EXpanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems (EXPRESS)

PI: Clarke, Elizabeth (NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center)
Co-PI(s): Medley, Rachel (NOAA Ocean Exploration)
Start Year: 2019 | Duration: 1 years
Partners: NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration

Project Abstract:

The Surveying Deep-sea Corals, Sponges, and Fish Habitat expedition was one in a series of multi-agency collaborations known as EXPRESS, short for EXpanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems.

Over the course of the expedition, the team successfully surveyed 15 different sites offshore Washington, Oregon, and California. Scientists completed 18 remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and 20 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) dives as well as 30 conductivity-temperature-depth casts. Sites selected for exploration included sites of interest for fisheries management, geological interest, and potential offshore wind sites. By conducting operations around the clock, scientists completed 50 quantitative ROV transects; took tens of thousands of AUV images of the seafloor; collected and preserved over 80 deep-sea coral, sponge, and rock samples; and collected and processed over 700 seawater, invertebrate, and sediment samples for chemical, isotopic, and environmental DNA analyses. Partnership with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration enabled the streaming of ROV dives live online, allowing scientists to engage in education and outreach with the public in real time.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s ROVs, Yogi and Guru, collected quantitative imagery of the seafloor and associated fauna, collecting more than 118 hours of video and thousands of still images. Identification and quantification of animal species will inform the management of fisheries and other resources on the West Coast. Using ROV Yogi, scientists collected 34 corals and 40 sponges, along with numerous other animals. These samples will allow them to study the taxonomy of the sponges and corals with both genetic and morphological tools, allowing identification of the species seen in images collected during the expedition. Some of the collected animals have yet to be identified and could be new species.