The Kraken2 Assists with the Science Verification Cruise – 4 of the new RV Neil Armstrong

In May, 2016 the K2 ROV supported the Science Verification Cruise #4 (SVC-4) of the new research vessel the Neil Armstrong, recently delivered to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). As part of the SVC-4 the K2 conducted two major activities – the maintenance of the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s (OOI) Pioneer Array and diving on three of the Georges Bank subsea canyons.

Watch a video of the K2 ROV assisting with the recovery of the AUV dock on NURTEC’s YouTube Channel.

Watch a video of the K2 ROV exploring Alvin Canyon on NURTEC’s YouTube Channel.

R/V Neil Armstrong arrives at the WHOI dock
The R/V Neil Armstrong arrives at the WHOI dock following a mission to the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s Pioneer Array (Image: Oceanobservatories.org)

 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established the OOI to provide long-time series observations of ocean conditions and processes at several locations at coastal, regional and global scales. In the northeast the coastal observatory is called the Pioneer Array that lies about 80 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, MA. The Pioneer Array is a comprehensive observation system comprised of many interconnected components that are capable of sampling throughout the water column at multiple spatial scales using a variety of sampling technologies.

 

OOI Pioneer Array schematic
Schematic of the components comprising the Pioneer Array infrastructure (Image: Oceanobservatories.org)

 

 

 

The complexity and multi-modality of the Pioneer Array (PA) components have warranted that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is the most effective way to install and maintain the multiple systems that have to be connected subsea.   The capacity to support this mode of installation and maintenance has been accommodated by the incorporation of wet-mateable connectors as part of the design. NURTEC’s K2 ROV has been involved in three cruises to test the ability of the K2 system to locate and visually evaluate OOI assets on the seafloor, handle and maneuver long sections of interconnect cabling between the MFN and AUV docking station, test the ability to plug and unplug wet-mateable connections on both OOI subsea assets and to complete the installation and recovery of one AUV docking station at the deep water (450m) PA site.

 

Subsea image of the MFN
Subsea image of the deep water MultiFunctionNode (MFN) of the OOI Pioneer Array (Image: NURTEC)

 

 

 

NURTEC Recovers NOAA NMFS HabCam4

On Saturday May 15, 2016 NURTEC was contacted by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who were assisting NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) conduct the annual spring scallop surveys off the RV Hugh Sharpe using a towed camera sled called the HabCam4 valued at $450,000. The survey team had lost the sled by hanging it up on one of the largest known wrecks on the eastern seaboard, the Bow Mariner. The Bow Mariner was a 600-foot long chemical tanker carrying 3.19 million gallons of ethyl alcohol that caught fire and exploded in February 2004, killing 21 of the 27-member crew.

HabCam4 and K2 on deck
NOAA’s HabCam4 and UConn’s Kraken2 on the Deck of the RV Hugh Sharpe following the recovery operation

See a short video of the recovery of the HabCam4

On Monday, May 17th NOAA requested NURTEC to mobilize the K2 ROV to attempt to recover the HabCam4, and a proposal was routed through Sponsored Programs Services in a matter of hours and NOAA issued a Purchase Order by the end of the day – truly a herculean administrative effort by everyone involved. The K2 was mobilized the next day and completed setup on the Sharpe by Wednesday and commenced diving on the wreck on Thursday. The HabCam4 was hung up deep within the wreckage of the ship, but with great skill and care working amid a substantial debris field the K2 operators Kevin Joy and Dennis Arbige were able to locate and connect a recovery cable to the HabCam4 which allowed it to be rescued from the clenches of the Bow Mariner.

NURTEC Dive Map Now Available

NURTEC Historical  Dive Map 1985-2016

NURTEC and its predecessor the NOAA Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lake (NURC-NA&GL) have supported over 4400 dives over the past 31 years utilizing a broad range of underwater technologies including SCUBA and mixed gas diving to a wide range of submersibles, several Remotely Operated Vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles. While most of the NURC-NA&GL dives occurred within the Center’s regions of the northwest Atlantic and Great Lakes, there were also dives conducted around the world as part of the Large Lakes of the World initiative. More recently, NURTEC has supported customers with dives on the U.S. west coast, Gulf of Mexico, eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Maine.

