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2013

2013 Nautilus Exploration Program

From June through November of 2013, Exploration Vessel Nautilus will explore the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Our rotating Corps of Exploration aboard EV Nautilus will be mapping the geological, biological, archaeological and chemical aspects of these regions to depths of approximately 2000 meters. During the expedition, we will be sharing our discoveries live on the web via telepresence technology, putting the unexplored ocean directly in your hands via our new interactive initiative, Exploration Now.

2013 Expedition Calendar

Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf June 21, 2013 to July 4, 2013

This expedition is part of a larger research program focused on examining the ecosystem-level response to oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. This research group is called the ECOGIG Consortium, which is made up of scientists from a wide variety of disciplines studying current flow, ocean chemistry, microbial activity, deep-sea coral communities, and everything in between. This group is looking primarily at natural oil and gas seepage into the Gulf, but using these natural processes to learn more about what happened after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. On this cruise, we will mostly focus on the deep-sea corals and their response to the oil spill, but this work will include information from all of the other groups of scientists to fully understand what is happening.

Our plan is to return to a number of sites where we have documented impacts of the oil spill to deep-sea corals and continue our monitoring of these sites. We will take a large number of pictures of the same corals that we have been following since the impacts were first discovered. When we compare these images to the previous pictures, they will tell us how the corals are changing over time and whether they are recovering or getting worse. We will start at some of the large Lophelia coral reefs where we have not yet seen any impact, and then move deeper to the Paramuricea sea-fan sites that include both impacted and undisturbed sites.

We will also collect corals from some of these sites and conduct experiments on them to see what their response is to low levels of oil and dispersant exposure. We will monitor their health over time, and also take a series of samples to examine their genetic response. Usually, when an organism is exposed to a toxin, it begins to make proteins that will help them deal with the effects. We will be able to see the genes that make those proteins get turned on in response to the oil exposure. It will help us learn whether some corals are more resistant to the oil exposure, perhaps because they live close to natural seeps. This will also give us a tool to use in the future to determine if a coral has been exposed to a toxin in its environment, even after the toxin is long gone.

The other main objective of the cruise is to collect sediment samples and look at the communities that live in the mud near healthy coral communities and at natural oil seeps. Push cores will be taken by the ROV and brought to the surface where they are processed. All of the tiny animals are picked out of them and identified. The bacteria and other microbes living in the sediments will also be examined to see what they are and what they might be eating, including oil.

This cruise is a little different from most of the others we have all been on, since these projects and the scientists working on them will not only be on Nautilus, but also our partner ship on this cruise, RV Endeavor.Endeavor, from the University of Rhode Island, will be collecting water samples above our sites and will be taking large core samples of mud around the edges of the sites. We will have the eyes on the seafloor, but they will be able to take a lot of samples that we cannot get ourselves in order to completely characterize the habitats and the natural oil and gas inputs into the ecosystem. It will take a lot of coordination, but we will get a much more complete picture of the system than we ever would have alone. 

Natural Hydrocarbon Detection Mapping July 8, 2013 to July 17, 2013

Many of the world’s offshore marine environments experience prolific natural seepage of hydrocarbons to the seafloor. In the waters off North America alone, natural hydrocarbon seepage is estimated to contribute more than 50 million gallons of oil to marine waters in a year (Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington D.C., 2003). Hydrocarbon gas is also emitted from seafloor seeps. It rises through the water as bubble plumes, and is likely a significant source of methane to the atmosphere (e.g. Solomon et al., Nature Geoscience, 2009). Despite the large volume of crude oil and gas released from these seeps, the seepage rates are slow enough that local seep environments support large, specialized communities of underwater organisms. Multiple studies have shown that these communities and their associated chemical and geologic processes are very heterogeneous, and can change significantly from one region of hydrocarbon seepage to another.

The U. S. Gulf of Mexico contains hundreds of these natural seafloor seeps that can be studied very effectively using both automated and remotely operated vehicles (AUVs and ROVs). This project will study the seep environment in the western Gulf of Mexico. Shallow sediment cores from this region suggest that seepage in the western Gulf may be less prolific than the better-studied portions of the eastern Gulf. We seek to characterize this seep environment, and understand the biologic and geologic processes that are associated with it. The results of the study will provide a baseline to compare variability of natural seep environments within a single geographic region. 

