CHEMO III: Investigations of Chemosynthetic Communities on the Lower Continental Slope of the Gulf of Mexico

Lead PI: Dr. James Brooks, TDI-Brooks International

A major environmental study was recently awarded to the Bryan, Texas, company TDI Brooks International Inc., for a total amount of $3,161,795 plus facilities valued at $1,500,000, to study deep-sea communities in the Gulf of Mexico. This project, titled “Investigations of Chemosynthetic Communities on the Lower Continental Slope of the Gulf of Mexico,” includes the study of both known and newly discovered chemosynthetic communities as well as other hard bottom habitats including deepwater corals. Other objectives include assessment of the comparative degree of sensitivity to anthropogenic impacts to these deepwater habitats, how they are similar or different from their shallower counterparts, and how the detection of these kinds of habitats can be improved using remote sensing information resulting in their protection from impacts. The project is jointly funded under the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) by Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration (NOAA OE).

One of the fundamental missions of the MMS is to identify and consider the protection of sensitive biological habitats in U.S. Federal waters. Chemosynthetic communities on the upper continental slope have been studied extensively and are protected by Notice to Lessees (NTL) and avoidance mitigations. The oil and gas industry has moved, and will continue to move, into deeper and deeper water in their continuing search for extractable energy reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowledge of the distribution, relative abundance, and population structures of deepwater organisms provides critical information to estimate the potential effects of deepwater exploration and production, and to allow refinement of mitigation measures for the deeper continental slope area. Mitigation procedures exist to minimize impacts, but current basic understanding of chemosynthetic and other communities in extremely deep water is restricted to the study sites chosen by previous projects that were limited by the depth capabilities of available submersible technology.

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration engages in path finding ocean discovery and advancement of knowledge in support of NOAA’s Research Strategic Plan. The Office’s objectives are to explore the ocean and map its resources, and to gain new insights about its physical, chemical, biological, and archaeological characteristics, as well as its living and non-living resources. The Office seeks innovative scientific objectives that will bring new discoveries and allow the public to engage in exploration through education and outreach activities connected to the expedition.

The first year of field work will begin early in 2006. Prior to the use of the research vessel Atlantis II and the famous research submersible Alvin, an exploratory cruise will be conducted to investigate a number of potential sites using a drift camera system. Characterization of a larger number of sites will be possible using the camera system as well as box cores and trawling. Beginning in early May, the Alvin research submersible will be used for a total of 15 dive days to investigate six or seven known or newly discovered sites.

Field work in 2007 will utilize other submergence facilities provided by NOAA OE, likely the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason II. During both 2006 and 2007, additional field work will involve the use of the Huggin Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to further characterize the fine scale detail of study sites. The final two years of the project will be utilized exclusively for data analysis, synthesis and writing of reports and publications.

Number of Years: 2

Start Year: 2005

End Year: 2009


  • Penn State University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
  • Harvard University
  • University of Georgia
  • Nova Southeastern University
  • Max Planck Institute
  • Station Biologique de Roscoff
  • University of Vienna
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • Swedish Museum of Natural History
  • University College Dublin
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • University of Kansas
  • Oak Ridge National Labs
  • United States Geological Survey

FY 2005 PI Report
FY 2006 PI Report
FY 2007 PI Report
FY 2008 PI Report
FY 2009 PI Report