Historical dive map
Map of the locations of 3651 dives supported by NURTEC from 1985-2016

Click here to download the map as a KMZ file for viewing in Google Earth:

NURTEC Historical Dive Map

The Center has endeavored to maintain a comprehensive metadata database of all of this diving activity that has recently been imported into Google Earth. You can access the KMZ file to view and explore the dives conducted by NURTEC over the years if you have Google Earth installed on your computer. Ideally this can serve as a resource for scientists, managers and educators interested in learning more about a particular dive site(s). In many cases NURTEC maintains video tapes from these areas in its video archive and DVD copies of these tapes can be provided a small recharge fee.

 

North to Alaska!

On March 4th a trailer truck pulled out of UConn Avery Point with two containers and a winch totaling about 27,000 pounds of oceanographic gear, headed for Seattle, WA, mobilization site for NURTEC’s latest expedition – “Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay National Park” (GBNP) in Alaska. One container was the Center’s ROV control van and the other housed the Kraken2 ROV and tons of support gear, tools, spares etc. The mission is being led by Dr. Rhian Waller from the University of Maine and is sponsored by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER).

Truck with NURTEC ROV gear
A trailer truck getting ready to leave UConn Avery Point for Seattle, Washington

The K2 ROV will be deployed at night off the contracted support vessel Norseman II to explore the deeper waters of the park, collect video, digital stills and select samples of deep water organisms for subsequent genetic and age data analyses. During the day SCUBA will be used to explore and sample the shallow waters of GBNP that are unique in that they support cold water corals that normally grow in much deeper water.  This phenomenon is due to freshwater runoff that is laden with brown colored tannins that block the penetration of sunlight, creating conditions similar to much deeper water.

The Norseman II support vessel
The Norseman II
Rainbow on the way to Glacier Bay
Panorama of a rainbow on the transit to Glacier Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NURTEC ROV team arrived in Seattle on March 10th and began to mobilize all of the gear onto the Norseman II, before setting sail north to Alaska. The four day transit along the spectacular Inside Passage provided additional time to tweak all systems for the upcoming two-weeks of challenging dive operations. The mission began with test dives on March 18th with the first full day of ROV operations taking place the following evening with a successful dive that included collecting many deep-water coral samples.

NOAA’s OER is providing detailed, day by day Mission Logs of the expedition on its Ocean Explorer website.

 

March 21, 2016 Report

The K2 ROV completed the third successful dive exploring the East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park.  Deep water corals measuring 1-2 meters across were sighted on the dive.  The team is now steaming towards the West Arm for a dive in the Johns Hopkins Inlet.

The East Arm of Glacier Bay
The calm waters of the East Arm of Glacier Bay
K2 ROV
K2 ROV on deck after a dive in Glacier Bay National Park

2015 Deep Sea Coral Exploration in the Gulf of Maine

NURTEC conducted 26 tows using its ISIS2 towed camera system from July 1-10, 2015, continuing its partnership with NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center and University of Maine to explore the Gulf of Maine for Deep Sea Corals (DSC’s). The ISIS2 camera sled was equipped with both down and forward-looking hi-def video cameras and a down-looking digital still camera. For 2015 NURTEC integrated two thrusters onto the sled to provide much improved and much needed maneuverability that allowed the system to be better positioned in the rugged topography and deal with the strong currents of the Gulf of Maine. The system was operated off the RV Connecticut, which again provided the perfect support ship for this type of operation with its dynamic positioning capabilities.

 

This was the third expedition, funded by NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, to explore for DSC’s in the Gulf, with each year finding new areas that support these ecologically sensitive and vulnerable, slow-growing animals that were likely much more ubiquitous in the region. In addition, some sites from previous years were revisited to assess the condition of the corals from previous surveys. Three main areas were surveyed this year: Outer Schoodic Ridge, the Mount Desert Rock area and the Georges Basin region. The following provides some highlights from this expedition.

Several areas on Outer Schoodic Ridge did appear, based on coarse resolution bathymetry, to be similar to areas previously found to support dense coral communities. Nonetheless, they turned out to be steep sediment slopes with evidence of impacts from both mobile and fixed fishing gear (e.g., tracks on sonar, displaced cobbles and boulders). One site that was revisited from a previous cruise, with dense coral and sponges on both horizontal surfaces and steep vertical walls, had a tremendous abundance of haddock. Noteworthy is that pollock was the primary gadiform species in 2014 and silver hake in 2013. All appeared to search for and capture prey amongst the structure-forming fauna, including corals. While some of this activity is due to the attraction of prey and predators to the underwater vehicle, the variation in dominant fish species observed from year to year reflects variability in the presence of particular taxa. This suggests that DSC habitat can serve as the ecological stage for multiple players depending on current conditions.