Key Concepts

  • This is a 2-part expedition (mapping, then ROV/AUV operations) and it’s how the Nautilus hopes to operate in the future. The mapping team will be the advance team to go into an area for exploration to produce quality maps that can be used to plan ROV dives for exploration of the most interesting areas.
  • During this first expedition, we will be mapping the surface and shallow subsurface geology of 3400 km (2112 miles) of seafloor in water depths from 1000-3000 meters (3280-9842 feet). With the ship speed of 10 knots, the planned work will take 7-8 days.
  • The two mapping systems, a multibeamechosounder and sub-bottom profiler will help us understand the surface, water column (backscatter), and subsurface geology associated with seeps.
  • The mapping we do in July will help the lead scientists of the ROV/AUV expedition in early August. The maps we create on the first expedition will allow the ROV/AUV team target their dives to the most geologically interesting areas, such as areas where we think we’ve found natural seeps.
  • In addition to being excellent planning tools, these maps also provide spatial awareness to our ROV pilots, who must navigate some very difficult terrain like volcanic calderas and steep escarpments. 
  • Determining the distribution, abundance, and activity of natural gas seeps is important because it is a missing piece of our understanding of the Earth’s carbon budget. Natural gas seeps from the sea floor, which are commonly, but not exclusively methane, are now thought to be more common and need to be accounted for when trying to understand global sources of greenhouse gases, which affect the Earth’s climate.
  • The natural gas seeps are also energy sources for chemosynthetic organisms and provide habitat to unique communities of organisms. Locating the seeps with a multibeam can help us target these seeps for ROV exploration of the benthic communities, which can lead to the conservation of critical habitat.

Shipwreck 15577 July 17, 2013 to July 25, 2013

The Discovery

In April 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Okeanos Explorer conducted the first reconnaissance of shipwreck site 15577 as part of an interdisciplinary exploration mission focusing on deep water hard-bottom habitat, naturally occurring gas seeps, and potential shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. First identified as a side scan sonar target in 2011, the brief remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive made a truly exciting discovery that will contribute significantly to our understanding of a turbulent period of American history. The shipwreck appears to be an undisturbed, early 19th century, wooden-hulled, copper-clad sailing vessel containing artillery, firearms, navigation instruments, cooking and food storage items, medicines, and personal artifacts.

The sonar target first came to light when Shell Oil notified the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior tasked with overseeing oil and gas exploration and development on the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf, that a side scan sonar target resembling a shipwreck had been found in their lease area 90 miles from Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary some 274 km (170 miles) southeast of Galveston, Texas.

The site lies in 1,330 meters (4,363 feet) of water. The depth and lack of nearby oil and gas industry infrastructure suggested that the vessel might be well preserved. The target imaged in the sonar data collected by Fugro Geosciences revealed a tightly contained site with a sharp hull-formed outline measuring approximately 25 meters (84 feet) long by 7.9 meters (26 feet) wide with indications off one beam of what were thought to be the remains of two masts.

This tantalizing discovery is one of the more significant shipwreck sites discovered in the Gulf of Mexico to date because of its amazing degree of preservation from a critical period in history in which new nations were forming at the end of Colonial era and the Gulf was opening to global trade. As it has not yet been identified, the wreck is referred to as the “Monterrey Shipwreck” after Shell’s name for their proposed development. 

Further Investigation

In a partnership between the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and the Ocean Exploration Trust, a team of top-notch archaeologists and other scientists from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, BOEM, BSEE, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) will return to the site. They will conduct detailed documentation and recover a small number of artifacts in order to determine the historical and socio-cultural context within which it operated and, hopefully, also identify the shipwreck. Discoveries and findings will be shared with the general public through a variety of media including telepresence, video streams, and future exhibition, all of which will inform people in the Gulf Coast and the international community about early trade, commerce, and maritime activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

The goal of the project is to systematically study the shipwreck through in-depth documentation, including mapping the site using ROV technology. In addition, the expedition plans to recover artifacts for conservation, analysis, exhibition, future study, and public outreach. As the archaeological assemblage is out of the physical reach of traditional underwater collection and excavation techniques through the use of SCUBA, remotely operated technology will be the tool by which data are collected during field work. The documentation and sampled artifacts will be used to address research questions including, but not limited to, the age, function and cultural affiliation of this vessel. To accomplish this incredibly complex operation, archaeologists will work on board the research vessel E/V Nautilus stationed at the surface of the water, 1300 meters (4,300 feet) over the site.

