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.


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


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:


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

OBFS-NAML Strategic Vision Report

OBFS LogonamlNURTEC Director, Ivar Babb co-authored a major report entitled: “Field Stations and Marine Laboratories of the Future: A Strategic Vision” that reviewed the nature of research and education being supported at Field Stations and Marine Labs (FSMLs) and provided strategic recommendations for the future of these important facilities. This was a collaborative effort between the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) and the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML). The report is available at: http://www.obfs.org/fsml-future.