Expedition Reveals the Mysteries at the Bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 11, 2018

Source: Oceans Deeply
Author: Ian Evans

The Okeanos Expedition has returned from a 23-day exploration of the deep ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientist Daniel Wagner says that much of what they saw was new to science and could affect management of the Gulf.

THE GULF OF Mexico is one of the most thoroughly studied ocean areas in the world, but even there, the deep sea remains mostly a mystery. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAAOkeanos Explorer returned from a 23-day expedition to survey and map the Gulf’s deep ocean ecosystems. Working day and night, the crew of 49 people mapped 21,100 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) of the Gulf and deployed remotely operated vehicles to explore 15 deep-sea locations. Meanwhile, almost 200 scientists were able to watch the dives live and remotely analyze the expedition’s data. The team brought back samples of unknown species, photos of unexplored environments and videos of never-before-seen wildlife behavior.

Still, researchers have only scratched the surface of what is in the Gulf’s depths, says Daniel Wagner, the co-science lead onboard the Okeanos Explorer and a research coordinator at the Southeast Deep Coral Initiative at the National Centers of Coastal Ocean Science, which is jointly operated by NOAA and JHT Inc.

For example, in the 1980s, researchers found in the Gulf a chemosynthetic ecosystem – an underwater community of organisms that depend on chemical synthesis rather than photosynthesis for life. It was the first time anyone had found an environment that wasn’t dependent on the sun to exist. Now, says Wagner, researchers know of about 70 such places in the Gulf as well as elsewhere, but “there are probably hundreds.”

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