The Monterrey Shipwreck is a mystery. Exactly how old is it? Whose ship was it? How did it sink? What stories can it tell? Can some of those stories link us to specific individuals in the past? Answers come from scientific investigation and, with this shipwreck, the remains of the vessel and the things inside it will hopefully tell their tales. These artifacts – clothing, cooking equipment, weapons, and the ship’s own equipment not only provide clues to the identity of the shipwreck, but also tell stories of the crew, the activity that was occurring during that time period, and can allow for further examination of the “big picture” of maritime activity in the Gulf of Mexico by examining this well-preserved “time capsule” of a shipwreck.

Research Objectives

  1. Create a detailed, geo-referenced photo-mosaic and micro-bathymetric acoustic map of the site to produce a site plan in order to determine the extent of the site (including any associated debris field), to determine which diagnostic artifacts will aid in interpreting the shipwreck, to accurately place the visible contents of the ship within their relative context, and to map the physical remains of the ship’s hull.
  2. Obtain a sample of diagnostic artifacts in order to assign a date to the shipwreck. These artifacts will provide clear historical time markers that will aid in determining the age range of the use-life of the vessel, the functional purpose of the vessel (e.g., merchant, privateer, naval, etc.), as well as provide clues to the nationality and cultural affiliation of the vessel.
  3. Understand the site preservation processes that have occurred during the wrecking and settling of the wreck, as well as the on-going processes currently active at the site.
  4. Conduct related interdisciplinary scientific experiments that will provide additional information regarding the condition of the site as well as its potential as a habitat for benthic biological organisms. Video data collected during the 2012 archaeological reconnaissance showed the presence of a living tube worm within the confines of the hull; a phenomenon never before witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico. The site also does not appear to be near the presence of a hydrothermal seep where these animals are typically found living in symbiosis with chemosynthetic bacteria. Water, sediment and wood samples samples may help archaeologists and biologists determine how this site has become a benthic habitat.

Natural Hydrocarbon Detection ROV/AUV July 28, 2013 to August 12, 2013

Many of the world’s offshore marine environments experience prolific natural seepage of hydrocarbons to the seafloor. In the waters off North America alone, natural hydrocarbon seepage is estimated to contribute more than 50 million gallons of oil to marine waters in a year (Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington D.C., 2003). Hydrocarbon gas is also emitted from seafloor seeps. It rises through the water as bubble plumes, and is likely a significant source of methane to the atmosphere (e.g. Solomon et al., Nature Geoscience, 2009). Despite the large volume of crude oil and gas released from these seeps, the seepage rates are slow enough that local seep environments support large, specialized communities of underwater organisms. Multiple studies have shown that these communities and their associated chemical and geologic processes are very heterogeneous, and can change significantly from one region of hydrocarbon seepage to another.

The U. S. Gulf of Mexico contains hundreds of these natural seafloor seeps that can be studied very effectively using both automated and remotely operated vehicles (AUVs and ROVs). This project will study the seep environment in the western Gulf of Mexico. Shallow sediment cores from this region suggest that seepage in the western Gulf may be less prolific than the better-studied portions of the eastern Gulf. We seek to characterize this seep environment, and understand the biologic and geologic processes that are associated with it. The results of the study will provide a baseline to compare variability of natural seep environments within a single geographic region.

Key Concepts

  • This is a 2-part expedition (mapping, then ROV operations) and it’s how the Nautilus hopes to operate in the future. The mapping team will be the advance team to go into an area for exploration to produce quality maps that can be used to plan ROV dives for exploration of the most interesting areas.
  • During the first expedition, we will be mapping the surface and shallow subsurface geology of 3400 km (2112 miles) of seafloor in water depths from 1000-3000 meters (3280-9842 feet). With the ship speed of 10 knots, the planned work will take 7-8 days. The two mapping systems, a multibeamechosounder and sub-bottom profiler will help us understand the surface and subsurface geology associated with seeps.
  • The mapping we do in July will help the lead scientists of this ROV/AUV expedition in early August. The maps we create on the first expedition will allow the ROV/AUV team target their dives to the most geologically interesting areas, such as areas where we think we’ve found natural seeps.
  • In addition to being excellent planning tools, these maps also provide spatial awareness to our ROV pilots, who must navigate some very difficult terrain like volcanic calderas and steep escarpments. 
  • Determining the distribution, abundance, and activity of natural gas seeps is important because it is a missing piece of our understanding of the Earth’s carbon budget. Natural gas seeps from the sea floor, which are commonly, but not exclusively methane, are now thought to be more common and need to be accounted for when trying to understand global sources of greenhouse gases, which affect the Earth’s climate. 