Two spectacular coral walls were discovered in the Mount Desert Rock area on this cruise, with hanging gardens of red tree coral (Primnoa), fan coral (Paramuricea) and multiple species of sponge. A very rare pom pom anenome was observed enroute to one of the vertical walls. Noteworthy here were the dense patches of sea pens (Pennatula), including many smaller size classes (i.e., assumed younger age classes), encountered in fine-grained sediment habitats interspersed between rock ledges. This was perhaps the highest density of sea pens observed throughout this project.

Finally, no corals were observed at the base of the slope stretching from Georges Bank into Georges Basin. However, Lindenkohl Knoll, that forms a northern boundary to Georges Basin, did have sparse corals in multiple locations (mostly Paramuricea) along with evidence of extensive impacts from fishing. Steep vertical rock outcrops, like those in the northern Gulf that supported dense coral gardens, were nearly denuded of fauna and exhibited marks from fishing gear (extensive markings from ground-line components). Noteworthy is that such marks stretched from the base of one outcrop to over 6 m in vertical relief. In general, Paramuricea and associated epifauna were often small and virtually all occurred in physical refugia such as cracks and crevices of outcrops and along the sediment-rock interface of large cobbles and boulders. The one exception was an approximately 2 m deep by 4-5 m wide feature in a large outcrop with dense Paramuricea.

The results of this cruise, together with data collected during previous cruises, will provide the New England Fisheries Management Council and NOAA Fisheries important information for crafting a new Coral Amendment focused on conservation of these sensitive and vulnerable species.

 

Ocean Science and Technology Challenge – 2015

NURTEC supported the fourth and final year of the COSEE-TEK OSTC that launched with an orientation event on January 31, 2015 and featured participation from all five schools from the Northeast Alliance of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) – UConn, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the University of Rhode Island (URI), Northeastern University, and UMass-Amherst. As in years past the orientation provided an overview of ocean science and technology focused on a theme – this year’s was “Habitat Mapping.” This theme was chosen for its regional relevance as there are several ongoing habitat mapping efforts including a major effort focused on Long Island Sound. The 38 participants at the orientation included undergraduate students, graduate student assistants, LSAMP Coordinators and COSEE-TEK staff. The students had opportunities for hands experience with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), sediment grabs and ocean mapping and visualization software. At the end of the orientation teams from each school were matched up with a COSEE-TEK staff member to serve as the “Technology Mentor” to provide guidance, motivation and a role model for each team.

For 2015 COSEE-TEK established a series of milestones for each team to meet during the spring. Teams met regularly sometimes in person and sometimes virtually via Webex to move forward to meet the milestones that included the conceptualization, design and initiating the fabrication of a technology that would address some aspect of habitat mapping. The final construction of the teams’ technologies occurred at the two-day OSTC workshop held at UConn-Avery Point on April 18-19th. Another new facet for 2015 was the establishment of a true challenge in that the teams were judged on their meeting of the milestones and on a presentation given at the start of the workshop. The winning and runner-up teams were provided a cash award.

As in past years the workshop took on a “Monster Garage” atmosphere with the teams working side by side with their mentors as well as collaborating with the other teams to complete their technologies in time for at sea testing on board COSEE-TEK partner Project Oceanology’s Envirolab II vessel. All students also participated in ocean sampling using conventional technologies on board the Envirolab including a sediment grab, plankton tow and otter trawl that provided a snapshot of the biodiversity of the Sound.

Ultimately four of the five teams participated in 2015 with Team Northeastern designing a sonar system, Team UConn attempting to build a sediment sampler, Team URI building and modifying a Sea Perch ROV and Team WPI coming up with a new build it yourself ROV design. As in years past some technologies worked better than others. However the goals of the OSTC were twofold: 1) to provide underrepresented minority students an opportunity to experience ocean science and technology and 2) to develop 21st Century Skills through the entire experience. Based upon pre/post evaluations the OSTC continues to meet these goals while providing a fun, yet rewarding experience for the LSAMP undergraduates.

