On Tuesday, May 29, an Old Dominion University (ODU) student hit the high seas to map the deep sea canyons that separate the mid-Atlantic’s continental shelf from the ocean abyss.
William Boll will spend about two weeks aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Okeanos Explorer. For Boll, a master’s student studying physical oceanography, the internship is an exciting opportunity.
“Ever since I wanted to study oceanography, I knew I wanted to work with NOAA,” Boll said after touring the Okeanos Explorer a few days before departure. “Also, this internship ties in well with my research because they too analyze acoustic data,” one tool Boll is using in his own research studying wave energy.
To the landlubber, the ocean floor may seem remote, but deep sea maps are essential to organizations managing fisheries and planning for offshore energy, among other uses. Although the data is very useful on a state and regional level, gathering it would be prohibitively expensive for any individual state. And when it comes to sharing data, local and regional groups often lack a clear way to get involved with federal groups gathering such data.
“This is the advantage of working with existing state-federal partnerships, like Sea Grant,” says Troy Hartley. Hartley, the Virginia Sea Grant Director, played the role of matchmaker, bringing together Okeanos Explorer staff with potential local and regional partners as well as helping advertise the internship with Virginia’s universities.
By making contact in advance of this upcoming cruise, the Okeanos Explorer was able to better understand local needs and make a plan for transferring the data. What’s more, staff even offered to add additional sampling locations suggested by the local groups, as time permits.
Okeanos Explorer uses multi-beam sonar to create topographic maps of the ocean floor and can beam video and sonar data to scientists on shore in real time.
An active part of NOAA’s research fleet since 2010, the Okeanos Explorer is the only federal ship dedicated to systematically exploring the ocean. In addition to sonar, the ship carries and deploys camera sled called Seirios for taking high definition, wide angle video of the ocean floor, as well as a remotely operated vehicle called Little Hercules for taking close up shots of deep-sea plants and animals.
While aboard, Boll will work with the mapping team, processing sonar and acoustic data. Although it’s his first time out to sea on such a large ship, Boll was undaunted as he prepared for the trip.
“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to do it?”