Galveston to Cayman Transit August 13, 2013 to August 18, 2013

Cayman Rise August 19, 2013 to August 30, 2013

The Cayman Rise is a short 100-km-long (62 mile) segment of mid-ocean ridge about 4000 km (2485 miles) removed from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge system that bisects the Atlantic Ocean Basin and is isolated from the East Pacific Rise by the Isthmus of Panama.

This expedition will be one in a series of British, Japanese, and US programs on the Cayman Rise in 2013 and will take advantage of the opportunity to collect samples for analysis of temporal dynamics of biological processes. We will dive on the Von Damm vent field on Mount Dent, on the slopes of Mount Dent, and on other areas of interest with Hercules and Argus to observe and sample biological and geological systems.

The Von Damm vent field and the Mount Dent Oceanic Core Complex are sites of intense research activity. Their proximity to the US and their location within British territorial waters make them geographically convenient for US- and UK-based field campaigns. We are keen to understand how the vent invertebrates are allied to taxa found at vents on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the East Pacific Rise and to invertebrates that colonize seep environments in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Expedition Objectives

  • Collection of shrimp and gastropods for time-series study of reproductive dynamics and for genetic studies of population structure
  • Collection of macrozooplankton and mid-water invertebrates (salps, jellies, etc) above hydrothermal vents to study vertical nutrient flux and pelagic productivity
  • Video surveys of time-series stations at vents for study of community dynamics
  • Collection of microbes and organisms for carbon-flow studies
  • Geological transects across the OCC and miscellaneous samples of rocks
  • Vertical transects (4000 meter/13,100 foot relief) to survey/sample corals & invertebrates
  • Exploration and sampling of targets identified during the June 2013 R/V Falkor expedition to the Cayman vents
  • Artist's sessions, to work with Hercules to collect video for documentary art studies

Greater Antilles October 4, 2013 to October 18, 2013

We intend to work off the north coast of Puerto Rico, proximal to where a large M7.2 1918 earthquake produced a tsunami that struck northwestern corner of the island. Multibeam bathymetry and additional seismic profiles have identified a large landslide in that area and hydrodynamic models suggest that it could have been the source of the tsunami. This target will be investigated with the Hercules and Argus ROVs. We will also dive along several transects up the vertical walls of the Mona Rift, which are 4000m (13,123 feet) to 1500m (4921 feet) depth.

The Septentrional fault is the major strike-slip fault taking the oblique motion between the Caribbean and North American plate. Its offshore extension at depths of 1000-2000 m (3280-6560 feet) is clearly observed on multibeam bathymetry. The fault ends in an unusual circular depression, not seen in any major strike-slip fault system around the world. We intend to investigate this feature and other nearby faults north of the island. Fluid flow is highly likely along these faults and the nature of biological communities in the region will be explored. There also may be mud volcanoes along the faults that will be investigated. 

Transects across the tilted carbonate platform north of Puerto Rico will provide evidence for slope failure and fissure development within the platform, which are probably induced by fresh water seepage. The platform was horizontal near sea level until 3 million years ago, but its northern edge is now at depths of 2500-4000 m (8202-13,123 feet). The transect can be extended farther north down the 1-1.5 km (.6-.9 miles) thick cliff-like edge of the carbonate platform, which will provide a geological cross-section as well as likely fresh water seepages.