Long Island Sound Habitat Mapping

NURTEC is leading the efforts of the Long Island Sound Mapping and Research Collaborative (LISMaRC), one of three partners contributing to habitat mapping in Long Island Sound being funded by the Cross Sound Cable Fund. The other two teams are a collaborative lead by the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Continue reading

2014 Gulf of Maine Deep Corals Cruise

K2 ROV launched from R/V Connecticut
K2 ROV begins descent into the deep waters of Gulf of Maine (Photo credit: P. Auster)

In the summer of 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) supported NURTEC to conduct an expedition to the northern Gulf of Maine to explore for the location and distribution of deep sea corals. A 14 day cruise off the RV Connecticut with the ISIS2 camera sled was conducted from 11-24 July 2013 and completed 40 camera tows in four areas (western Jordan Basin, Mount Desert Rock-Outer Schoodic Ridges, Blue Hill Bay, and off Monhegan Island). Deep sea corals were present at 15 stations, sea pens at 20 stations and sponge fauna at 29 stations (More info).

Click here for Photo Gallery

The value of this survey was the speed at which the ISIS2 could be deployed to maximize the number sites that could be visited to provide presence/absence information on the distribution of corals and other important invertebrates. The limitations of the ISIS2, however, were that since it had no thrusters to control its direction, it was a the mercy of the ship’s motion and the currents, not being able to stop and get close-up imagery of any of the organisms. Further, the system had no capability to physically sample any of the organisms for important genetic and taxonomic analyses. In July, 2014 NMFS supported a 15 day mission to return to the Gulf of Maine with the Kraken2 (K2) remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to further survey and sample the sites that supported deep sea corals, sea pens and sponges.

Pollock amass in light of the K2 ROV.  The deepsea corals seen here provide a diverse habitat and abundance of food for benthic fishes. (Image courtesy of Gulf of Maine Deep Sea Coral Science Team 2014/NURTEC-UConn/NOAA Fisheries/UMaine)
Pollock amass in light of the K2 ROV. The deepsea corals seen here provide a diverse habitat and abundance of food for benthic fishes. (Image courtesy of Gulf of Maine Deep Sea Coral Science Team 2014/NURTEC-UConn/NOAA Fisheries/UMaine)
Map of N. Gulf of Maine Deep Coral Sites

The expedition utilized the R/V Connecticut as a support ship. It is the ideal platform to support ROV operations due to its dynamic positioning system, low freeboard and ample deck space to support the K2 ROV system comprised of the ROV, a winch for its 4000 feet of tether, a hydraulic power unit to drive the winch, and a 20 foot control van where the ROV is controlled at the direction of scientists and pilots. Despite two days of unworkable weather the NURTEC team was able to conduct 21 dives, averaging 9.8 hours in the water per day working at an average depth of 204 meters (669 feet). The K2 collected over 100 hours of high definition video and 7273 high resolution digital still images from its two cameras. In addition, the K2 collected a significant number of deep sea corals, sponges and sea pens for analyses of populations genetics, reproductive histology, and for voucher specimens at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The genetics will provide important information on the relationship of these deep sea corals to other populations existing further offshore, while the morphological analyses will provide evidence of the dynamics of reproductive condition of these animals. Video will be used to assess habitat requirements of key species, variation in size structure of corals, and the functional role of coral and sponge taxa as fish habitat. This information, will provide NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council with very important guidance for future management decisions on these vulnerable marine ecosystems.

In the News

38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan

Charles W. Morgan
The whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan (Photo credit: M. McKee/NURTEC)

The world’s last remaining sail-powered whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, conducted her 38th voyage this past summer traveling from Mystic, CT to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) as a symbolic journey to one of the world’s premier whale watching sites. This voyage captured the renaissance of the Morgan from a whale hunting ship to an emissary of ocean conservation. While in the sanctuary, researchers, historians, artists and authors on board the Morgan conducted research and outreach activities to highlight the sanctuary’s role in whale conservation and ocean research.

Click here for Photo Gallery

The Northeast Underwater Research, Technology and Education Center (NURTEC) was asked to work with partners from NOAA, SBNMS and the Mystic Seaport to establish a comprehensive ship to shore broadband wireless network to support telepresence broadcasts from the Morgan as she sailed in the Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine. The concept of telepresence as envisioned for the Morgan’s voyage was not simply broadcasting a single camera feed, but to turn the Morgan into a mobile “news studio” that allowed multiple cameras onboard to focus on the business of sailing the ship, interviews with experts in maritime history and marine mammal biology onboard, and other onboard programming. The onboard studio was able to interact with historians, scientists and archaeologists across the globe (at other National Marine Sanctuaries for example) with interesting and associated content to offer.

