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QPS Client Spotlight: NOAA Okeanos Explorer

America's Ship for Ocean Exploration

Mapping team lead Elizabeth "Meme" Lobecker explains how Okeanos Explorer sonar systems acquire data and describes the some of the recent discoveries, including hundreds of gas seeps along the eastern seaboard. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts.

About the Okeanos

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.  

The  NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer   is "America's Ship for Ocean Exploration", assigned to explore the ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. The Okeanos uses Telepresence to communicate with audiences onshore, including the majority of the scientists participating in the missions. Onshore team members can watch live video imagery of the seafloor, control room, and control computers from an established Exploration Command Center, or from their own internet-enabled device, such as a laptop or smartphone;  additional specialists can easily be called in if a discovery is made. Live video feed is also available to the general public, via their website or the Exploration Now website. The Okeanos is all about discovery, or as the website states, it is "a hypothesis-generating ship," combing the seafloor for possible discoveries. If they find something interesting, they may stop the ship and spend some additional time performing preliminary investigations with their ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) and other sensors and systems. This preliminary data is then made available to scientists for later investigations.

Examples of telepresence Exploration Command Center consoles. Top image from the University of New Hampshire (UNH); photo courtesy of NOAA (photo and excerpted credit information taken from the NOAA Ocean Explorer website, please see link for full caption). Bottom image from the Mystic Aquarium, photo courtesy of Peter Auster (photo and excerpted credit taken from Okeanos Explorer website, please see link for full caption). 

The Okeanos has three ocean mapping sonar systems: a 30 kHz EM 302 multibeam sonar, an 18 kHz EK 60 single-beam sonar, and a 3.5 kHz Knudsen 3260 Chirp subbottom profiler; the multibeam system collects bathymetry, seafloor backscatter, and water column backscatter. Mapping operations are managed by a team of three seafloor mapping scientists. One of the scientists sails on every ROV cruise and is responsible for creating a detailed map of the area that is used by scientists when deciding where to dive, and later guides the ROV navigators on the local seafloor terrain. The sonars are run during transit between ROV dive sites, and the crew switches to mapping operations anytime that rough weather or strong currents prevent them from deploying the ROVs. The data are collected, corrected, and processed in real time on board the Okeanos, and summary map products are created daily and immediately made available to collaborating scientists onshore. After each cruise, all of the raw sonar data and finalized summary map products are delivered to the National Geophysical Data Center and are made available to the public within 60 to 90 days. Okeanos data served as the basis for recently published papers documenting hundreds of methane plumes off of the Atlantic margin . In the upcoming field season, the Okeanos will be mapping in the Caribbean trenches and seamounts, complementing previous work by the Ocean Exploration Trust E/V Nautilus , and will also be mapping in the Pacific Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries, building on the recent extensive mapping project undertaken by the Schmidt Ocean Institute R/V Falkor  -- two more Fledermaus clients doing great exploration and providing fantastic data and research platforms for scientists.


How the Okeanos team uses QPS Fledermaus 

The ship's Mapping Team have been Fledermaus Suite users since the ship's earliest cruises in 2009. They provided key testing and feedback during the FMMidwater development and release, and continue to provide input to help us improve our tools. As a recent example, the Okeanos team tested the newly-available FMMidwater Feature Detection tools and co-authored an article for Sea Technology showing their preliminary results. Fledermaus is used as a primary communication tool during ship-shore science planning calls – technicians on board load the latest multibeam data into Fledermaus and plan ROV missions in 3D with scientists on shore. Elizabeth Lobecker,  Physical Scientist and Okeanos Mapping Team Lead, shared her thoughts on the use of Fledermaus: “Interactive 3-D visualization is an integral part of the exploration planning process. ROV dive planning would not be as productive without this capability. It really helps us establish a sense of place, so that we can collaborate with our scientific partners on where we can explore. We currently process water column and bottom backscatter data in QPS software to help create a sense of place for each area we are exploring. This enables us to hone in on the most interesting areas to explore. We are planning ROV dive tracks on precision levels of tens or meters, rather then hundreds or even thousands of meters." In addition to interactive planning and processing, Fledermaus is used to create daily products such as overview maps -- the cumulative mapping progress is merged in FMCommand and is exported from Fledermaus to KMZ files for viewing in Google Earth -- and fly-through videos of the seafloor that are incorporated into the ROV dive highlight videos . Though many of them had been using Fledermaus in their daily work, all three members of the mapping team and the senior survey technician have taken the full Fledermaus training course to make sure they were using as much of the software as they could. According to one of the team members : “Sitting in small training sessions with a QPS trainer is invaluable because you can go through your normal procedures, and they will make suggestions, or you can ask questions. They are really great about tracking down answers if they aren’t apparent right away.”

Multibeam bathymetry data showing DeSoto Canyon (right) and Salt Domes (middle) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. EM302 bathymetry data acquired by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during five cruises in 2011 and 2012. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

ROV Dive Highlight video that includes fly-through clips created in Fledermaus. 

Okeanos Explorer home page:

The Evolution of Telepresence Technology:

Exploration Command Centers:

Okeanos Live Feed via Ocean Explorer:

Exploration Now – Live feed from multiple research and exploration vessels:

FMMidwater Seep Detection featured in October 2014 issue of Sea Technology:

QPS clients discover hundreds of methane plumes off US Atlantic margin:

Nautilus Live:

Schmidt Ocean Institute:

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration & Research Digital Atlas (Cruise summary information and Data Access):

National Geophysical Data Center Bathymetry and Global Relief data portal:

ROV Dive Highlight Videos

The ROV Dive Highlight videos below include fly-through clips created in Fledermaus.

EX1404L3 Sept. 30, 2014:

EX1404L3 Sept. 29, 2014:

EX1404L3 Sept. 28, 2014:


Okeanos Gallery

All of the gallery images featured below were created using Fledermaus and are featured in articles on the Okeanos website.





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