We will also investigate Mona Passage to the west of the island, which is between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. This passage is one of the entry points for surface Atlantic waters that circulate into the Caribbean. The water becomes warmer and saltier in the Caribbean and returns back to the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico as the Gulf Stream. Multibeam bathymetry clearly shows flow marks on the seafloor across the shallowest parts of the passage that will be investigated with the ROV to explore the nature of the seafloor and the diversity of biological communities. The passage is crossed by many normal faults that are probably active, but because of current erosion, the surface is cleared of recent sediments. Targeted dives to find pockets of sediments offset by the faults will be sampled and dated.

The 1867 Virgin Islands earthquake and tsunami devastated both St. Thomas and St. Croix. The source of the earthquake is unknown, but using multibeam bathymetry and tsunami modeling the likely fault has been located along a scarp crossing the northern wall of the Virgin Islands Basin. We intend to verify the location and orientation of this fault with direct seafloor observations, because the wall is almost devoid of sediment. This region will also be investigated with a vertical transect across the northern wall of the Virgin Islands basin from depths between 4000 m (13,123 feet) and 50 m (164 feet).

Additionally, there are some faults and mounds on the floor of the Virgin Islands Basin that could focus fluid flow and the biology of these regions will be investigated, sampled and imaged. Anegada Passage, which is mostly in British Virgin Islands EEZ, is the only conduit for Atlantic intermediate water into the Caribbean Sea. All other waters entering the Caribbean Sea from the central Atlantic are surface waters because the other sills are only a few hundreds of meters deep. Most of the intermediate waters were thought to run along the northern wall of the passage but bathymetry and seismic stratigraphy suggest another route and a spillway for the waters farther south. This spillway is bounded by Barracuda bank, a narrow bank, which rises from a depth of 2000 m (6562 feet) to 40 m (131 feet) over 3 km (1.86 miles). The top of the bank is only 1 km (.62 miles) wide and is flat. Nothing is known about the formation of the bank and the possible biological activity on its crest. This region will be explored with the ROV system.

Transit October 19, 2013 to October 20, 2013

Impact of Volcanic Eruptions on the Seafloor October 21, 2013 to October 29, 2013

Explosive volcanic activity in the Lesser Antilles island arc (West Indies) produces large quantities of volcanic ash and pumice that is being delivered to the shallow and deep marine environments of the eastern Atlantic Ocean and western Caribbean Sea. In particular, the islands of Montserrat and Dominica have been the source of massive discharges of volcanic material into the sea. Relatively little is known about the direct impacts of this process on the formation of submarine geological deposits and on the fragile marine biological communities that surround the islands.

On Montserrat the Soufriere Hills volcano has been erupting since 1995 leading to evacuation of most of the southern part of the island and leading to a devastating impact to the island’s economy. About 1 km3 of andesite magma has been erupted and much of this material has ended up in the ocean in the form of volcanic ash and debris, mostly through the mechanism of large collapses of the lava dome, often accompanied by great explosions. The material is transported down the slopes of the volcano as hot mixtures of gas and particles that travel at speed in excess of 100 mph, known as pyroclastic flows.

The recent volcanic episode also included a devastating volcanic blast on 26th December 1997 that affected the west flanks of the volcano and razed two villages to the ground, sweeping the houses, their contents, and other objects such as trucks and tractors, into the sea. These events provide a remarkable opportunity for the application of state-of-the-art ocean exploration techniques to understand the dynamics of pyroclastic flows that are discharged into the ocean and their effects on the marine environment.

On this cruise, Nautilus will use side-scan sonar surveys and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to investigate the area to the southwest, south and east of Montserrat where large quantities of volcanic material has entered the sea. At several locations the discharges of volcanic material have expanded the coastline of Montserrat seaward and added new land.

The main objectives of the work are to define the areas of the seafloor that have been impacted by the volcanic flows and examine the response of the local biological communities. Samples will be collected with the ROV for geochemical analysis in order to fingerprint the source of the volcanic material on the island. Downslope transects with the ROV will be carried out to characterized changes in the nature of the seafloor and associated biological communities as a function of water depth.

In addition, the nature of several unexplored submarine volcanoes southeast and southwest of the Montserrat will be investigated by ROV exploration. These small submarine volcanoes are relatively close to Montserrat and given the recent activity of the Soufriere Hills center it is important to identify other possible locations of future volcanic eruptions in the area. If they have been recently active, these small volcanoes could potentially be the sites of active hydrothermal venting and mineralization.

