fish Biologist, will be on the Carolyn Chouest.
Emma Hickerson, Research Coordinator, will be supervising and facilitating research efforts on the Fling.