Author: Ivar G. Babb

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:


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:




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)





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 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