To the south of Montserrat is the larger volcanic island of Dominica. This island has been the site of some of the largest explosive eruptions in the Lesser Antilles region and has recently been the focus of intense earthquake activity that caused significant alarm on the part of the island’s residents. The volcanoes on Dominica have been subject to catastrophic collapse during the evolution of the island resulting in enormous debris avalanches. In general the collapses have been preferentially directed into the Caribbean Sea because of the local tectonics of the Lesser Antilles and the steeper western flanks of the volcanic slopes. These collapse have led to the creation of a highly irregular seafloor dominated by megablocks up to several hundred meters in diameter.

Offshore of Dominica, multibeam mapping and seismic profiling identified at least three major debris avalanches resulting from collapse of the island’s western flanks (DePlus et al., 2001). The debris avalanches were recognized based on their distinctive hummocky topography and hyperbolic reflections from 3.5 kHz echosounder data. In the Grenada basin the extent of deposits associated with collapses from Dominica is estimated at 3500 km2.

No ROV explorations of this area have previously been carried out. Nautilus will explore and sample the blocks using ROVs in order to obtain information about the timing of the collapse events and their specific source areas on Dominica. It is anticipated that these megablocks in the deep sea will be site of active biological colonization due to their rugged topography. In addition, ROV exploration will focus on the shallow offshore area of southern Dominica where submarine hydrothermal degassing has been observed and is part of a highly active seismic zone that may represent an area of future volcanic activity.

Kick’em Jenny & Trinidad Tar Seeps November 1, 2013 to November 16, 2013

Kick’em Jenny is the most active and dangerous submarine volcano in the Caribbean Sea (Devine and Sigurdsson, 1995). During the past century it has shown a history of progressive growth with explosive eruptions that pose hazards to the local island populations of the Lesser Antilles (e.g. Dondin et al., 2012). Specific hazards include explosive eruptions that can breach the sea surface and the potential for tsunamis generation from shallow water explosions or edifice collapse (Lindsay et al., 2005).

Kick'em Jenny is located on the western flank of the Lesser Antilles arc, just offshore of the island of Grenada. The volcano was discovered in 1939, when numerous earthquakes were felt, and tsunamis affected Grenada, the Grenadines, and reached as far as Barbados. An explosive eruption broke the surface and produced ash-laden columns that reached up to 300 m (984 feet) above the sea surface (Devas, 1974). There have been at least eleven eruptions since that event, and some of them have caused disturbances at the surface and minor tsunamis.

A reconnaissance survey in 1962 showed that the depth to the crater rim was 223 to 232 m (731-761 feet). The depth decreased as a result of each successive eruption, reaching a minimum of 160 m (525 feet) by 1978. The first detailed survey of the volcano in 1972 revealed a 1300 m (4265 foot) high conical structure, constructed on the western flank of the arc. The summit crater was found to be at a depth of 190 m (623 feet) and approximately 180 m (590 feet) in diameter. Two prominent 70 to 150 m (230-492 foot) high west-facing scarps east of the volcano were identified as north-trending normal faults, defining the shelf break of the west flank of the arc. The 1977 eruption resulted in significant shoaling of the volcano’s summit to 160 m (524 feet) and this area was more dome-shaped rather than a distinct crater.

The first multi-beam survey of the volcano in 1985 confirmed the earlier findings, but showed that the region between the volcanic cone and the Grenada Basin to the west is one of rather irregular topography. Submersible dives in 1989, a few months after the 1988 eruption, revealed that the volcanic cone consisted of both pyroclastic deposits and pillow-like lava flow units. Abundant and thick layers of bacteria surrounded the crater rim and draped the crater walls. They consisted dominantly of proteobacteria, such as the filamentous sulfur-oxidizing bacterium Thiotrix as well as Beggiatoa bacteria, that probably have a chemosynthetic dependency on sulfur species emanating from the crater and the sulfur present in the young volcanic deposits after the recent eruption.

The first investigation of the volcano following the December 2001 eruption was a 2003 multi-beam survey by the NOAA research vessel Ronald H. Brown. The survey yielded a high-resolution image of the volcano and surrounding region, revealing new details regarding its structure. The most striking feature is an arcuate west-facing scarp that surrounds much of the volcanic cone to the south, west, and north. The new data shows that the Kick'em Jenny volcanic cone is located inside a major 5 km wide horse-shoe shaped and west-facing depression that most likely was formed by slope failure and associated debris avalanche.