NURTEC developed the capacity to conduct low-cost, broadband, telepresence broadcasts from ship to shore nine years ago in support of similar maritime heritage focused projects with the SBNMS. This capacity includes both ship-side and shore-side equipment and the know-how to design, install and operate this equipment to set up a ship to shore network with enough throughput to deliver compressed high definition video from ship to shore. In 2005 NURTEC and SBNMS conducted a “live dive” that featured live underwater video from the Center’s ROV as it explored the wreck of the steamship Portland that was then sent from the RV Connecticut over 20 miles back to shore to the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA, and from there onto the Web. The Center conducted a similar, but more complex telepresence activity with SBNMS in 2006 to highlight from the wreck of the twin schooners the Palmer and the Crary.

Panoramic view from the top of Pilgrim Monument
Panoramic view from atop Pilgrim Monument, where directional radio antennas provided a strong wireless connection from the Morgan to the World Wide Web.

The public was able to follow the Morgan’s visit to the sanctuary on OceansLIVE (oceanslive.org) that broadcast three live shows daily from the vessel and other locations on July 11-13th. Each of the shows featured interviews and commentary with historians, scientists, authors and artists discussing the shift from whaling to watching in New England. The OceansLIVE website has archived the shows that are available for viewing at the oceanslive.org web site.

2013 Gulf of Maine Corals

Imaging Surveys of Northern Gulf of Maine and Jordan Basin Habitat Areas for Deep-sea Corals and Sponges

Dive operations

Background

Schoodic Ridges - Mount Desert Rock AreaFor this project NURTEC provided designed and developed a new towed video system to support seafloor imaging surveys in the northern Gulf of Maine.  The project is based on a collaborative pre-proposal (Auster, Packer, Nizinski, Bachmann and Stevenson) to the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Program and draft text by this same group for a deep sea coral amendment to the New England Fishery Management Council.   The project addresses NOAA’s long-term mission Goal #3 focused on “Healthy Oceans.”  In particular, research and information products that result from this deep sea coral survey effort will directly inform NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fisheries Management Council and improve conservation and sustainable use of “marine fisheries, habitats, and biodiversity …”.

 

Underwater Technology Development

ISIS2 towed system

A significant engineering effort was implemented to accomplish project goals for collecting high resolution seafloor imagery at a large number of stations in the steep topographic settings where corals occur in the northern Gulf of Maine.  The Instrumented Seafloor Imaging System (ISIS2) was developed to operate via an electro-optic cable to support high definition and standard definition video cameras, movable lights on pan-tilt units, a digital still camera with electronic flash and a sector scanning sonar.  The operational objective was to produce a real time “flyable” vehicle that would provide the pilot with real-time imagery with which to control the depth off bottom via a winch (y-axis movement) and to combine this with the dynamic positioning of the surface support vessel (x-axis movement along the seafloor) to conduct near bottom transects in the precipitous topography of the northern Gulf.

Operations Summary

A 14 day cruise off the RV Connecticut with the ISIS2 camera sled was conducted from 11-24 July 2013 and completed 40 camera tows in four areas (western Jordan Basin, Mount Desert Rock-Outer Schoodic Ridges, Blue Hill Bay, and off Monhegan Island). Deep sea corals were present at 15 stations, sea pens at 20 stations and sponge fauna at 29 stations.

Results to Date

tow10-114bump-03Geo-referenced data on camera tow locations and nominal presence-absence of target fauna have been submitted to the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Database.  A post-cruise review of selected still imagery produced a set of initial identifications of coral taxa for use in analysis of video imagery.  A protocol for throughput of video imagery, selecting and labeling frame-grabs, data types (e.g., taxonomic resolution, habitat classification), data handling (data set structure and storage), and linking to navigation data has been developed at NMFS Sandy Hook.  Detailed extraction of data from video imagery is ongoing.  A subset of transects has been selected for initial analyses in order to identify limitations based on image and taxonomic resolution.  An initial report focused on the occurrence of coral gardens in the Gulf of Maine, a direct result of this work, has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Biodiversity.  This project also led to a collaboration with the Ecosystem Monitoring group of NEFSC that focused on producing multibeam maps of seafloor bathymetry at two of our primary survey areas from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, September 2013 ECOMON cruise.  These maps will provide invaluable information to guide future investigations of these topographically challenging deep sea coral habitats.  An quick-turnaround publication was generated by the research team:

Publications

Peter J. Auster, Morgan Kilgour, David Packer, Rhian Waller, Steven Auscavitch & Les Watling (2013) Octocoral gardens in the Gulf of Maine (NW Atlantic), Biodiversity, 14:4, 193-194, DOI: 10.1080/14888386.2013.850446