ROV explorations of the crater floor found high temperature (>250o C) venting of fluids and gases, along with the discovery of new species of vent specific worms (Wishner et al., 2005). Venting of fluids is occurring within a small depression nested within the main crater of the volcano. The inner crater is covered with fine-grained sediment and vigorous gas plumes were found by ROV surveys in 2003. The nature of the gas being discharged is unknown but likely contain high contents of carbon dioxide, like most other degassing arc volcanoes, and if so, there is the possibility that local acidification of bottom waters could be occurring in the inner crater, making this an interesting area for interdisciplinary chemical and biological studies.

This expedition will conduct ROV exploration and mapping of Kick’em Jenny volcano. Samples of volcanic rocks and gases will be collected for geochemical analysis and high resolution mapping of the crater floor will be carried out to define the nature of the active hydrothermal system. ROV explorations will be extended into the Grenada basin in order to examine a large debris avalanche deposit that is likely associated with an ancestral Kick’em Jenny volcano.

SEABEAM mapping during the 2003 cruise of the R/V Brown also revealed the existence of five small volcanoes that were previously unknown in the area. Three are conical in shape with well-defined craters, whereas two have a dome-like morphology. One of the cones, provisionally named Kick’em Jack, is similar in size to Kick’em Jenny and exhibits a horse-shoe shaped crater with an interior dome. The discovery of these new craters raises many questions about the magmatic system feeding this area. Are there multiple magma chambers and sources for these different centers or are they related to a central feeding system? From a hazards perspective it is important to know whether these centers have been recently active or are they mostly dormant. New ROV explorations during this expedition will examine and sample these largely unexplored volcanic centers.

To the south of Grenada lie the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, home to some of the largest marine gas and oil production fields in the Caribbean Sea. In the Gulf of Paria and to the east of Trinidad, areas of the seafloor are suspected to contain natural petroleum and methane seeps. Within hydrocarbon-rich environments such as seeps, numerous oil degrading bacteria have been identified which may utilize the hydrocarbons as a source of energy, and serves as a supplementary food source for meio- and macro-benthic organisms in shallow water.

Part of this expedition will conduct mapping and ROV exploration of areas with potential methane/petroleum seeps and mud volcanoes in search of diverse micro and macro biological communities. The ultimate goal of this exploration would be to provide critical data such as: marine geological observations on the seabed character and distribution of sediments, and biodiversity (fauna and flora) and distribution assessments. Such data can be integrated to map biotopes using seabed faunal assemblages overlaid with seabed habitats (sediments and/or geological structures). This type of seabed characterization that documents unique interactions between the marine ecosystems and geological environment will be useful in order to guide future coastal and marine management decisions for Trinidad and Tobago.

 

The 2013 expedition season consists of multiple cruise legs and will begin off the U.S. coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Subsequent cruise legs will bring the ship and the Nautilus Corps of Exploration to the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean Sea. Our Corps of Exploration will also join researchers in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey aboard the Bodrum.

E/V Nautilus is a 211-foot research vessel equipped with state-of-the-art exploration and telepresence technology. Our primary remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) on board, named Hercules and Argus, will be used to view the seafloor with high definition video, take environmental measurements and collect geological and biological samples. Our brand new hull-mounted multibeam system will be utilizing side-scan and subbottom sonar technology to explore the seafloor and seek out compelling targets for closer investigation and study.

Dr. Robert Ballard and Dr. Katherine Croff Bell of the Ocean Exploration Trust lead the Nautilus Corps of Exploration, which includes a rotating team of more than 150 scientists, engineers, educators and students as they explore these poorly understood regions of the world’s oceans. All of the video and data that we collect will be transmitted via satellite to the Inner Space Center, located at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, where Dr. Ballard is a professor of oceanography. From this “mission control,” our video feeds from the ship and under the sea will be broadcast live on the internet so that anyone in the world can join our Corps of Exploration from home and be a part of the exploration as it happens.

The 2013 Nautilus Exploration Program is made possible through partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) Bechtel, Sea Research Foundation, National Geographic Society, Office of Naval Research, and the University of Rhode Island.

Learn more about The Ocean, nationalgeographic.com